Some of you might have read a post awhile back about my trip to Pruszowice, Poland with a couple of friends, R & D. We all stayed at D’s family home in Pruszowice with her mom and sisters, and I spent an amazing day in D’s mom’s pottery studio (Urszula Bugajewska Ceramics), learning how to make pottery and getting to know her mom. So when D told me her mom would be visiting Switzerland, I was excited to see her again. Her mom is one of the most genuine, warm, and funny people I’ve ever met.
After her mom arrived, I eagerly accepted D’s proposal for a day of hiking in the mountains with the two of them near Schwarzsee. (This is not the same Schwarzsee that’s above the town of Zermatt in Switzerland…confusing, I know.) Travis and I had only been to Schwarzsee during the winter for a moonlight snowshoeing trip, so I was excited to see it in the summer during the day.
Parking right near Schwarzsee (Schwarz Lake or Black Lake), I was grateful the monsoon rain that had dumped on us on the drive from Fribourg had lessened to a pleasant drizzle. With Touille bundled up in her rain slicker (what does it mean if your dog owns a rain coat but you don’t?), we set off along the Häxewääg. The Häxewääg (German for Witch’s Trail) is a wide, mostly flat trail than runs around the perimeter of the lake. Though the trail offers lovely views of the lake, I imagine it gets quite busy in the warm summer months, and it clearly was designed for kids – a playground, fire-breathing dragon, and several other way stations dot the trail.
Following the trail only partway around the lake, we took a hard left and hiked uphill instead. As the clouds briefly parted, bathing the lake in golden sunlight, the color of the water changed abruptly from a peculiar opaque black to a warm greenish hue. Local legend claims that a giant washed his feet in the lake, forever dirtying the water and lending it its impenetrable darkness. As much as I love legends, though, Black Lake’s friendly countenance in the sunlight dispels any notions of this myth. It’s just a pretty lake in a pretty valley.
Our destination was the glacial alpine valley of Brecca Gorge.
Angling upward, we quickly gained elevation as our trail narrowed, only to widen again upon connecting with a gravel road providing local access to the network of alpine chalets.
Stopping to eat our brown-bag lunches at the Marbach-Brecca, a rustic little place with stellar views of the gorge, we chatted comfortably and soaked in the sunshine. Though it would have been nice to meet the owners of the hut or even splurge for a cup of coffee, I was grateful that it was still the off season – save for the three of us, Touille, and the occasional cow, we had the valley to ourselves.
Ten thousand years ago, massive glaciers carved out this valley, leaving a steep, narrow passage between the craggy cliffs. It’s a valley of the elements, of water and rock, with seemingly endless snow melt draining from the upper ridges in ribbons of silver and pale gray granite boulders littered about the valley floor like a child’s toys carelessly tossed about and forgotten.
With energy still in our tanks, we continued hiking up the valley. Though I’ve still never been to Scotland, I imagined this must be how parts of it look, with light boulder fields scattered among lush green carpets of grass.
Topping a rise to Bremingard, another deserted mountain hut, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a scene straight out of Lord of the Rings. With a name like Bremingard and the primeval surroundings, we may well have been marching on Helm’s Deep.
Just past Bremingard, our trail turned into little more than a cow path. With the recent rains, my hiking boots quickly became slick with mud as I struggled to keep up with the other two. Though D’s mom may have a few strands of silver hair, I have a feeling she could out-hike me any day!
With an eerie silence, several chamois streaked down the hillside in front of us without a sound. We looked up and stood frozen while an entire herd gracefully melted into the fog above. (You can’t see them in the photo, so don’t bother looking for Waldo.)
Not surprisingly, we made much better time on the downhill, eventually reconnecting with our intersection along the Häxewääg near the beginning of our hike. Continuing around the lake to complete the circuit, we took a 20-minute detour to Schwarzsee Falls before returning to the car.
For anyone looking for a half-day hike that’s incredibly scenic but not terribly challenging, I would highly recommend Brecca Gorge!
- Total distance: 14.6 km (9 miles) round trip
- If you’d prefer a shorter hike, you can simply turn around at any point or take one of several alternate routes back to Schwarzsee.
- For those driving, a large pay parking lot is available right at the lake. Even though we visited during the summer, it was a weekday and the weather was drizzly, so we were the only car in the lot. Even when it’s more crowded though, I imagine that most folks never venture beyond the easy Witch’s Trail around the lake.
- Wear good hiking shoes. Usually I prefer to hike in sandals, which would have been fine in dry weather, but the upper portion of the trail gets quite soupy with rain.
- Don’t forget your camera!