After our week of cabin-fever-inducing summer downpours, the ol’ sun reappeared in spectacular fashion this weekend. Which was fortunate, as we’d planned our next installation of the Intentional Summer Challenge: to go on a quest. While the rest of the world seemed to be chasing Pokemon we were significantly less cool and opted instead to follow the historic path of William Tell, the great folk hero of central Switzerland.
My knowledge of Willhelm / Guillaume / Guglielmo / Guglielm Tell (depending on which of the four Swiss languages you favour) was limited. Of course I’d heard about the infamous ‘arrow through the apple’ tale, and the sort-of-related William Tell Overture, but that was my total background on the guy. As we’d chosen to hike a route that reflected the man’s own path, we figured it was time to brush up on a bit of Swisstory.
A legendary strong man, Alp-hiker and expert marksman, William Tell led the Swiss resistance to attempted Austrian domination in the 1300s. Arrested by the Austrians with his son, he was offered a challenge: to shoot an apple from his son’s head in a single attempt, or for them both to face execution. Tell pulled out two arrows and successfully shot the apple. His son was released but when asked why he drew two arrows, Tell replied that had he shot his son he intended to use the second arrow to kill Gessler, the leader of the Austrians. With this he was imprisoned, however en route to Küssnacht dungeon Tell escaped capture and ran cross country through the Alps. His captors followed, and Tell famously assassinated Gessler with the second arrow through a narrow stretch of road cut through large rocks. His act sparked a revolution which eventually led to the formation of the Swiss confederation.
Our hike commenced close to the top of the mountain at Rigi Kaltbad, and followed some of the path that Mr Tell ran as well as marking the point where the famous fatal arrow was shot. The walk itself covered about 12km, and apart from a few straight stretches was primarily downhill all the way to Küssnacht. There was definitely no running from our team, lumbered up with one bambini apiece, but there was plenty of Alp gazing from the top of Rigi across Lake Luzern out to Mount Pilatus on the crystal clear day.
We had teamed up with some friends to do the hike, and we slowly made our way down the sometimes precarious mountain path. We frequently passed people walking the opposite direction and admired their gumption, but after a few hours our knees were telling us that upwards may have been a better game plan. Happily, there were ample scenic distractions as well as the melodious bell ringing of the Swiss cows grazing on Alpine grass.
We stopped for a very Swiss lunch (würst! älpermagronen! anything else on the menu with an umlaut!) in a seemingly middle-of-nowhere farm restaurant. The kids played on swings and trampolines and looked at the ponies, no doubt much like William Tell must have done while he was on the run.
The final descent into Küssnacht town was tough; we’d been walking steadily downhill for about 4 hours and our joints were telling us all about it. So loudly, in fact, that we forgot to note the site of the final showdown between Tell and Gessler, instead fantasising about icy beers and cool lake swims.
Our quest completed, although perhaps not observed as formally as warranted, we hobbled into town and called it a day. A spectacular day, with beautiful views and better yet glorious sunshine throughout the entire walk. For me the trip will be marked by the achievement of another quest of sorts: my lass, after months of pestering on my behalf, finally spat out her first proper ‘Mama’. I have some concerns that it came right after she played with the afore mentioned ponies, but she’ll have to learn full sentences before I’ll acknowledge that particular request.