27 October 2013
The world’s steepest cogwheel train
Three trains, two buses, one cogwheel train, and a pair of feet were necessary for me to reach the top of Mount Pilatus, the mountain with several summits towering over Lucerne and the lake of the same name, although the German name is so much more romantic – lake of the Four Forested Cantons, since four different cantons (the name for the 26 Swiss provinces) intersect.
Every country is number one at something. Besides apparently leading the world in terms of (lowest) unemployment rate, Switzerland also boasts the steepest cogwheel railway. The additional rail in the middle of regular rails is what immediately gives it away… and possibly frightens anyone too, at least makes one hope that the rack that engages with the wagon’s pinion doesn’t give way along the thirty minutes that it takes to go up by 1,600 metres (that’s five times the height of the Eiffel Tower), especially on the steepest sections which are at 48%: that means going almost five metres up for every ten metres forward, yikes.
Not only content to be the steepest cogwheel train, it also appeared to be the fastest (as if anybody were in a hurry!) even if the maximum speed is a mere 12 km/h so I doubt the claim is correct. When one knows that the railway is 114 years old, operating first with steam then electricity in 1937, one would better hope that the railway is well maintained. I did get a little scare upon going downwards though, as the operator struggled to get the wagon moving – and then managed to do so at the expense of a little jolt that made all passengers gasp.
It was a sunny and pleasant Autumn day to be up in the mountains and enjoy the 360° panorama on the lake on one side, the green plains and forest on another (did you notice that isolated white chapel with its pointed red tower?), or the snowy Alps on yet another. Talking about snow, it was already snowing down in the plains just a year ago at almost the same date, what a contrast.
Some easy and brief hikes allowed me to reach each of the three mountain tops, having successfully avoided being attacked by fearless Alpine choughs (a type of crow), not without reminding me of Hitchcock’s film The Birds (a must-see) – after all, a dragon was said to live in the mountain during medieval times, I should deem myself lucky. After that non-strenuous walk and some attempts at creative photography (some bird shooting, some effects, some framing – hope you’ll appreciate those humble pictures), I nonetheless had to find comfort in eating a dessert at one of the restaurants, an Apfelstrudel (it’s a warm pastry with apples) with vanilla ice cream (I won’t bore you with the blue network-like picture of it) – what? I’m eating a dessert at a restaurant, when I’m known to always be very organised with food and stuff, and seldom make my life pleasant with “unnecessary” purchases? Haha, it was offered by the railway company as compensation for the maintenance of some of the cable cars.
If the sunset had been a bit later in the evening like in the Summer, I would have burned those calories by hiking down the whole mountain – I guess that will be for another time. I certainly will not be that crazy guy whom you can see in the picture hiking up… with his mountain bike on his back. Huh?!