A Scenic Trip up to Ernen

Brilliant weather, hiking boots packed, two mountain passes ahead; the constellation bode well for my trip from the flatlands up to Ernen. Coming from the area around Baden, I travelled first in the direction of Lucerne, majestic Mount Pilatus hailing me from the distance. Farther south, my route wound up to an altitude of 1,008 meters over the Brünig Pass that connects Canton Obwalden in central Switzerland to the Bernese Oberland. The pass road seemed to give «winding» a new definition, but awarded tremendous − if fleeting − views of the surrounding verdant landscape. Among the most breathtaking at the start was that onto Lungern Lake, whose deep emerald color is so saturated that it seems to defy the rules of Nature.

After the pass, I had once stopped briefly in the town of Meiringen, but decided this time to take a break in the smaller municipality of Innertkirchen. Sitting on the terrace of the friendly «Hotel Restaurant Urweider,» a whole parade of motorcyclists passed by, or stopped in the hotel’s parking lot to give attention to their machines and high-tech outerwear. The variations on both were nothing short of legion.

From Innertkirchen, my route went up to an elevation of 2,164 meters to cross the Bernese alps over the Grimsel Pass. The Grimsel was used as an alpine traverse as early as in Roman times, but it was a «Document of Trade» dating from 1397 that described how the cantons of Bern and Valais would regulate upkeep of the transverse’s trails and bridges, duties, and the running of its  hospiz. Typical of the historic trade was that wine, rice, and glassware came north, while cheese, leather, iron implements and livestock were brought south.

The pass road I drove was originally constructed for horse-drawn wagons in 1894, and it still twists and turns over the long ascent, but is a wider road in superb condition today. Looking up towards the hydroelectric dam from below, it was hard to imagine I would get get up to that great height very fast. But eventually, both the huge Grimsel storage lake and the historic Hospiz − Switzerland’s first certified guest house, now a 4-star hotel – were at eye level.

I marveled at the many engineering feats that made the route passable to all modern means of transportation. No question, «doing the Grimsel» is a great achievement for strong cyclists, too. But their course uphill can be unsettling to drivers if, try as they may to stay on a straight course, they sometimes jag out towards the cars. Any discomfort there was modest, however, compared to what one daredevil cyclist managed behind me. In my car’s wind stream, I suppose, he thundered down the greater part of his descent just a very few feet behind my back fender.

It was all the more rewarding, then, to reach the Rhone Valley. I stopped briefly for lunch at the pleasant «Hotel Restaurant Landhaus Goms» in Münster, and strolled across the road to visit the hamlet’s Marienkirche, a remarkable church that commemorates the Virgin Mary’s Ascension. While its foundation is first mentioned in annals dating from 1235, much of its interior decoration, particularly the altars and baptism font cap, exemplifies the High Baroque in Switzerland. Standing on the church’s South-facing porch − already with sensory treats behind me − I looked over the valley in the direction I still had to travel, and by early afternoon, arrived in Ernen, where weeks ahead promised treasures of all kinds. 

Ernen, Monday, 10 July 2017, by Sarah Batschelet