A couple of weeks ago at a friend’s birthday party, we mentioned that we’d recently spent a day in the Alps hiking at Jaun Pass to a mutual friend, Michael. While we’d had an enjoyable day at Jaun Pass, we still felt like we hadn’t experienced the Swiss Alps off the beaten path. With a sideways grin, Michael assured us he knew of a great place to experience the Alps without all those “tourists,” which struck me as funny since we are essentially those tourists. That day, we made tentative plans to get together on a weekend with good weather. When that weekend arrived, we picked him up at the train station near our house at 6:10 am and drove toward Rohrbode, a small family chalet high in the Alps. From there, we would be hiking Schafberg Peak, “the most isolated mountain in the canton of Fribourg,” according to Wikipedia.
Photography Tip: For the best light for photography, I recommend hitting the trail before the sun rises over the peaks.
We were on the trail by about 7. As soon as the first rays of the sun hit the perimeter of peaks, all thoughts of sleep were forgotten.
Our destination, Schafberg Peak, came slowly closer with each step, until we reached the end of the official trail. We found a large, flat rock to fuel up on snacks and rest in the sun while pondering the rocky ridge above us.
How were we going to actually reach the summit of Schafberg?
We weighed the options for several different ravines, discussing whether any of the rock outcroppings between them would allow us to continue along the ridge. We faced the very real possibility of having to backtrack and come back down to find a passable route. Agreeing on a course that looked promising, we set off uphill.
Scroll to the bottom of the post for a map of where we parked and our hiking route to the summit.
Travis had noted what appeared to be a small herd of alpine chamois – a hardy high-altitude goat-antelope not uncommon in the Alps – far up along the ridge line, almost to the summit.
As we angled our way up the steep slope, maneuvering between large tufts of thistle and weedy grass, the herd suddenly melded into the rocky cliffs. Several would appear along the skyline as tiny stark outlines against the bright blue sky, only to disappear again after easily navigating the rock faces above us. Most crossed the rocks horizontally, but several broke off to climb over the peak directly above. They stood for some time watching us before they too disappeared from view.
It was truly fantastic to watch them gracefully fly past us on terrain that I would be struggling to climb a bit later.
On the way up, I inadvertently took a less than desirable track up a rocky section that proved to be well outside my comfort zone. I was forced to backtrack several times to finally find the simpler route that Michael and Travis had taken. I took so long that they were calling me – which I couldn’t hear – and they couldn’t see me over the edge.
I was pretty relieved when Michael’s head popped over the edge finally and I immediately saw a clear path up to him. A bit more scrambling after that, and we all crested the ridge.
I have to note that the guys weren’t phased by any of this – the elevation, scrambling up rock outcroppings, a gruesome death far below just waiting for one false step or handhold.
Melodramatic? A bit, yes.
I’m always on edge on stuff like this with no climbing gear. My hope is that every time we go up, maybe I’ll become more confident about this kind of general high-elevation scrambling that doesn’t require gear. Apparently I have a long way to go before I’m ready for a via ferrata.
^ Don’t click on the link ^ unless you’re prepared to wet yourself a little just looking at the photos.
Though easier and faster, the downhill usually seems more intimidating than the climb up. This time, the downhill proved to be pretty tame, particularly on the lower slopes where it was just grass.
We later found out that this same day, Switzerland was celebrating the descent of cows from the upper hills back down to the lowlands. It’s an annual celebration marked by cow parades and local festivities across the country. Clearly the event left no shortage of cows still in the high country where we passed them while hiking.
We ended our hike where we started – at Rohrbode, a small family chalet at the end of a dead-end road. The path we took actually started and ended in a cow pasture right next to their house, just the other side of a high voltage electric fence.
Normally, Travis and I would’ve thought,
Hmmm, we shouldn’t be here. This is trespassing. We can’t just traipse across someone’s front yard to start hiking on their land…..
Granted, Swiss folks are very friendly, but they’re also well armed. In the States, landowners can legally shoot you for trespassing – and they do!
But we were with Michael, who casually and confidently reassured us that it was fine, then looked for the easiest way to get through the electric fence. We were about to duck under when the farmer appeared and also quite casually pointed to the rubber handle on the far end of the fence so we could open and safely enter.
Thank you, kind Swiss farmer.
The final capper to our day was that we landed right in the midst of a cow parade in the town of Charmey on our drive home. Since folks lining the streets waved at us, we waved back!
We found it even more entertaining to make fun of a flashy red Viper. He darted onto a side road in town to cut around traffic, only to reappear again and have to fall behind us. We got a good laugh until he mysteriously appeared on a different side road and somehow fell in ahead of us again.
Don’t judge – you have to make your own entertainment when you’re rolling along at the speed of a cow.
Some miles down the road and closer to home, we hit traffic again, a sure sign that yet another small town was wrapping up its cow festivities. The smell still hung heavy in the air.
In a very Swiss version of Hansel and Gretel, we followed the trail of cow patties all the way home.
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Know Before You Go
The farmer and his family welcome respectful hikers. Tea and coffee are available for purchase upon request.
Free (but limited) parking is available near the chalet in a grassy patch next to the road that’s clearly dedicated for parking.
Remember that you’re on private property and act accordingly. Respect the cows and leave the land as you found it.
Beware that there is a family dog on site. While he’s not unfriendly, he guards the home and isn’t exactly small. If you’re afraid of dogs, be forewarned.