Hiking the Ridges

February 15, 2015
Map Link (approximate!)

For the last month and a half (or more) Dan and I have been determined to “get out” on the weekend. And every Monday for the last month and a half I’ve gone to work and when someone asks what I did over the weekend, the answer’s been “Nothing”. Today we’d finally change that.

The weather in Basel looked dismal: cold and foggy. I chose a hiking route in a nearby town and hoped for some decent weather and good trails. We found both.

The idea was to take the train and then the bus to the village of Bubendorf and then follow a 10.5km trail to Reigoldswil, where we’d find a bus to take us back home. Our first mistake was not getting of the bus in Bubendorf, but instead the next town (Ziefen) where we saw some wanderweg signs at a stop.

Poodle in Liestal

We got off the bus in Ziefen and checked out the post spiked with wanderweg signs. As usual, there were many choices of towns to aim for and we made our decision based on our original plan. It was a pleasant walk through Ziefen, an old village nestled on the floor of a fertile valley. The buildings were quite old but well maintained and the cobbled sidewalks were clean. There was some confusion at the next signpost, as there were no recognizable towns listed. We made our best guess and headed away from the valley, leaving the shops and homes behind as we climbed the nearby ridge.

Our first view of Ziefen

See that tiny yellow diamond to the right of the gate? Wanderweg sign!

The weather was perfect for our walk: the temperature wasn’t too warm, the sun came out once in a while and there was a slight breeze. There were a few other walkers out with us, and some horseback riders, but otherwise the day was ours. With a long winter’s rest behind me, I resented the effort it took to reach the top of the ridge, even though every step I took gave me a better view across and down the valley.

Looking back at Ziefen

At the top of the ridge the wanderweg changed from a paved surface to a gravel forest road. Snow covered parts of it in the shaded areas and the trail kept gaining altitude. Dan and I wandered through the forests and checked the infrequent wanderweg signs for directions. We weren’t at all where we had planned on hiking, but since the goal of the day was simply to get outside, this would be good enough.

Leaving the pavement behind

View of Zifen – our starting point

Modern day bunker – 1983

I complained some more about the constant elevation gain while at the same time appreciating the additional snow and the greater views. Spring flowers thrust their new growth through the mix of dead leaves, their full colors not yet ready for the world to see. The trail eventually began to descend and we followed the signs for Seewen, our path staying just above the roadway and nestled in the trees.

The trail spit us out at the top of a farmer’s field and we guessed that we needed to follow the faint trail of slightly trampled grass to the road below. The grass was slippery and I was glad to make it down before falling down.

Always signage somewhere

Dan leading the way

Just south of Seewen we passed by a small reservoir where ducks sat on a barely frozen surface and then we were in the town itself. Unbeknownst to us, Seewen is the site of Switzerland’s biggest murder case. But the town didn’t give any indication of such a violent past. Instead there were happy cows, contented pigs, bubbling fountains and a beautiful church high on the hill. Again, all was quiet and we continued through, this time following the signs for Hochwald and our goal, Aesch.

Cows in Seewen

Church in Seewen

Looking back on Seewen

There were a few more people on the trail by now and many dogs frolicking in the sunshine. I had long ago shed my jacket and hat, and my gloves never made it out of my pocket all day. There was yet another rise to climb as we left Seewen, but this one wasn’t as steep or long and it led us through fields not yet ready for spring.

Surprise pig sighting in Seewan

Keeping your horses close to home

It was a pleasant albeit snow covered descent into to the next valley. The sun was bright when it came out and often reflected harshly off of the heavy snow in the fields at these higher regions. I knew that we were somewhere near Aesch, our final destination, but I assumed that it would be a nice hike along the valley. Much to my dismay I saw that the trail went up the very next ridge. It was an aggressive trail that switch backed heavily up the wooded hillside. By now my entire body was aching and I was ready to reach the comfort of the train in Aesch. But up we went, me insisting on taking advantage of the benches at every switch back and Dan patiently waiting for me. At the top of the ridge there was a surprise waiting for us: a small whitewashed chapel perched on the edge of the hill. We had seen this building as we descended into Hochwald, but I never anticipated visiting it. So now we had crested another ridge – the 3rd one of the day. My feet were beginning to hurt, and that was well before we began our final descent for the day.

Descending into Hochwald; we’ll soon climb the ridge in the distance

Someone’s dedicated to his model train!

Looking back at Hochwald; we came from that ridge in the background

The chapel on the ridge above Hochwald

We followed this couple for a while – I hope they didn’t mind

We reached a collection of outbuildings called “Herrenmattweg” on Googlemaps. Based on the half a dozen cars parked nearby, this was a popular starting place for wanderwegging. Alas, there was no car waiting to take us home. The farm buildings were full of tractors and other machinery from various eras – all of it obviously used at some point in the farm’s history. The farmer was on one of his newer tractors to move hay bales as his wife called out some instruction to him, an unintelligible conversation of Swiss German.

As we neared the farm house we saw two young puppies playing in the fenced front yard. We stopped to watch and they were so engaged in their play that they didn’t notice us for some time. When they finally did see us, they bounded over to the fence to greet us. They were the friendliest dogs I’ve seen since moving to Switzerland. Most dogs completely disregard anyone that isn’t in their family, not even so much as an ear twitch or eye contact.

Road to “Herrenmattweg”

Puppy play!

We were now high above Aesch and the path was steep and unrelenting as it wound down among sheer cliff walls and then rolling pasture lands. The musical sounds of Fasnacht celebrations wafted through the air as we snuck up on Aesch from the south, skirting the walls of Schloss Angenstein before crossing over the Birs River.

Farmhouse art above Aesch

Following the path to Aesch

Pfeffingen Castle in the clouds

Looking south of Aesch

Schloss Angenstein

Fountain detail

Tank traps from WWII

The train station was full of children in festive costumes and confetti covered parade-goers. As much as I wanted to see the remnants of the celebration, my feet just weren’t having any of it. I sat gratefully on the train seat and enjoyed the peaceful ride home.

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