Hiking Around Engelberg, Switzerland's 'Valley of Cable-Cars'

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 21, 2024 21:00 PMNews
A view of a mountain range with clouds in the sky
A view of a mountain range with clouds in the sky. Source: unsplash

In Switzerland's Engelberg Valley, farmers' cableways provide access to remote Alpine trails and farmsteads, revealing a hidden world of mountain life. The area, known as the "valley of the cable-cars," offers hikers a unique experience, combining stunning scenery with traditional Swiss hospitality.

At Berghof Brändlen, a mountain farmstead without road access, the peaceful atmosphere is punctuated by the distant sound of cowbells and the sight of lights marking the path to a cable-car. This cableway is the only means of transport to the village of Wolfenschiessen, nearly 3,000 feet below.

Engelberg Valley is dotted with 26 such farms, where farmers rely on Buiräbähnli, or farmers' cableways, to transport people, supplies, and equipment up and down steep slopes. Despite the number of these lifts having halved in the past 15 years, they remain vital for the farmers who operate them and for adventurous hikers.

One such hiking route is the Buiräbähnli Safari, a 29-mile circular trail connecting nine mountain lodges. Starting from the historic town of Engelberg, the path follows the Walenpfad, one of Switzerland's most scenic high-altitude routes. It winds through wildflower pastures, climbs grassy peaks, and hugs cliffs, often crossing small waterfalls.

Along the route, hikers encounter eight gondolas, some dating back to the 1960s and considered cultural assets. Maintaining these lifts is a way of life for farmers like Ueli Schmitter, who ensures they pass annual inspections and a comprehensive safety assessment every five years.

At Chrüzhütte, Ueli and his wife Isabelle serve homemade bread and cheese, and Älplermagronen, a Swiss macaroni and cheese. After enjoying a meal and refreshing elderflower cordial, the journey continues to the first Buiräbähnli. Each cableway operates on demand, with some self-operated and others requiring a call to the farmer.

The two-stage Sinsgäubahn cableway, operated by farmer Josef Durrer, is one such lift. After calling Josef, hikers are transported in a gondola reminiscent of an American truck. Josef, who rarely leaves his pastures, spends his days harvesting wildflower-rich grass for hay, a tradition known as wildheuen.

Continuing the hike, the path to the next gondola involves challenging hairpin bends and dense forests. After several hours of hiking and cableway rides, the destination of Brändlen is reached, offering a welcoming respite with home-cooked meals and stunning views.

Rita Schmitter, guardian of Brändlen and daughter of Ueli and Isabelle, serves a refreshing beer and rösti with a homegrown salad. Despite the rugged journey, the beauty of Engelberg Valley and the warmth of its residents make the experience unforgettable.

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