Where the forces come together - ski tours around Engstlenalp
Connoisseurs say that even in the Bernese Oberland there are only a few unspoilt, authentic places left. Engstlenalp is one of them. A handful of quiet summit destinations surround it. Tourists would like to change that, if it weren't for a hotelier who wants to preserve the heritage site as it is: a place of power.
The full moon emerges like a radiant face. It is still bright, the steep snow flanks of the Wendenstöcke glow in the pink light of the last rays of the sun. On the frozen lake, a lonely ice fisherman is still holding out, letting himself be enchanted by the magic that lures him to Lake Engstlen again and again. In the background are warped stone pines and a huge erratic boulder. As much energy has been measured on it as on the pyramids of Giza. A place of power, or as the British physicist and alpinist John Tyndall put it in the summer of 1866: "One of the most delightful places in the Alps".
Fritz Immer, the fourth generation of his family to run the historic Hotel Engstlenalp, is fighting to keep this place unspoiled. For almost two decades, they have been fighting against the planned merger of the Titlis, Melchsee-Frutt and Hasliberg ski resorts. "Undeveloped oases have become a rarity," Immer says. "My guests come for the quiet nature." His gaze wanders west, to where the ice peaks of the Bernese Oberland parade. The Wetterhorn stands out most prominently. "Indescribable nobility" it radiates, noted the Briton Tyndall.
In winter, the road through the Gental remains closed. A long valley that counts 14 kilometers from Milital in Gadmertal. In the east, above the valley head, the Titlis glitters. The contrasts could not be closer. There the hustle and bustle of the many visitors in the skiing area, whose voices, however, already fade away at the edge of the Engstlen lake and then almost completely fade away over the lake. When the Titlis showed its mighty bulwark still unwired, Engstlenalp functioned as an important base. "During the Belle Époque, there were about 20 mountain guides stationed with us, who brought guests up the Titlis every day. The shortest way up was from the hotel," says Immer. A mountain guide himself, he knows every peak here. As a beginner's tour, he recommends the ridge on the Graustock. It is not too long, so that you can be back by midday before the warm spring sun softens the snow too much.Fritz Immer, who with his family runs the historic Hotel Engstlenalp in the fourth generation, is fighting to keep this place unspoiled. For almost two decades, they have been fighting against the planned merger of the Titlis, Melchsee-Frutt and Hasliberg ski resorts. "Undeveloped oases have become a rarity," Immer says. "My guests come for the quiet nature." His gaze wanders west, to where the ice peaks of the Bernese Oberland parade. The Wetterhorn stands out most prominently. "Indescribable nobility" it radiates, noted the Briton Tyndall.
It was mid-April, the heat was already getting to us, but thick cushions of snow still clothed the mountains. The skiing area of Melchsee-Frutt in the northwest already lies abandoned. The trail of the Tannalp can still be made out, but not a soul far and wide. Over wide, domed slopes we climb towards the Graustock. Still unaware that the skis are gliding over a widely ramified labyrinth of caves. Only a mysterious hole on the Fiken ridge reveals this. Such holes were scary to the ancients. They whispered to each other that the devil lived in the Fikenloch. You can still see his breath today, when it is freezing cold and steam rises from the cave. Since the first exploration by the Trüssel brothers in the summer of 1976, 200 cave entrances and 64 kilometers of cave passages have been surveyed. They are located in a very confined space over several floors - a geotope of national importance. A natural jewel above ground as well. Eagles circle above our heads, a herd of chamois dots the sunny slope near Hengliboden. This is the name of the valley that runs from Fikenloch to Tannalp and forms the border to the Huetstock hunting reserve. Several bearded vultures have been released there in recent years. As we swing through creamy firn towards Engstlenalp, marmots whistle. Their mating season is already behind them. But the birds are still in the middle of courtship. Two wagtails are engaged in a breezy courtship, with feathers flying. Engstlenalp is home to about 50 species of breeding birds. And trout and char cavort in Lake Engstlen. The foundation stone was laid by grandfather Hans Immer. He released Canadian lake trout. He was a cosmopolitan man who, thanks to a brother-in-law who had emigrated to Finland, was one of the first to get his hands on skis and dared to go on ski tours, for example to Engstlenalp in 1892 and a year later over the Joch Pass to Engelberg. Mind you, at that time there were no skins!
We enjoy the afternoon at the lake. The ice fisherman is back. The warm sun has uncovered small islands of sunbathing under the pines. Soft and fragrant with the scent of pine needles. Pine jays flute from the tops. A treacherous peace, behind which lurk the expanders and mountain railway operators. For them, the only things that count are kilometers of slopes and supposed overnight stays. In the Schaft valley north of Lake Engstlen, where chamois now roam, a lift would whirr, snowmaking lances would hiss, snow cannons would rotate. The proponents never tire of emphasizing that everyone has the right to enjoy beautiful nature. How can that be? Anyone who has ever visited the Titlis knows that beauty disappears with the masses. Not least the respect for nature.
"We have a responsibility," says Fritz Immer. "We can't ruin everything for our children." As if his words were hanging over the cult stone, a family emerges. The father explains, "This is where you can recharge your batteries."
Info on ski tours around Engstlenalp
1 Wendensattel (2776 m), from Jochstock
ZS, 1h, 260 m
Route: From Engelberg via four lifts to the Jochstock. From the top station (approx. 2510 m) east around the Jochstock and southwest only slightly ascending through the approx. 35° steep flank of the Reissend Nollen to the Joch glacier. Across the open northwest slopes of the glacier to the saddle. Descent northwestwards to the Engstlensee.
2 Hiri (2097 m)
L, 1h, 263 Hm
Route: From the hotel Engstlenalp southeastwards over the small plain to the information board of the nature reserve. Here it is important to look carefully at the zoning plan, as the ascent leads through a game rest zone. Therefore, one has to stick to the corridor. Over a knoll to the western tip of the Engstlen lake. South across the frozen lake and uphill through the corridor to the summit of Hiri. Descent as ascent. Variant: At the outlet of the lake follow the alpine path to Scharmat, then eastwards to the Hiri. Descent via the corridor north to the lake.
3 Graustock (2610 m)
WS, 2h30, 870 Hm
Route: From Engstlenalp north-northeast across the steep pastures of Weng to the ridge descending from Gwärtler. Between Gwärtler and Graustock eastward to the SE shoulder of Graustock, which breaks off sharply into the Engelberg-Titlis ski area. Beware of cornices. Alternative: shorter and easier to Fikenloch (2400 m) on the ridge northwest of Graustock.
4 Rotsandnollen (2700 m)
ZS-, 4 h, 950 hm
Route: From Engstlenalp north-northeast on the ridge descending from Gwärtler. Descent to Vogelbüel still before Tannalp. Up the sunny slope north, northeast until near the rock wall of Hohmad and Barglen. Through the little valley Murmoltereneggen into the hollow south below Barglen. Now steeper up to the ridge at Tannenrotisand (2536 m), the saddle between Barglen and Rotsandnollen, and over the broad, often blistered ridge to Rotsandnollen. Descent to Tannalp and close to the stream on the right of the rocky step southeast via Zilflucht to Gental. Counter ascent along the Schneetöff track to Engstlenalp
Info about the journey to Engstlenalp
The easiest way to get to Engstlenalp is via the ski areas Melchsee-Frutt or Engelberg-Titlis. The Melchsee-Frutt ski area closes as early as the beginning of April, The Titlis ski area remains open until the end of May and is also recommended because you only have to climb a short distance to the Wendensattel to enjoy a spectacular descent to Engstlensee. In case of unfavorable snow conditions, it is possible to get from the Jochpass almost to the Engstlensee on prepared slopes. Near its northern shore across the lake to the west and flat in 30 min. to Engstlenalp. The approach through the Gental, from Wagecher to Engstlenalp, is long (11 km) and in sections prone to avalanches.
LK 1:50 000, sheet 255 S Sustenpass as well as 245 S Stans.
LK 1:25 000, sheet 1210 Innertkirchen as well as sheet 1190 Melchtal
Ski Touring Guide Central Switzerland Pre-Alps and Alps, Martin Maier, SAC Verlag, 2015.
Hotel Engstlenalp, Tel. +41 33 975 11 61, www.engstlenalp.ch
Text & photos: Iris Kürschner