Up High in Pilatus

Happy to report: Up High in Pilatus is first published at the Click here.

It is hard to deny that the Swiss are proud of their mountains. Why wouldn’t they? More than half of the country is occupied greatly by the Alps, with about a hundred of its mountain peaks reaching to 4,000 meters and higher. Leading the way to such prominence are the likes of Matterhorn and Jungfrau that have never failed to amaze hikers, mountaineers and tourists alike; thus leaving a good impression on how the Swiss treat their mountains, and nature in general. I can assure you, very well indeed.

Mount Pilatus is definitely amongst the lucky ones. At 2,132 meters high, it is considerably just amongst below-average mountains in Switzerland in terms of height. The median height of Swiss mountains is at around 2,900 meters. Nonetheless, going atop of Mount Pilatus will still give you a stunning view, particularly of Lucerne and its lake and a panorama of 73 Alpine peaks.

Goldene Rundfahrt in German

The most popular way to get to Pilatus is through what they dubbed as the “Golden Round Trip.” The trip takes around 5 hours. You can start going up to Pilatus by either taking the aerial and panorama gandiola cableways at Kriens, or the world’s steepest cogwheel railway at Alpnachstad. Go start at Kriens when you prefer ascending up in the air. Or try at Alpnachstad, if you don’t mind going up in 25 degrees angle. Choose your starting point well.

The best time of the year to take this trip is from May to October. And yep, we just did.

Traveling by train for half an hour from Zurich, we finally arrived at Lucerne train station. From there we left our travel bags at the automatic luggage lockers, which I found very appealing for car-less, commuting travelers like us at that time. It would somehow cost you around 6 to 9 CHF, but man, I will definitely pay for a more convenient traveling rather than dragging my luggage along with me.

It would have been nice, and I personally would also recommend, to start the Golden Round Trip by taking the boat on Lake Lucerne. The Swiss steam boat, is as always, beautiful than ever. However we arrived in midday and an hour-and-a-half boat ride would mean lesser hours to enjoy Pilatus. We decided to take the train instead. After 20 minutes, we finally arrived in Alpnachstad. Oh yes, we find a steep climb and being suspended in air going down, much more fun.

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perpie in pilatus switzerland
The cogwheel train of Pilatus finally came. Apparently, the train was almost full. We were quite a bunch.
Off we went, going into the mountain's forest and getting inside the rocky tunnel...
Off we went, going into the mountain’s forest and getting inside the rocky tunnel…

The Pilatus railway runs from Alpnachstad to the terminal near the Esel summit of Mount Pilatus. With a maximum slope gradient of 48%, this mountain cogwheel railway in Switzerland must be the steepest railway rack in the world to date.  While its steepness remains both a challenge and a charm, the railway has been operational for over a hundred of years. The cogwheel train appears to be a living testament I guess. And yet impressively, it was still able to keep up with what it is required to do. I’m no engineer, but it was pretty impressive, to the point I find it even, a genius mechanical work.

Slowly going up, it was even a more beautiful sight. It’s a wonderful scenery of green pastures, rock formations, animals roaming free, and hikers of all ages. Believe me.

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With such mystic beauty of it, it’s not surprising to imagine legends and folklores encasing Mount Pilatus. You might have guessed it somehow, but the mountain was named after Pontius Pilate whose body is claimed to be submerged in a tiny remote lake on Oberalp. Legend has it that the ghost of Pontius Pilate was causing the thunderstorms until in 1585 when the people decided to challenge it, throwing stones in the lake and churning up the water. The ghost didn’t bother to retaliate so they believed that the spell was broken. Just making it sure, the people even dug a gap in the pond’s wall to dry it out. Four hundred years later, the people put the lake back by closing its gap. It’s become a peaceful lake since then, presumingly the ghost of Pontius Pilate finally rests in peace.

Arriving in Mount Pilatus peak
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After a 5-kilometer, 30-minute ride going up, we finally reached the peak. It was amazing to see an expansive viewing deck. As usual, inside you find a souvenir shop and perhaps they knew what clueless tourists like us would need, they’re selling winter jackets. Yes, after all these years living in Switzerland, it still hadn’t come across our minds that up in the mountain, it’s gonna be freaking cold!

On a side note, there's also another Pilatus legend. In the medieval times it was believed that dragons with healing powers lived in this mountain.
On a side note, there’s also another Pilatus legend. In the medieval times it was believed that dragons with healing powers lived in this mountain.

Below the viewing deck is a walled fortress with gun emplacements and further at the top of the mountain is where you can also find radar and weather stations, still in full use. Perhaps the cherry on top is the historic Pilatus-Kulm Hotel. This 3-star Swiss hotel first opened a year after the railway commenced in 1889 and was fully renovated in 2010. I’d imagine staying here during winter time, in a snow-clad Mount Pilatus. There must be an amazingly beautiful view awaiting.

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To give tourists a taste of their tradition, Swiss alphorn players rendered a folk song or two.

Inasmuch as we wanted to stay (there’s a mountain hotel anyway, too), it was time for us to leave Mount Pilatus. How to descend, you may wonder? Well, we took the aerial tramway, and at Krienseregg point we dropped ourselves off and took a panoramic gondola until we reach Kriens. For me, it was really one hell of a ride. Or make it the entire tour as well. It surely is a golden one!

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Not so far from Pilatus peak, I found this nice, white, small house uniquely sitting atop of the mountain. I later found out that it is an equally historic chapel on Klimsenhorn, which was also built over a hundred years ago. It had somewhat been neglected for some time until in 1971 when the chapel was recognized to receive protection and preservation. Well, this pretty deserves it!