Conquering Mt Pilatus… the civilised way!
We had a truly EPIC day today cruising on Lake Lucerne, climbing up Mt Pilatus on a cog railway, hiking up mountain peaks and sailing through the air on a cable car. We came here to see some glorious alpine scenery and today Switzerland delivered…
The trip we did today is a bit like the “Norway in a Nutshell” trip we did from Bergen or the “Hakone Romance Course” we did through the Hakone-Fuji National park from Tokyo; essentially its a series of connecting public transport routes cobbled together to form one brilliant journey packed with wonderful landscapes and awe-inspiring scenery. you can see from the map below where our “Golden Round Trip” took us today.
We started our adventure at 8:00 this morning, hoping to get ahead of the crowds by catching an early ferry from Lucerne to the tiny village of Alpnachstad, some 20km away. The morning was autumn cool (i.e. 6C) and clouds still lingered, yet to lift off some of the peaks that surround Lake Lucerne. It was lovely sailing out of Lucerne early enough that the town was still quiet and sleepy.
The boat trip took about an hour and took us around the lake, hugging the base of Mt Pilatus. Along the way we got to see the mountains in all its glory as the morning mists lifted, revealing the 2132m peak in its entirety. We were so lucky to have such a clear day; it was SO clear in fact that we could see the cable car and railway on either side of My Pilatus far above us.
Once we reached Alpnachstad we had a few minutes to explore and marvel at the aquamarine depths of the lake (Lake Lucerne is only about 200m deep but is so dark and still that I would have sworn it was deeper).
In Alpnachstad we hopped on the Pilatus Rack Railway, the steepest rack railway* in the world. Built in 1889 this freakishly steep railway climbs 1,629m over 4.6km, going all the way up to the top of the mountain. It was seriously steep – steep enough to give us the heeby-jeebies!
*A rack railway is basically a train on giant cogs. The train has cogs that line up with the “teeth” on the track; together these keep the train secure as it climbs up steep mountainsides – e.g. Mt Pilatus in Switzerland.
The climb took about an hour and in that time we saw the scenery change from verdant green meadows, complete with cows with big bells around their necks (THAT is the sound of Switzerland, by the way: you can hear the clanking of those giant cow bells everywhere in the countryside!); to craggy rocky outcrops devoid of vegetation. It was absolutely spectacular.
The trains that run up the mountains are quite small and, for obvious reasons, they do not link them together. So we had a bright red train in front of us and one behind us to watch, as well as the amazing scenery to enjoy.
We found out that there is a hiking trail up the mountain as well – it takes about 6 hours apparently but you can walk up Mt Pilatus, if you are so inclined (we were not – that is a LOT of UP). We passed a number of hikers along the way and waved at them from the comfort of our little red train…funnily enough none of them waved back. Towards the very top of the railway we could see the walking track zig-zagging its way up the final ascent and momentarily felt quite sorry for all the hikers we had passed – that’s one hell of a final climb to get to the top!
It only took us 2 hours (not 6 like the hikers) to reach the top of Mount Pilatus and man was it AWESOME up there. We had the perfect day for it – we could see all the way across Alps to the Jungfrau and all the way down to Lucerne and the lake.
There are a number of short hiking trail across the top of the mountain, one which even goes through tunnels cut into the mountain itself. We happily spent a couple of hours exploring the whole mountain-top, though I must admit that my discomfort* around heights gave me serious jelly-legs. They seem very cavalier about mountains here – a few times today, as we were climbing around the edges of the mountain-top, the only thing between me and death today was a piddly little bit of wood (i.e. railing). Scary stuff if you are somewhat afeared of heights like me!
*I refuse to call my dislike of heights a “phobia” – I still do the climb or walk up the mountain, but it’s just that I am TOTALLY FREAKED OUT the whole way. On days like today Shane is very patient with me (sure-footed mountain goat that he is!); he often quietly but firmly talks me away from the wall (not the edge – NEVER the edge) so I can continue on. The worst for me in DOWN; I am generally OK getting UP mountain-sides, but as soon as I have to look down my legs turn to jelly and I start saying ridiculous things like “I’m OK up here actually. I think I might just live on this mountain now. It’s OK. You just go down Shane and have them send me up some food”.
At the top there is a hotel that promises guests “starry nights filled with dreams at 2,132 m above sea level”. The hotel was built in 1890 and has featured in a few action movies as the mountain-top lair of some villain or other. There is also a restaurant up there where you can enjoy lunch at typically exorbitant Swiss prices; we brought our own sandwiches and just found a quiet spot from which to soak up the glorious views whilst eating lunch.
After lunch we had a bit more of a look around the mountain but by this stage the bus-loads of tourists had started arriving and the mountain somewhat lost its charm. So we caught the next cable car off the mountain and sailed over the precipice of the mountain, down towards the village of Kriens. The cable car ride down was very smooth and took us over some lovey green fields, complete (again) with fat happy cows wearing giant cow bells.
Kriens is only a short bus trip from Lucerne, but given it was such a beautiful day we decided to walk back to our hotel and skip that final leg of the “Golden Round Trip”. The walk was uneventful but gave us a chance to freshen our suntans, top-up our vitamin D stores and reflect on the magnificent day we had cruising Lake Lucerne and exploring Mt Pilatus. That’s what we came to Switzerland for!