Säntis Pfingston Hike
The last mid-year long weekend of 2012 - Pfingston, whatever that is - has traditionally been a multi-day hike in the mountains. Last year storms and snow prevented visiting Säntis, but this year the sun was shining and so the 3-day hike from Wildhaus to Ebenalp went ahead. Säntis is a 2505m high mountain split over three cantonal boarders and is clouded in mystery, literally; it spends 95% of the time in clouds and has a permanent snowfield on one side. The surrounding valleys are popular for families and the steep terrain loved by hikers and climbers. It naturally gives enough space for everyone: kids play by the lakes, parents drink all day in the restaurants and hikers/climbers stay up in the hills, so no one treads on each others toes.
From Wildhaus you took the hotel shuttle to the gondola station - the same one from your company's snow weekend raklette dinner - and headed up the valley. There was still quite a bit of snow lying about, much of it unavoidable but nothing dangerous. The beginning was steep all the way to Zwinglipass Hut, and there were lots of marmots springing/flopping around like overweight rabbits. The snow-covered trail continued from the hut up over the ridge and down through the next valley. The descent was decent and great for sliding. You took a plastic bad and rode it down most of hill. You had a snack break at the tip of Fählen Lake, which was still icy. There were snowy slopes down to the waters edge - the perfect setup for a legendary I could make that injury. You resisted the temptation. The lake even had two small icebergs floating in the middle.
That night you stayed at a goat farm in a barn with beds made of hay. It was a drafty, smelly wooden mountain house but it did the job. That evening you were happy to unload some of the food you'd been carrying. You pack had been laden with dinner and lunch for all five hikers; you called it training for Tanzania. The farmer couldn't look more Swiss is he tried, fulfilling all clichés nicely: white beard, pipe, traditional cloths, incomprehensible accent. You amused yourself watching goats trot about all evening, then hit the hay. The next morning the farmer bloke served goat cheese, bread and fruit jam - all of which farm produce. He also gave you a glass of fresh goat milk to try. It tasted goaty.
Day two of the hike was hard, including two different mountains of 400 and 800 vertical meters. The first one was a steady, consistently steep zig-zag with some small snowy parts. Having less weight to carry, you bounced up the mountain with a spring in your step. Perhaps the bowl of farm coffee had something to do with that. Everything seemed more fluid today... At the crest of the first mountain you stopped for some cous cous salad and admired the view. While playing around taking photos you stupidly dislodged some rocks which went flying at a group lunching below. Very luckily no one got hit but it was close. They were understandably angry and moved on immediately after that. The descent was down a long, steep snowfield and the snow was very heavy: just the right conditions for hiking-boot skiing! By the time you'd cleared the snow the rest of your group had found at least three gaps to sink into (typical Meike) but hadn't moved very far. Honestly, walking would have actually been harder trying to avoid slipping rather than going with the flow. Speaking of flow, your tummy was feeling strange...
The valley below was full of flowers and families with dogs. It was an idilic spot for an effort-free day of strolling along rolling dirt roads and admiring the scenery. Your hiking boots were, however, not made for looking at sights from afar but rather for visiting them. Since you had another mountain to scale so you were happy get a move on. By the Seealpsee you stopped for an espresso and an iced coffee. A word of warning: the definition of iced coffee is not international. Here an iced coffee is coffee icecream. Similarly, Swiss Nussli Salad has nothing to do with nuts whatsoever - a bothersome lesson to learn if you had a hankering for nuts that day.
The second ascent of 800m began on a narrow trail full of kids, grandmothers and more dogs. It was a single-file hike on the one meter wide path with a wall to one side and a cliff to the other. There was nowhere to take a break without being in the way. Your tummy was complaining you assumed because of the icecream you ate, and you were hoping you didn't need a toilet anytime soon. You pushed upwards over rough ground and the occasional set of stairs at the highest speed you could maintain, not wanting the dog behind you at catch up (a matter of pride and smell). After a bajillion steps, you made to Ebenalp and flopped onto the nearest roch to catch your breath. From here there was only an easy walk along the ridge and a small slope up to Schäfler Hut at 1912m - according to a fellow hiker. It would he been an easy walk if you'd taked the cablecar rather than hike up, and it would have been a small slope if you not been hiking all day with a heavy backpack. To distract yourself for the last part, you tried landing your hiking poles' tips on wooden path retainers for a satisfying tock sound. No one else seemed as much amused by this as you. The last part before the hut traversed a steep snowfield with a foot-width path cut by pedestrian traffic. Meike and yourself were the first up and immediately ordered a round of panasché (beer+lemonade), which she took down the trail to meet the others.
It was nice to be in draft-free lodgings. It was also nice to have a restaurant and hot running water, at least in the mens washroom; the women's had cold water, so they barged in while you were washing your feet. It was a relaxing evening in general, appart from diarrhea which had let loose upon the entire group. Something had been off at that goat farm and it was affecting all but one of your group. The French family sitting near the door began laughing at you after your fifteenth trip to the toilet, which was to you the most luxurious hole in the floor you could wish for. Had this set in a few hours earlier on the single trail ascent with every man and his (smelly) dog, you would have been in trouble... You all sat in the restaurant playing Ligretto until late. Watching the sun set behind the next mountain was breath-taking.
The next morning after a hearty mountain hut breakfast of fresh bread and a bowl of coffee - apparently drinking from bowls normal everywhere - you hiked victoriously back down, bought some cheese, met some cows, finally removed your hiking boots and went home. Successful hike.
Only a week after the last adventure you were ready to go again, this time on a smaller single-day hike to Spirsteig. It was just Mathieu and yourself since the others had planned to go on an earlier train, assuming that you'd catch up. On the very casual 9:32am train - anything after 8am being casual adventuring - Mathieu told you all about his Zürich running club adventures. He jogged here and there, he did this race and that race; it all made him sounds rather fit. From the very beginning of the hike you dug your poles in and hit the highest ascent speed you could maintain. You both powered up the slope for a good half an hour until the first restaurant / hut, where you just couldn't keep it up anymore.
Do you mind if we slow down a bit?
I was trying to keep up with you!!
The rest of the hike was a much more manageable march up to Spirstock. On the way down you got a little lost but without too much of a detour. On the last descent Mathieu introduced you to Schumli Flumli: coffee + plum schnaps + cream. The walk to the bus stop was not in an especially straight line after that. It ended up being a 20km hike averaging 7.5km/h.