Thursday, September 11 – Wispile to Launen

Overcast, low clouds, rain on and off (mostly on) all day long

Second anniversary of the 9/11 attack. We were in Italy on 9/11. We had arrived in Sorrento, from the US, the day before. That was the first year for SlowTalk, our message board. A lot of people had planned trips to Italy and cancelled them. There were a lot of discussions about whether or not people felt comfortable traveling. I have never decided if it was better that we were out of the country during that time. We did not obsess over the CNN coverage, like we would have if we were at home, but we really felt isolated and far from home. It was at least a year until I could even speak of 9/11. I never did finish my trip report for that year’s trip. On that trip, in early October, we had our first SlowTrav GTGs. About 25 people came to a catered lunch at our vacation rental in Tuscany. The week before we had 8 people for a potluck lunch at the same place.

But back to the present. We woke up to heavy overcast – clouds down over the mountain tops. I had planned a gondola ride followed by a 2.5 hour hike at high level to a place where we would ride Trottis down to Zwiesimmen, but this was not going to work in the rain. I suggested a day in Montreaux (picturing shoping, cafes, a nice lunch, maybe even sunshine at the lower level location) and was dressed and ready to go when Steve spotted a break in the clouds and said hiking might be possible. So we changed to hiking clothes and drove to Wispile (I drove again – practising my Swiss driving) where we would hike from a higher level down to a lower level.

The gondola was not running!! Steve went and talked to them and found out that they will start it up when someone comes – not many people out today. So we took the gondola up into the clouds. It was not raining, but was cold. Today we wore turtlenecks, polartec vests and rainjackets. I wished I had packed gloves and wool hats!

We hiked from Wispile to Launen. Our first hike in this area, one week ago yesterday, was from Wispile to Gsteig. Gsteig is in the valley on one side of Wispile, Launen is in the valley on the other side. For an hour we walked back from Wispile. It started to rain, then it turned to a downpour. We sheltered under some big trees and had lunch (cold rice and vegetables from the night before – looked boring when I packed it up last night, tasted fabulous on the trail). In case we had to spend the rest of the year sheltering under those trees, we planned where we would put the hot tub and which space was which room (the space without cow s**t would be the dining room).

The rain let up and we didn’t have to spend the rest of the year there. We hiked back following the same trail as the week before, except this time all we saw was cloud instead of the incredible views to the valleys below and the mountains beyond that we had last time.

After an hour we got to a fork where we turned left this time, to go to Launen. For the next hour we walked straight downhill – well not straight, but 20 foot long switchbacks all down the hill. If we did not have our hiking poles (thanks to Jonathan who recommended them last year), this hike would have been much more difficult. The trail was very narrow and muddy and steep and in woods. I saved myself from slipping about three times.

It started to rain heavily again. We made our way down the hill, out of the woods to a more gentle downhill through open fields. If it had not been raining, this would have been a beautiful hike (but with a bit too much downhill).

We ended up in Launen where we waited for the bus with a British couple. (I said “Do you speak English?”. He said “I am English.”) The bus came in about 20 minutes. We were concerned because my schedule did not match the schedule at the bus stop (these buses only run once an hour – turns out I was reading my schedule wrong) and the bus stop schedule had a note saying you had to phone to reserve the bus. Steve went into the post office and asked about this – they said the bus would be coming.

The British couple had just finished a 10 day hike from Engelberg to Engstlenalp to Meiringen to Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen to Kandersteg to Adelboden to Lenk to Sanaan!! The did it through a UK company called Sherpa. Sherpa books the hotels, gives you the route maps and looks after your luggage being shipped from place to place. They said once or twice their bags were not able to go to the next destination so they had to carry more on those hikes. My guess is that Sherpa coordinates with the hotel to put the bags on the train to the next town, and Engstlenalp and Adelboden cannot be reached by train, so they did not have their bags there. We have done much of the hike they did and I think I could come up with a plan and their exact route (and avoid using a company to organize it). We have hiked every place that they went to.

But, they are way better hikers than we are (most hikers are – we are really walkers, not hikers). They did not use any gondolas. I was surprised they were taking the bus with us – they could have walked the valley – but it was 4pm and they had been hiking since 9am. If they had used gondolas, they could have cut several (uphill) hours off each day.

Anyway, it was a nice reality check for us – we are such hiking wimps!! Today was only 2.5 hours. We all rode the bus to Gstaad, then they walked 10 minutes to our car with us and we drove them to their hotel (saving them from waiting for a bus). They are flying home from Geneva tomorrow.

Our jeans were covered in mud to the knees and pretty wet. Our Gortex jackets kept us dry, but we were cold. We went home and I immediately put our jeans and turtlenecks into the wash. What was I thinking when I packed one pair of jeans and two pairs of shorts? I was thinking summer, I guess.

Note for hiking in Switzerland: Bring two pairs of pants for hiking and one other pair for “nice”. Gloves!! Hats!! And I usually bring travel slippers to wear in the house, but did not bring them this year. Bring slippers!!

Stephanie and Cesare from Rome were going to meet us in Gstaad for this weekend, but all the hotels were booked because there is a big Country Music festival going on (bales of hay, blue jeans and cowboy boots and hats are in many store windows). If the weekend weather is like today, they will be very happy that they had to cancel. (They are spending next weekend in Levanto with us instead!!) And if it is raining tomorrow, we are going to Montreaux!! Although I hope it is sunny and we get three more days of hiking.

We are having such a good time here, that we are thinking of spending a month here next year. With all the hours we have to talk while hiking, we have been making big travel and moving plans. So far we have decided to spend three months next fall in England (but that overlaps our Gstaad plans?), move to Montreux for a year (and we haven’t been there since 1988 so really have no idea what it is like), move to England for the rest of our lives, move to California for the rest of our lives and travel to Europe like we have been for the past seven years (I vote for Sonoma, but Steve says Santa Barbara), move to California for the next two years then rent our house there and live in England for five years, stay in Santa Fe and rent out our house and move to England for a year. The only plans we have decided on is in the next year 1) two trips to California (one to Santa Barbara, one to Sonoma) to check out California yet again (we tried to move there in 2000 but could not find a town that was perfect – I am resolving myself to not needing perfect) and 2) two – three months in England next fall to see how we like living there (we lived there for six months in 1988). We’ll see!! We have 2.5 more weeks to talk this out.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.