Via Alpina, Day 6: Engelberg – Engstlenalp

With a fresh “Apfelstrüdel” from the camping shop in our hand, we leave the campsite. Today we eat our breakfast “on the go”. How modern. Although the “Apfelstrüdel” is very sweet, it only adds just enough energy to our sugar level, so we don’t immediately throw in the towel after one kilometer. After all, the path is ruthless and sends us almost straight up. On the way we meet three local municipal workers who are stuck against the flank of the mountain with their broadly built bodies. They are working in an almost impossible position on the reconstruction of the path we are currently on. They make new wooden steps, which should help hikers to cross the steep slope somewhat easier. They are gathering the wood they use to make the stairs straight from this forest. We see them cutting down trees and shred the surplus to spread it out over the path. With some acrobatic leg gestures I manage to pass the workers safely. I thank them for the good work they provide, because in the end it’s for people like us that they do this hard work. And that it is hard work I can now assure you. Both Wim and I find it a real added value to have met these men in “real life”. Because how many steps haven’t we taken in our lives, without even thinking for a second about how much manual labor is hidden behind them. With a regained respect for all the steps that follow on our route, the climb suddenly feels a lot less hard. We end up on a wide cart track, that we follow a few kilometers down. An ideal recovery moment …

The path turns into asphalt and we arrive in the civilized world again, which fortunately only consists of a handful of farms. The sun is doing its best to melt the asphalt, but at this early hour she doesn’t succeed just yet. Later this day, the asphalt will definitely have to get the worst of it. We want to buy yogurt at one of the farms. A young guy calls his boss. Once he’s there , I can’t look Wim straight in the eye or I would burst into laughter. What a caricature of a man he is …! Just incredible. He speaks only Swiss and is therefore impossible to understand. He walks nervously from here to there and finally gestures to follow him in his cheese factory. He stands for hygiene and applies adapted footwear. But that we come in with our muddy shoes doesn’t seem to bother him. We see huge copper boilers standing in a room with an air humidity of up to 200% and a temperature that easily reaches 40 ° Celsius. There is a pungent smell, which I can’t really describe but I’d compare it to something between sour milk and fresh cheese. In the back is a large walk-in refrigerator in which his “darlings” are stored. As far as yogurt is concerned, our farmer has a good range of flavors. We choose two, only have to pay 1 Swiss franc per jar and say farewell to the man with a big smile. Once we are outside his yard, Wim and I look at each other. “What the hell was this” says Wim. I start laughing out loud. For the experience alone, you have to buy yogurt from this man. But not much later, it appears that the quality of the yogurt is also an experience in itself. Really delicious!

Meanwhile, we have deviated from the Via Alpina. We were forced to do so. Because the bad weather that has ravaged the region some time ago has completely devoured the trail. The path has been swept away, making it too dangerous to climb. Large warning signs and red-white ribbon advise hikers to take an alternative route. It means that we have to take a detour, which immediately creeps into my calves. Wim notices it and suggests to take an extra break. But I want to continue. Bite the bullet… We eventually do take a break at a picturesque wooden bridge over a river. Another family that we just passed also pauses for a moment. It turns out they are Americans. They are happy to have a chat with us. They live in Arizona. In total they will only walk for three days on the Via Alpina, but nevertheless they find everything “amaaaazing”.

Past the bridge we continue to follow a wide path for a long time. The sun has free play and makes the climb twice as hard. Eventually we arrive in a cabin, where it must be packed in winter. I mainly derive that from the ski lift that arrives from the valley in the hut, and another lift that leaves here to get skiers higher up the mountain. Even now, in summer, the lifts are running at full speed. But most seats are empty. Neither us are planning to take one, so after a short break in the hut we climb further to the top, the Jochpass.

We have a good hour of climbing in front of us, so we decide to stop for a picnic on the way. After lunch it’s not that far anymore until we reach the top. Although I am very proud of what we have achieved, I don’t exactly have a euphoric feeling up here. That’s because on top of the mountain a big ski resort was built. A large building, a ski lift and huge billboards are not the things I desire to see after a long climb. Instead, I would like to see the wild nature, where no man has ever set food before. Get rid of all that plastic, concrete and metal …! Although I have to admit that the cabin at the top is very cozy and incredibly nice. A visit to the toilet is even an experience in itself, because of the unique and funny interior. And the staff is also super friendly.

We are preparing for a long descent. We pass our American friends again and I’m joking that we were waiting for them in the hut because we wanted to buy them drink. They smile and promise us promptly that they will buy us one, once we’re back in the valley again. Well done, Leen! Where the narrow path forces itself into a hairpin bend, some soldiers are sitting on the ground. Their guns are neatly displayed in front of them. They smoke cigarettes while they wait for their companions who are climbing up the mountain with some horses. The horses carry heavy crates with gravel, which they spread over the path to restore it. It can’t be argued that the Swiss take good care of their hikers …

The path descends very smoothly and soon we arrive at a large lake. Just past the lake we arrive at the end of our stage: Engstlenalp. Engstlenalp is not a village, but consists out of two small hotels and a beautiful wooden hut. It’s behind that cabin that we are allowed to pitch our tent. At the terrace of one of the hotels our American friends keep their promise and buy us a cool beer. There’s one picnic bench that’s got our names written all over it. We install ourselves to prepare our dinner on our little gas burner. Once the sun sinks behind the horizon it cools off pretty quickly, so we dive into our tent early. When we want to go to sleep, we see the last soldiers arrive with their horses in Engstlenalp. Also their workday is over …

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