Hiking at Giw

October 28, 2016

Garmin stats page here
This is much more impressive if you click on the “Terrain” button under the stacked paper icon. Go ahead: be impressed. I was!

Dan had planned a hike for today. This wasn’t surprising, but the location was: Visp. I didn’t know that we could reach Visp in just two hours from Basel by train – I thought it would have been a lot longer. So he did his research, bought our tickets and planned which hikes we would do.

The alarm went off at 6 o´clock; we caught the 6:50 train and were in Visp by 9 o´clock. It was an easy change to a local bus to take us further up the mountainside. The road was a narrow with no extra room and it was made all the more narrow by the frequent cars parked on it. They were the cars of the vineyard workers, busy on the steep, terraced mountainsides. Open-backed trucks periodically motored by us, full of crates and tools. It was a busy season for the vineyards!

From the train

From the bus

The bus line ended at Giw (technically Visperterminen) and everyone got off – all five of us. It was a small village but it showed a lot of recent growth. Only a few of the original buildings were left, their heavy slate roofs a dead giveaway to their age. As usual, since I had left the planning of the hike up to Dan, I could only follow him around as he looked for the Sesselbahn (chair lift) that would take us further up the mountain and to the beginning of the hiking trail. The sky was blue, snow-covered peaks glistened in the sun and the trees were amazing! So many colorful leaves covered the mountain sides. It was a glorious day for a hike.

The Sesselbahn was just up the hill behind the bus station and it looked awfully quiet as we approached. There was a large sign on the wall of the building that displayed the seasonal hours for the bahn – and then a small white sheet of paper was taped on top that. The sheet of paper informed us that the bahn had closed early for the season. Now what?

Why, hike to the hike, of course!

Throughout the area of Giw were little shrines, each one filled with religious characters

We found the wanderweg that climbed up through the rest of the village and then ducked into the forest. Everything was quiet. No one was about, only a few birds were singing and goat bells jangled in the distance.

We started our hike.

Leaving Giw behind

Goats on the trail, with more shrines in the background

Magnificent goats!

I knew that the forecast for today was to be “good”, but there was no way that I could have expected such perfect weather. It was cool, which made it good for hiking. The sun was warm, but the shade of the forest kept me comfortable. The trees were a mix of brilliant gold larch, intense green pine and various deciduous trees. The fields were interspersed with flowers, bushes and tall grasses, and the trail was a comfortable dirt track through all of it.

The Sesselbahn would have taken us up 900 meters (2,900′) in elevation in just under three kilometers, but now this was being done by my own feet (and legs, and lungs). Dan surged on ahead and I stopped to take pictures. We had left the dirt trail behind and now walking on a narrow paved track. There were periodic settlements of tiny timber buildings with their ancient slate roofs. Most of them looked to be in use and some were even being renovated with a new foundation, a new roof or newly framed windows and doors. Our track joined a road and now the little settlements were larger, with maybe a dozen buildings clustered together. I was tempted to hitch a ride with one of the infrequent cars that passed us; this wasn’t part of the plan, after all, and I was hoping to get to the top and still enjoy the day. But I never did put out my thumb for a ride and we kept on walking.

Difficult lighting

Ahhh, the views!

Strike a pose

Mountain morning sunshine, with frost still in the shadows

More goats

A collection of buildings

Dan leading

One of the larger settlements along the road

Old school gutter system

The wanderweg left the road behind and we were in the forest again. The trail followed a small stream up the hill and then it disappeared. There were no more wanderweg signs and no indication of where we should go. We started to climb a grassy slope when I saw a well-defined path in the woods on the other side of the stream. We crossed over and followed it – to someone´s mountain hut and a dead end. At this point, Dan pulled out his phone and checked the maps. We were nowhere near the wanderweg!

Apparently when we were walking on the road we had missed a wanderweg sign and now we were way off course. We looked at the map and decided upon our course of action: we’d follow the two-lane track we were on until it got us to the nearest road and somewhere near the wanderweg again, and then try to reach it via a “short cut” through the fields.

This is not where we’re supposed to be

This plan actually worked out quite well. Our shortcuts went up incredibly steep, grassy slopes but they really cut down on the amount of walking that we would have done if we´d stayed on the road. The first shortcut was actually easiest to navigate using my hands, as the slope was so steep. I wasn’t happy about this detour, but it wasn’t Dan´s fault. I mean, who would have expected the Sesselbahn not to be running at this time of year?
Eventually I could see the summit, or at least the chairlift building at the top of the slope. It looked to be a long ways away, and I was tired. I had reached the point of unhappiness and I cursed at Dan as he bounded up the grassy field. Yes, just like every other hike I knew that when it was over I would be happy to have done it, but right now I couldn’t care less. I considered just sitting down on the grass, but knew if that I did that I wouldn’t want to ever get back up. And Dan would just get further ahead. So I whined some more in my head and kept moving my feet.

Almost there

Damn you, Sesselbahn!

Dan was already done exploring the top of the Sesselbahn by the time I got there and I no longer cared what it might look like. I gave the inert chairs a baleful look, wishing that I could have enjoyed the ride up to this point. We sat in the sunshine and broke out our lunch. The rest did me well and by the time we finished I wasn’t quite so reluctant to continue. The original plan was to take a trail called Panoramaweg, a nice three hour hike that would give us outstanding views of the surrounding Alps. But as we had already used up two hours of our hiking allotment, we reconsidered this option. Instead, we decided to take a much shorter Rundweg that led to a mountaintop lake (one of the key reasons Dan had chosen this hike), and then continue the second half of the day´s plan of hiking to the village of Gspon.

Leaving behind the Sesselbahn

The hike immediately went up, of course. I was refreshed from our lunch stop, but that only lasts so long. But now the trail was less daunting an actually quite relaxing as it wound through grassy hillsides and open forest. I was enjoying this part of the hike and looked forward to seeing the magical mountain lake.

I was enjoying this section

Always a great view

Working our way up to the lake

I love wanderweg hiking signs like this one

The trail so far had been almost empty of other users. We saw a couple of mountain bikers and now that we had intersected with a more popular trail (read: one that didn’t come from a non-running chair lift) we saw many more. Our final half hour was on a level trail in the company of half a dozen people within sight. And then we saw the lake!

And then we turned around. Seriously, the lake was probably one of the most disappointing destination points I have ever hiked to. Gebidumsee was just a depression in the landscape with no real definition. The path continued down to the shore and then (based on the signage) around the lake. We stopped where we were and decided to focus on the return hike.

Gebidumsee – the lake of the mountain

But at least the view was nice

The trail meandered back down towards Giw and the intersection that I had mentioned before. But now, instead of going steeply downhill towards the unmoving chair lift, we traversed the side of the mountain. Above us were blue skies and white peaks and around and below us were the brilliantly covered forests of the alpine slopes.

Looking down at Visp

We’re heading somewhere over there

Did I mention the sunshine?

So many colors

There was still frost on the north-facing trails

We were a little nervous about the time. The sun sets early this time of year, and being in the mountains in the dark would be a bad thing. We were trying to time our hike so that we’d be on a train well before nightfall. We had differing estimates on how long the trail we were on was supposed to take, giving us the impetus (Well, for me anyway. Dan had no problems with his impetus) to keep moving.

Dan checks his phone for our route

The trail followed the mountainside, crossed over a couple of small ridges, and then finally dropped down into the village of Gspon. Here there was supposed to be a cable car that would take us down to the train station and from there, home! I had serious misgivings about the cable car though, as I could see nothing moving out of the station house. After the fiasco with the Giw Sesselbahn, the last thing I wanted to do was hike down the mountain!

The village of Gspon

Oooh! Someone got a new roof and fancy copper trim!

More Gspon

It wasn’t until we had climbed the stairs and gone inside the tiny building that we saw the time table and a couple of people waiting that I was sure that we´d have a ride down the mountain. Whew! And we were in luck as the car ran only once an hour, and the next departure was in only ten minutes. The waiting group grew in size as more people appeared from the trail and soon we were packed into the tiny compartment (Max. Load: 10 People). A large family group arrived just as we were about to take off, but there was no way to fit them into the cable car at this point. They stood there and watched as our car made the steep descent towards the valley.

The descent was indeed steep. We dropped 739 meters (2,425′) in a matter of seven minutes. The cable car dropped us off in Staldenried and we looked for the train station. It was a small village, and still rather high above the valley, so I wasn’t sure how a train would even come through here. Then Dan checked his phone: we had another cable car to catch! We ran back to the cable car station and saw the second car waiting for departure, people already inside. The same large family that had been left behind on the first section had caught up to us and a good portion of them were encouraged by the operator to squeeze in. The ten person limit went out the window as kids, kid carriers and the accompanying adults crammed into the tiny cabin.

On the way down – our shadow is below us

The road up

The final descent went well enough and we exited in the town of Stalden. Dan consulted his phone: the train to Basel would arrive on Track 2 in just a few minutes. Perfect timing! I sat down for a snack and Dan wandered off to check out the station. It was obviously new construction, with many areas still to be completed and cleaned up. Then Dan came striding back to me: No trains will stop at Track 2! Dan quickly walked over to the station office to ask about the train to Visp (and Basel). I came into the office mid-conversation, as the guy behind the counter mumbled something about a bus to Visp in ten minutes and we could catch it “over there” as his thumb pointed vaguely behind his shoulder. Dan and I went outside, around the construction staging area and looked for a bus stop. The only one we saw was at the other end of the building (wrong thumb) and the bus parked there was empty. Hmmm. We looked around and waited, hoping that a bus would pull in through the parking area and pick us up.

A few minutes later, Dan noticed a bus stop, but it was nowhere near the train station. Stalden is in a narrow valley, so every street is on a different level. The bus stop that Dan saw was on a street up from us, built up above a playground. As we ran up some stairs towards the playground we saw three buses pull up. But we were stuck: there was no obvious way to get from here to the street above us. The buses came and went, and we were still in the playground.

Frustrated, I went back to office to ask for more details about this “bus to Visp”. He clarified that yes, the bus stop was over there and up (that would have been nice to know), and the way to get there was around the other side of the train station and up a side road to the main street. At least the next bus was scheduled in ten minutes, so we wouldn’t have long to wait.

We had made it to the bus stop and found a handy map taped to the wall illustrating how to get here from the train station. Ah, lovely. Maybe they should post one of these at the station itself. Eventually we sorted out which stop to stand at and waited for our bus as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Four buses marked “Visp” drove by in succession, each one full of passengers that would normally be on the train, before one stopped for us. The drive to Visp was pleasant and our transfer to the train went without a hitch. Fortunately we had a direct train to Basel and we settled in for a relaxing ride home.

It wasn’t at all the day that either of us had planned but it had been a good day nonetheless.


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