A Hike to Göschenenalp

May 31, 2014

It promised to be a beautiful day. Dan had planned a hike in the Alps that included a walk around the Göschenenalpsee and maybe a side trip up to the Bergseehutte for some nice views of the mountains and the lake below. It was be a 3 hour train ride and then a 30 minute bus ride to our starting point. We wanted to get a good start on the day, so Dan chose a 6:04 am train departure. This, of course, meant getting up at 5 am.

The clouds moved in as we gained elevation and entered the deep valleys of the Alps. Pretty soon we could see nothing outside of the windows of our train – so much for great and vast vistas for our hike!

We reached Göschenen at 9am and the town was completely obscured by clouds. We followed some people across the tracks and found the first wanderweg sign. Dan suggested that instead of taking the bus, we could just hike up to Göschenenalpsee. The sign indicated that it would be 3.5 hours…not too bad. I agreed and we began our adventure.

The trekking poles were a little short for me…

Clouds in Göschenen

The path was well maintained and traversed a steep slope littered with massive stones that had tumbled down over the years. The soft pine needles gave the path a nice surface and the air was cool. It was a great day for a hike.

After about half an hour, the path left the forest and spit us out into a lush, narrow valley. Unfortunately the clouds were still with us, although the sun promised to come out and burn them off.

A spring housed inside the shelter

King Dan

We were no longer on a path, but a two-track trail used by the locals for farming. The sun had come out and warmed us up quickly. The only other hikers we saw quickly passed us, leaving us alone on the trail. To our left was a steep slope laced with waterfalls, sliding over smooth rocks. To our right was a small road leading to Göschenenalp with only the occasional car passing by. In between us and the road was the aptly named Göschener Fluss (river) full of clear and fast-flowing water.

Sheep blocking the road

And then we saw the snow-covered peaks that had been hiding behind the clouds. It was a beacon for me, something to look forward to for the rest of the hike. And since I was enjoying the view in front of me, I finally turned around to see where we had come from. The clouds had cleared and I was surprised to see that there were mountains back there as well.

The view ahead

The view behind

We stopped at a branch in the trail where someone had built up a beautiful spring and a well-used shelter. I could tell by its condition that many people made use of the place, as it was clean and tidy and looked fairly new (well, less than 20 years old). I was enjoying the hike so far but I made the mistake of looking up the trail – and it was literally “up”. The path was going to start to gain altitude quickly and my heart fell.

View of the spring

View up the branching valley

The path continues

I realized later that the spring/shelter were key destination points on this trail. Everything after here was infrequently used and the condition of the trail showed it. Trail markers weren’t always easily visible and the footing was rough. And steep. Dan, of course, had no problem and just strolled up the mountain. I cursed him as I trudged behind, often just out of sight. He would wait for me but just as I caught up he would continue to walk. It was disheartening to me, but I was more annoyed with myself for not being able to keep up in the first place.

We came out of the trees and were now in a boulder field – a massive open green slope that was littered with rocks of all sizes and shapes that had slid down from the mountains over the years. I suggested a break on one of these rocks and we listened the sounds of the birds, river and wind in the trees as we enjoyed a light snack.

Our lunch stop

Each time the trail crested a small rise I hoped that this would be it: this would be the rise that would let me look down on the beautiful lake, surrounded by glistening snow covered mountains. But they weren’t. Instead, they just showed that I had more to climb.

And when I finally reached a crest that showed me salvation, I was wrong. We had reached a pond and a campground – but no lake. Still, it was a nice respite from the constant upward direction and I enjoyed just walking along the flat valley.

Then I realized that we were heading for a dam. I saw the smooth green wall of earth ahead of us, its top frustratingly high. But we continued to walk as I looked for the path that would take us up to the top. Along the way we passed fishermen and climbers, hikers and bicyclists and, of course, the campers themselves.

Campers visible on the right

Fly fishing only

The pond. Ahead you can see the green line of the dam

At the base of the dam

A quick look back down the valley – the clouds were rolling in

Dr. Deathmarch kept on going. I was determined to make it to the top but I was ok with not being as fast as Dan. He waited for me about mid way up and we sat on the side of the trail and rested and discuss what we should do next. I suggested that we first check the bus schedule to see when our return ride would be available, and then possibly stop by the restaurant at the top for a drink. After that we would decide if we still wanted to walk around the lake.

Ascending the dam; for sense of scale, see the two hikers in the distance

View from mid-way up the dam

Wildflowers carpet the ground in front of the restaurant

We rounded the bend and looked at the bus shelter for the schedule. There was no schedule – it was too early in the season and the buses weren’t running! This left us only one option: we would have to walk back down the valley to Göschenen. Based on this news, I was not keen to walk around the lake. It was already after 1 pm and it would take us at least three hours to walk back, and then a three hour train ride home. Instead, we went to the top of the dam to look around before heading home.

I’m not terribly fond of man-made lakes to begin with, and dammed lakes are the worse. Unless the water level is perfect, they always look like a bathtub with a ring of scum around the sides. This reservoir was no different. In fact, I was surprised at the low level of the water and was disappointed at the view. I was happy not to have walked around the lake.


A skier walking along the top of the dam. We had no idea where he had skied from.

The clouds had rolled in fast and thick and the temperature dropped quickly. We put our layers back on and wished that the sun would come back. The action of the clouds being pushed over the lip of the dam was impressive. I caught a little bit of it on this video. I would be ok with leaving the reservoir and getting back down the valley. I was tired, but knew that the worse was yet to come.

Because it was so early in the season, not all of the wanderweg signs had been reinstalled after the winter snows. Therefore we had taken the “wrong” way up to edge of the dam (we took the bicycle path) so we were determined to take the proper hiking route down. This was easier said than done. The trail was poorly marked and at least twice our GPS informed us that we had missed a turn.

Poorly marked trail

Despite the poor trail markings, this was a very popular area for climbers. We passed a number of marked and bolted routes, some of them being used, but most of them empty this time of year. Remember, there’s no bus access yet!

Dan points out a top-roped wall

I didn’t take many pictures on the return leg, as I was too busy trying to keep my knees from exploding with the constant downhill pressure. I was only too happy to reach the spring and not-quite-as-steep descent from there on out. We stopped at the spring for a drink and a too-short break. There were a number of bicyclists and day-users at the shelter when we returned, a testament to the popularity of this site with the locals.

Tree stump carving

The valley, sunshine and flowers

There were now families walking along the trail some with friendly dogs who ignored us as we walked by. It felt like we had entered a popular park instead of distant valley in the Alps.

Back into the woods

Another wood carved stump

Göschenen in the sunshine

We had covered about 26km over seven hours, with an elevation gain of 1,400′. It was much more than I wanted to do but I’m glad to say that I finished it. Only when we were on the train back to Basel did we realize that the strong alpine sun had burned the backs of our necks and both of my arms. Whoops – I had put sunscreen on my face, but never considered the rest of my exposed skin. It was an uncomfortable ride home, as my feet and muscles were aching, and the hot skin was radiating heat. I was only too happy to get home, shower and put my feet up.

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