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September 16th 2018

Four “Suonen” and saffron sponge cake

This morning I started from Brig to Blatten again with the 8.18 hrs. Postal car to continue once more on the Via Alpina with Stage 96 of the Red Trail, the second part actually, from Belalp to Mund.

The official stage runs from Riederalp along the Great Aletsch Glacier and Belalp to Mund over a distance of 20 km and that is to much of a good thing for me…
As quiet it was in the Postal car yesterday so crowded it was today! Also in the large gondola of the cable car we had to squeeze in. The weather wasn’t great today: it was cool and very cloudy. However there were beautiful light effects, but only a few mountain tops were visible.

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Belalp: beautiful light on the Simplon area

Upon arrival at the top station we all got out and everybody left to the east into the direction of Riederalp and the Great Aletsch Glacier. I chose the opposite direction and quietly walked all by myself from Belalp towards the west. The mountain slopes had a reddish-brown glow because of the discolouring leaves of the blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus). The small berries are purple-blue. The plants of the lingonberries Vaccinium vitis-idaea) stay green, although the berries colour from white in the beginning to a bright red.

When I arrived at the other side of the circular deep valley to the west of Belalp, I looked back once more: the village was at quite a distance. Walking on I suddenly spotted the Great Aletsch Glacier! From this distance and with this overcast weather it already was an impressive sight – how overwhelming will it be, when one is standing close-by…

Although it was late into the season, there were still a lot of flowers, shrubs and trees to see, from near-by or a distance. This time as well a variety was in bloom – still or again… Next to the skeleton of a gentian that faded a long time ago, a bunch of Alpine roses were in bloom – for the second time. Although this can happen more often in September, it still is a peculiar sight. Also the bearded Bellflower tried hard to look its best. Furthermore I saw juicy, small wild raspberries, swaying in the wind, bushes of Alpine Juniperus, a sub-variety of the Common Juniperus full of almost ripe fruits and a branch of larch with its cones already brownish hanging over the footpath. Everything looked very appealing in all its simplicity.

In the meantime I had left the valley of Belalp behind me and I followed the rather wide Nessjeri Suone, flowing into the direction of Nesselalp. Here such an irrigation canal is also called “Wässerwasserleitung”, “wässern” means “to water plants” in German.

Every now and then the sight slightly broke open and I could see some of the mountain tops at the southside of the Rhone Valley. One and a half hours after I left Belalp I arrived at the hamlet of Nesselalp. Here again was a little chapel, “Maria zum Schnee” (Mary in the snow). This chapel, built out of greyish stone, has been mentioned for the first time in an official document in 1759. Volunteers have reinstated the back then much dilapidated building.

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Nesselalp: the “Maria zum Schnee” Chapel (first mentioned in 1759)

I looked down from the rocky peak where the chapel is standing and saw Brig. The enormous railway complex is very prominent – it is especially used for the (international) transportation of goods by rail, continuing night and day…

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Nesselalp: view on Brig

Again less of an hour later and many metres in altitude lower I passed after a walk through an open larch forest with many large boulders and murmuring waterfalls a rockface with some lichens and what at first glance looked like small white pebbles. At closer observation it turned out te be budding clumps of Houseleek (Sempervivum).

A few moments later I arrived at a point where I reached a Suone again: the Oberschta Suone. The working trail running next to it was flat at the start and the area around it nicely green. The clear water rapidly flowed between the well-maintained water sides.

After a while the surroundings got rougher and the track rockier. There also were tunnels, that weren’t even man-sized, so one had to find one’s way slightly stooped in the half-light. In one tunnel I used my walking stick as a kind of blindman’s stick: at eye-level I could see where I was going, but not where I put my feet. In another tunnel it was so dark – because of a bend – that I had to use the torch of my smartphone in order not to step into the water. The oncoming mountain biker didn’t get of his bike in a tunnel like that: I noticed that he had to lean to the opposite wall to prevent himself from falling…

At the entrance of one of the tunnel a wooden sign was standing with the inscription “Steihow”. What could that mean: pile of stones, a steep slope? When I had a look out of curiosity a deep crevasse gaped at my feet with a fast flowing mountain stream, the Mundbach! Fortunately there was a tunnel…

After about ten minutes and still another narrow tunnel I saw a deep and high cave, where horses had been hiding, according to the manure and the smell. Anyway they hadn’t trampled on the Lawyer’s wigs that were growing there!

The further I went into the Gredetschtal Valley, the more rocky the landscape became. The rugged mountain sides were battered by rock avalanches from long ago – the blocks had a greenish colour of the lichens. There wasn’t much vegetation anymore. The valley runs further towards the north, in an almost straight line – hence the name: “gredetsch” is derived from “gerade”, meaning straight in German. At a certain point there was a bend in the path, allowing me to go to the other side of the valley: from this point on the water of the Mundbach stream does not only flows into the Oberschta Suone, but also into the Stigwasser Suone. This Suone takes the water to Mund.

Along the Stigwasser Suone the area looked quiet different: much more green and lovely. The bottom of this Suone consisted no longer of pebbles, but of loam. It dates from the 16th century! Here as well a lobby group has in recent years taken on the maintenance.

Around half past one I came closer to Mund. Unfortunately it had become more foggy and it had started to drizzle. When I arrived in the village, the rain intensified. I had a quick look at the Saffron Museum from the outside. The building is special: the information panel states that dendrochronological research of the used wood has revealed that the building dates from 1437 and that it is therefore one of the oldest wooden building in the Valais. It was used as a so-called “Zehntstadel”, a “tax office”, where the farmers had to pay their taxes in kind to the authorities, the “Zehntkorn”, comparable with the tithe. Here again the Walser construction style is visible, including the “Mäuseplatten”.

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Mund: the Saffron museum is in an old barn which served a long time ago as “tax office” (Zehntenstadel”)

The rain was pouring down by now, so I took refuge in the Restaurant Safran, that was near-by. There the nice smell of saffron floated towards me! Many dishes containing saffron were available: saffron parfait, saffron risotto, saffron sponge cake. I chose coffee with saffron sponge cake – very delicious!

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Mund: a large portion of saffron sponge cake – the whipped cream is hidden behind it!

Meanwhile it had cleared up and I decided to return to Brig by foot. I skipped the educational trail about the saffron of an hour around Mund, the Saffranlehrpfad, that also runs through the saffron fields, so I did not see the Saffron crocus. On the way down however I spotted many Autumn crocuses, which are poisonous by the way!

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Mund: autumn crocuses in bloom (Colchicum autumnale)

During my walk downhill I met more and more items related to water management: there was a system of round metal tubes along the footpath, that turned out to be water pipes and not landings. There were stopcocks and coupling pieces at the ends… Aside the footpath water is flowing in the canals – or does the footpath runs next to the Suone? The latter seems to be the case. Maintenance work is regularly done: like at the point where a large wooden ladder was standing against the slope of the footpath and the Suone. The water course here is called the Drieschtneri Suone and runs on the property of the BLS, the railway company exploiting the line between Bern, Lötschberg and Simplon. The water of this Suone is mainly used for irrigating the “Schutzwald” (the protective forest) above the railway track: an information panel reveals that irrigation should be done during a period of 24 hours on end in order to let the water reach the roots of the trees. In this way is prevented that the trees will die and the risk of fire increases.

Somewhere halfway the mountain slope one has to cross the Mundbach stream again, which runs here through a deep ravine. There is a bridge made of steel panels in open work, that is clearly also used by foxes, because their poo was on the pavement! Here the steepness of the slope is also visible.

Brig has a long history as to railway: on June 1st 1878 the first train entered Brig from the Lower-Valais. In 1906 the railway track was built out to Domodossola in Italy through the Simplon Tunnel (in those days the longest railway tunnel in the world). This rail line as that via the Lötschberg Tunnel have been electrified from the start. The municipality Naters, neighbouring Brig, has on several occasions insisted on a change of name of the railway station into Brig-Naters – but without success… On the info panel are a few pictures dating from the 1930s. The view nowadays has considerably changed!

Not long after the path, on which hiking had been quiet pleasant, rose, with a lot of steps, cut into the rock. The vegetation became increasingly sparse and brownish: there clearly was less water. A part of the Suone had even dried up completely and been that way for quite a long time.

About half past four I approached the houses of Naters. There again was a bright white chapel, “Maria Hilf” (Mary Helps), built in 1891. Since 1982 on initiative of the parish and with help of many volunteers a Way of the Cross has been built from the cemetery of Naters to the chapel. The “Bildstöcke” (wayside shrines) contain the stations that were originally hanging in the church of Naters. The painted statues made of gypsum date from 1898.

Shortly after I walked through Naters, that has like Brig many beautiful and old buildings. This year the city is celebrating its millennium. A large banner flies high above the city, commemorating it. Now I know that it is attached to the landing of the path I have walked before. The age-old lime tree, hollow by now, was mentioned in a charter in 1357 and was already indicated by then as being “big”!

So ended an interesting hike with many impressions of wonderful nature and of ingenious solutions found over the centuries by the inhabitants of this area in order to improve their living conditions. In the meantime the sun was shining again.