JWR Articles: Travel - Mount Pilatus (Featured artist: Hans Erni) - August 29, 2010
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Mount Pilatus

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A dragon trail for the ages

“You must do Pilatus,” a Swiss colleague said like a command when hearing of my coming sojourn. Having a couple of museums, several one-day train excursions and a vertical trek up to the venerable Chateau Gütsch Hotel already completed, it seemed time to take his advice on one of the few days where there was only one concert to attend.

Luckily, the weather cooperated and we set out for the first leg of the trip on the Gotthard lake boat. Promptly at 10:45 a.m. the whistle blew and the journey began with a leisurely 90 minute cruise to Alpnachstad, at the base of Lucerne’s most famous mountain. Seeing our target from the water, just a light necklace of cloud encircled the craggy neck: all else was bathed in brilliant sun. (With at least a 10 degree difference in temperature and expecting a bit of breeze at the top, our fall jackets were put to good use at the summit.)

Picking up and dropping passengers (a colourful mix of commuters and tourists) along the way, the parallel parking skill of the captain became apparent. At the first “town-of-call” it seemed that he was preparing to abandon ship, darting out of the bridge, only to realize that the 700-person capacity vessel had twin controls, port and starboard to give an unobstructed view of the fast-approaching dock.

Further down the lake, the shore's pristine was only slightly interrupted as we sailed past an active quarry, reminding everyone that some commerce must take place if the economic engine required to support the many festivals in the region was to assure the prosperity of both.

Hoping the recent rains hadn’t pushed the water level too high, we went under a multi-lane highway bridge without scrapping the smokestack.

The next mode of transportation was awaiting its passengers after a quick walk beneath the aforementioned roadway. Swiping our tickets like credit cards to gain access, we were soon seated in a cogwheel train ready for the ascent from lush valley to the top of this world where we would be 7,000 feet above sea level.

With customary Swiss efficiency, the turnstile refused to admit any more passengers once the train’s capacity had been reached.

With inclines as steep as 48 degrees, we all hoped our fellow travellers were not carrying any excess weight and that no cog would go unturned. Nearly 30 minutes later, having miraculously met then passed those making the downward trek, the gates were opened and Mount Pilatus awaited.

Newcomers like us opted for the three not inconsiderable climbs to survey the splendour below from different vantage points. The veterans headed right for the well-marked trails (both in terms of distance and difficulty—astonishingly, a few hardy souls left the train at the midway point to enjoy to the upward trek that would likely take a couple of hours).

Although not readily apparent compared to the obvious climbs from the summit’s base (which now features two hotels and three choices for dining), the circular tunnel through the rock is a must for novice and veteran alike. For not only are there many window views of the terrain below (and one small Church perched precariously on a ledge) the creativity of Hans Erni’s Dragon Trail (inaugurated in 1999, when the accomplished artist was just 90!) pictorially and verbally fills in the mythological lore of the area where dragons once ruled the spectacular domain. Of course that’s all fable, but wasn’t that sudden blast of wind eerily like wings flapping????

Lunch for us (others enjoyed the outdoor café or cafeteria with authentic Swiss music as a side dish) was a wonderful meal in the Queen Victoria Restaurant located in the Hotel Pilatus-Kulm. An exquisite Wiener schnitzel (with warm potato salad) and a perfectly broiled char for my companion seemed a culinary impossibility at this far-up altitude, but that just adds to the magic of the trip. Who would have believed? And, judging by the busy, but not in-the-way construction that’s going on, more plans are afoot to add even more value to the visits of future travellers.

To keep the interest going (not that that takes much) the descent involves a five minute cable car, then leisurely 30-minute gondola ride before stepping again onto terra firma. After a five-minute walk to the bus stop, No. 1 brings everyone full circle back to rail/boat central.

Now having “done” Pilatus, like my colleague, I would urge any Lucerne visitor to do the same. JWR

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Featured artist - Hans Erni
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