Switzerland: Brienzersee then Lauterbrunnen, Murren, and Gimmelwald

 Sailing east on Brienzersee

I had a long weekend at liberty. At first I was going to go to the Rhone Valley, then I was going to go to Alsace, France. At the last minute I decided to return to the Jungfrau region. I was being drawn back there, to retrace my own footsteps twenty years later. I'd already come this direction a week before and it seemed silly to go back but I couldn't stop myself.

This time I set out with a Swiss Rail Flexi Pass that allows unlimited travel on any three days within a given month. This includes regional trains, boats, buses and trams. I took full advantage of this pass.

The town of Brienz

I set out for Lauterbrunnen, located in the Lauterbrunnen valley, south of Interlaken. This glacier carved valley is one of the largest trough valleys in the Alps. The valley is over five miles long but only one kilometer wide. It is edged with towering limestone cliffs where 72 waterfalls drop to the valley below, feeding the Lütschine river that flows through the center of the valley and, finally, down to Lake Brienz (Brienzersee).

What the boats look like that ply the ways of the Swiss lakes.

I took the train directly to Interlaken. The sun came out unexpectedly so I jumped on the boat to Brienz to explore Brienzersee much like I had Thunersee the week before. Brienzersee is much less populated than Thunersee is. I enjoyed sitting on the deck and watching mountains capture the clouds.

Weather coming in.

Back in Interlaken, I got on the train to Lauterbrunnen, just a half hour's ride south and up in elevation. I have made this trip before. All I remembered of the trip twenty years ago was this train ride and the tiny train/bus station in Lauterbrunnen. The station looked the same but there was much more to the town of Lauterbrunnen than I remembered. It was pouring rain when I arrived. At this point in the Alps you are either going up or down (nothing is ever really level) and thus I trudged up the hill to my pension and hibernated there for a day and a half as it rained. I listened to the thunder of nearby Staubbach Falls, the highest falls in Switzerland (between 800 and 900 feet). Low clouds obscured the snow covered mountains I knew loomed out there beyond sight.

A rainy look at the limestone walls of the Lauterbrunnental (valley).

 Staubbach Falls looming over the town.

The weather partially cleared so I began an epic hike, walking into my own past, bypassing some of the same, and finally walking the length of the valley in rain.

I took the bus from Lauterbrunnen up the valley to the last stop in Stechelberg and wandered down to the Schilthorn cable car station. You can get out directly at the station but I was happy wandering this day. Most people come up and go right to the top of Schilthorn, which on a clear day would afford you breathtaking views. This day was so cloudy it wasn't worth the trip. I got out at Murren. Murren was a small village we hiked up to buy food twenty years ago. It's grown considerably since then and is a real town now. Even though it is mid-May there was snow still on the slopes around town. Here I began my long walk down, down, and more down, all the way into the valley.

Tributary of the Lütschine river near Stechelberg.

Stechelberg cows and waterfalls.

This area of Europe has some spectacular slugs. Round-backed slug.

The sun finally comes out. Looking up the valley toward Trachsellauenen.

I set out for one of my favorite places on Earth: Gimmelwald. This tiny village is home to the Mountain Hostel. Twenty years ago it was the place where some of the most unique people on the planet seemed to collide, intersect, meet and then wander off again, somehow changed. Then it was $6.00 a night. People from every English speaking country in the world were found there. I, who had spent the last four months living in a tent  n a sheep field in Germany on an archeological dig, thought I had travelled a rather unique path to this tiny village on the side of a mountian, managed to meet two guys from California, who just happened to end up on top of a mountain in Switzerland on their way to study at a monastery in England. Gimmelwald is that kind of place.

And I still wonder what became of those two guys.

Looking toward Jungfrau and down into the Lauterbrunnen Valley from just below Murren.

Lichen and moss.

Still going down toward Gimmelwald from Murren.

The hole in the sky. The clouds in the foreground were actually blowing upwards and soon ungulfed me as I made my way down to Gimmelwald.

Outside a shop dedicated to hand knitted goods. Yes the entire tree is covered except for the leafing branches.

 Despite the shop saying it was open it was closed, which is a bit ironic for an Honesty Shop. I also took an unintended self portrait (My relfection is in the window).

 A good way to recycle an old hiking boot.

Gimmelwald is bigger now but not that much bigger. Pathways are paved that weren't. It's shinier and newer in some ways but its still that amazing place I remember. The Mountain Hostel has been renovated and taken over by new owners but its still the meeting place of the rootless and unique wanderers of the planet. As I began to descend back down into the valley I walked beside fellow hikers hailing from Sweden, Australia, and Nepal. The three guys from Nepal even came equipped with music, one had ragas spilling out of some sound system buried in his backpack. It was perfect.

Alpine Choughs. A high altitude specialist crow family member.

Choughs flying in formation.

 Choughs outlined against the walls of the Lauterbrunnen valley.

The way down to Stechelberg from Gimmelwald.

 Starting my descent to Stechelberg and then on to Lauterbrunnen. Twenty years ago I hiked out into the valley you see before you, which inspired the poem written below.
We all went different directions at some point on the way down and then solo once more, I walked down through the Lauterbrunnen valley, listening to the thunder of waterfalls and the clang of cow bells and enjoying the rain that once again descended upon the valley, obscuring the great white peaks that had overseen my very long walk among them.

Now down in the valley. Lütschine River.

Round-backed Slug

Lütschine River rocks. 

Waterfall with cows.

 Looking back the way I came.

 Looking toward Lauterbrunnen.

Staubbach Falls.

The poem below was written fifteen years ago, inspired by a hike along another glacier carved valley walked so long ago.


Walk across the bones,
pile them on pedestals,
a hundred thousand years old and then some.
The past is always dirty sometimes dirt’s fun.
I’ve found the body.
Somewhere out there they know, the whole chorus of them,
even those who I’ve forgotten the real names of. 
If I ever really knew them.

She’d been dead for three hundred years when I dug her up,
facing the rising sun, witness to thousands of sunrises,
so rudely exposed, mapped, labeled, and boxed up.
Head in one, leg in the other,
looks like some idiot amateur swept away your patella.
I want to be cremated to avoid this indignity.

Concretions bind things together that should not be stuck together.
Like fox jaws glued to bison femurs, sometimes memory
doesn’t come together
quite the way you’d expect it to.
Circles upon circles incidents
to be explored, teased apart, analyzed,
the analyst doesn’t ever blink, so we don’t go back.

Mountains, like the spine of the world, snow covered.
The air so fresh it bites, slightly scented in pine.
Walking almost vertical, up toward the snow, onto the glacier.
Standing on this thing that moves
so slowly
carving the earth with unrestrained power,
recarving the mountains, recarving me
I stand here with my sense of proportion destroyed.
It’s good to be small for a while.

I sit on an erratic and survey the valley like an ancient king,
take off my boots and socks, wade into the glacier fed river,
giving myself an ice-cream headache in my feet,
which turn a most peculiar purple.
I run barefoot across the green green grass,
jump back up onto rock
to absorb sunlight into the cold of my unburied bones.
Maybe it happened the other way around.

We come together one more time
within the thisness and then that and just like that.
We spin in circles, in circles,
icicles in sunlight
earthworks of starstuff,
universe wide, made of yesterdays.
Circles and circles again, my friends.

© Copyright Corvinus Creative/PJ Kaszas

The alpine meadows were covered in flowers.

Birds seen: Black redstart, Red Kite, Buzzard, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Alpine Chough, Carrion Crow, White Wagtail, House sparrow.
Mammal: Red Squirrel
Other: Round-backed slugs