June 3: Mt. Pilatus and Engelberg
We left camp at about 7:15 AM and drove through Lucerne to Alpnach. We had planned to drive to Engelberg first but the day was so fine and clear that we decided to go up Pilatus. We reached the station at 7:45 and I sauntered leisurely over to find out when the next rack railway train went up. I found that it left at 7:50 so I raced back to the car and we got our stuff and got on the train -- it pulled out almost immediately.
The trip took 50 minutes. The steep ascent (up to 50% gradient) soon took us to the snow line. There was a lot of snow and the snow and rocks, interspersed with nicely shaped green conifer trees, made quite an impressive scene. We could look back and see part of Lake Lucerne.
When we reached the top, we had it almost to ourselves. We walked out of the station through a gallery of snow - the snow had drifted about 10-15 feet deep and they had just cut tunnels through it rather than dig it all away.
We got our first real panoramic view of the snow-covered Swiss Alps. It was very nice even though there was quite a bit of cloud about. We walked all around, taking pictues and looking in all directions. They have a number of tunnels with windows or galleries through the side of the mountain so that you can look out.
About 10:00 we went into the snack bar at the very swank summit station and had coffee and some kind of delectable strawberry pie. The Swiss pastries are very nice and we have found their coffee to be delicious - much better than British coffee.
After we finished our coffee, we noted that the clouds were beginning to roll in on the peak - and so were the tourists. It was obviously better to go up early - to avoid both.
We decided to climb to the summit (Esel, ) once more before returning to the bottom. The path was narrow and since I was carrying a rucksack I stepped to the side to let the descending people pass. The response as they passed was "Danke--Merci--Merci--Thank you--Danke---" At the top a large number of black birds came to beg for crumbs. They sailed beautifully on wings that looked like a raven's --and they were about that size-- but their beaks and eyes looked more like the thrush family. They were much bigger than the English "blackbird".
As the crowds of tourists started coming in you could always hear the four languages French, German, English and American. There were a large number of Americans. Most of them were over 50, affluent looking, mostly women, and all that we noted were traveling in groups on organized tours.
Just as we started to catch the train back down, I found with dismay that I had lost one of our tickets. I went to the ticket office and asked if anyone had found one - negative answer. Brenda and I were dressed in our aniraks and walking clothes, compared to all the people in suits and dresses so we obviously belonged together. He looked at us and graciously told us to go ahead on the train. Just a minute later a German-speaking man came up and turned in the ticket and it was handed to us - but we were still grateful for the graciousness of the ticket agent.
We looked more closely at the wildflowers on the way down. I had read that over 300 species of wildflowers have been found on the slopes of Snowden. I counted about 32 different ones just on the train coming down. When we reached the bottom we found the platform jammed with people waiting to go up -- it had been deserted when we started up.
We drove to Engelberg, at the end of a long valley to the SSE of Lucerne. The road there included a long climb which started with gently undulating curves and then reached tight switchbacks - at least one of which was built out on girders away from the mountainside.
Around Engelberg were the finest mountain views - and in general the most beautiful scenery that we have seen. The day was beautifully sunny and Engelberg is almost completely surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
We parked the car and started walking. We were fascinated by the bells around the necks of the Brown Swiss cows - they looked big enough to be church bells. We had noted that we could hear cow bells when we were at the tops of Rigi and Pilatus -- it was now clear why we could hear them. They looked like cast brass, over 1/4" thick and some were about 8 inches across at the bottom.
We walked a couple of miles along a stream, following a stream and a sign that promised a waterfall. The mountains were fabulous and the fields green and chock full of wildflowers. I decided to walk back and get the car while Brenda walked on ahead toward the promised waterfall.
The main road ended and continued on a narrow gravel road. The valley narrowed and the mountains rose more steeply around us. Several fingers of glacial ice extended all the way to the valley floor; some of them had streams erupting out of them. While Brenda was waiting for me to bring the car she saw several small snow slides high on the mountains. She would h ear a noise like thunder and look up to see some snow falling down the mountain. Finally the small road ended at a footpath leading to a pass. Our impression was that the views around Engelberg were more rewarding than those on Pilatus - and much cheaper.
Along the valley toward Engelberg we saw many hay wagons and a lot of people in the fields gathering hay. In one very attractive example, the woman was bunching the previously wind-rowed hay with a rake about 5 feet wide made of wooden pegs. Two men were loading the green hay on a wagon and two small boys were on top, tramping it down. The hay was gathered green, probably to make silage to feed the cows through the long winter.
We stopped on the way back to take a picture of the coast road - it is an engineering masterpiece. Rather than hew out large masses of rock, the road was built out over the water on girders in several places.
On the way back through Lucerne we stopped to look at the Lion Monument. It was certainly remarkable - I won't try to describe it.
I neglected to mention that we found several waterfalls on the end of the Engelberg valley.
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