Four Lake High Alpine Trail from Engelberg to Stöckalp
By Richard Davidson
The Four Lake High Alpine Trail is a route beginning in the village of Engelberg (altitude 1,050 meters, 3,413 feet), crossing over two moderate mountain passes, down to Stockalp (1,075 m., 3,494 feet) in an adjoining valley, Melchtal, with four alpine lakes along the way. The highest attitude of the hike is Jochpass at 2,208 meters 7,176 feet), and the official hiking time is about 8 hours.
Engelberg to Gerschni
After a rainy Sunday, that was supposed to be my hiking day, Monday dawned with perfect weather and the mountains were calling loudly. I quickly rearranged some appointments, checked my suitcase at the Engelberg train station and headed upward. The first part of the trail went through forest along a road used to access the top of Engelberg's natural ski jump and further up for logging. In the early morning, it was chilly and damp from the previous day's rain.
Gernschni to Trübsee
Before long, the trail emerged into the open Gerschnialp (1,300 m., 4,225 feet), in summer an extensive pasture, in winter a key component of the Engelberg ski area. It was sunny, warm, and very green.
Leaving Gernschialp, the trail became steeper as it climbed to Trübsee (1850 m., 6,013 feet)) which is the first terminus of the cablecar from Engelberg on the way up to the top of Titlis (3,020 m., 9,815 feet). The last stage of the trip is the famous Rotair cablecar over the glacier.
Trübsee to Jochpass
I headed in the opposite direction past a tiny chapel along the margin of the Trübsee. This was the perfect rest stop for water and a granola bar while looking up at the glaciers and peaks.
The hour's climb up to Jochpass was the most challenging of the day. Although the path was clear, it was steeper with a lot of rocks. At 2,208 meters 7,176 feet), Jochpass marked the highest attitude of the hike.
Berghaus Jochpass was one part a mammoth skiers' self serve restaurant, which fortunately was closed, the other part was a cozy Stubl. I ordered a thirst quenching litre of Apelesaft Gespritzt, a mixture of local apple juice and bubbly water. The pumpkin cream soup arrived in a still-boiling personal casserole accompanied by slices of rugged local bread.
Jochpass to Engstlenalp
From Hochpass, except for one brief later stretch, the route was mainly downhill. Downhill can be faster and less strenuous than uphill, but is still very demanding on less-used muscles.
Descending past the second lake, there was a moraine ridge marked by a tall rock and a rather larger pine tree standing next to it. It is said that a measurement of the natural radioactivity of this region is the same as in the Himalayas and compasses will not function here for some inexplicable reason.
Engstlenalp was my emergency bail-out point, the terminus of a hardy postbus route following the former mule trail up from Meiringen. It was just early afternoon, I still felt strong, and so only stopped for a coffee at the classic Hotel Engstlenalp.
Engstlenalp to Tannalp and Melchsee-Frutt
Leaving Engstlenalp, there was a half hour of uphill to reach Tannalp. The path went along a rocky ledge that had a hand cable for security at the steepest part.
Across Tannalp, the trail was level and wide, skirting the day's fourth lake, Tannensee, a reservoir, with the fifth Melchsee in the distance. Off to the right, a cable car ascended the steep ridge to Bonistock. All along this way was a Klettergarten with more than 100 different challenges to learn and practice rock climbing.
Prior to the Melchsee, I encountered only a few people along the trail. Now, groups appeared on short afternoon walks and even more people were enjoying the lakeside. While savoring the solitude, returning to civilization actually was enjoyable.
Frutt to Stöckalp
Decision time. It was 4:00pm. The timetable said that the PostBus departed from Stöckalp, the valley station of the gondola, at 5:20pm. The trail sign said Stöckalp 1¼ hours away. Walk or ride? With a brisker than normal pace, I headed downward. After all the day's sights, now tromping downhill in forest, and possibly a little fatigued, this last stretch was unremarkable.
Stöckalp to Zürich
Sure enough, at 5:18 the PostBus driver emerged from the neighboring Gasthaus and we departed on schedule. (What did you expect?) Swiss PostBuses are amazing machines with powerful motors, intricate gearing, and agile steering which enable them to ascend and descend narrow winding mountain roads seemingly without effort. Coming down toward Sarnen, a big town on the valley floor, we passed a large and inactive Swiss army installation and increasing numbers of cyclists.
At the Sarnen station, there was just enough time to walk through the tunnel to the opposite platform when the train arrived. A couple of hours later, I was at the Zurich Airport train station where I collected my suitcase and took the shuttle to the hotel.
The Mövenpick front desk clerk didn't seem to notice my attire (or smell). After a very quick shower and change, I met my deferred appointments for dinner. They had spent the day in offices and meetings and were justifiably envious.
Richard Davidson is the president of Ski-Europe, experts in European winter vacations. Visit ski-europe.com/ for trip packages and ski travel information.