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September 17th 2018

Hiking along the water canals

Today’s weather could not be more different from yesterday’s weather: the sun was shining already early in the morning in a cloudless sky and it promised to be a beautiful and warm day. After a hearty breakfast – I like the breakfast cereals with spelt the most! – I took the 08.18 hrs. Postal car that would take me again to Mund.

Because I wasn’t able to find “Kante 10” (Platform 10) that quickly, I walked towards the next bus stop, I knew that the Postal car to Mund would stop: the “Rottubrugga”. Meanwhile I knew that the river Rhone in this part of Valais is called “Rotten” and also that the “Schwyzerdüetsch” spoken in this area is very difficult to understand: the end of words ending on “-en” is converted into “u” and that of “-cke” into “-gga”. So the “Rhonebrücke”(Rhone bridge) becomes the “Rottabrugga”… This has a lot to do with the Highest Alemannic German spoken by the original Walser and which is still influencing the Valais-German and the languages in a broad band through Switzerland leading into Austria.

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Brig: the “Rottubrugga” (the bridge over the Rhône) in the morning light

Shortly after a quarter to nine the Postal car let me out in Mund, that looked quite different now compared to yesterday: now the high, snow-capped mountains at the other side of the Rhone valley were visible! The old houses in the typical Walser-style were standing in the warm sunlight and the flower gardens were well looked after. When I left the village towards the west, I suddenly saw a mountain emerge, that was familiar to me: the Weisshorn. This mountain really is visible from all sides: I have seen it when I hiked Stage R98 from Gampel/Steg to Albinen on last June 28th and of course when I stayed at Hotel Weisshorn during the weekend of last June 30th and July 1st and I made the tour to the Forcletta with the Turtmanntal Valley. Now I see the mountain from the east side, it is even more splendid and indeed very – as its name already states! – white!

High above Mund a large outcrop of rock is visible that barren towers above the vegetation: it is the “Mundstein” (Mund’s boulder), locally called “Mundstei”. The story goes that the Devil threatened to roll this boulder over the village out of rage that the inhabitants were building a new church. They have averted this danger by putting a huge cross on the highest top of the rock…! The cross is quite visible now against the blue morning sky.

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Mund: the “Mundstein”, the enormous boulder with the cross to scare the Devil off

I followed my trail to the next village, which is indicated everywhere as “Färchu”, but of which the official spelling is “Ferchen” – again an example of the Highest Alemannic. It is an old village with a lot of old houses, but also with many young people living here. A large cat was sitting in the middle of the road, that looked at me rather arrogantly, but it didn’t take long before we were best friends. It was a Norwegian Forest cat in his or her (I couldn’t tell) summer coat: after winter the cat loses its long guard hairs and keeps its short undercoat. The tail and the head are staying longhaired. The chapel of Ferchen looks like so many chapels in this area, but it has a particularity: the back wall is formed by a rockface, so that is looks as if the chapel literally has been growing out of the rock. The large prune tree growing next to a large, old Walser house, was loaded with little prunes that were very sweet (they had fallen on the roof of a shed next to the tree!). I did not know the variety – anyway it weren’t damsons (or zwetschges), which grew in abundance on other trees.

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Ferchen: an old Walser house with a large plum tree

From Ferchen the road led winding past overgrown vegetable gardens, meadows with beehives and vague landfills with green waste. On a poster in a field the request to the municipality had been made not to mow the sides of the road, but apparently the request had only partly been responded to… The views on the surrounding mountain world were unabatedly beautiful.

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Ferchen: nice views on the Weisshorn and the mountain range of the Nadelhorn

There was a turn in the road along the mountain slope and all of a sudden there was a marvellous view into the Rhone Valley. The eroded and almost halved mountain top of the Illhorn was also visible – this strangely sharp cut mountain top was created by an enormous rockslide which happened long ago. In this utterly unstable mountain area no vegetation is possible. Southwards the view is drawn to the valley of the river Vispa near Visp with at the end the mountain group with a. o. the Nadelhorn, around which some clouds were hovering.

Not long after that I had to climb steeply in order to go into the direction of the Gorperi Suone, alongside which the trail of this Stage runs. In the meantime I went through a mixed forest with a. o. Scots pines, on which mistletoe (Viscum album subs. austricum) in rather large patches were growing. There are several subgenus, each with a preference for a certain species of tree – this subgenus grows on Scots pines. It also turned out that I was not the only one following this track: considering the size of the footprints (larger than my public transport chipcard) I saw that a deer had been passing earlier this morning!

Around half past eleven I reached the Golperi Suone, that I would be following to about the start where it was canalised, deep into the Baltschiedertal Valley. It is an ancient Suone, of which is known that its construction started in 1640. After a while I heard a sound that could come from a cow bell, but which was too regular for that: it was a water-wheel, that serves as a warning signal. In former times all Suonen were generally equipped with such a “Melderad”: so the “Wasservogt” (water bailiff) was able to hear already from a distance whether everything was working properly – didn’t he hear anything, it meant that there was an obstruction somewhere, preventing the water flowing into the Suone. In this case the water was passing well.

During extensive repair works in the years 1930 to 1934 made to this Suone also tunnels have been built at the most dangerous parts. In the tunnels on several spots bird’s nests can be found – even where it is pitch dark! Somewhere along the Golperi Suone an inscription is made in the mountain slope to commemorate these repair works. The “Geteile” (partners) are entitled to the water; on the other hand they had the obligation to perform “Gmeiwärch”, collective work, to get especially in Spring the Suone in working order again, but also to come and help out during the season in case of larger damages. This all is mentioned on an interesting website (in German), where Johann Gerber took the effort to make an inventory of all known and even unknown Suonen in the Canton of Valais: “Die Suonen und Bissen im Kanton Wallis“. On the signs in this area the indication “Suon” in stead of “Suone” is given: this a particularity for this small region around the village of Raron, nearby. The word “Suon(e)” has been derived from the Middle High German word suoha, meaning ditch or furrow. Sometimes in a tunnel the path next to the Suone is nicely paved.

There are also many plants along the track, like a large Houseleek (Sempervivum). Its size is quite relative in comparison to the gigantic rock face rising high! Further on a beautiful fly amanita was about to break open.

The Baltschiedertal Valley is a deeply carved valley, through which the Baltschiederbach stream runs, flowing into the Rhone at the village called Baltschieder. At the eastern mountain slope runs the Golperi Suone, providing the grass covered slopes of Eggerberg and Mund with water.

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Eggerberg: view into the Baltschiedertal Valley to the north

Somewhere in the distance I noticed a construction hanging at the outside of the mountain slope and it occurred to me that maybe there might still be such a dangerous spot. Indeed it turned out to be an architype of a Suone: a water stream in a hollowed tree trunk (“Kännel” or “Chänil”) with a system of wooden planks at the outside, some 30 cm wide and cables to hold on to… A sign mentioned that you enter this at your own risk. There also was a cross with a Christian text. A plaque at the rock face next to the entrance of the tunnel(!) read that the Municipality of Eggerberg has dedicated this “Chänilzug Mehrheji” to the festivities around the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation in 1991.

The path and the Suone ran deeper and deeper into the valley. The high rock faces towered high above the valley with in the mountain slope the path and the water course.

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Eggerberg: this rock face towers high above the Golperi Suone

At a certain moment I felt a fine water mist descending on me – looking upwards I noticed the water was coming from a waterfall spreading the water from a high altitude. It was so warm, that the water brought a pleasant coolness!

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Eggerberg: this waterfall spreads a fine spray of water over the Golperi Suone

The mountains at the opposite side of the Rhone Valley seems very far away by now, as I arrived at a large water drain: there as much water as necessary was lead from the fast running Baltschiederbach stream into the Golperi Suone and the rest of the water was taken back into the stream. At this side of the valley the path stopped. There also was a bridge over the stream to the right bank. I crossed that bridge.

After a steep ascent on a accessible track through for this time of the season still astonishingly flowered meadows and along deep furrows caused by strong rainfall and melting snow I came at the point where a sign pointed towards the notorious Niwärch Suone (literally “new work”). According to J. Gerber this Suone dates back to 1381 and replaced a still much older water course. In the 20th century this Suone has been repaired several times, for the last time in 1971/1972: then a tunnel has been built as an alternative to the utterly dangerous Suone that is as it were hanging from the mountain slope. In the course of the centuries many young men have lost their lives during repair works to this Suone. On the advice of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) the Suone at the outside of the mountain has been maintained. Arriving at the entrance of the tunnel I noticed a sign notifying that it is prohibited to search for and carve out gems, minerals or fossils in the tunnel in order to prevent collapse of the tunnel on a penalty of 500 CHF.

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Ausserberg: prohibiting sign at the northern entrance of the tunnel of the Niwärch Suone

The tunnel is unlit and the passage on foot takes 20 minutes. I was prepared for this and had taken with me a headlamp which I put on. I also put on my thick fleece jacket with hood, because it was quite chilly: I could see my breath condensing. At first I thought the prohibition to carve into the tunnel wall was rather unnecessary, because I only saw concrete. Walking through this unlit tunnel with only a small round circle of light from your head with as destination that tiny spot of light at the end of the tunnel was a peculiar experience. There was hardly a sound, besides the running water, the ticking of my walking stick and the sound of my footsteps when I splashed through a puddle of water. Also the fact that the spot of light at the end of the tunnel didn’t seem to draw any closer, how far I walked on, was bizarre! Every now and then the light grew somehow brighter: that was the light of an oncoming mountain biker. It was possible to pass each other on the path next to the water, there also are recesses in the tunnel wall to give way. Halfway I noticed something strange: in the walls and the ceiling of the tunnel which was covered with dark concrete were glittering many diamondlike little crystals. I wondered whether the concrete had been “working” or that someone had made a practical joke by mix something into the concrete…!

However after a while I started to discover interesting things at the walls and on the ceiling of the tunnel: all kinds of developing dripstone formations, minerals in different colours and other discolorations. Hereunder follow some impressions:

After indeed 20 minutes I was standing in the bright sunshine again. It was rather a change: many noises and a lot of heat – I could take off that jacket again! I was surprise by the marvellous views, also towards the destination of this part of the Stage: Ausserberg.

From there I followed the Niwärch Suone further to the west. Here the Suone runs through a sunny and open wooded landscape with large spruces and al lot of green undergrowth. I spotted a penny bun hanging upside-down over the Suone – it looked quite funny!

After about half an hour I saw a sign pointing towards the “Niwärch Kalkofen”, the Niwärch lime kiln, so I went down a steep slope to arrive at a partly restored lime kiln. A elderberry bush grew out its fire hole. Nearby an information point was placed, in the form of a small Walser house. Clearly a lot of attention was paid to the design – touching. From a distance one could see the clouds and the blue sky mirroring in the glass. The walk back to the Suone was steep and warm, but it had been worthwhile to have a look at the kiln!

Shortly after the forest turned into pastures. Here the Niwärch Suone passes through again friendly murmuring. About half an hours after my visit to the lime kiln I reached the hamlet of Niwärch with about 6 houses – all built in the Walser style and all clearly occupied. There it was shadowy and cool.

I continued over (hot) paved roads downhill to the railway station of Ausserberg to take the train to Brig from there. This trip by train was interesting because the track runs slowly down the slope with views into the wide valley, but also uphill. I also could still see where I have been hiking. Such a beautiful trip this has been!