Belchenflue in Early Winter
Conclusion: If your from the USA suburban car-n-TV-dominated society, about 40, about 7 KG overweight, not a regular exerciser, but are otherwise in pretty good shape all things considered (non-smoker) and want to be active, you can do this and you have to judge your spouse's and kids' ability accordingly. Total time = 4-5 hours (about 15 KM?), but could be done quicker without snow and knowing what you're doing/where you're going. Toughest part is first part to reach the elevation, but then a ridge walk with nice variety and views.
Conditions: Cloudy, breezy, winter day at about -2 C. 1-6 CM snow on ground over 800 M. No precipitation.
Equipment - Lands End down jacket with hood. Knit Cotton Gloves with lining. Cheap North Face Boots (but with Gortex). Retail Backpack. Levis + Silk underwear. 3 Layers under jacket - normal weekend wear. Compass. Cell phone. 3 x 33 dl of water & trail snacks.
Planned route was to start in Waldenburg, climb up to the Ruine there, walk the ridge eastward along the ridge, turn south to Belchenflue, view the alps (hopefully) and head back to Langenbruck, where you can catch the Post bus back to Waldenburg and then train back to Basel area. My first real day-hike since living here in Switzerland.
First thing---8am too dark. And impatience and not knowing what to look for. I climb the first path (unmarked) up a hilside heading east. It turns out to be the wrong ridge--I'm one ridge too far North. So, I turn right to cross a farm field, but wow, that is a steep field--I'm already breathing heavily. And then, I spot the landmark Ruine high above me right over Waldenburg, but I'm already past it. It is now west of me and I want to go east/southeast. I decide to head straight south to the same ridge as the ruine, but south of the ruine by about a kilometer and trust myself that I will cross the marked wanderweg trail. What a way to start hiking in Switzerland--bushwacking straight up a wooded and leafy slope without trail-markers. Ultimately, I wind up on a rocky precipice but without views and no way to get on top of it so I can survey the entire area. It's still dusky as the sun isn't up and clouds abound. I briefly consider that perhaps I should stop now while I'm ahead--my heart is pounding, I'm not sure where I am, I am alone, I still have the ability to turn around, and I don't think many people will be on this route today. I walk back and forth for 10 minutes trying to see where I am, but I don't feel like back-tracking downward that leafy slope on my backside--which is the only way I would be able to do it after that very steep climb.
Ahh--the yello diamond--the wanderweg!--maybe this day won't end right away afterall. In hindsight, what I've just done, and the next 30 minutes is the toughest part of the hike--steeply up up from Waldenberg to 1000 meters. I am still climbing a thin forest trail with slick leafy drop on one side and solid rock up the next. Up and up and my heart is pounding--I mean, where I hike in the USA near NYC, 1000 feet up is a challenge and 1000 meters is more than 3X that amount. In any event, I settle into the incline and now see markers at a VERY regular pace. I reach the snowline and the ridge. I'm hoping it doesn't get any deeper--and it really doesn't, plus, this trail is definitely used--I'd say that at least 10 people have taken this route on the prior day--one accompanied by a dog, so how tough could the hike be?
Now, a nice hike with periodic yellow typical wanderweg signposts offering options--I've seen 3 in the past hour. I stay the course to Belchenflue and more-or-less pass them according to the times on the signs. As I go, to the left, there is a steep drop and farm fields to the right. I pass some old concrete bunkers, one of which is a concrete trench about a hundred meters long. Another is a shelter with a steel (iron?) turret on top and quarters that could have held perhaps up to 100 men! Who did this work and why? A cornerstone indicates 1922?, but I'm not certain about how long my trip will take, so I don't stay too long to find out more--I toss a snowball off the the ridge at the iron turret and watch it fall--1, 2, 3, 4, 5...until it hits a snow-covered pine limb in silence. I think about the utter patience it takes to build a structure in these mountains--even the farmer's fence would take a long time, patience and good planning. The wooded ridge is a really beautiful hike with 4 cm of powdery snow and a consistent, crusty, windblown accumulation on every tree branch. Farmers fields give long views down the slopes to the fading snow that mixes with the tiny farm-field ridges to make stripes of land and snow all over the valley in varying degrees--nice picture opportunity. The bottom of the deeper valleys are completely free of snow, in thinly cloud-veiled shades of grey, brown, and green.
The apex of the hike is actually an anti-climax since the clouds roll in and the last 20 minute trail to Belchenflue isn't nearly as pretty (nor as challenging) as the first part of the hike, although the snow-laden pines directly beneath are post-card quality--softened by the haze of a thin clouds.
The way down is much less dramatic. Here, my unpracticed knees are hurting me, especially in the beginning as the descent is really unforgiving--there was an easier, longer way and in hindsight, I should have taken it--this is much worse than going up. And the snow is slippery, so my technique to use muscles (and not joints) is difficult to practice. I guess that whenever my hiking days are over, the cause will be these weak knees--good reason to loose that last 7 KG's. I stopped in a Weinachtmarkt in Landersbruck and had a kaffee mit crepe - nice surprise. Then I missed the post bus by 2 minutes, so rather than wait an hour, I hiked a road-side trail back to Waldenburg (nothing special there--don't miss the bus next time). There, I saw the paved and marked stairway to the Waldenburg Ruine--it's just south of the bus/tram station (I had gotten off this morning one stop too soon)--actually, my way was more fun.