On the road – following the route of Mark Twain to Rigi Kulm

The Rigi Kulm – queen of the mountains

“The Rigi Kulm is an imposing Alpine mass, 6000 feet high which stands by itself and commands a mighty prospect of blue lakes, green valleys, and snowy mountains…” says Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)  in his book “A tramp abroad” in chapter XXVIII. He climbed the Rigi in 1897.


The tourist offices call the Rigi “the queen of the mountains“. On Rigi Kulm, tourists can even pretend to be real Swiss people from the mountains that do nothing else but look after their cows, sheep and goats, supported by their dogs – and they will always remember that they took this picture on the RIGI.


Rigi Kulm – the very top – may be queen of the mountains for the gorgeous view. But the Rigi is not just one summit, it is a world of its own. It is a massif with several peaks: Rigi Hochfluh, Rigi Scheidegg and Rigi Dossen. My mum was a geologist and she made it clear to me that the Rigi massif is not part of the Alps, but it belongs to the Central Plateau of Switzerland (“Mittelland”).


A beautiful autumn day with bright air – just suited to walk up the Rigi on Mark Twain’s tracks

We have not been spoiled by Petrus this summer, but this Saturday end of September is exactly right for the Rigi, the queen that commands so many lakes and mountains. My friend from Hawai (now Swiss) bought a Swiss railway day ticket for two which was a bargain. We packed our daybags and took the seven o’clock train from Basel to Lucerne. With Mark Twain’s “A tramp abroad” and the map of the Themenweg in our hands.

Like Mark Twain, we went by boat from Lucerne to Weggis. “I and my agent panoplied ourselves in walking costume, one bright morning, and started down the lake on the steamboat; we got ashore at the village of Wäggis, three quartes of a distance from Lucerne. This village is at the foot of the mountain” (Mark Twain, Ch. XXVIII). I assume that they also carried “Alpenstocks”: “Most of the people… are in walking costume and carry alpenstocks. Evidently it is not safe to go about in Switzerland, even in town, without an alpenstock” (Chapter XV, Mark Twain observing tourists in the Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne). Today it seems that without two Nordic Walking sticks it is not safe to go about in Switzerland.

Weggis is very proud that Mark Twain called their village “the most charming place I have ever lived in.” They erected a memorial stone ; Mark Twain was said to have admired the view of the lake and the mountains from here. We started our hiking tour to the Rigi at Mark Twain’s memorial stone.



To Säntimatt and Fromattberg

“The ascent is made by rail, or horseback, or on foot, as one may prefer” (Mark Twain, ch XXVIII).  The two of us start our ascent on foot at around 9:30 – in the grey autumn fog. “We were soon tramping leisurely up the leafy mule path… I suppose we must have stopped oftener to stretch out on the grass in the shade… we met a hot red faced man plunging down the mountain… he stopped… and asked how far it was to Weggis. I said three hours… “well”, said he, “I can’t stand another three hours…”. The red faced man was an Englishman. Mark Twain and the Englishman ended up in the nearby inn to have a nice dinner and spend the night there. When the Englishman left in the next morning, the landlady told him that her inn was about 500m above the lake level. Hearing this, the Englishman got very angry, and Mark Twain could not understand why.

500m above sea level is somehwere between Säntiberg and Fromattberg. But the inn does no longer exist and the “Mark Twain path” only points to it 200m above the location of the inn. Anyway our clock is approaching eleven a.m. now – and there is no need to stay overnight here. The grey fog had not invited us to stop so far.


Source: Google Earth

Mark Twain and his companion continued their hike the next day around noon. They walked about 200 yards and then “in the distance detected a long worm of black smoke crawling lazily up the steep mountain. Of course that was the locomotive. We propped ourselves on elbows at once, to gaze, for we had never seen a mountain railway yet” (ch XXVII). We could not figure out, where below the Felsentor they could see the railway to Vitznau. My friend mumbled: “Do you think that Mark Twain took notes while walking? How do you write a travel report?” Well, I continue to wonder, because I thought that Mark Twain is pretty precise with his facts though he ornates them with humor.


The fog clears up – a great moment that I enjoy even more intensely, because I have got my eye sight back

The chapel Heiligkreuz is closed.  Just above the chapel, sun rays are cutting into the forest…


… while we are climbing the stairs along the rock that some prisoner-engineers had carved in the 19th century…


… and  above the steps, there is a meadow. Was it here that Mark Twain encountered yodelling? He wrote: “…all at once our ears were startled with a melodious “Lul…i…i…lul-lul-lahee-o-o-o!” peeling joyously from a near but invisible source… now the jodler appeared – a shepherd boy of sixteen…” . They gave the jodler a franc to continue yodeling. More shepherd boys came and yodled earning half a franc, eight cents, six cents, a penny, then nothing, and eventually, Mark Twain gave a franc to stop the yodeling.


Source: Google Earth

On the meadow above the steps we are at about 1000m and now above the fog. We enjoy the panorama… here is a picture with Pilatus and the Bürgenstock.



The Felsentor

After the  yodeling experience, Mark Twain reaches the Felsentor at about 1100m: “… we passed through a prodigious natural gateway called the Felsenthor, formed by two enormous upright rocks with a third lying across the top…


… There was a very attractive hotel close by, but our energies were not conquered yet, so we went on”, said Mark Twain.


Also my friend and I go on… resisting to stop and have a beer at this inviting place with its wonderful view. We soon reach Romiti and take a picture of the train coming down from Kaltbad.


This train route has been designed by Riggenbach around 1870. Lucerne accepted the design. The railway opened in 1871; it only went from Vitznau to Rigi Staffel about half a walking hour away from the top (Kulm). At Rigi Staffel, the canton of Lucerne ends and the canton of Schwyz begins. When the people from Schwyz heard about the project, they followed by constructing the Arth-Goldau to Rigi Kulm railway and extended the Rig-Vitznau rails to Kulm. They also hired Riggenbach and completed the railway in 1873 (Source: Wikipedia).

In 1897, when Mark Twain climbed the Rigi, the trains were already about 25 years old. They were the first mountain railways in Europe. This is how Mark Twain describes the Rigi railway: “There are three railway tracks; the central one is cogged; the “lantern wheel” of the engine grips its way along these cogs and pulls the train up the hill or retards its motion on the down trip… whether going up or down, the locomotive is always at the lower end of the train.”

Along the rails we walked up a steep path to Rigi Kaltbach which is at 1450m above sea level.


Rigi Kaltbad – many tourists in a “touristy” place

Mark Twain and his companion Harry stopped at Rigi Kaltbad to stay overnight again. After all it was already six pm, as Mark Twain explains: “At ten minutes past six we reached the Kaltbad station, where there is a spacious hotel with great verandahs…”. They miss the sunrise, as they get up too late (they keep on missing the sunrise…) and they are happy to be “…informed by the guide-book that we were now 3228 feet above the level of the lake – therefore full two thirds of our journey had been accomplished.”

The two of us do not stay at Rigi Kaltbad. To me it is a messy and touristy experience – big flat roof houses with terraces facing towards the Lake of Lucerne and the mountains. We continue to follow the route that Mark Twain had taken – to Rigi First and then- along the rails coming up from Goldau heading to Rigi Staffel.

On Rigi Staffel, there is a hotel that might need some refurbishing.


The path between the ridge and the rails offers a great view of the Lake of Zug. This is where Mark Twain and his friend had been caught by rain and fog: “It came on to rain, and it rained in dead earnest… Next a smoky fog of clouds covered the whole region densely, and we took to the railway ties to keep from getting lost…. by and by, when the fog blew aside a little, we were treading the rampart of a precipice, and that our left elbows were projecting over a perfectly boundless and bottomless vacancy, we gasped and jumped back for the ties again.” Well, Mark Twain may have overstated the precipice somewhat.


Mark Twain and his friend were eventually “confronted with a vast body which showed itself vaguely for an instant, and in the next instant was smothered in the fog again.” They sat in the cold night, until an hour later, they discovered that this vast body was the Kulm hotel. They took their room, found their luggage (that had been carried up by a boy), changed to dry cloths and had dinner.

No fog for us today. A wonderful view of the Swiss plateau with the lakes and the jura  on one side and the mountains on the other side side. Here in the background closing off the white mountain chain is the wall of the Wetterhorn overlooking the Grosse Scheidegg near Grindelwald.


Yes, it was a suitable day to come up here. We are surrounded by tourists from all nations most of which had come up by train. Two young Chinese guests on their honey moon are taking fotos. “Do you want a foto of both of you?” I ask. They happily smile into their camera. Then they propose to take a picture of me – and here is the result. The young wife  apologizes, because a hand and a person had come into the way. I surprise them with all Chinese I know: “tsie-tsie” (thank you). I hope they keep Switzerland in good memory.


The train takes us down to Vitznau. Our train does even not stop on the way, though more tourists are waiting at the stations. Our train is just full. And the next trains have been booked by groups.

Mark Twain also drove down to Vitznau. “We got front seats, and while the train moved along about fifty yards on flat ground, I was not the least frightened; but now it started abruptly down stairs, and I caught my breath. And I, like my neighbors, unconsciously held back, all I could, and threw my weight to the rear… there was no level ground at the Kaltbad station; the railbed was as steep as a roof… the train came sliding down, and when it reached the right spot, it just stopped… by the time one reaches Kaltbad, he has acquired confidence in the railway, and he now ceases to try to ease the locomotive by holding back. Thence forward he smokes his pipe in serenity… However, to be exact, there is one place where the serenity lapses for a while; this is while one is crossing the Schnurrtobel Bridge…” (ch XXVIII).


In Vitznau we take the steam boat back to Lucerne. It is the steam boat with the name “Lucerne”.


The captain proudly introduces us to his boat. It had been ordered from Germany in 1928. When the boat arrived, the engine broke down and was replaced by a Swiss Sulzer engine in 1929. Since that year this steam boat has been operating on the Lake of Lucerne. It absorbs 1200 persons and is the largest boat here. Today the capacity of this boat has been used up – I am sure.


“An hour’s sail brought us to Lucerne again. I judged it best to go to bed and rest for several days…” Mark Twain concludes his report of climbing the Rigi (A tramp abroad, ch. XXX).


The two of us walk through the old and narrow streets of Lucerne and along the Reuss. All restaurants on the right hand shore are packed with people enjoying one of the few sunny days of this year. We go to the more quiet and less sunny left-hand shore and top the day with a wine and a goat cheese – both from the canton of Lucerne. And then one of the evening trains takes us back to Basel.








On the road – discovering treasures around Basel: To the southeast IV

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

Now that I am able to drive again (how much I enjoy this!), I often park my car in Muttenz to explore the northern part of the Gempen plateau. My next target is the Schauenburg area with its Schauenburger Fluh (rock), its old and new castle (Neu/New-Schauenburg and Alt/Old-Schauenburg) and the related farm Neu/New Schauenburg).

The Schauenburger Fluh is easy to find; the border trail is marked clearly with the Swiss yellow rhombus and guides hikers safely to the Fluh (see my earlier blog). Also the way to Schauenburg Bad is clearly highlighted. But to find the ruins and understand which ruin is “new” and which is “old”, I had to come back several times.  Again and again I got lost, as the naming confused me and not all paths are on my map. My friends from Austria – the knowledgeable nordic walking guides – laughed and comforted me: “This happened to us as well – we always got lost, when we started exploring the Gempen plateau.”

This is the map showing the Wartenberg mountain (between Muttenz and Pratteln) and the long stretched plateau of the Gempen (about 500m above the valleys). The Schauenburg area is highlighted. Kartene

Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T – Basel


Old Schauenburg is new and New Schauenburg is old – yes!

There are two Schauenburg castles: Neu-Schauenburg (New Schauenburg) and Alt-Schauenburg (Old Schauenburg). However, “Old Schauenburg” is newer than “New Schauenburg”: The family Schauenburg built “New Schauenburg” in the 11th or 12th century and, in the late 13th century, added “Old Schauenburg”. In the 1356 earth quake of Basel both castles were destroyed. The family Schauenburg abandoned the newer “old” castle and rebuilt the older castle that now was named “New Schauenburg”.  At the end of the 14th century, the Schauenburg family died out. Around 1500, also the castle Neu-Schauenburg was abandoned. In the following centuries, the owners of the Schauenburg possessions surrounding the ruins changed repeatedly.


These are the ruins of Neu/New Schauenburg

Neu/New Schauenburg sits strategically on a small pass below the Schauenburger Fluh ( rock).


… and the ruins are not in a good state: “Attention: Falling Rocks. Ruin closed.” I think there is much left of this castle given the fact that it has not been inhabited for 500 years.



These are the ruins of Alt/Old Schauenburg

The ruins of Alt/Old Schauenburg are hidden in the forest on a rock called “Chleiflüeli” (literally translating to “little small rock”). It has not been inhabited since the 1356 earthquake of Basel and can be visited using the ladder – on our own risk.


I climb the ladder to enter the ruin and enjoy the view. I look back to the Schauenburger Fluh (imagining it with the Roman temple – see my earlier blog). Below – facing the meadow – is a small white spot. This is Neu/New Schauenburg.


From the north, there are two paths leading to “Alt/Old Schauenburg”, and both are unmarked: The first is a narrow footpath starting on Schauenburger Fluh and following the edge in the trees. The second is a road branching off earlier. Only with the hints of my friends from Austria I eventually found “Alt/Old Schauenburg”.


The farm “Neu Schauenburg” (Hof) – acquired by a “Wellness King

Below the ruins of Neu/New Schauenburg is the farm “Neu Schauenburg”.


The origins of the farm go back to a monastery built in the 15th century. First monks lived here, and in 1502 nuns took over (Beguins or – in German – “Beginen”). After the reformation with Basel becoming protestant, the monastery became just a farm. The last farmer is now retiring. According to “Schweiz am Sonntag”, the farm “Neu/New Schauenburg” has recently been acquired by a “Wellness King”, in May 2014.  The Wellness King plans to build appartments for families that want to live with their grand parents. In addition he intends to reactivate the bath tradition by installing a sauna and a steam bath.


Bad Schauenburg

Below the Schauenbuger Fluh and the Chleiflühli is the hotel/restaurant Bad Schauenburg.


Here I spent several trainings thirty years ago, when working for Ciba-Geigy and later for Hoffmann-La Roche. At that time I did a lot of jogging in the area. But when running, I did not notice the gems that I discovered now.


There are more gems just near Basel

The area around the Schartenfluh hides more gems on the Gempen plateau that I I will talk about later.  

On the road – discovering treasures around Basel: To the southeast (III)

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

As from April to August I was forced to stay at home, I walked and walked discovering and rediscovering gems around Basel. Here is the third set of gems in the southeast, on the Gempen and the Wartenberg.

This is the map showing the mountain/hill of Wartenberg (between Muttenz and Pratteln) and the long stretched mountain plateau of the Gempen. The gems that I am talking about in this blog are highlighted in grey: The bunkers, the Rothallenweiher and the Sulzkopf with the Sulzgrube. In addition I found more background information about the Wartenberg being a valley and not really a mountain.


Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T – Basel


Trying to understand why the Wartenberg is not a mountain, but a valley

In the former blog “discovering treasures around Basel: To the southeast II“, I remembered that my geography teacher always told us: “The mountain Wartenberg is a valley” and he also showed us the signs of the Rheintalflexur under the cascades of the Birs near the “Schänzli”. I found a document of H. Laubscher from the ETH (Rheintalflexur und Tafeljura) that helps me to come closer to understanding this paradoxon of the “mountain Wartenberg that is a valley”. I borrow one figure from this document:


The Wartenberg is a ditch; it slid down, as the figure shows. Hence it is a “valley”. It was also bent, as it hit the brick wall of the Sundgau near St. Jakob. This “flexur” has been uncovered even more, when building the Schänzli motorway tunnel  (Rheintalflexur). The Wartenberg slid down and was lifted up at the same time – becoming the “mountain” with its southwards facing slopes that host the vineyards and give us the wine that we keep as a secret for us…  I also have some bottles of Jauslin  wines in my cellar.



The bunker forest

From the Birs and the “Rheintalflexur” near St. Jakob, a steep path  leads to the Rütihard. The forest is full of deactivated bunkers from the first and second World War. They now serve as platforms for sprayers. Here are two examples, one with the bishop’s crook of Basel Town (Baselstadt) and one with some more abstract forms.



There are also many picnic places here. I can smell that families with their children are roasting “Klöpfer” (traditional sausage/cervelat of Basel) on the open fire.


Rothallenweiher (Pond of Rothallen): Deep water full of legends în the nature reserve “Rothallen”

A small path leads to the pond of Rothallen. A wooden trail surrounds the pond and protects the fragile vegetation of mushrooms and moss. A wooden platform allows accessing the pond.


The pond belongs to the network of nature reserves in the  trinational area around Basel.


According to the explanations, the Rothallenweiher is a doline filled with water. It is extremely deep – we ignore how deep it is. Legends tell that knights fell into the pond and their souls sometimes resurge from the water. In the 1990s Muttenz cut some beech trees around the shore to let the sun in and add some water plants. Insects and amphibians live here. This is a place to come back to in spring to observe the animals.


Sulzkopf (or Sulzchopf) with Sulzgrube

The Sulzkopf is the most well known picnic place around Muttenz.


There is also a hut here that can be rented.


The view of Basel and bordering Germany and France is superb (we call this trinational area “the corner of three countries” or “Dreiländereck”).


The vineyards and the three fortifications of the Wartenberg are just vis-a-vis. Basel, the Black Forest and the Vosges are often in the haze – also today.


“Sulz” is a medieval term for salt water and appears in place names (toponyms) in Southern Germany, Switzerland, Alsace and Austria (wikipedia). Just below the Sulzkopf, the Rhein Salinen AG extracts salt near the farm “Eigental”. As the name “Sulz” shows, our ancestors knew about the salt here!

Below the Sulzkopf is the Sulzgrube. This is an old quarry abandoned in 1918. Now it is a nature reserve that hosts rare plants, e.g. 12 orchids, as the community of Muttenz explains proudly.


The Sulzgrube is just pure nature.


The access is not highlighted. I find a steep trail not far from the Engental that takes me to the Sulzgrube – and, but this is not straighforward at all – eventually to the Sulzchopf, just behind the hut.


There are more treasures around Basel

This was the third selection of treasures from southeast of Basel. There are more treasures around Basel and I will continue to write about them. I love to travel and discover cultures far from mine, and now I enjoy diving deeper into my roots at home while recovering more and more.

On the road – discovering treasures around Basel: To the southeast (II)

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

From April to August, I walked and walked discovering and rediscovering gems around Basel. Here is the second selection of gems in the southeast, on the Gempen and the Wartenberg.

This is the map showing the hill of Wartenberg (between Muttenz and Pratteln) and the long stretched mountain plateau of the Gempen.


Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T – Basel


Gorgeous town centers of Muttenz and Pratteln

Both Muttenz and Pratteln have taken care of their romantic village centers with the fortified churches. Below is the fortified church of Muttenz.


Both Muttenz and Pratteln boast of nice small restaurants that are great target points for our Nordic Walking group guided by my friends from Austria.


Just half an hour and 200m above Muttenz: The Wartenberg with three fortifications

On the Wartenberg – 200 meters above the village – there are three castles that watch over Muttenz. The three castles can also be found on the emblem of the community. Until 1300 Muttenz and the castles belonged to the canonry of Strassburg, then changed owners several times, until they were acquired by Basel in the 16th century.

This is the northern or anterior ruin of Wartenberg. It is the largest of the three castles. It  is said to be from Carolingian times (around 800 –Wikipedia ).


From here I enjoy a great view to the east or High Rhine valley (in German: Hochrhein).


And this is the castle that sits on the highest point in the middle between the two other ruins. The residence tower dates probably from the 12th century.


From here there is a great view of Muttenz and Basel. In the background to the left are the Vosges and to the right the Black Forest.


This is a third fortification farther south, called the posterior ruin. It was probably used as a refugium for the inhabitants of Muttenz.


Vast meadows cover the Wartenberg plateau. Gallaway cattle are grazing here. My brother-in-law keeps Gallaway cattle in the Bernese Alps producing excellent bio beef meat.


Watch out, there are also areas, where the Swiss men practice shooting – this is mandatory for those serving in the militia army.


Vineyards benefit from the sun on the south facing slopes. Muttenz grows some excellent wine here that we keep for ourselves in Muttenz and around Basel – sorry.


When I went to school in the 1960’s, our geography teachers took us out to explore the Wartenberg. Near the ruins we looked for fossils. Our teacher also pointed out that the Wartenberg is not a mountain, but a ditch. I do not really understand this, but I find various documents on the internet that study the risks of the Wartenberg ditch for a waste disposal site (Wartenberg-Graben, Studie für Deponie) and for the railroad shunting yard (Wartenberg-Graben, Studie für Rangierbahnhof). The “artificial” mountain in a ditch does not seem to be very stable: There was a devastating landslide in 1952 (report): 300’000 m2 slid down and destroyed buildings (even a solid concrete bunker) and the vineyards. The people from Muttenz repaired the slopes and the vineyards are back in place.


A monastery above Muttenz: Built in the 13/14th and abandoned in the 16th century (after the reformation)

Andreas, my friend from Austria, guides our group of Nordic walkers to the Engental above Muttenz. He points to a line of trees and a field and says: “This was once a monastery”. The nuns had selected a unique place for their monastery: The view from here to the Rhine valley and the Black Forest is wonderful (it is a little hazy today).



We can hardly believe this. But, Andreas shows the memorial board that confirms the monastery from 1268 to 1525. About 12 nuns lived here.


After the reformation, the monastery was abandoned and decayed. The Muttenz chronics of the 18th century mention that nature has almost fully conquered the monastery, and today nothing is left.


The wonderful local history website of Muttenz includes a painting of the monastery that I borrow to show the difference between the field today and the monastery that was here around 1500.

Kloster Engental

Source: heimatkunde-muttenz.ch


Next to the Engental is the Eigental with the Eigental farm that now has been reused to retrieve salt

It was a few months ago that Andreas (my friend from Austria) showed the Engental monastery to me. In the meantime, my head had confused Eigental and Engental. After all – those two valleys are just next to one another. When I came back to take pictures, I first looked for the monastery place in the Eigental – and made an unexpected discovery: Construction is going on here. Caterpillars have churned up the earth around the farm buildings. Is the farmer renovating his farm? No – surprise – the Swiss Rheinsalinen AG is extracting salt  – high above Muttenz and in a farming area.


There is a salt block of 50m under the Eigental farm that had caught the attention of the Rheinsalinen AG. Had I not messed up the valleys “Eigental” and “Engental”, I would not have found out about this salt extraction. This reminds me of Kairos and the princes of Serendip that I blogged about half a year ago.


There are more treasures around Basel

This was my second selection of treasures southeast of Basel. There are more… and I will continue to write about them. And looking back I keep on wondering why I have ignored so many gems and their background in my homeland so far.