A long walk from Zurichberg

An eleven-mile walk down the ridgeline from Zurichberg and down to the lake.

It was a beautiful spring day, one of those early warm days that draw you outdoors.  With the prospect of alpine hikes unlikely for the coming months, due to safety issues involving avalanches or coronavirus (or both), I decided to walk closer to home.

I climb straight up to the top of Zurichberg every morning, with its lovely view of the distant alps.  From that viewpoint I’ve often wondered whether it’s possible to walk down that ridgeline, parallel to the lake.  After lunch, I headed up my usual route to Zurichberg.  Unlike in the early morning, it was bustling with people… older couples out for a stroll, young families with toddlers in tow, hipsters running with their headphones, and hardcore mountain bikers zipping by.  I picked a less-traveled route, but soon discovered that these hills above Zürich are covered with a web of gravel paths, all well maintained, well signed, and well mapped… and today, well populated.

I walked through hardwood forests, with stacks of impressive logs, recently cut, demonstrating how they thin these forests for both the health of the forest and the revenue and raw materials it can produce.  I passed small family groups building campfires, or setting out a picnic lunch on a table. I passed couples enjoying a couple glasses of wine on a shared bench.  I walked through meadows with wildflowers blooming.  And when I decided to head downhill, toward the lake, I wandered the small lanes of suburban towns where people were out preparing their gardens for spring.  A lovely scene.2020-03-28-82109.jpg

At Tiefenbrunnen I hopped the S6 back to Zürich, paying an extra two bucks for 1st class and I had a train car all to myself for the 15 minute ride.

Most people were careful about social distancing, keeping to the opposite side of the path so I could pass them with the recommended 2m separation.  But some were not so careful, and sometimes it was too narrow or too crowded to be truly separated.  In retrospect, after passing several hundred people on the trails today, I would have been better off spending 2-3 hours on an empty train to reach a distant trailhead for an empty trail.

I took few photos and have no gallery, but I include a few interesting scenes below the map.

Stats: 11 miles, 3.5 hours.

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My route is shown in blue, starting at top center and ending bottom center. I forgot to start the track at home, so it actually starts on Zürichberg just before I left my usual turf and headed into the great unknown to its southeast.

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Braunwald to Schwanden

A lovely solo hike from Braunwald, across the high country and down to the valley village of Schwanden.

Sometimes I just need to get in a few miles of post-holing.  And when the view is this good, why not?  After completing a major deadline yesterday, I really needed to get away from the computer and out into the Real World for a while.  Given the rapid onset of spring in Zürich, I wanted one last taste of winter.  Switzerland closed all the ski areas (early) on Monday, so none of those facilities was an option.  But our walk in Braunwald, two weeks ago, left me wishing to go back.  I found a longer walk, from the same starting point, and so I jumped a train back to Braunwald.*  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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Bösbächibach brook and the peaks (L to R) of Eggstock, Gassenstock, and Bösbächistock.

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Uetliberg walk

A lovely walk above Zurich today.

My plan for the weekend had been to get out skiing, one more time… but work kept me indoors despite beautiful weather. Sadly, Switzerland just ordered all ski areas to close today, so I guess that’s the end of the season for me.  I needed to get out, so I took a tram across town and hiked up Uetliberg, the big hill dominating Zurich’s west side.  It was sunny and warm, and a few green leaves and flowers poked up among the leaf litter.  The birds sang, and the views of the Alps were spectacular.  I decided to take a less-direct route down, starting on the Schlittelweg – a trail designed specifically for people who want to sled from the top of the mountain to the bottom.  Very cool – except that it never snowed more than a dusting this winter, so the trail likely never saw use this year.

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As I followed this trail, I came to a lovely picnic area. I love how the Swiss maintain truly functional firepits, and tables, and even a custom water fountain.  (All the public fountains run constantly, with city water, and are thus cold and tasty and clean year-round.)

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As I left this little park, a man was practicing his Alphorn – the long tubular horn that rests on the ground and into which a standing musician blows.  His tunes resonated across the valley as I descended, spanning a repertoire from Christmas music to the Star Spangled Banner.

I soon came to a sign advertising the ruins of a castle, and decided to investigate.  Burg Friesenberg turned out to be the jumbled walls of a tiny structure, smaller than most modern homes.  It was surrounded by construction fencing, with signs indicating its condition had deteriorated (no doubt, because previously people had climbed all over it and held campfire outings inside).

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On the way down, I passed another lovely picnic area with another nifty fountain.

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On the way home I stopped into the store for some essentials.  The COVID-19 situation has been getting more serious, every day, and everyone expects Switzerland may soon lock down the country.  So we stocked up on the four Swiss food groups: cheese, wurst, chocolate, and beer.

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Sure enough, this evening the federal government announced that they were closing the borders to most non-residents, closing all “shops, markets, restaurants, bars, entertainment and leisure establishments such as museums, libraries, cinemas, concert halls, theatres, sports centres, swimming pools and ski areas….”

Difficult times ahead.  I’m glad I got out to enjoy a bit of nature today.

Braunwald to Nussbüel

A beautiful walk from Braunwald to Nussbüel for lunch at an alpine restaurant.

Although it certainly feels like spring in Zürich – what with the daffodils blooming everywhere and tulips soon to come – it’s still early March and I’m still eager for some more winter.  So Andy and I hopped the S25 out of Zürich this morning and headed for the Glarusalps, hoping to get a little time in the snow.  Ninety minutes later we boarded a funicular train for the village of Braunwald, high above the Glarus valley, and soon left behind the green valley for a winter wonderland.  Read on, and check the photo gallery.

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Obersaxen ski day

A beautiful day for the annual ski outing for my ETH-St.Gallen research group.

While on sabbatical I am a visiting professor affiliated with the Center for Digital Health Interventions at ETH.  Each year, the professors that lead this center (and related centers) sponsor a ski day, somewhere in Switzerland.  Today a couple dozen students, staff, and faculty enjoyed a day of skiing at the Obersaxen ski area in southeast Switzerland.   Although this winter has been uncharacteristically snowless, and record-breakingly warm, the snow was good and the skiing excellent.  The weather, initially a bit cloudy, turned into a blue-sky day.  Stunning views of the surrounding peaks vied for my attention with the trails below my skis.  The group generally skied together, spanning a wide range of ages and experience.  We gathered for a hearty lunch at the cozy Restaurant Stai in the village of Miraniga.  One reaches the restaurant by skiing directly off the trail, past a barn, across a driveway, and into their front yard.  The sweet smell of rural Switzerland wafts over from the barn, reminding you that these same slopes are used for grazing cows in the summer.  Inside, an Olympic Gold Medal is the centerpiece of the many medals and memorabilia from a local star skier, and the menus offer classic regional dishes and local beer.  It was mid-afternoon when we stepped back into our skis for one last ride to the top, and down the other side back to our starting point – just in time for a round of aprés-ski beers.  All in all, a fabulous day.  Check out the photo gallery.

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Kronberg

A beautiful hike to Kronberg in the Appenzell region, under blue skies and with spring-like conditions.

Today I went hiking with a colleague from the University of St. Gallen, about an hour to the east of Zürich.  Our goal was the summit of Kronberg, 1662m, with fabulous views of Mount Säntis and the Alpstein region to the south, and deep into the Swiss Alps to the west and the Austrian Alps to the east, as well as to the grand expanse of Lake Constance to the northeast.  Read on and check out the gallery.

Someone has stomped out a Heart in the snow.

 

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Northern Lights in Sweden

A weekend above the Arctic Circle in an effort to photograph the Northern Lights.

I recall a warm summer evening, about forty years ago, when I reclined on the rocky shore of Lake Champlain to watch a distant aurora borealis dance across the stars of the far northern sky.  Ever since then I’ve held a quiet fascination with this phenomenon, determined to see the northern lights “for real” some day.  I’ve longed to visit the Arctic, in part so I might see the northern lights.  This weekend – capping a week of academic travel in Finland and Sweden – was my first opportunity to travel above the Arctic Circle.  I flew to a tiny village in the far northern tip of Sweden – so close it was practically in Norway – and spent two nights standing in the snow, watching the sky above Abisko National Park.  Did I see the aurora?  yes!  Was I satisfied?  no; if anything, I want to return to see more!  From the other people I met there, it is clear that Abisko has that affect on many people.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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A reindeer seen beside the road in Abisko.

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