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September 27th 2019

From wind mills along the mountain slopes to a lighthouse!

Today the weather was fine with down in the village nice temperatures and not too much wind. Now I would like to do what I had been up to last Tuesday, September 24th, but what I have skipped for the concert by the Suvorov Cadet’s Band: to go with the gondola from Andermatt by the middle station Nätschen to the end station Gütsch, from there by foot over the Höhenweg to close by the mountain top of the Schneehüenerstock, then to go down with another gondola and via the Oberalp Pass back by train to Andermatt. Meanwhile I had discovered an advantageous trip: I chose the route from Andermatt via Gütsch and the Höhenweg and back via the Oberalp Pass to Andermatt. So around half past nine I took a gondola, which carried me uphill. It was nicely quiet and the views to the southwest were wonderful. I was also able to see the routing of the railway tracks: the main line of the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB) which follows a bend from the station of Andermatt to the east and disappears from sight and the track of the railway from Göschenen and Andermatt through the Schöllenen Gorge which sharply turns towards the northwest.

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Andermatt: view over the village and the Ursern vallay from the gondola to Nätschen

The first part of the gondola goes from Andermatt to Nätschen, that is close to the railway station of MGB with the same name. After leaving Andermatt the railway has to climb a very steep slope of the Chilchenberg mountain. I had noticed that last year when I have taken the Glacier-Express from Brig via Andermatt to the Oberalp Pass and further on to Chur (and further to Küblis). A difference in altitude of 400 metres has to be managed between Andermatt 1.436m) and Nätschen (1.843m) over a distance of less than 4 kilometres! As I had seen from the gondola that the 09.30 hrs train from Andermatt to Disentis had left the station, so I just lingered before boarding the gondola for the second part of my trip to Gütsch.

The panorama from the gondola on the second branch became more impressive with each metre upwards! In the west above the valley in which Göschenen is situated, an enormous snow-covered mountain massive emerged, which forms the border between the Canton of Uri and the Canton of Bern. The day before yesterday I hadn’t seen it because the low clouds. I enjoyed every minute of it!

Arrived on top I would like to have a closer look at that panorama and the wind farm, so I didn’t follow the hiking trail to the Schneehüenerstock, thus into the direction of the Oberalp Pass as I planned at first… That a wind farm had been built on this mountain top didn’t come as a surprise to me, because I was really struggling walking against the wind. The turbine blades on the white, slender pylons were turning like dancing mountain fairies against the background of equally white mountain tops in the distance. The wind farm is on 2.300 metres and therefore one of the most elevated wind parks in Europe. 70% of the electricity is produced in winter: thus the wind farm is a good alternative to hydro power, because the latter is made especially in summer. For a moment I just felt like “on the top of the world“, standing there with these marvellous views over the high mountains and the deeply indented valleys…

Although the road steadily led me higher and further to the western side of the mountain and therefore further away from my targeted destination, the Oberalp Pass, I have continued on this track: I spotted many old, half-dilapidated buildings made of rough granite, partly emerging from behind a now opened entrance gate. The iron work looked rather defensive, but also rusty. It was a large complex, that seemed completely deserted. It was the Fort Stöckli, built from the end of the 19th century as part of the “Festungsgebiet Gotthard“, the fortifications in the area around the Gotthard. These fortifications formed the protection of the Swiss “Alpine Transversals” together with those near Sargans in the northeast next to the Austrian border and those in the western part at the entrance to the Great Saint-Bernhard Pass at Saint-Maurice on the border of the Cantons of Valais and Vaud at the Rhône to the northwest of Martigny. In 1815 the Paris Treaty was ratified at the end of the Congress of Vienna, in which Europe was politically re-established after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. Hereby Switzerland had been attributed by the European major powers eternal armed neutrality and independence from any foreign influence. These acknowledgements have had up to today a decisive influence on the further history of the country. The Swiss foreign politics are still built on this two pillars. The assignment of armed neutrality brought along the obligation that the Swiss have to protect the passages over the Swiss Alpine Ridge. Therefore in the years afterwards defences have been built on strategical points, like here in Andermatt. Besides Fort Stöckli above Andermatt two other forts hve been built: Fort Bäzberg on top of the mountain at the left bank of the Reuss (as the crow flies straight opposite of Fort Stöckli) and Fort Bühl down at the river side. Thus not only the passage to and through the Schöllenen Gorge could be controlled, but also the Furka Pass in the southwest, the Oberalp Pass in the northeast and the Gotthard Pass in the south could be closed to the enemy. From the mountain plateau with the meanwhile dilapidated buildings I had a beautiful (and that way also a strategic) view into the Urserern Valley, but also into the direction of the Oberalp Pass. In 1947 the military activities of this fort have been terminated. Somewhat lower on the mountain, at the wind farm, I also saw other dilapidated buildings: the remains of the Festung Gütsch, that have been built during the Second World War and that has been of great importance during the Cold War. Only in 1955 this fortification has been decommissioned.

I walked on through the deserted complex. A sign was attached to the wall of a bunkerlike construction, that was halfway built into the mountain, on which weather extremes were mentioned. Here a weather station has been installed. The “Wetterstation Stöckli-Sturmgrat” is on 2.446 metres and is one of the most important high alpine weather stations of the Swiss Meteorological Service, especially concerning the wind measurement. Here the highest wind speed in the Swiss Alps and even in the entire Alpine region have been registered during western gales and Föhn. Standing there I found the wind very strong! On the sign had been put that the maximum wind speed had been 232 km per hour from the south-southeast… Someon has changed the indication of the maximum height of snow by hand: from 4,65 metres into 5,85 metres!

Between the dilapidated buildings a ultramodern measuring station had been placed which without doubt would register everything. Looking around myself I had my own weather observation: the sun was shining, there were some patches of white clouds in the blue sky and depending from where I was standing the wind came from the west – not very scientific, but it was just pleasant!

Something a little less pleasant was the lack of trail from Stöckli into the direction of the Oberalp Pass from the westside of the measuring station. There were very steep slopes, almost abysses into the direction of Göschenen. Therefore I was forced to go back over the same path to the point of departure at the mountain station of the gondola from Andermatt. All of a sudden I spotted a shepherd with a rather struggling ewe on a leash, followed by a frolicking lamb and a larger sheep, coming towards me from the slope above. The lamb has obviously been born on the Alp and had to go with the others back into the valley. When I offered to open the swing gate on which was attached an urgent request to close it after passing, he said that he was heading for Göschenen – and pointed downwards, to that steep slope. The rest of the flock already was halfway the slope. In the valley the sheep would return to their respective owners, mainly back to the Canton of Schwyz to the east of the Lake Lucerne. He let the ewe loose from her leash, which immediately set off, followed by the lamb that rushed towards her to have a quick sip of milk. Afterwards I saw shepherd and sheep descend the slope. I noticed how dexterous and quick the sheep were on their four legs! This unexpected meeting and the short conversation made that this wind-swept landscape had just softened up a little.

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Above Andermatt: at Stöckli the shepherd lets the ewe go off leash, while the lamb is already looking at its mother, on the mountains slope on their way to Göschenen

Not many summer flowers were in bloom anymore, especially not after the snow that had been falling in abundance a few weeks ago. Nevertheless I spotted some Rampion plants with their bluish-purple flowers, literally translated as Semi-round Devil’s claw (Phyteuma hemisphaericum), which are indigenous in the Alps and related to the Campanula. Normally they are blooming in July/August, but apparently they were standing in a sheltered and favourable place. Furthermore most of the green vegetation had already changed in autumnal reddish-brown, but here and there the blooming heather (Calluna vulgaris) suddenly coloured the rocky landscape with some bright pinkish-purple.

In the meantime I had reached the path again that runs from the mountain station of the gondola at Gütsch into the direction of the Oberalp Pass. Here I didn’t need to pay attention to where I put my feet, I could concentrate on the beautiful panorama of the Ursereren Valley in the south, the mountain world to the north of the valley from the Oberalp Pass to Andermatt with the utterly rocky and eroded slopes against the bright blue sky and the Lutersee lake. Many people were taking this hiking route, but they blended into the surroundings.

Unnoticed the road had quite been ascending. The lake seemed more and more blue from this altitude!

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Between Andermatt-Gütsch and Oberalp Pass: view from the rising Höhenweg towards the southwest with the Lutersee lake

To the east of the Lutersee lake an arrow pointed to the mountain station of the gondola at the bottom of the mountain the Schneehüenerstock. The path was narrow, steep and stony – quite a difference to the broad chart track I had been following before, but the views, this time also on the Schneehüenerstock itself, really made the efforts very worthwhile. It was quite visible that in winter this area is part of the extended “Skiarena Andermatt-Sedrun“, covering parts in the Canton of Uri and in the Canton of Grisons and being the larges skiing area in Central-Switzerland. Everywehre poles for artificial snowing had been placed. At this altitude there hardly was any vegetation, except for some grass and some yellow-green lichen on the boulders. To the end there wasn’t exactly any track to be seen, only just a vast, steep mountain slope, covered with rocks of different stone varieties and sizes. The top of the Schneehüenerstock was sticking out of the scree-covered slopes like a loaf of sugar bread. The building of the mountain station blended into the background of the mountain, but guided by the blue gondolas I stepped from boulder to boulder. Arriving on top I went across a rather flat, but very soggy terrain to the mountain station of the only recently opened gondola from the Oberalp Pass. On the almost vertically rising top of the Schneehüenerstock a summit cross is standing on the left – old-fashioned – and on the right GSM transmitting masts are standing – very modern! A large, meanwhile rather dingy field of snow was still there, feeding the sogginess while melting. To the southeast I had magnificent views over the mountains in Grisons, where the sources of the river Rhine are situated – and several reservoirs…

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Between Andermatt-Gütsch and Oberalp Pass: view from the Höhenweg on the inhospitable mountain area

Meanwhile it was around one o’clock in the afternoon already so I sought refuge in the brand new restaurant next to the mountain station of the gondola. Inside there was quite a crowd: the participants of the annual conference about the technical aspects of cable cares (“Technische Seilbahnfachtagung“) of the Vereinigung Technisches Kader der Schweizer Bergbahnen, the association for technical management of the Swiss cable cars, which was held this year in nearby Disentis. On the last day of the conference a visit had been paid to this new gondola, that had been opened in December 2018. The other guests could join in to the standard lunch served from large cauldrons: Macaroni “bolognese” with apple sauce. I took my tray outside to the sunny terrace and sat down in a spot out of the wind to enjoy my (rather quickly cooling) meal and the views.

Another gondola took me from the Schneehüenerstock down again to the Oberalp Pass. When last year I passed through the Oberalp Pass by train from Brig on my way to Chur (and eventually to Küblis) I had spotted that strange, fire-red lighthouse, standing at the beginning of the Oberalp reservoir. Then I wrote about it: “ This appears to be a promotion stunt of the regional Tourist Information: the Rhine springs near-by and to emphasise the beginning and the end of the river Rhine near Rotterdam this lighthouse has been placed on the Pass. This lighting installation is a diminished replica of the light beacon “Hook of Holland” that stood at the mouth of the Rhine near Rotterdam…“. Now I had the opportunity to have a closer look at this lighthouse, the Leuchtturm Rheinquelle, Lighthouse Source of the Rhine, an object that rather gives the impression to be a bit “out of place”. It was also possible to climb the lighthouse, but therefore one must become a sponsor (for at least 100 Swiss Francs)… A small building was standing next to it about the Rhine springs, the “Infocenter Rheinquelle“, which was closed. On the side of the lighthouse a large, rusty ship’s anchor was put. On the wall information panels had been placed, on which broadly the history of the lighthouse was told and illustrated with pictures. Picture nr. 1 is an old picture of the lighthouse at its original place in Hook of Holland. The real lighthouse is on display in the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam. Picture nr. 2 has been taken during the construction of the replica in the Swiss place Alpnach (near Lucerne) and picture nr. 3 shows the transportation of the colossus in parts by road to the Oberalp Pass. There the lighthouse has been re-assembled (picture nr. 4) and in October 2010 festively inaugurated (picture nr. 5). Every year since 2016 a well-known personality is appointed as “Ehren-Leuchtturmwärter” (honorary lighthouse keeper) – in 2019 it is Nik Hartmann’s turn, a Swiss TV-personality, who has hiked this year, accompanied by his dog, the Green Trail of the Via Alpina from Vaduz to Montreux and has reported about it on Swiss television. Quite a nice connection with my hikes!

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Oberalp Pass: a photo collage of the making to the inauguration of the lighthouse at the Infocenter Rheinquelle

From the lighthouse to the reservoir it only is a short walk. Here the soil obviously is moist as well, because here and there some Cotton grass (Eriophorum angustifolium) was growing, of which the white panicles were waving in the strong wind. The water of the reservoir is very clear – it is said that enormous amounts of trout are living here. Various fishermen were standing on the shore with long rods. The view over the reservoir and the mountains in the direction from where I had started my hike was beautiful – the avalanche galleries for the road and the rail road were clearly visible. Looking back at the lighthouse I couldn’t help finding it a strange sight: that red lighthouse amid the high mountains…

On my way to the small railway station of the Oberalp Pass I had another nice, autumnal view of the landscape around the Schneehüenerstock with the gondola and that all sun-drenched and with bright-blue skies. The view on the reservoir turned the waiting on the train also into a pleasure.

The train journey itself was interesting as well: now I could see up close how at the end of the reservoir the Oberalpreuss meandered through the humid landscape and how the mountain slopes had adopted all shades of reddish-brown because of the autumnal colours of the blueberry and cranberry shrubs. In the furthermore unspoilt valley still some waterworks had been built in order to regulate the water level in the Oberalpreuss, but other than that the stream appears to choose its own course. Just outside of Andermatt there is also a kind of gorge through which the water rushes down, but that wasn’t visible from the train. After the railway station of Nätschen we descended quite steeply again, slowed down by the cogwheel support, but with nice panoramas over the Urseren valley and views on impressive clouds. Just before arriving at Andermatt I saw another small white chapel at the side of the road: this chapel dedicated to St. Wendelin dates from 1656. After a century of neglect and used as a stable for small livestock and lodging for migrant workers it has only been restored in 1984 by volunteers and donated to the catholic church of Andermatt. The chapel looked peaceful in the light of the late afternoon.

With this wonderful hike my stay in Andermatt has ended. Tomorrow I travel on to Brig to make some progress on the Via Alpina. It definitely isn’t the last time that I will visit this area: here I feel so much positive energy in nature – the mountains and the water! And there is still so much to discover…