I read an article about "the best hike in the world". It was titled "The Best Hike in the World". Actually there was a question mark on the end, it wasn't that presumptuous. But any place that is worthy of even being suggested as the best in the world by a seemingly half legit author with a decent looking website to back him up is enough for me to take a trip. I mean you should definitely trust a guy in that situation. Just saying. So I went there to hike it myself. Here's the article.
The place is Interlaken, Switzerland. It sits on a small strip of land between two glacier melt turquoise lakes. When the wind is calm and the water is smooth, the color makes you wonder if you can walk right out on the lake. It seems so solid. The lakes are on the east and west side of the town. Interlaken is sandwiched on the north and south by mountains. The mountains to the south are big, glacier covered, snow capped, tourist crawling, self proclaimed "Top of Europe" peaks. To the north there are slightly smaller mountains with less snow and continue to foothills further north. There is one mountain ridge that starts straight up from the middle of Interlaken and runs the entire length of the eastern lake. This ridge is the reason I was going to Interlaken.
I set off for Interlaken early in the morning from Ingolstadt, Germany. It was a full day of travel via train, bus, train, then train again. I would have bet going in that there was no way I was going to make all those connections. Fortunately, or unfortunately if I had had someone to bet, I somehow made it to all my connections. It did however require me to very literally run as fast as I could while carrying everything I owned through the streets of Zurich. But I made it. Very sweaty.
The town itself is really cool. There's a big park in the center of town. There are cows hanging out there with their bells. Cow bells are a very common sound everywhere I went throughout Central Europe. They are so common that I doubt anyone could actually find their cows because there are cows EVERYWHERE, and every single damn cow has a bell. Insert Will Ferrell joke. I found the sound soothing though. Other cool things in town besides cows include chalet style hotels, Swiss Alp views, a canal that is that same gem colored blue, a real Swiss Army knife shop, a casino, and a Hooters. The Hooters is more surprising than cool, especially since they had no American football on the TV.
Interlaken is a very touristy town. There are people from all over the world. It's no surprise given the beauty and the neutrality of Switzerland. Everyone I met was super nice. As usual. Once I was walking down the street and a car honked and threw candy at me. That was the most aggressive things got.
I arrived hungry and eager to try some Swiss food. Fondues, cheese, chocolate, other things I hadn't heard of before. But walking around the town I quickly realized I couldn't afford any of this. Switzerland is the most expensive place I have ever been. The cheapest kebab you could buy at a take-away stand was at least $10 and if you wanted to sit down anywhere to eat you would spend at least $25 for the smallest of meals. I didn't even look at the beer prices. There was a good food co-op in town with much better prices though. Each day I bought bread, cheese, lunchmeat, and cookies to carry around with me while exploring. Each night I created my own fancy Swiss Alp view across a canal from a campground hostel under moonlight dinner. Meals included canned ravioli, frozen pizza, salad, soup, bread, cheese, and wine. Very lovely. Tip: make sure your hostel has an oven before buying a frozen pizza. Tip 2: you can cook a frozen pizza on a stove top if you try hard enough.
My first day of exploring Interlaken was full of sunshine, rain, hail, and snow in no particular order. I set out on a beautiful walk along the lake on a bright and crisp fall morning. I had no real destination in mind, just looking for some views and a coffee shop. The views were easy to find, but the coffee was trickier. It wasn't until I was in an old castle turned into a church taking cover from a sudden heavy rainfall that I realized it was Sunday. That's why lots of older Swiss people were starting to come in and give me surprised looks. I finally found one place that was open in Ringgenberg. A local spot filled with old Swiss men sitting around a table drinking prosecco as I assume they do every Sunday morning. I sat at one end of the bar with some coffee and enjoyed listening to the happily rambunctious old men telling stories and toasting. I couldn't understand anything they said obviously.
I headed back to Interlaken and made my way up to Schynige Platte via the old mountain railway. Schynige Platte is a mountain ridge just south of Interlaken and right next to the big glacial Alp peaks. O a clear day it has amazing views. I'm guessing. The old train ride up to the top is really cool. I felt a little ashamed to be riding a train to the top of a mountain. I mean I've mooned people riding trains to tops of mountains just a year earlier. But I'm glad I did it. The train ride this time and the mooning last time. When I stepped of the train I was treated to the most Swiss thing ever - two men playing the Alpenhorn on the mountaintop like a Ricola commercial. It was amazing. The weather turned cloudy, windy, and cold quickly. There were a few times the clouds would part around me, and I could see Interlaken and its lakes way below. I did a big loop on the mountain ridge and just as I was getting back to the train station ice started falling on me. I ran the last 100 meters. I sat on the train platform under cover as I watched the hail turn into big snowflakes. The train arrived and I got into a car with a woman who had just rode to the top, saw what was happening up there, and decided she didn't want to get out. Couldn't blame her.
The weather looked good in the dark at 6am the next morning. Might as well hike the best hike in the world. Packed my lunch, put on my headlamp, and started hiking. The first part is straight up the mountain from Harder Kulm train station. First train doesn't leave until 8am so I had the mountain to myself for a couple hours to get to the top. There is a lodge at the top of the railway with a great platform overlooking Interlaken and the Alps behind it. I'm sure it gets crowded, but I was there by myself just at sunrise. Another reason it's my favorite time of the day. I heard the first train below beginning to make its way up the mountain so I started out across the ridge before I ran into someone other than a cow.
The ridge is long with many peaks along the way. It is sometimes narrow and sometimes steep. It is always beautiful. To the left I had a clear view of mountains and valleys and farms. I could hear cows ringing bells all day. To the right was Lake Brienz and snow capped peaks, although I could only see them through breaks in clouds at different times. The clouds themselves came up from the lake or at least the lake side. Looking down in that direction I saw clouds rushing up at me like they were trying to push me off the mountain. And looking forward along the ridge I saw clouds like slow moving waves crashing over the mountains from right to left. Maybe they blocked a good view but these clouds were okay.
I never realized I was scared of goats until this day. I wasn't chicken, I was just scared. The first time I came across a couple mountain goats, they were the small ones and I had just passed a family. It was so amazing to walk up on them and I was totally surprised. So I stopped and took pictures and waited for the family to catch up so that we would have numbers if they tried to attack. I had a metal water bottle in my hand for a weapon. Their horns would win the fight if it came down to it no doubt. I had no idea what wild mountain goats are like. Turns out they just stare at you with a grumpy goat face as you walk by.
The second time I came across mountain goats, they were the ones with giant horns - Alpine Ibex I later learned. They looked so cool and even a little more scary. There was a large herd of them, and this one particular guy was laying down on the only path staring at me with a head that must have been tired from carrying those horns around all the time. Again I took pictures and waited for a couple that I had recently passed. They were an older couple who spoke zero English and were zero afraid of goats. They took some pictures then walked full steam into the middle of the herd of horns. The goats just slowly moved out of the way with an annoyed look. From then on I was all about goats! I got close and hung out with them for a while. I finally saw what they use their huge horns for - scratching their butt. It's pretty convenient actually.
The rest of the hike was peaceful. Few people hike this entire ridge. It is challenging, and there is no turning back once you commit because it is just steep mountain on each side. You must trek on. There were more grassy peaks, narrow trails, and views that make you just stop. There are the ever present glacier covered peaks poking through the clouds to the south with the lake created from those same glaciers below. The final destination, the town of Brienz, could be seen hours and hours before I reached it. I took the long, slow way down the mountain and hiked into Brienz just in time to catch a train back to Interlaken. It was a really good day. Maybe the best day. Maybe the best hike. In the world.