How could you pass up 3 weeks of walking in the Swiss Alps with our very own Swiss/Australian guide? Albert introduced us to the magnificent alpine beauty of this tiny country (1/5th the size of Victoria) with his enthusiasm for his birthplace and usual meticulous planning.
First we (24 enthusists ) settled in the Youth Hostel in Lucerne/Luzern and learnt to use the excellent train/bus/boat/cog-trains/cable cars and the occasional chairlift, to explore the town and surrounds. Summer was just stunning wherever you looked: planter boxes, courtyards, window sills, vegie plots, you name it and it was manicured and colourful. There was also the sound we were to hear so many times – cow bells tinkling across the meadows. For our warm-up walks we travelled up and trekked on the slopes of Mt Rigi, 1,798m, and Mount Pliatus, 2,128m. These being just a little below our Mt Kosciuszko, 2,228m. And it was so much more fun traveling upwards in a train, enjoying views, having a coffee at the top, THEN walking! We also had plenty of opportunity to visit abbeys, museums, take photos, eat chocolate/cheese/ & pastries – maybe a little too much!
The next location was smaller and quieter. Brienz was on a lake with green valley walls and snow capped mountains surrounding us. All trails were well sign-posted. After an active day of walking we had a few die-hards who tolerated the cold water of the lake just outside our hostel for an invigorating dip. The impressive excursions here were the deep, cool walk through the Aare Gorge (Aareschlucht), the 10 interior waterfalls of Trummelbach, watching the numerous multi-coloured paragliders dot the blue sky and gracefully float down from the peaks above to land in fields nearby, and visiting an impressive open-air museum of original architecture of past eras.
From the heights of Mount Schilthorn (‘007’ action) we saw, across a sea of cloud, the formidable peaks of the Eiger, 3970m, the Monch, 4107m, and the Jungfrau, 4158m, drift in and out of sight. Our coffee stop here was on a barely discernible revolving floor. A wallet came visiting on the window sill which caused much mirth. The next day, way above Interlaken, we walked below the North wall of the Eiger to the popular saddle of Kleine Scheddegg (2,061m) which was a junction of 3 busy train tracks.
Above Brienz, the steam cog-train took us up to the Rothorn lookout, 2,350m, where we viewed avalanche barriers erected in horizontal lines to prevent slippage and energetic parents climbing up trails with toddlers on their backs or dogs in tow.
It was then a move to Visp – a central position to explore some impressive valleys. Each day Albert had informed us of the length of walks, the ascent and descent and any modification for A or B walkers. We had experienced walks through pristine villages, forests, along waterways, across fields that would pass as golf courses, slopes of winding trails and ridge top goat tracks. Besides the cows-with-bells, we viewed the eerie forms of Alpine Ibex in mists and chubby marmots ‘sunning’ on steep slopes. With the help of a cable car, we walked from the ridge line community of Belap, down a delightful trail to a 124m long suspension bridge and back up through a forest to Riederalp. The bridge was below the famous Gosser Aletsch Glacier – the longest glacier (27kms) in the European Alps – and now retreated some 3kms from Albert’s childhood memory. Another day we walked the boulder-scree ABOVE the same glacier from Betterhorn (around Mt Eggishorn) marveling at the curves and variegated dark lines in this huge mass of ice. Once we had turned away from the glacier we shortened our walk and, leaving the sun, entered a 1km tunnel and stepping out into thick fog.
The last youth hostel was in the lively town of Zermatt for 3 nights – in a beautiful valley and back in the midst of tourists. A friendly train passenger told us if we were to see the Matterhorn, ‘take photos! it was not always clear’. As with most places in Switzerland it is a hiking paradise. The highlight here was our very last day of the tour. The Matterhorn was brilliant against a blue sky. We rode the train up to the Gornergrat 3,089m, marveled at the 360deg views of mountain peaks and glaciers, walked the 4hrs back to Zermatt with a lunch stop at one of the many eating places (yummy rosti – a potato dish). It was a perfect Fathers Day, perfect weather and perfect views.