Conquering Pilatus (well, a little bit)

All summer long I’ve been longing for the Rocky Mountains. A four-hour drive each way meant I didn’t visit them as often as I would like while I lived in Alberta. Thankfully, I only live about two hours away from the Swiss Alps. So, last weekend I dragged my mom along for a daytrip to go for a hike near Lucerne.

Pilatus 1

My only requirements for the trip were that I wanted a nice view and I wanted to earn it. So we picked a hiking trail on Mount Pilatus. Though I’d never heard of it before, it’s apparently a pretty popular mountain with multiple gondolas leading to the top, one of the steepest railways in the world (48% inclines!), and even a hotel on the peak. Of course, it also has a lot of trails for all sorts of hikers with all sorts of different levels of expertise.

In the Rockies there are some light hiking paths that are paved with railings to hold onto. These are really popular for tourists that want to experience some nature without doing anything too daring and can usually be walked in a couple of hours. When I’d go with my dad, he’d pick a mountain and we would climb up and back down in five or six hours. I wanted something in the middle of these two things to do on a random Saturday in September. So, looking at the map at the gondola station in Kriens, my mom and I decided to do a two-part hike which was 1.5 hours each section, knowing we had the possibility to stop after the first section in case the weather turned bad (which was looking likely).

Pilatus 2

Pilatus is only 2,128 m high above sea level, and we were already starting at about a quarter of that. Honestly, going up 500 m to Krienseregg didn’t seem like it was going to be challenging enough for me. I was, as is often the case, completely proven wrong.

Massive respect for the Swiss, by the way. This route was marked as “easy/leicht” which is the lowest level of difficulty for this mountain. The route actually started by taking us uphill through a neighbourhood before we hit the treeline. By the time we even reached a properly marked trail we were already wheezing. And people live here! They walk their dogs here and carry their groceries up and down this hill. Respect.

Pilatus 3

I thought the trail might let up a bit once we hit the trees, since I’m used to trails in the Rockies zig-zagging up mountains. The whole way continued to be just as steep. After having lived in flat farmland for the last 15 months, neither of us was really prepared for such an uphill march. The first picture in this post, a section of the trail which I lunged up because it was so steep, doesn’t really do the whole thing justice. But considering the train on another part of the mountain goes up at 48%, I would imagine the incline on this trail is pretty similar.

It was definitely a hike unlike any I’d experienced before. Cars passed us, we crossed paved roads, cows were grazing, and there was even a cat along the trail that let itself be petted by passing hikers. When we finally reached Krienseregg, where gondola riders switch gondolas for the first time, we were greeted by a large playground and picnic area with amenities like firepits and toilets with running water and even a restaurant, the third one we’d passed in the hour-and-a-half hike. The reason there was a playground packed with children at that elevation despite a daunting walk uphill? You could still drive up there. It was definitely a bit shocking to see how much more developed the Alps are compared to the Rockies. But I’m not going to pretend it still wasn’t nice.

Pilatus 4
Our sick lunch spread. We earned it!

All of our stopping to huff and wheeze meant we made it to Krienseregg right around lunchtime. Food tastes so much better when you’ve really worked for it.

Pilatus 5

Pilatus 6
Shit that’s fresh

So, I got the “earning it” part of my wish for the day. But what about the view?

Pilatus 7
It was pretty nice while eating.
Pilatus 8
Not so bad on the way down either.

Rain clouds were heading over the peak in our direction so we decided not to attempt another section of the hike. Unlike in the Rockies, it’s not free to take the gondola down if you’ve walked up the mountain on your own, and we worried about being too exhausted to get back down, especially in rain (and according to the signs, that hotel on the peak was still a five-hour walk away!). So Mumsy and I decided to turn around after lunch and take a walk in the city instead.

After refuelling, the trip back down took a much more leisurely 45 minutes, with most of our stopping being due to me wanting to look at the cows (and enjoy the view, I guess).

Pilatus 9
What a life

Thankfully we didn’t get too lost driving into Lucerne, and we were able to enjoy a nice stroll along the lake and across their medieval bridge.

Lucerne 1
Lucerne 2

The bridge was under construction and naturally packed with tourists, so I didn’t get the chance to read much about it. It does offer some spectular views though.

Lucerne 3

My mom wanted a coffee after all our hard work so we sat along the river at a bit of a dingy cafe. I ordered a mint tea with a shot of plum schnapps, which is apparently a thing that exists.

Lucerne 4
Everything is pretty here.

After that we packed ‘er up and drove back home. The whole ordeal was only about 10 hours, but it was just what I needed. We even got to drive under a double rainbow on the way back.

Lucerne 5

We met several people along the hike, and even in Germany afterwards, who were completely shocked that we went all the way to Switzerland for a daytrip. But hey, we’re Canadians. I’m just happy that driving for two hours actually brought us to another city.

Until next time, Lucerne!

Lucerne 6


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