In the Lands of the High King


A favorite lake of mine since missionary days, on the road between Luzern and Interlaken (just before the Brünig Pass).


We left Triesenberg, a mountainous suburb of Vaduz in the Principality of Liechtenstein, on Wednesday, and drove from there to Lauterbrunnen, in the Berner Oberland of Switzerland, where we’ve stayed for multiple times now at the Hotel Staubbach.


Our one rainy evening in Lauterbrunnen. The yellowish Hotel Staubbach is on the left.


I already posted about Lauterbrunnen some time ago on this blog, pronouncing it the most beautiful place on the planet.  (I’d provide a link to that earlier post if I were working with better facilities and more time, and at considerably less expense.  But that will have to wait.)  I also noted, in that earlier post, that my longstanding sense that Lauterbrunnental (the Lauterbrunnen Valley) would make a marvelous setting for Elrond’s Rivendell in “The Lord of the Rings” was vindicated when I found out, only a relatively few months ago, that J. R. R. Tolkien had, in fact, modeled Rivendell on, precisely, the Lauterbrunnen Valley.


Enroute to Lauterbrunnen, though, my wife and I did what we’ve now done for our last four trips in this area:  We got off the main road, drove through Glarus, and then went up and over the Klausen Pass to Altdorf (though, this time, we skirted Luzern).  It’s a marvelous drive, little known to tourists, through genuine Ur-Swiss backcountry, up through the cheese huts and over a very wild mountain saddle.  At some points, the fog was so thick this time that I almost had to stop, but, at other points, it was glorious.


A young resident of the lower Klausen Pass area.

It begins to grow foggy, somewhat higher up.

On Thursday, we drove back down the valley to Interlaken, where I spent seven months of my mission many centuries ago, and up to Beatenberg (one of my old tracting areas) on the other side.  Although we could see only the Jungfrau from the “big three” peaks that dominate that section of the Berner Oberland—the Eiger and the Mönch were shrouded in mist and cloud—it was still marvelously beautiful, as always.


Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau on a clear day, from Beatenberg. At the end of my mission, a family friend kindly did a large painting of them based on a postcard, and it still hangs in my home.


We then kept driving along the mountain till we hit Thun, where we turned around and drove back to Interlaken along the northern shore of the Thunersee.  Driving back up toward Lauterbrunnen, we took a side trip to the spectacular valley of Grindelwald, where we got a partial view of the Eiger (the famous “North Face,” or Eigernordwand).  Then home, and an excellent cheese fondue at the restaurant of the Hotel Oberland.


On Friday, we drove along the south shore of the Thunersee to Spiez, and then up to Kandersteg, where we caught a gondola ride higher into the mountains and hiked over to the literally glacial Oeschinensee and ate lunch.


The prices in Switzerland  are perfectly astonishing.  When I arrived here on my mission, a dollar could buy almost four Swiss francs.  (3.7 or 3.8, as I recall.)  When Nixon devalued the dollar, the cost of my mission doubled overnight.  Now, the franc is roughly equivalent to the dollar, and everything here seems twice to four times as expensive für Amerikaner as it ought to be.  And, despite the European Union’s economic woes and looming possible collapse, Euro prices are still quite high, as well.


But I do love the area.  So I grin and bear it, and try to decide which of my children to sell into indentured servitude.


The Oeschinensee, above Kandersteg, Berner Oberland.


Afterwards, we drove back down to Spiez and took the next valley to the west for Gstaad, which I had never before visited.  It looks very much the part of the jet set resort that it is.  We also zipped immediately next door to the small village of Rougemont—the line between German- and French-speaking Switzerland runs right between the two towns—where William F. Buckley Jr. (an enormous influence on me in my formative years) used to spend every February and March.  (During my mission, I actually wrote to him and invited him to visit the Interlaken Branch for Sunday services while he was in the country.  He replied very politely, but noncommittally.  And, as it turned out, he never turned up—though I did get to host him a few years later when he spoke at BYU.  Which is worthy of another post, sometime.)  Back to the Hotel Oberland for dinner.  This time, it was Rössti and Bratwurst.  I absolutely delight in sheer Swissness when I have the opportunity.


On Saturday, we sorrowfully loaded up the car and left Lauterbrunnen.  It was a very long day of driving, partly because we kept choosing winding mountain roads with lots of passes to cross.  We drove over the Grimsel Pass, a favorite of my brother’s during his two visits to Switzerland, and then over the passes of Furka, Gotthard, and San Bernardino (remember the story behind St. Bernard dogs?), through Chur and Innsbruck to our new home away from home in Maria Alm, Austria.


I'm afraid that this iPhone photo doesn't do justice to the sheer, ominous weirdness of the Grimsel Pass, which we first saw, with my brother, at twilight, in a fog, when the buildings on the island in the reservoir looked like the perfect setting for a James Bond villain's headquarters or for the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein,


I had never been to Maria Alm before, but it’s extraordinarily pleasant.  At night, we watched torches high up on the sheer granite Hochkönig (the “High King”) as people on the peak and around it celebrated the Sommersonnenwende (literally, the “summer turning of the Sun,” or summer solstice).


Essentially the view from our back patio in Maria Alm, with the Hochkönig looming right behind the parish church.


Today, no Latter-day Saint branch being within anything like a reasonable driving distance, we read scriptures and spent much of the day high up on the Hochalpenstrasse, the “High Alpine Road,” that runs through the Nationalpark Hohe Tauern in the neighborhood of the highest peak in Austria, the Großglockner.  It was a gorgeous day, and the scenery was breathtaking.


It began to cloud over this evening, as we looked down at the glacier just below the Großglockner.


The Alps are, to me, deeply inspiring.  And I’ve found that they can be, to some limited extent at least, healing, too.


Maria Alm, Austria.


  • Nathan Richardson

    Holy cats. I thought Disney movies exaggerated the fairy tale geography of snowy mountains, impossible waterfalls, and green green hills. Now I know they were just drawing Switzerland!