The Art of Casual Hiking: Furgge to Binn

The Ernen Tourist Office advertisement for a Wanderbus (hiking bus) caught my eye a week ago. On Thursdays and Sundays, there were pick-up points that meant leaving the driving to someone else, and being able to start the day’s hike from the high alps. I signed up enthusiastically, not really knowing what to expect.

Come the weekend, the bus made a couple of stops before it started its way up the flank of the Breithorn. This was the mountain I’d seen looming in the background all week, the undefeatable, loveless rock face that hardly looked receptive to the notion of easy ascent. The Wanderbus would bring us to the Furgge, an open meadow at 2,451m, still some short of the Breithorn’s peak. Admittedly, not climbing the mountain was a bit of a cheat; but transportation to the heights made the hike more do-able for anyone wanting to get back to Ernen for an early Sunday evening concert, and I did.

We were a handful of passengers out of Ernen, and a retired couple got on in Grengiols, father down in the valley. The woman of the couple was extremely vocal, knew the driver of our minibus, and entertained us for most of the trip with amusing banter of who’d had a new baby, and the goings-on of many local families.

We had left Ernen at 8.30, but its wasn’t until 9.45 a.m that we got up as far as Furgge. The untarred road to it was steep, and seemed to go on forever. Once, assuming we were almost at the top, I asked the driver if that were true. “Oh no,” he said, “we’ve only done 4 kilometers of the whole 13.” Gulp… the road was already getting narrower and steeper, the trip seemed precarious enough as it was.

You can, of course, look out and not down, but if you’re afraid of heights, this might not be an excursion for you; at the end of the stretch − the last 10 minutes or so, − you are on a narrow loose dirt road above drop-aways of some 50-80 meters, and those just inches beyond the valley-side tires. Further, in going over such uneven ground, the Wanderbus shakes, rattles and rolls with real gusto. That said, I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world.

Because the beauty on the way down was incomparable. It featured a host of different landscapes: something otherworldly and almost lunar at the start; then a perfect Swiss mountain idyll teeming with alpine flowers; and finally, cooler, forested areas that welcomed every step of your footfall on soft ground. After a while, my hips and legs went into automatic pilot mode; I was walking − and still walking − and that was just the way it was.

Yes, the route itself was long, but the distance covered made the degree of decline modest, and even after a descent of some 1,100m, my knees were able to come away unscathed. In over four hours of walking, I met only one mountain-biker, a poky, young family of three, and a single, elderly botanist, a man bent over a rare flower that held his attention far more than curiosity over any passerby. Arriving in Heligkreuz at about 1 p.m., I stepped into its pilgrimage chapel to light a candle for an ailing friend, and continued on another hour’s walk though scented forest – landing shortly after 2.30 p.m. in Binn.

I was too late to enjoy a tasty, moderately-priced “Tages-Menu” in the Hotel Ofenhorn’s gracious garden, but not for a bowl of its wonderful carrot and ginger soup, and a glass of white wine. From Binn, I took the bus back to Ernen, and put my feet up for an hour. Next up – and not to be missed – was the first of the Musikdorf festival’s Baroque concerts in the parish church, a program which was set to begin at 6 p.m. 

Ernen, 19 July 2015, by Sarah Batschelet