Lockdown Frenzy


STATS

DATE

25.3.2020 - 5.4.2020 and 15.3.2020 - 27.3.2020

 

ROUTE

Rorschach - Appenzellerland -Toggenburg - Glarnerland - Innerschweiz - Napfgebiet - Friburgerland - Genfersee - Genf

 

Zürich Oberland - Innerschweiz - Urnersee - Middle of Switzerland - Berner Oberland - Mittelland - Jura - Zürich Oberland

 

DISTANCE/ELEVATION GAIN

1000KM / 32000M

 

DURATION

24 days

 

TYPE

multiday tramping

 

DIFFICULTY

 T1-T2

 


ALTITUDE CHART


REPORT

INTRO

COVID-19 is hitting the aviation industry badly. Therefore, it doesn't come as a huge surpise, when we get the memo that our airport will be shut until further notice. Still, I'm not exactly prepared for these days - no weeks - off. Just sitting around during this enforced break is nothing for me - I'm not called Restless Feet for no reason. With most of the borders being shut, travelling abroad is no option, with all the snow still covering the mountains, climing mountains is out of question as well. For me at least.

After a wee bit further brain storming, I decide on doing the so called Alpenpanoramaweg. A trail leading along the Alps, through its foothills from Rorschach to Geneva. It's a trail I wanted to tackle for quite a while but being 500 kilometres it's not something you can do quickly during a (long) weekend. And until now, I always opted for other trails than the Alpenpanoramaweg.

It's a technically very straightforward trail, never too mountaineous. A perfect trail to do in early spring - a perfect trail to do long days with many kilometres. It passes through numerous towns making resupply uncomplicated.

However, the day I am leaving the Federal Council is mulling a curfew, which might become effective any day and which would obviously affect my hike big time. Despite the curfew looming, I decide to give it a try anyway and simply see how far I'll get...


Part one: south-west bound

 

 Wouldn't it be for the numerous snowfields, which brought some spice into the hike, the trail itself is, as mentionned above, fairly straightforward. Since there are already plenty of trail descriptions online, I rather just point out some personal impressions. Long distance hiking is a bit like cycling. You never really unlearn it. Still, with my last hike dating back quite a while, the first few steps along Lake Constance and up towards Heiden are tough work. Eventually, my body gets used to the backpack again, making progress much smoother. The Bise, an unpleasant, dry north-easterly wind kind of spoils the otherwise great spring weather.

A weather situation, which actually accompanies me throughout most of my way to Geneva: Over the Schwägalp, where the snow is piling up, down into the Toggenburg and up again into the snow before catching the first glimpse of the dark blue Walensee. I'm following the lake for a wee bit before climbing away again via Niederurnertal towards Bloossenalp and onwards to Sattelegg, where I spend another cold night in my tent.

 

With the sun still far below the horizon, I leave my roadside camp, cross Sihlsee and enter Einsiedeln, famous for its monastery, with the first rays of sun. Many hours of walking lay still ahead of me. It's mostly a fairly quiet walk, until I reach Lake Zug, which is buzzing with people enjoying one of the first reasonably warm spring days. While I don't enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb among all the sun-seekers, I still savor the pleasant weather.

Being in a lock down means most toilets are closed. Therefore I'm relieved to hit less frequented tracks again, once I leave the lake towards Lucerne. Time for a leak and also time to find a camp spot. Not easy! Not easy at all. It's already getting dark when I find something halfway suitable (hidden).  It's been a hard day, my legs hurting. So I'm not picky.

 

As I don't want to draw to much attention I start early again. After passing through Lucerne mid-morning, I continue towards Entlebuch. Leaving behind the busy city of Lucerne feels good. Finally on my own again. Well, at least I thought so. People here in this neck of Switzerland seem to be particularly and genuinely curious about my adventure. It's a welcome change from the solitude of walking and the non-understanding looks of the city people. In fact I talk so much, I don't even notice the dramatic weather change. From sun to rain within minutes. The first rain drops are a stark reminder to continue. I fly along the Kleine Emme, towards Wolhusen. A fairly sad looking town but more importantly very hard to find a camp spot. The only option: continue walking. With the rain now turning into wet snow, doesn't make it any more pleasant. I keep walking along a gully until my legs quit. All wet and miserable I pitch my tent as good as I can in a safe distance to the river. While cooking my dinner, completely unexpected, a family of four passes by. Not sure who was more surprised. Me or them ;) Anyway, we have a nice talk before they continue into the darkness. 

Snow keeps accumulating on my tent and instead of sleeping, I have to clear the snow from my tent regularly. With every time I do it, I start to worry more about my next section over the Napf, a rugged, long ridge of hills. Therefore, I start plotting out an alternative route around it. Not attractive but at least safe.

My motivation is sub-zero when I step out of my tent and right into the wet snow. Without thinking to much, I head back to the road to walk the alternative route. On the way there I start thinking though. Why not risk the ridge path anyway? I can also turn back. I'm in no hurry at all. And as it turns out later that day, this is my best decision I have made in a long time.

Climbing through thick snow is exhausting. At least the wet snow gives way to dry snow. Still, my trail runners are soaking wet and my feet freezing cold. Strong wind doesn't really help. But... it's walk-able! So I continue. The higher I climb, the stronger the windchill, adding to my misery. 

On Stächelegg, a deserted looking farm, I nearly stumble across a dog in the blizzard. After petting it for a few moments, I'm about to continue, when the farmer pushes out a cow shit loaded wheel barrow out of the stable. 

Without much talk he invites me in for a coffee. An offer I can't refuse. The tiled stove is warming me up while I sip my coffee, observing the snow, who is getting heavier. Chrigu, the farmer, seems to feel sorry for me. Partly because I still look on the edge of hypothermia and partly because I can't enjoy the apparently amazing views. Trail magic is happening once more and he invites me to stay for the night. As it's only early afternoon, he gives me, after I unpack all my gear to dry over the stove, a tour around his little farm with around 20 goats and some cows. What follows is a tasty afternoon snack consisting of home made tea, sausage and cheese. Simply amazing. As it turns out, Chrigu is leaving his farm in May (the first time in 20 years!) to hike across Switzerland for six months. Sound like a great adventure!

After some more talking it's time for a filling, delicious dinner. After a bottle of wine and some more talking, it's high time for me to say good night.

I sleep like a baby and wake up with dawn. Chrigu is already up milking the goats (I tried it the previous day but failed terribly ;). Once he is done we have have breakfast together. Bread, cheese and butter. Well fed and rested, I step out of the house and right into winter wonderland. The scenery changed completely overnight.  Snow gave way to mostly blue sky. 

Reluctantly, I say goodbye and continue east, stamping through the powdery snow. After a few steps, I look back to the farm. Somehow already knowing I return in the future...

Luckily I didn't continue yesterday. I would have suffered big time. Even with new energy I only can manage to put behind be 4 kilometres within the first two hours. Partly because snowbanks and steep terrain make progress tiring and somewhat dangerous and partly because I stop often to capture one of the most spectacular atmosphere I have ever seen. It seems like forever, when I finally reach the bottom of the range. A completely different world. No snow and pleasantly warm. My day is far from over. After yesterday's short day, and this morning's slow start I want to make use of the daylight and cover as much as i can. Near Münsigen I find a lovely spot in the forest to pitch my tent. Before I can so however, I get invited for a beer by two young workers, who spend their after-work-beer nearby. 

 

With the nice weather again on my side, I thoroughly enjoy the next few days. While not extremely spectacular, the towns and landscape I walk though look pretty,Crossing the so called "Röschtigrabe", the border between German and French speaking parts of Switzerland, takes me into an corner of Switzerland, which is unfamiliar to me and I have to change my greetings from "Grüezi" to "Bonjour".

The closer I get to Lake Geneva, the better I feel. Actually, I feel so good that, while lying in my tent, high above the lake, I spontaneously decide to test my personal limits. Due to the densely populated area along the Lake of Geneva and a lack of camp spots, I ask my self the question: Can I walk 125 kilometres and reach Geneva train station in one go?

With the goal set, I leave my camp spot at 3 in the morning in complete darkness. My headlamp guiding the somewhat tricky way down towards the lake, which I reach a few hours later. 20 kilometres done, more that a hundred still ahead of me. Yet, my hiking spirit is high, when I follow along the lake, passing through one winery after the other. Progress along the tar-sealed roads and walkways is excellent. My 15 kilogram backpack feels much lighter than it really is. To to the lock-down, some municipalities decided to fence off the path along the lake, forcing me to make detours. Annoying!

Around the busy town of Lausanne, the shore is full of sun-seekers once more. Luckily no detours here. But I don't really care. I focus on my goal. Due to lack of walkways along the lake, I have to eventually leave the lake and head up into the hills. Before doing so, have a long dinner break, enjoying a spectacular sunset while finishing my chocolate.

Walking into the night, unlike waking into the day, is something I rarely do. Maybe that's why it causes some strong emotions. Walking through the vines and deserted little villages feels a bit eerie. Still, I enjoy it a lot. In the first half of the night at least. After midnight, I have been walking for more than 20 hours, I suddenly become mentally tired, which somehow also radiates into my muscles. Going gets harder and harder. Luckily there are some interesting trails, like the Toblerone way along WWII tank barriers, which keep me motivated. At 3 o'clock, I take a short break on a bus stop bench, fighting hard not to fall asleep. I push my self up from the bench, with around 80 kilometres in my legs already, I feel exhausted. Navigating through a winding golf court at night makes my life even more miserable.  

On a positive note: I've covered way more than half to Geneva. Still, I have roughly 40 hard kilometres ahead of me. Most of the last 10 days or 450 kilometres I was walking on gravel and tar-sealed roads. An underground very hard on my shoes. By no, only a pathetically thin layer of rubber separates my foot form the ground. Every step hurts and I know, it won't get any better.

Sunrise, I'm in the region of Nyon by then, gives me another well needed boost. Terrain is mostly flat by know. I can't say much about the landscape. Nothing special. But in fact, I couldn't enjoy it anyway. I'm fighting. Hard. Mid-morning I pass the 100 kilometres mark. I take a short break, dipping my sore feet into a cold creek. However,I don't feel like celebrating as I know the last 25 milometers will be pure suffering.

Progress gets slower by every minute and when I finally enter the outskirts of Geneva, I have to take breaks every few minutes. I have never felt so stiff in my life and I guess people looking at must think "what's wrong with that guy". At this point however, I couldn't care less. 

Somehow, I manage to reach the end of the lake in Geneva, from where it's only a short distance to the train station. By then I can hardly stand the pain in my feet. Yet, so close to the finishing line, I'm able to ignore the pain.  I can't wait to reach the platform, can't wait for my (well deserved) ice cream.

 

The line in front of the ice cream shop is huge. Remember, it's a Sunday during lock down, and this shop is the only one open far and wide. Unable to stay on my feet any longer I head straight to the platform. Competently exhausted but completely happy. 125km in 33 hours with full hiking equipment. Maybe not as fast as I hoped, a lasting memory nonetheless.

 

In a deserted train I make my way back to Zurich. Overlooking the wineries flying past I quickly doze off. Tired but happy. 


Part two: back to the roots

 After the intense "finale" of my previous hike and no opening of the airport insight, I decide to head out into the nature again. After some lovely Easter days with family and friends as well as some planning, I pack my backpack once more and leave Wetzikon well before dawn. While I was following a long distance trail in the first part to Geneva, this time it's a bit more freestyle. Nonetheless, there are some points of interest, which I intend to visit. Actually, it's a trip to the middle of Switzerland (Middle Earth unfortunately didn't work out this time) with some Swiss history thrown in-between.

After leaving home early in the morning, I head down south over the Seedamm towards Einsiedeln (which I already visited a few days ago). A good chunk of today's hike is along E1. There aren't many signs but the one I spot make me feel quite emotional. A huge journey still lies ahead of me: Project E1.  Will I be able to start my E1 adventure as planned this summer? How will it go? Will I eventually reach this sign again? Questions, which make me feel small.

 

Progress is good, sometimes a bit slower through the snow. Actually, there is still quite a bit of snow in the central part in Switzerland, making me amend tomorrows route a bit. I on some sort of platform, overlooking Lake Lucerne and the Mythen-mountains. Together with some day trippers, I enjoy a spectacular sunset. Nice start into my part two.

Another 50 kilometre day lies ahead of me. So I set off early. After getting rid of a very affectionate, apparently lost calf in a small town, I continue my walk towards Lake Lucerne. I follow it most of the day, passing the cradle of Switzerland, if I might say so. Views are great, the trail carved into the rocks very entertaining, never boring. Still, comes afternoon, I start feeling a bit tired, especially after a last 500 metres climb up to Seelisberg. The views from the top over the lake are amazing. Still, I decide to keep on going, descending to the lake again. A hell of a steep descent later, I arrive at Risleten, a disused quarry and perfect camp spot just inches away from the water. 

After day 1 and day 2, day 3 is yet another 50 kilometre hike. Somehow, after doing the 125 kilometre to Geneva in one go, everything below 50 kilometres just seems like to short. Most of today's hike is along the Jakobsweg, or an arm of Camino de Santiago. That's the reason why, some people, which I meet along the way, ask me if I'm on a pilgrimage. Not being religious at all, I answer in the negative and simply say I like walking far. After roughly 40 kilometres, I leave the Jacobi trail and follow up Klein Melchtal. Very narrow, very impressive gorge. After following on wide, easy trails it's nice to get a bit of spice into my hiking day. Especially as I climb out of the gorge towards Älggi Alp, considered to be the geographical center of Switzerland. 

What would expect me there? Many people, maybe even an open hotel? The snowed in access road that I join shortly before reaching the place, tells me there won't be many people... And so it is. After a cyclist, who carried his bike, left the place, there is no single soul around. I have the center of Switzerland all by myself. This means I pitch my tent right in the middle. A few inches away from the trig. How cool is that!

While having my dinner, I decide to take the coming days a bit slower. The last three days have taken their toll on me.

 

I make a late start on my 4th day. It's mostly all down today towards Brünig Pass and onward to Lake of Brienz. Weather is once more fantastic and I enjoy a long break on the lake. Chips and ice cream. I'm a happy man. While enjoying my meal, cumulus clouds were towering up above me. Time to go and time to look for camp spots. As it turns out they are rare on the shore. First drops are hitting my backpack, I increase my pace. At around three, I arrive at a sheltered, fenced of picnic pavilion.  Ignoring the tape, I slip beneath. With rain hammering on the roof, I decide to call it a day. Not many people will pass by in this weather anyway.

On the narrow bench, I'm hardly able to sleep. Since the rain stopped overnight, there's not much holding me back and I'm on my way to Interlaken, the touristic heart of Switzerland. How on earth can tourists love such an ugly town? Anyway, none of my business and I continue north, climbing on a busy road (the hiking trail is closed) towards Habkern and on to Grüenbergpass and down on the other side towards Schangnau on a surprisingly busy afternoon. Day trippers everywhere. 

After Schangnau it gets distinctively quieter. The only guy I meet seems to be another thru-hiker. His huge backpack a giveaway. Since he is sitting a bit off trail, looking like meditating, I don't want to disturb him and continue after giving him a smile. The track is steep so I need a rest myself. Just as I'm about to leave, the other guy catches up. As it turns out he is on a multiple day hike as well. But fasting! Amazing, I think. He says he feels completely out of energy but will arrive home in Trubschachen by tomorrow. When I tell him I plan to arrive there today, he offers me to stay at his wife's and kid's place. Wow! Only one thing I need to do: Tell them he would arrive by tomorrow as he ran out of batteries. Deal!

It's a bit of a weird feeling to knock on a door and say "Hey, I just met your husband in the forest and he told me I can stay here". Luckily, I meet his son jumping on a trampoline first. A young, very talkative little guy, making the introduction to his mom quite easy. The evening is spent eating and talking with them in their huge, old, not to say historic farm house. Trail magic once again. 

 

The next morning I leave the house rather late. I'm actually quite excited, as I head up towards Napf and Stächelegg again. My plan is to meet Chrigu again, the farmer, who saved me from the snow about a fortnight ago. I have no clue if he is around or not. If not, I don't mind. It's just nice to walk there again. This time with sun and without snow. It seems like I'm in a different world.

 

Chrigu is just about to head off to fetch some stones, when I arrive at Stächelegg. Direct as he is, he offers me to stay for the night again, telling me there's some work I could help him with. Having walked enough the last couple of days and with the airport still deep asleep, I quickly agree. 

The work is hard but rewarding: Knocking stones on the first day, fencing in steep terrain the second day. It's a nice change from walking. Using different muscles, eating different (better) food and enjoying a beer and cider in the outdoor hot tub, watching the stars. 

 

After two nights, my feet are getting restless again and I say goodbye. Leaving is, as always after making a new friend, not easy. Still, after a while I'm in my hiking rhythm again, heading north. While descending the ridge, the airport manager rings me. Apparently, the airport slowly resumes operations and I could work some shifts in a few days. Seems like reality catches up with me again. Slowly but surely. As I'm more than halfway into my part two hike anyway, I decide to finish it. More or less as planned. Initially I wanted to head deep into the Jura mountains. However, the call in combination with my somewhat exhaused body make me just skirt the Jura mountains. It's a spectacular 4 days nonetheless - in a region I have never hiked before. 

The 3rd of these last four days I hike with Klemens, a good friend from school - a lovely change from hiking alone the past 900 kilometres. The hike takes us over the Lägern and past Zurich Airport. Here I say goodbye to Klemens and continue, with Wetzikon not too far away anymore,  into the night. After 70 kilometres and well past 8 pm, I don't feel like hiking anymore - but Wetzikon still 10 kilometres away. Convieniantly, Tino, my brother, lives just a few hundred metres away. I give him a call and am relieved when he picks up and lets me stay at his place in Wermatswil. 

From there it's a quick stroll to Wetzikon. On the way I say hello to Hetty, my mom, who is working in Auslikon. She offers me a ride but I decline. After walking 1000 kilometres, it would be somewhat anticlimactic to skip the last 2 kilometres.


The day after

When I started my hike in March, I wasn't overly optimistic. I expected to make it as far as Appenzell or Toggenburg if everything went really well. But Geneva? No way. Too much uncertainity with the looming curfew. However, the curfew did never happen and step by step I got closer to Geneva. At one point, people started greeting me with a "Bonjour" instead of a "Grüessech". Crossing the "Röschtigrabe" was the sign for me that Geneva is now well within reach. This fact actually gave me so much energy that I hiked the last 120km nonstop. 33 hours in total. A totally new experience, where I certainly streched my limits and I was happy to take a few days off trail after achieving this. 

 

I was incredibly lucky with the weather. Yet, the nights where cold (so cold my water bottle froze several times). Due to the Bise, a north-easterly wind, the day-temperatures weren't really pleasant either. Especially in the beggining, when my water bottle often didn't unfreeze at all.

The further west I hiked, the warmer the temperatures. And part two was pleasant all the way.

Most of the trails that I followed weren't really challenging either and resupply and water was readily available. 

 

A boring hike then? By no means! The lockdown, the spontaneousness of the hike, the looming hiking ban, the snow, Chrigu, unknown, nonfamous regions in the Romandie and Jura, and last but not least my 33 hours experiment made this another unforgettable journey.

 


PHOTOS

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