Deep in Switzerland: Hoehenweg Maderanertal

Aching muscles, a sleepy countenance and an overall feeling of being unable to do anything but sit still: Tim and I awoke today suffering the consequences of yesterday's hike, the 15-kilometre Hoehenweg Maderanertal. We arrived at the Bristen-Golzern cable car at about 10:30 after a long journey; our energy levels weren't helped by the fact that the cable car could only fit in a few people at a time - and there were a lot of people in the queue. We waited and waited and waited ...

Our spirits lifted when, once in the cable car, we felt we were soaring high between sheer slopes of the Maderaner Valley. We danced above meadows strewn with purple Alpine bellflowers and gradually approached the Weiler Seewen, a mountain settlement of wooden buildings not far from the turquoise Lake Golzern.

Quintessential Swiss scenery at its best, this landscape is in Canton Uri, one of the founding members of the Swiss Confederation and the alleged birthplace of legendary William Tell. High up and flat, the panoramic path we set off along was enhanced by a cool breeze and wide-ranging vistas - but ease of progress ended as our route started to climb steeply uphill. And so it did for 600 metres and two hours, to the Windgaellen Hut. The route was certainly picturesque, dipping in and out of woodland, occasionally offering tantalising views of the opposite side of the valley. But my goodness, I have never had to drag myself up a slope to such an extent. My walking poles felt like lead; every footstep was a challenge. Whether it was the heat or the gradient, I'm not sure but, when we reached the hut, I felt such a sense of achievement. Soggy egg mayonnaise sandwiches had never been better earned!

The route eased off from here: true to its name Hoehenweg Maderanertal, it was embedded high in the mountains. I was astonished how, with every step we advanced, new views opened up. We passed tiny Alpine settlements and gigantic erratics, crossed gushing waterfalls and tame streams and, all the while, looked up to glaciers retreating silently between the 3,000-metre summits. Amongst the most spectacular sights was the Chalchschijen, a sharp rock tower presiding over the valley's end. We also saw myriad waterfalls of all shapes and sizes - the most impressive being the powerful Huefiquelle - which created watery echoes throughout the valley.

On the way down we stopped at Hotel Maderanertal - a belle epoque structure that commands all attention in the landscape - and were incredibly disappointed to find they had run out of cake. Settling for ice creams (which did make us feel better), we were even more annoyed to pass another hut further down that was selling home made elderflower cake - how we wished we hadn't already eaten those ice creams! It was a long but picturesque walk out down the valley, that passed quaint hamlets and followed the icy river. By this point, we were simply putting one foot in front of the other. But oh, what a day it was - and how we are paying the consequences today!

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