After more than two weeks away from Switzerland – in the sunny Mediterranean and the Baja of Mexico – it was somewhat jarring to return to the crisp air and fallen leaves of autumn in Zürich. Within an hour of arriving home, I took a walk with the family to the hilltops above Zürich, where there were dozens of other families out for a sunny Sunday stroll among the colorful leaves of late-season forest trails and distant views of snow-capped Alps. I was eager to get back out into the mountains.
It rained all week, and the fog rarely lifted high enough to see the hill on the opposite side of town, let alone the mountains beyond. I thus had weak hopes for a hike this weekend; indeed, I thought perhaps the higher trails may well be buried in snow. But read on about our visit to the Amden valley – there is good news ahead – and check out the photo gallery.
Saturday morning found me and Andy poring over weather sites and scrolling through descriptions of lower-altitude trails near home in hopes we could find a good spot for a short afternoon hike. We lucked out!
The Amden Höhenweg – High Mountain Trail is an accessible, easy stroll through the high meadows above the hamlets of Amden and Avenbüel east of Zürich. After little more than an hour’s ride on the train and bus – and a beautiful ride it was – we hopped off at the end of the bus line in Avenbüel. I continue to marvel that the trailheads for so many Swiss hikes are accessible from public transportation, and that, adjacent to the bus stop, there was a set of trail signs indicating the various paths one could follow, with an estimate of duration and difficulty. (Trail signs throughout Switzerland follow a standardized shape, color, and format.) We headed uphill through the village and into the woods, though most of our three-hour outing was in the heavily grazed meadows above the trees.
The sun danced in and out of the clouds all afternoon. We were on south-facing slopes, so we had fine views to the south – into the midday sun. Still, we had tantalizing glimpses of Tödi and other white-capped peaks of the Glarusalps, and occasional views down into the Walansee lake valley, with its tidy towns and verdant flat farmlands. The route alternated between forest trails, gravel roads, and even some paved roads, as it passed scattered summer-pasture cabins I presume are used by farmers tending their cows during the summer grazing season. The pastures were clipped short and green, with the steeper hillsides exhibiting curiously horizontal striations, tiny terraces worn by cows that prefer to graze along a contour line.
As we ourselves contoured around the head of the valley, we took a wrong turn at one point… dropping into the valley along a paved road toward Amden, only to require a steep climb back up to the route near our endpoint. It’s grand we did so, because we were rewarded with a break at the trailside restaurant – sipping a beer in the mountain breeze, in view of the Alps, is one of the more wonderful perks of hiking in this region.
From there it was a short jaunt downhill to the top of the chairlift, which serves skiers in the winter but operates year-round to bring hikers up from Amden – or in our case, down to Amden. It was well worth seven francs to ride down, facing the scenery in the late-afternoon light, than to pound our boots down a steep winding road back to town.
With time to spare before the next bus, we stopped into a café for a pot of tea and some warm soup. Just before we boarded the bus for the descent to the valley, the setting sun broke through the clouds atop the alps and cast a wonderful light on Mount Mürtschenstock, across the valley. Let’s hope we can have more lucky days like this!
For more photos, check out the photo gallery.