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June 29th 2018
A Stage with beautiful views, but not from ladders…
Yesterday, June 28th, I left Leukerbad by bus for Leuk, in order to take the train to Gampel/Steg. There is the start of Stage R98. Again the weather was splendid. It was a short walk from the railway station Gampel/Steg to the starting point of the Stage. Immediately there was a clear difference between the type of rocks on both sides of the valley through which the small river Lonza flows towards the Rhône: the eastern side, into the direction of Lötschberg, has much sharper points and more forests than the westerns side, towards Leuk, where the rocks are barren.
At first the trail ascends steeply and passes several Bildstöcke, wayside shrines along the road with a statue of a saint. In this case it is the so-called “Rosenkranzweg zu den Spitzen Steinen” (the Road of the Rosary to the sharp stones), which was initiated by the Gampel religious community to the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation (1291‒1991). The road seamed with the small chapels leads to a small Capel with the name “Chapel “zu den Spitzen Steinen”. The building is not very old. On January 25th 1946 especially Sierre, about 30 km from Gampel/Steg as the crow flies, was hit by an earthquake of 6.1 on the Richter scale. This quake also caused huge damage in Gampel: the Chapel “zu den Spitzen Steinen” had been damaged to an extent that it had to be completely rebuilt. The interior of the Chapel is special: according to the website of the parish the altar piece with the picture of Mother of God with the Rosary and the Child Jesus dates back to the late 17th or early 18th century and is contributed to the Italian painter Rubiato. The views around the chapel are phenomenal; the lime tree gives a lot of shade. On the little shrine for the ceremonial candles which is outside under the lime tree, a nice saying is written: “Immer wenn Du denkst es geht nicht mehr, kommt von irgendwo ein Lichtlein her!” (Each time you think that you can’t go on, from somewhere a small light appears!).
At the beginning the trail follows Stage 2 of the Walliser Sonnenweg (“Valaisan Sun Trail”, Trail nr. 61), which actually runs into the opposite direction: from Leukerbad to Gampel/Steg. A few kilometres after the Chapel “zu den Spitzen Steinen” the Via Alpina continues into the direction of Bratsch, while the Sonnenweg still goes up further onto the mountain slope. The area is dry and barren; towards noon the temperature is rising considerably. It is a beautiful hike with at all times wonderful views into the Rhône Valley.
Only on arriving in Bratsch I noticed that during this part of the hike there has not been any water or stream: in Bratsch everything was green and lush again. Also a mountain stream roared down from the slope.
Moving on I sometimes walked on the asphalt road and sometimes on steeply ascending and descending narrow footpaths, but continually with beautiful views. A side valley at the opposite side was rich in contrasts: the Turtmanntal valley covered with forests and the village in the Rhône Valley Turtmann and in the distance the snow-capped mountain top of the Weisshorn (4.506 m).
Above the next village, Erschmatt, I spotted in a meadow, in the shadow of a few trees along the footpath a small flock of Valais Blacknose sheep (Walliser Schwarznasenschafe). They look very endearing, because they do not only have a black snout, but also black “knees” and black hoofs, while they furthermore wear a whit and very fluffy coat. Their horns are distinctively twisted. This breed is not really rare, like for instance the Valais blackneck (Walliser Schwarzhalsziege), the goat with the distinctive separation between the black from the nose to behind the shoulder and the white from there to the tail, which I saw a few moments later grazing in another meadow. Here as well the haying was in process nicely smelling hay with lots of flowers and herbs were put on windrows by a farmer walking behind a hay tedder.
In this Stage dry and hot parts and shadowy parts through the woods alternated: from Erschmatt I went to Feschel, which name originates from the Ligurian (Liguria is the region around Genoa) and means “hill”. This place was of importance until far into the 19th century as stop-over for travellers and merchants on their way from or into the Upper-Valais because in those times the Rhône had not been regulated yet and the valley was not always passable. Near a murmuring stream I saw a small creek with quite a lot of tadpoles and one adult toad on the bottom with a marvellous camouflage colour.
From Feschel the road lead over open grasslands toward the next village, Guttet, and from there onto the direction of Albinen. There a large “scar” is visible in the landscape above Leuk: this demolition is caused by an enormous forest fire, that on August 13th 2003 was ignited by a pyromaniac. Over 300 hectares of forest went up in flames. Fortunately there were no human casualties. Fifteen years later the traces of this forest fire can still be seen in a very obvious way: on the mountain slope a lot of scorched tree stems, still black or already bleached by the sun. In the meantime nature has recovered amazingly quick: already a lot of vegetation has grown back and there is a variety of plants and insects that weren’t there before – and not only pioneering plants like the rose bay willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium).
However it will take another 50 years before needle- and deciduous trees will have grown back, so the forest can fulfil its function as protective woods (“Schutzwald”). Aim of such a forest is to protect the places that are situated in lower regions by preventing or diminishing of land- and rock slides. In the case of the Leuk forest artificial barriers are placed to prevent this. Reforestation had not been possible because of the aridity of the area. The fire just missed the satellite station near Leuk.
About four o’clock I arrived at Albinen – just in time to catch the bus back to Leukerbad. Herewith I completed the largest part of this Stage. Between Albinen and Leukerbad a passage is still awaiting the hiker, at which I won’t even think of starting: again with ladders ascending over some hundred meters of difference in altitude, the “Albinenleitern”…
Today, June 29th, I restarted on the Stage, but in a somewhat alternative way. I went from Leukerbad to the Albinenleitern, so the Stage in opposite direction, in order to see with my own eyes how they looked like – well, literally “vertigo inspiring”! The only way to by-pass these ladders is to make a large detour.
This detour became rather large: I eventually reached Albinen, but only at 14.00 hours… I descended the mountain slope from the Albinenleitern all the way to the Dala. From thereon I went to Inden for a cup of coffee.
Although Albinen was still in the far distance, I arrived in the village by detours: first I took a narrow footpath to the riverbanks of the Dala. When I noticed that I could not pass on under the viaduct I walked back and took the road over the viaduct.
There I spotted a sign pointing to Albinen! A long hike against the steep slope followed, over hot meadows and somewhat less hot patches of forest. I saw that Chalet “Edelweiss” dating from 1767 apparently changed with the times, hence the solar panels on the roof!
When I heard the church bells chime – by now it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon – I knew that Albinen really was within reach. I strolled through the village to the Church. I took some photos of picturesque houses in this authentic place.
When I arrived at the Church I read the information panel: here as well the earthquake of January 25th 1946 caused that much damage to the church that she had to be replaced. The building is a for those times very modern but beautiful with two fights of stairs around leading to the front steps and with a wonderful red copper door.
Insight in the oval space, looking like a ship, Noah’s Arch, the special stained glass windows catch the eye. The one with the Lamb of God appeals the most to me.
It is the story about the church tower ‘though which captures the imagination the most; the tower wasn’t badly damaged by the earthquake, so they did not have to replace it, The only thing they did was adapting the “spire” to the modern look of the church! The information panel shows a “before” and “after” sketch.
On the way to the bus stop I passed a cluster of road signs for hikers. There again I spotted a sign of the Via Alpina – this is the proof that I hiked the Stage…!
This hike is the last one that I will do in and around Leukerbad. Tomorrow I am going for two nights to Hotel Weisshorn, that can be reached only by foot from the village St. Luc in the Val d’Anniviers Valley!