We went on a little adventure this weekend! Friday after school and work we took the train to Lucerne and on Saturday morning we went to Mount Pilatus to have a sort of “hills are alive” kind of moment.
Pilatus isn’t pronounced the way you think. It isn’t like Pilates, although it is quite a workout. It’s Pie-LEE-tuss. Like elite pie, but reversed.
Mount Pilatus is located in the Emmental Alps by Lake Lucerne. The town of Alpnachstad is at the base of the mountain and you can take a cog-wheeled train from there up to the visitor’s center at the peak.
This particular rail line’s claim to fame is that it is the steepest in the world. At 48% grade you’d be hard-pressed to find a steeper one. And to put this in perspective, think of a right angle. That is 90 degrees. If you bisect the angle you’re still only at 45. You need to go another 3 degrees. You don’t have to take the train. You can hike the entire 2,128 meters up.
The view is lovely and the ride was smooth, even if you could feel how hard the car worked to overcome gravity. It stopped half-way up to allow some to pop out and hike the rest of the way or to pick up hikers who had no idea what they were up against and were about to die.
Mountain goats are common around here and there are dairy cows grazing around the flatter (or “flatter”) areas. As we were hiking around the paths we could hear the dings and tinklings of the large bells that farmers put around the necks of their livestock. You can hear them from a surprisingly long way off. The goats can get to any ledge or path they want and they do. Considering how terrified I was at times I can only regard the goats as supernatural beings.
I would also like you to note the fencing behind Mark. These are quarter-inch cables and metal posts embedded into the rock. We were to trust these fences, which could not have kept even my father’s tame cattle in check, would save my youngest son, who was playing “mountain goat,” from catapulting himself over the edge.
And let me tell you something about just how high we are. We are very, very, very high up in the air. A small, personal plane can flight at, on average, about 12,000 feet. We are more than half way to that. The little piece of metal guardrail you can see at the very right edge in the picture above is 100 feet away from where we are standing. I, as some of you might remember, had a very nasty fall when I was in high school and have been afraid of heights ever since. This was incredibly, horribly high. My heart stopped and my sphincter puckered every time the children took a step toward the edge. Or forward. Or backward.
But, oh my, it was worth it.
And of course there are legends about Mt. Pilatus. The first says that it was/is home to dragons. There are various natural tunnels along with man-made tunnels. (The Swiss have put in military installments below the visitor’s center. The Swiss: Neutral, but Prepared.) There are also some “wide” areas that could be landing areas for these fire-breathing dragons. There is one specific story that says a brave knight came to rid the mountain of the dragons. He crept upon a sleeping dragon and when he raised his mighty battle axe to strike, the dragon awoke and flew away. When the axe struck the mountain it did so with such force it cleaved part of the mountain open. The dragon, distressed and angry, blew his fiery breath over the valley and scorched everything in his path. H was convinced the dragons are of the “Knucker” variety that his Dragonology features. E at first tried to say dragons didn’t exist, but then amended his statement to say they would more of a “mountain” species, because, as we all know, the “Knucker” is more of a forest variety. (Thank you, Grammie.)
As the mist came to surround the mountain it wasn’t hard to believe that dragons do live there. The mist gently drifted in and then out, like the mountain itself (or an enormous group of dragons) was breathing.
It was even more magical when we were hiking along the path and the quiet music of Alpine Horns came drifting along with the mist.
Every half-hour this group trouped out with their long horns and played some amazing music. It’s sad that we Americans have only that ridiculous Ricola commercial as our introduction and education about the Alpine Horn. I found this link to a youtube video of the Alpine Horns playing the same song we heard as we were hiking up to the peak; in case you want to hear it.
The second legend is that the mountain is haunted. And not just haunted by the ghosts of unfortunate hikers or thwarted lovers, either. It’s haunted by Pontius Pilate. Yes, you heard me. Pontius Freakin’ Pilate is haunting this mountain. (The spelling and pronunciation make more sense now, doesn’t it?)
It was rumored that this mountain or the lake below (Lake Lucerne) was where Pontius Pilate was buried. His soul was tortured because of his part in the crucifixion of Christ. Every Good Friday, Pilate is damned to wander the mountain and lake for eternity; trying to wash the blood from his hands. There are reports of terrible thunderstorms and heavy flooding that kept everyone in fear. It was so bad the government issued an edict forbidding anyone from climbing the mountain or approaching the lake. In fact, in 1387, six clergymen were thrown in prison for even planning to go across the lake and climb the mountain. Even shepherds were placed under oath not to take their flocks towards the lake. Finally, in 1585 (that’s 200 years of not going by the lake), the parish priest of Lucerne had had enough. He and some of the citizens climbed Pilatus to challenge Pilate and any other spirits that might be hanging out. They “threw boulders into the lake, churned its surface, (and) waded through the shallows.” And now my favorite sentence of the guide book, “A supernatural counter-offensive failed to materialise, and the spell was broken.” It makes me giggle to think Pilate (and his friends) might still be there, but a simple parish priest and a few city-folk weren’t a big enough audience to expend the energy to do anything awesome.
The mountain was clear and crisp during the morning, but the mist started drifting in after lunch. Mark and E decided to go down the trail a little bit and then hike back up. H stayed with me and we drew pictures of the mountain and Medieval battles. Then we hiked a little further up and around the peak of Pilatus.
I am much more appreciative of the beauty of the mountain now that I am back on the ground. I am very glad I went. And I am even more glad that we took the boys and had them experience this. I mean, this is an Alp! Everyone knows about the Alps and we got to see what all the fuss was about! The fuss is justified!
Mark would like me to add that it is clear that the Swiss believe that there is no sense in having big or overly solid safety mechanisms get in the way of your view. It’s Darwin or nothing here! Enjoy the majesty and use your head!
Then have a beer at the hotel restaurant by the Visitor’s Center.