Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flitterwochen in der Schweiz

I find it funny how I can recall with startling clarity, details of a trip five or more years ago, and yet I sometimes forget what I ate for breakfast...

Well, five years ago, I remember beginning our Flitterwochen with a nauseating holding pattern over Zurich, waiting for the landing strip to clear. I remember making our final descent, just as the sun was rising, giving us tantalizing glimpses of a landscape I had only ever dreamt about. Then the confusion of trying to orient ourselves and make our way to the train station where we headed east to the colourful town of Appenzell. Being gobsmacked the entire way as our train sailed through the most ridiculously picturesque landscape I'd ever seen. Gently rolling hills, velvety green, dotted with cows ladden with giant cowbells; quaint Swiss chalets that looked like cuckoo clocks, window boxes dripping with colour; it didn't seem real! It was so neat and trim and perfect. An hour on the ground, and I was already in heaven.

In Appenzell we stashed our luggage in the station lockers, and took a smaller train as far south as it went, to the tiny hamlet of Wasserauen, then up a cable car to Ebenalp, to begin what we thought would be a five hour hike around the Seealpsee in the Alpstein massif.

I remember the walk from the top of Ebenalp through the interesting and unique Wildkirchli caves, and rounding the corner and getting my first glimpse of the valley with Meglisalp on one side and on the other, the awesome Gasthaus Aescher, which is built into the cliff face that overhangs it, making it invisible in aerial photos. I was giddy coming upon this exact view, because it had been my desktop background in the months leading up to the honeymoon. And here it was. Unbelievable. I was gobsmacked. Again.

I remember attempting to take in the view, and having a hard time comprehending such raw and dramatic beauty. Beautiful. Impossibly so. How can this exist?! And why can't I just sit here forever? 

The hike was well-marked, and easy to follow. After passing Aescher and the friendly farm animals, we followed the switchbacks up and over, over and up, and up some more. And then a sunbeam broke through the clouds and alighted perfectly on Meglisalp. Just when you thought you couldn't handle any more beauty. Come on! This is ridiculous! Look at that sunbeam! Are you kidding me? But of course there was a sunbeam. Of course. Because that's what it's like there. It's all moonbeams and sunbeams and cheese and perfection. But it is almost frustrating in a bizarre way. Stop it! I can't take all this beauty! It just makes your heart want to burst.

I remember cresting the rocky pass that had been a looming wall, and seeing the end of the valley beyond for the first time. The end of the valley which, according to the lovely illustrated map of this hike, looked like it had a nice, easy "hill" over which we would hike into Meglisalp. Instead of such a "hill" we saw the valley rise sharply in all directions, the sharpest rise being the seemingly impenetrable wall of sheer rock in the exact direction we needed to go. The Ageteplatte.

Gobsmacked again. But a more confused, terrified kind of gobsmacked. Seriously?! We have to climb over that to get out of the valley? We realized quickly that we were ill-equipped for this hike, having not brought adequate food with us, and now wondering if we needed picks or rockclimbing gear...

The people in the Gasthaus Mesmer at the base of the valley spoke enough English to tell us that all we needed was "a careful eye, and watchful step." Hmmm. Ok. ... Well, you gaddit, careful eyes and watchful steps coming up! So off we went, following the trail as it switched back and forth up the steepening slope, working our way toward the wall of rock above us that was oh so sheer... What have we got ourselves into?! Mesmer got farther and farther away, and seemed to be almost directly below us. Not a very comforting sight. But exhilarating too, in a well, if this is the way I'm gonna go, at least the view ain't shabby.

The herd path ended where the rock began, where it changed, amazingly, into giant, rough-hewn "steps," with a flexible, but seemingly trustworthy cable to haul on. In cable I do trust, in cable I do trust... Each step at this point was two vertical feet up, so we made quick progress, but it was still surprising when we reached the top of this face of rock, and made that last step to the other side. It was surreal looking back down at the perilous path. We did it! We didn't fall to our deaths like mountain goats! (Number one cause of death of mountain goats: falling off of mountains. True Story.)

From there we hiked down the long, steep slope to the tiny, remote hamlet of Meglisalp, which was eerily deserted, but quaint and picturesque nonetheless. And this is when the Bob-Ross inspired "happy little clouds" joined forces and began to rain down upon us. Not a torrential downpour, but one just heavy enough to discourage dilly-dallying. So off we went to follow the trail back to the Seealpsee on the valley floor. This would end up being a much longer descent than anticipated, during which the sun would set, our muscles would achingly rebel against each step, and we would realize that we had missed the last train back to Appenzell and our luggage. I'll glaze over this part, because there may have been a few swears. But we did end up, very luckily, meeting a nice couple from Germany who were kind enough, or pitied us enough, to give us a ride back into town, 8 hours after we began this very long hike.

This year's anniversary hike in the Adirondack "Alps" was just as long, but a little less treacherous. More on that in the next post!

No comments:

Post a Comment