Via Alpina, Day 4: Braunwald – Altdorf

We are still having breakfast when suddenly we are startled by a few unexpected visitors. A whole group of cows is released by a farmer in our bivouac meadow. It seems that we give the cows as big a fright as they give us. Determined, they immediately come our way. They sniff all our stuff lying on the ground. Especially our garbage bag and our bag of food get a lof of attention. Wim picks the camera off the ground just in time, and saves it from a tonne of cow’s weight. Fortunately the farmer isn’t mad we slept in his field. We exchange a few kind words with each other and he even seems quite honored that we have chosen his meadow to set up our tent.

After we have washed some of our clothes in the river, we continue our route westward. For a long time we walk along a well-constructed path around the same altimeters. It runs smoothly and our legs can warm up slowly. That warming-up is necessary, since it will be a particularly long walk today.

After our cheerful visit of this morning, more cows cross our way along the route. Literally speaking … Because a small family of cows has broken out of its meadow and is now standing in the middle of our path. Instead of making some room so we can pass them, they prefer to walk with us. Where the path turns into the forest again, they eventually leave us behind.

We climb over the roots of trees. With their wooden toes they form steep stairs for us. The vegetation becomes thicker and greener. For a moment, we imagine ourselves in the rainforest. But without the rain. Past this rainforest lookalike we have to pass a cow pasture again. The subsoil is extremely swampy and muddy. At one point I sink up to my ankles into the mud. We both burst out laughing. So much for my freshly washed socks …

From a gravel road we get a view of the Klausenpass in the distance, which we will have to cross later on. But first we have to pass the village of Unerboden. At a farm with the most appealing plaque reading “Alpkäse & Yogurt” we are tempted to buy two pots of freshly made yogurt. A crowd of border collies announces our visit to their owner. Outside, the freshly washed milk cans are dripping dry, standing on their heads. The lady of the house proudly shows us some home-made pots. Wim chooses yoghurt with forest fruits while I go for raspberries. We eat them while walking. I don’t know if it’s due to the traditional recipe, our fatigue, or this beautiful environment, but we both agree that it’s the best yogurt we ever tasted …

Over the next few kilometers we follow the crystal clear river with the name Fätschbach over a flat trail. The river is so clear that it looks like it was photoshopped right here on the spot.

Just before we climb our way up to the Klausenpass, we try to get some extra energy from a muesli bar. It seems to help because the climb is going smoothly. Despite the fact that the Klausenpass can also be reached by car and our trail crosses a paved road several times, we never really get the feeling that there is traffic nearby. The Via Alpina has managed to camouflage it well.

At the top, however, it’s a completely different story. A motorway runs over the pass. Dozens of cars and mottos are parked on the left and right side of the road. Two expensive self-service restaurants with a cheap look do their best to provide as many people as possible with food and drinks in the shortest possible time. Including us, because we also order a little something.

After taking a quick picture of ourselves and the beautiful mountains that do their best to make us forget about the ugly road, we start our long descent.

The author of our topoguide recommends a variant of the route, that we agree to follow as suggested. Immediately we see that this variant indeed pays off. Imposing rocks adorn the left side of our path, while the right side shows a fairy-like valley with typical Swiss houses, meadows, pine forests and a river. The path descends very steeply. I’m relieved when we finally make it to the village Äsch in one piece.

The village is only twenty houses big. In the front of the village there is a bench that looks out on this enchanting scene. An old woman sits on the bench and greets us warmly. I think she sits here every single day to give all the tourists a personal warm welcome. Although not many tourists come here. The village is hidden way too well for that. The impressive waterfall of no less than 90 meters high, which spits masses of water down from the mountain every second, should actually be more than enough reason to make Äsch a huge tourist attraction. But today that’s not the case yet. And I am happy about that.

In the nearby village of Unterschächen we drink some extra courage on a terrace to cut the last kilometers. From here to Altdorf it is still 3.5 hours of walking on a dull route. The long kilometers of asphalt underneath our feet leave both mentally and physically their mark. We play idiotic memory games trying to distract each other, so we forget about our stinging foot pain. While biting our teeth we finally arrive in Altdorf after more than twelve hours of hiking. Wild camping is not an option here, so we check in at the first hotel we come across. We negotiate a cut in the room price, which is apparently quite common in Switzerland. After a hot shower we order pizza with two half liters of beer in the restaurant of the hotel. We feel reborn again but are very happy when we finally hit our mattrasses.

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