Mt. Pilatus, Switzerland

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Europe » Switzerland
June 16th 2011
Published: October 22nd 2017
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Geo: 47.0457, 8.30824

(Erin here.)

If there ever were a day that surpassed our expectations while on tour, Lucerne, Switzerland would be it! We took a short walking tour around the city, the first stop of which was at the Dying Lion of Lucerne sculpture. Picture a green reflecting pond with a limestone cliff on the far side. Into the cliff was carved a larger-than-life lion in a sleeping position, and an almost human-like sadness registering on his face, expressing the deepest agony and sorrow possible to man or beast. A broken spear carved out of stone also protrudes from his side, the clear reason for his anguish. The lion was carved to commemorate the Swiss guards who lost their lives while guarding King Louis XVI during the French Revolution, and of the statue, Mark Twain once said that it was the saddest piece of stone in the world. It was the craftsmanship and his sadness that made him beautiful.

We were also shown the picturesque covered bridge that spanned the river in the heart of town. It was nearly 500 years old and adorned with flowers on the outside, and triangle-framed paintings depicting the history of the area on the inside of the bridge. Perhaps the most fun was watching the graceful swans cruise around in the water, providing a lovely foreground for the surrounding mountain peaks. The only thing that could have made this niche of Switzerland more idyllic would have been if a yodeler had come down from the hills to serenade us.

By about 10:30, we had tickets in hand to ride the gondolas to the top of Mt. Pilatus. While only 7,000 feet at its summit, the distance from its base to the top made it seem so much more dramatic than some of the mountains in Idaho. But as Sean and I have observed many times before while visiting other lovely scenery, Switzerland wasn't more beautiful than Idaho—just different. Our group of 7 took two gondolas up to the first checkpoint, and marveled at how the vistas became more dramatic with each passing second. We rose higher and higher, watching as more and more of the landscape opened up below: green rectangles of farmland, the blue Lake Lucerne, and the mountain's face directly beneath us, complete with cows jangling their cowbells just as all good Swiss cows should.

We rode straight on through the first checkpoint, up
to the second, where we had to get out of the small gondola, and switch to the larger tram—a suspended carriage for about 40 persons with standing room only. There were only two trams on this line, (compared to the dozens of gondolas that came along every 5 minutes), and the ascent was the steepest yet—carrying us over the rocky face of Pilatus' peak to its craggy summit. And the views! It was like the height of Mt. Borah combined with the greenery of the north island of New Zealand. Words failed us continually as we quickly burned through our cliché "cool" and “wow” and “amazing” and “spectacular.” We found it was better to just keep quiet and let the landscape speak for itself in its own language of green and blue, sunlight and shadow.

Once at the summit, Sean and I were happy as could be to spend the afternoon hiking (how the other group could prefer to be shopping in town was just beyond us!). And did I mention it was sunny? Loads of lovely, warm sunshine and quintessential views of the Swiss Alps with nothing to do for the next couple of hours but hike up a trail, photograph forget-me-nots and buttercups, and listen to the lowing cattle with their musical cowbells… Incredible!

We picked a trail that wound us around the peak with very few other hikers—proving yet again that just by getting off the beaten path a little, it's possible to get away from the crowds. At one point on the trail, we encountered a little yellow sign that read ECHO, so we began taking turns calling out to the valley below. “Yoooouuu-hallllloooo!” And “Helllooooo!” and “Yeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaaw!” With every call, its echo indeed came back to us after a brief delay, but just as crisp as if someone were sitting on the opposite side of the valley calling back to us. We tried hollering “Boooooiiiiii-sssssssseeeeee!” in the hopes that the echo would call back, “Staaaaaaaaaaaaaate!” But, well, it didn't work.

When we finally reached the trail's end at the true summit of Mt. Pilatus, we were afforded a genuine 360° view of the surrounding Alps and the valley below. To Sean's and my surprise, there was no wind at the summit like there usually is when we backpack—only warm alpine air. Once at the top we could tell that we were on the razor edge of the summit, and though there was plenty of room to walk around, only one step in the wrong direction would certainly lead to a fatal fall. In the landscape reminiscent of Heidi and the Sound of Music though, we were more enchanted by the crows dipping and diving on the thermals, the meadows resplendent with wildflowers, and the view, the view, the view.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at the first gondola checkpoint to play at the mini adventure park. There were ropes courses, ziplining, and toboggan-riding to be had there. But given the exorbitant cost to us in francs for most of the activities (Switzerland is not part of the European Union, and doesn't use the Euro), we each settled for a single toboggan ride. The course consisted of a narrow metal chute, banked on the corners and covered like a tube in the tunnels, and which was about a mile long. The toboggan is like a sled, but on wheels, and with a stick in the middle. Simply push forward to go faster, and pull back to brake. The only other things to keep in mind were: keep your mouth closed so you don't get hit in the back of the throat by a bug, and keep up your speed so you don't get rammed in the back by the racer behind you. And what fun! Sean said later that while he was flying down the silver track, he kept thinking, “Wow, it's a Thursday afternoon and I'm racing down a mountainside in the Alps on a toboggan. Crazy!” Then at the bottom of the downhill track, you take your toboggan to the uphill track, sit on it again facing downhill, and an attendant would hook you up to a large cable that would pull you backwards up the mountain. It was on this slow ascent where I could actually appreciate the pastoral landscape around me. More meadows, more buttercups, more lowing cattle. Definitely a highlight of the trip!

By the time we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, we still had a couple hours to shop and wander around Lucerne. We purchased some Swiss chocolate from a shop oddly named Casa Grande, and ate some delicious, piping-hot and cheesy pizza/quiche in a local bakery. From the shelter of our café, we enjoyed watching the thunderheads overtake the mountain, and transform the city
from leisurely, vacationing pedestrians, to hurried, umbrella-wielding sprinters.

That night we were served a fondue dinner in our hotel: melted white cheeses with just a hint of white wine and thick, whole wheat bread pieces. Scrumptious! It's safe to say we're all loving the decadent meals, but my body will be ready to get back to regular exercise when we get home! It was hard to believe that night that we only had three days remaining before our epic European vacation would come to an end.

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18th June 2011

You two write sooo well! I can hear, see, smell and taste your trip. Thank you so much for sharing - I want to go there! Love your adventures! Safe travels.

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