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October 1st 2019

From Fieschertal over the suspension bridge to Bellwald

Today I have made another attempt to start Stage 95 of the Red Trail of the Via Alpina: from Fiescheralp to Riederalp. Therefore I took the train to Fiesch again: on arrival again a large crowd got off the train and into the Postal car, that would also stop at the valley station of the cable car to the middle station Fiescheralp. At that bus stop I didn’t get off: this time I didn’t like it either… Meanwhile I had the impression that all those crowds, like “distaster tourists”, wanted to have a look how the glaciers were melting and that it could be the last time these glaciers could be seen. Unfortunately it is a fact that the glaciers are melting and that it is a worrying development as well of course. I just didn’t want to be part of that “disaster tourism”… The Postal car continues it course to the village of Fieschertal. There I got off.
At the start of the hikes into many directions an information panel had been placed about the Fiescher glacier with pictures: between 1891 when the measuring had started and 2010 the length of this glacier has been shortened by 1.000 metres. The picture at the top dates from 1935 and the picture below from 2001 – the differences are quite clear… I still had the choice to go by a steep path to Fiescheralp or to hike upstream along the Wysswasser stream into the direction of Bellwald, a village on a sunny plateau on the mountain slopes in the left bank of the stream – whether by a suspension bridge or not! With this hike I would still achieve a part of a stage of the Via Alpina, but then in the reverse direction: Stage 94, that actually starts in Ulrichen and runs via Bellwald to Fieschertal…! During my train ride from Andermatt to Brig last Saturday I covered this route in a rather easier way! I chose the route to Bellwald and set off. The paved road wound slowly climbing through the hamlet of Zer Flie with beautiful sun-darkened Walser houses and gardens with colourful autumnal flowers, along a meadow with a curious pony and a large rose-bush with orange-red rosehips, standing in the blazing sun. The mountain stream “Wysswasser” lived up to its name “white water”: the white water was frothing over the rocks. A large boulder was lying on the side of the road with the inscription “Lawine 4. 2018“. This relates to a tragic accident that took place on March 31st of that year: then five (Spanish) tour skiers got into trouble when they went down the slopes from a mountain hut in the skiing area around the Aletsch glacier via the Fiescheralpe. They were dragged along by an enormous avalanche and buried under the snow. Alarmed by other skiërs nearby the rescue services (i.e. a helicopter) had been called out. The rescue operation was hindered by bad weather and despite their “avalanche transceivers” three of them could only be rescued dead… Walking there in the sun and in that apparently friendly nature it was quite hard to imagine the extent of the force the snow had been releasing.

Slowly the panorama became more and more beautiful. Towards the south the views cover the valley of the Wysswasser stream into the direction of het Rhône valley and the Binntal valley further away – with at the mouth of the small river the Binna – de mountain Breithorn, that from this point indeed looks quite “breit” (wide) and of which the deeply eroded slopes can’t be seen. To the west the wooded mountain slope steeply rises to the Fiescheralpe with the trail I could have followed if I had stuck to my original plan. Now I only saw the forests and… I heard the deer belling!

Somewhere near the hamlet Unnerbärg I had the choise to take the easy road to Bellwald or to follow a narrow path steeply uphill through an old fir forest. There also was a sign mentioning “Hängebrücke” (suspension bridge). Because yesterday I had been sort of avoiding to cross the large suspension bridge over the mountain stream Massa between Riederalp and Belalp, I thought that today I had to be brave and to choose the route including the suspension bridge to Bellwald. So I started the shadowy and beautiful trail that also took me near the large waterfall that I had already seen from the Postal car returning from the Binntal Valley last Sunday. I had a wonderful view on this waterfall on the right side of the gorge through which the stream Wysswasser is flowing. From close-by the waterfall looked even more impressive! From afar and from nearby I could feel the energy emanating from this water rushing down. The gorge is so deep and narrow, that it is not possible to see where the water hits the depth of the gorge…

Once I had left the woody area with its winding paths, uneven by thick tree roots and rocks, the path continued over steadily changing undergrounds: over flat stone plates, that had probably been polished by ice from a very long time ago and further over lopsided rocks, where I had to place my feet in the cracks. Where the trail was extremely steep, steps had been made by fixating square wooden beams into the rock. Meanwhile I had covered almost 500 metres in altitude.

In the forest itself I haven’t seen many plants anymore, except for moss. Quite a number of very small Common earth balls (Scleroderma citrinum) were growing in the moss. They really looked like baby potatoes, but they are poisonous! They contain (still unknown) poisons which can cause problems to the eyesight and the digestive system: already half an hour after consumption the blood pressure can sink that fast that in the worst case scenario one can lose his conscience… Higher on the mountain slopes also deciduous trees were growing, with on clearings young birches with beautiful white trunks. On some of the already died trees large Tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius) were growing – a real parasite, but nevertheless beautiful… Somewhere on a spot with some loose soil a small House leek (Sempervivum) had settled in the shelter of a barren rock. The soft pink tiny flowers had darker lines from their floral hearts.

The path ended at the mountain station of a small cable car from Fieschertal: in Titter. Whether the cable car was still in function in this time of the year wasn’t clear. There also were barracks with sleeping facilities and common spaces. The complex was for rent for groups, but it was empty now. A large cross was nearby from where the views were nice and the light as well: the sun was just shining through the high trees.

I remembered that last year I had also had my doubts about crossing a gorge via a suspension bridge: then it had been relatively small suspension bridge over the Joli stream between Ausserberg and Gampel-Steg, downstream of the Rhône. I wrote then : “Immediately a book came into my mind that I have read at school and that has left a lasting impression: “The bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornston Wilder. This American author (1897–1975) wrote this book in 1927. Th book was an instant best-seller; he was awarded the Pulitzer Price for it. Until today he and his books are famous, especially in the United States. The story is about a (fictive) Inca suspension bridge near Lima in Peru at the beginning of the 18th century. Just when five different people whose lives were intertwined in some way of another crossed the bridge over a very deep ravine, the bridge collapsed and the five fell into the ravine. A Franciscan monk had witnessed the accident and wrote a treatise about the possibly “cosmic” reason why just these five people were on that bridge at that very moment, that it could have be God’s plan. Because this book was considered to be blasphemous, the monk was burned on the stake. With this reminiscence I was standing there anno 2018, at the beginning of this sturdy looking suspension bridge made of steel and had serious doubts… I decided however “to embrace my fears and cross the bridge together”. I had expected that the suspension bridge would be swinging enormously while I was crossing it, but that wasn’t very much the case – especially the landings with the wire netting were swaying! At the other side of the ravine, where below the Jolibach stream was running, I found myself quite bold…” Now again I was standing at the beginning of a much longer bridge over a much deeper gorge… I was still hesitating near the bridge: I waited for a moment for the people who were coming towards me over the bridge to reach firm ground again. When they asked me whether I would like to take a picture of them, they turned out to be Dutch. I didn’t only take Francien’s and Jack’s picture, but I also had a nice chat with them! Encouraged by Francien and Jack I bravely set foot on the bridge and tried to stroll along as elegantly as possible – the bridge was hardly swinging. After the lowest point of the bridge I had to increase my pace: the slope was remarkably steep! Although I am not so much a fan of the Dutch performer Ramses Shaffy, I have hummed his song “Kijk omhoog Sammie, want daar is de blauwe lucht – kijk omhoog Sammie, want dan word je lekker nat…!” (Look up Sammy, because there is the blue sky, look up Sammie, because then you’ll get quite wet).

Once at the other side I had another look at the spot where I had started and cheerfully waved to Francien and Jack – I had made it. It was obvious that from the point where the bridge reached the mountain slope at the side of Bellwald, an old track had never existed. We had a very steep climb over metal stairs and steps cut out of the rocks with cables along the rock wall. The panoramic views were nevertheless more and more beautiful: on the west side I saw the forests and above them the grasslands of the Fiescheralpe and I could still hear the deer belling. The view over the valley of the Wysswasser stream to the southeast was equally breath-taking! Once more I was quite content with my change of plans…

After that steep climb to the shoulder of the higher mountains above Bellwald I reached – and with me many other hikers – a nice and wide plateau, from where several hiking routes via different detours lead to Bellwald. I chose the trail that, as I expected, would give the nicest views toward the west, the Fiescheralpe, and towards the north, to the high mountain peaks of i.e. Finsteraarrothorn (3.530m), part of a mountain range on the border between the Canton of Bern and Valais and the area around the Fiescher glacier. It was a wonderful niking trail of over an hour through meadows and over small bridges over murmuring streams and every now and then along little bushes of larches or varieties of maples, like the Field maple (Acer campestre) that had already started to change colours. The sun gave an extra glow to it. The path slowly descended to Bellwald and the lower I came, the more grand and impressive the view on the mountain range in the north became!

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Above Bellwald: panoramic views on the mountain world around the Finsteraarhorn and the Fiescher glacier

Meanwhile I had reached the first houses in the northern part of Bellwald – it was around a quarter past two. I looked back once more and I loved that overwhelming view! Walking through Bellwald it occurred to me that the inhabitants had done their utmost to conserve the houses in the village centre as authentic as possible. Also the Pfarrkirche zu den Sieben Freuden Mariens (Parish church of the Seven Joys of the Virgin) dating from 1698 stood out quite white against the background of the mountain landscape which I had so enjoyed during my hike. To this place I will certainly return one day!

Bellwald is situated at 1.560 metres – since 1962 there is a rather winding road from the Rhône valley to the village and since 1956 also a small cable car, with a red cabin, that runs several times per hour between the railway station of Fürgangen-Bellwald and Bellwald-Dorf village. I took the 14.30 hrs. gondola and silently descended towards the Rhône valley. From the gondola I could clearly see the large pedestrian suspension bridge over the Rhône: this Gomser bridge has been opened in 2015 and is accessible not only to pedestrians , but also to cyclists and wheelchair users. The bridge of 240 metres long runs over the Lamma Gorge through which the Rhône is flowing and connects Fürgangen to the village of Mühlebach on the left bank.

Waiting on the train was pleasant, standing in the afternoon sun. The other passengers were, like me, in a cheerful mood; apparently they had passed a wonderful day as well. The train took me back to Brig again, where I arrived around half past three.

In the evening I went into town, because I would like to try the real Cordon bleu, as that dish according to the legend has been created out of necessity… The story goes that in 1818, during the French occupation a large group of guests had made a reservation in one of the restaurants of Brig, but that the same evening another large group arrived unannounced. There only was enough pork meat for that first group, but the resourceful lady cook thought of an emergency solution: she crossways cut the pork fillets into two and put cheese and ham on top. The guest were delighted and the “patron” as well: he wanted to nominate her for the prestigious French dynastic order of chivalry, the Order of the Holy Spirit, that because of the broad sky-blue ribbon had been called “Cordon bleu“. She thanked him for the honour and answered that just the dish should be called “cordon bleu“… Truth or not: it is a nice story. Meanwhile a website has been dedicated to this phenomenon, on which also the original recipe has been published. The secret is the use of real Valaisan raclette cheese and air-dried ham. A list of restaurants where the real cordon bleu can be ordered, has been included. One of them is the Hotel du Pont, near the bridge over the Saltina stream – a place that has already existed for a very long time. When I headed through the main street for the Saltina, I noticed that the warmth of the day had already gone: a cutting wind was blowing… The restaurant was crowded, but I was seated at a nicely laid table. I ordered the famous “cordon bleu“, which was extremely tasty indeed (although slightly too salty for my taste). While I was cosily sitting there, the “patron” came with a silver serving dish and asked full of enthusiasm whether I would also like to have some “grúútsjtille“. Apparently I watched him in a rather puzzled way, so he added: “Gemüse!” (veggies). When I had a closer look at the stew and tasted it, I noticed that it was made with the stalks of chard! He had said in Valaisan German (Walliserdüetsch): “Krautstiele“. The leaves of the chard are used to make “capuns” (my favourite from the Grisons) and the long stalks as stewed vegetables. I wasn’t so sure whether it fitted to the cordon bleu schnitzel, but it was quite good!

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Brig: the original cordon bleu schnitzel, made with raclette cheese and air-dried ham at Hotel du Pont

After this warming meal I returned to the hotel. In the meantime it had started to drizzle. Also this day had been very worthwhile!