Via Alpina 5: Reichenbach Falls and Grindelwald

In Part 1 of this account, we outlined the project (hiking roughly 1/3 of the Via Alpina across Switzerland with Tom, Carol, Bob, and Diane), and covered our first two days, hiking from Mels to Elm (and taking transport to Braunwald). Part 2 took us on to Klausenpass and to Altdorf, home of William Tell. In Part 3 we climbed over the Surenenpass and enjoyed rest days in Engleberg. Part 4 took us over the next pass or two to Meiringen. And now for Part 5.

 Day 8: The Death of Holmes, and on to Grindelwald

I admit that I was at most vaguely aware that Conan Doyle had bumped off Sherlock Holmes in what was to have been his last story about the great detective. (Note: Doyle did this because he felt Holmes distracted him from his more serious literary pursuits. Can you name anything Doyle wrote besides the Sherlock Holmes stories? Me neither.) I didn't realize until we got there that the great event had happened in Meiringen, at Reichenbach Falls, and that we would walk right past the spot.
(Another note: several years later, perhaps due to the financial stresses induced by not publishing the incredibly popular Holmes stories, Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, set before Holmes' death. Then in 1903, ten years after sending his hero plunging to his death at the base of the falls, he wrote another story where Holmes returns to Watson 3 years later and explains how it had all been a fake to allow him to escape Moriarty's remaining henchman.)
We headed out in the morning to catch the funicular to the base of the falls, under a sky of mixed blue and clouds.
The falls and the funicular that provides easy access. Holmes and Watson may have had to hike up.
The town makes a fair bit of to-do about the Holmes connection. This poster is at the base of the funicular; there is also a statue of him in the town square and a museum in a former church.
The melodramatic picture from the original publication of the story.

The falls are very nice, and there is a marker (not visible here) off to the left outside the picture that's supposed to be the ledge where the two fought. We declined to visit--it would have meant descending 200' from the crossing at the top of the falls, then climbing back up to resume our hike.

After we played around with the Sherlock Holmes display at the falls we continued on our way--the Via Alpina climbs past the falls and keeps going.

Upper and lower falls, seen from farther up the trail.
A stiff climb took us up past a cluster of homes and a hotel with a glorious view, and on into the Rosenlaui Valley. Some local inhabitants were more interested in us than others.
A resident watching us pass.

A lot of the trail paralleled, or even used, the narrow road that climbs the valley and eventually crosses the Grosse Scheidegg. That didn't detract from the scenery, and seemed to be very little used.

Photo stop. The Wetterhorn dominated the valley and the day's hike.

We arrived at the Rosenlaui Hotel about lunch time, so some of the party bought pastries and we all ate our sandwiches in the garden.
The massive Victorian hotel looked perfectly charming, and certainly would be a quiet location. There is bus service.

The total distance from the falls to Grindelwald is over 13 miles, but as noted, there is a road up the valley, never far from the trail. We talked of catching the bus at the top of the pass, but the weather was definitely a factor to be watched.
Watching the weather on the Englehorner peaks.

As it turned out, we ended up racing the rain to the Schwarzwaldalp, where there is a hotel, an historic sawmill, and--most importantly to us--a bus stop. On arrival we joined a half a dozen other hikers huddled under the eaves of the hotel, waiting for a bus. As the rain waxed and then waned, I explored the sawmill a little.

The wooden sluice brings water to the wheel that runs the sawmill inside the building.

The bus eventually arrived and we rode on over the pass in comfort. I was sorry the rain ended the hike, though--the upper part of the pass was gorgeous, and would have been well worth the hike, which was a steady climb but seldom terribly steep. We'd gotten damp enough as it was, though, and were glad to reach our hotel in the upper end of Grindelwald.

View from the hotel. What lurks behind those clouds?

We had to add about a mile to the day's hike to get to the grocery store and find ourselves some dinner, as well as to refresh lunch supplies for the next day.
Flung suddenly into the thick of the tourist zone, we were entertained by watching others deal with the weather, lacking the excellent foul weather gear we'd been hauling around for weeks.

Day 8 stats: 5.75 miles, 1945' climb.

Grindelwald Layover: Glecksteinhutte hike

The next day didn't exactly dawn to brilliant blue skies, but the weather did show signs of clearing, and a generally dry forecast. On this day we split the party, with Bob and Diane going for a fairly easy hike to celebrate Bob's 75th birthday, Carol staying in for a rest day, and Tom and me going off to see if we could kill ourselves on the climb to the Glecksteinhutte.
Still not seeing what's behind the clouds.

We caught the bus back up toward the pass as early as possible, to begin our hike ahead of the crowds and any weather that might move in. Caution: the pictures from this hike may be disturbing to those who are afraid of heights or rendered uncomfortable by exposure.
The hike in fact took us right around 3 hours, just 20 minutes over the time on the sign. That's not bad for a photo-heavy hike.

After a brief walk through the trees, the trail began to climb, and soon began to live up to its reputation as no trail for the fearful. The trail itself was generally good; it is marked as a standard trail in the Swiss marking system. It's just what lies next to the trail (nothing) that made it a bit unnerving at times.

Tom poses on one of the first cliffy bits. I had no idea what was coming, and figured if this was what everyone was talking about, it was pretty easy.

After an hour's hike, we rounded a corner into the valley of the Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher, with the deep, slit-like gorge at the bottom of the steep valley carved perhaps less by the retreating glacier than by the runoff from the same. This was where I began to see that we'd only just begun.
Things got more spectacular in a hurry. We also began a two-mile stretch with massive exposure, though little risk of falling.

Descriptions of the hike always mention the part where you have to hike behind a small waterfall. Honestly, that was a pretty easy part, other than not wanting to get my camera wet, because there were metal  steps and a chain to hold onto.

Tom approaching the falls. You can just see the cable by the red and white trail marker. That marks it as a "hiking trail," as opposed to the very easy "pedestrian trails"(marked in yellow, and including the Via Alpina) or alpine routes (marked in blue and white).

Once across the first long cliff section, we got a respite from the incessant awareness of the void in a stretch where we climbed a slightly gentler bluff with more curve to it and less verticality. Then it was another cliff, this one on a more challenging trail. I was very glad of the chains, and will confess that on the way down it almost stopped me, which would have been... awkward.
Tom has a much better head for heights than I, and wasn't even using the chains, somewhat to my dismay.

We could see right back down to Grindelwald. At the hut, we were able to zoom in and spot our hotel.

When we topped out, we were met by the greeter!

Glecksteinhutte. I was happy to see all the blue sky--my biggest fear was having to descend that trail on wet rocks, if it started to rain.

The hut's setting is truly spectacular, nestled under the Chrinnenhorn and with views of the glacier and the surrounding peaks. I'd love to stay there, to witness sunrise and sunset, but wouldn't want to carry much of a pack up that trail.

A small pond appeared to be storage for fish dinners. The children on the swing may live there--they seemed very at home.

On the terrace.

The hike down was interesting. As mentioned, I was nearly unable to manage the first cliff band, as the trail dropped steeply and roughly through it, and I met other hikers coming up as I was coming down (they kindly allowed me to hug the wall and let them go around me). Oddly, once I'd managed that, I found the rest of the trail and its exposure to be trivial, and finished with no further problems.

Back in town, the weather had cleared enough to see the view from my balcony, which included the North Face of the Eiger.

At the end of the day, a meal out and an Aperol Spritz proved a great way to recover.

Last light on the Eiger

Day 10(ish) stats: 5.6 miles, 2860' up and down.

Coming up: Faulhorn, and on to Lauterbrunnen.

Here's the whole series:

In Part 1 of this account, we outlined the project (hiking roughly 1/3 of the Via Alpina across Switzerland with Tom, Carol, Bob, and Diane), and covered our first two days, hiking from Mels to Elm (and taking transport to Braunwald). Part 2 took us on to Klausenpass and to Altdorf, home of William Tell. In Part 3 we climbed over the Surenenpass and enjoyed rest days in Engleberg. Part 4 took us over the next pass or two to Meiringen, while Part 5 went on to Grindelwald and an excursion to a high mountain hut. Part 6 finished the linear journey. In the final post, we'll do some hikes around Lauterbrunnen and visit a cool outdoor museum.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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  1. Mmm lovely. Those Swiss kids probably ran up the back way ;) Oh - and Brigadier Gerard was the only other thing that sprang to mind for Conan Doyle, but I'm sure there's something else I know... The Lost World springs to mind... checks, tick. I have a Sherlock Holmes collection. Must read all of it some time...


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