Whenever you have a passion for something, it is very likely that you can never accept an inferior experience in that particular passion. The word that would be used to describe an inferior experience would be throwaway. To a foodie, a meal which has no value other than to satiate hunger would be a throwaway meal. To a beer lover like myself, my trips to Switzerland have been replete with throwaway drinking experiences. Everywhere in the Jungfrau Region, it’s Rugenbräu and Feldschlösschen. The first one goes down well after a tiring hike. But after that, it is just drinking to drink. There is no soul satisfaction. For any passion, there is a certain limitation one will tolerate before it feels like a complete waste of time.
When I woke up on Wednesday morning to rain during my recent trip to Switzerland, I found myself confronted with the possibility of experiencing a throwaway day. When I am in the Jungfrau Region, there is no such thing as lounging in a chair reading a book. Sore legs be damned, I am going to push myself into the mountains for another amazing hike. In six seasons in the Jungfrau, I have rarely ventured beyond the Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald areas. I have never visited Interlaken. I still haven’t been to the Rugenbräu brewery. I am in Switzerland for one thing and one thing only and that is to hike every day, and no throwaway hikes.
Waking up to the rain resulted in a sudden creative surge as I whipped out my Jungfrau Region post like it was a box of chocolate donuts and dove into it with reckless abandon. It was only at noon after clicking Publish that I realized that the weather had changed and publishing a solitary post, while normally giving me a satisfying sense of accomplishment, was just not going to cut it. It was too late for an epic hike, but how could I manage to avoid both a throwaway hike and throwaway day all at the same time?
I tried to erupt from my bed with the fervor of the previous mornings, but my attempts at preparing my hiking backpack were half-hearted as my mind frantically tried to solve this final problem. I knew there was a safety valve hike. One I have kept in my back pocket for a few years now. One that only appeared on my radar thanks to an advertisement on a paper placemat at a restaurant in nearby Brienz while having lunch with my daughter. One that if I had a didactic memory should have already been on my radar years ago. By the time I was half way to my car, I knew that it was time to pull the ripcord on this parachute and pay my respects to a peculiar tragedy. And with that I punched up Meiringen on my gps.
For a charming week we wandered up the Valley of the Rhone, and then, branching off at Leuk, we made our way over the Gemmi Pass, still deep in snow, and so, by way of Interlaken, to Meiringen.
The town of Meiringen is about a 40-minute drive from Stechelberg and sits just east of Lake Brienz. Not part of the Jungfrau region but a region called Haslital. Meiringen is famous for one particular natural landmark. Reichenbach Falls.
We had strict injunctions, however, on no account to pass the falls of Reichenbach, which are about half-way up the hill, without making a small detour to see them.
The Reichenbach Falls are not a hidden wonder of nature. From the highway and practically anywhere in the vicinity of Meiringen, one can see the wild torrent of the 250m high falls, which ranks in the Top 40 of Switzerland.
Before I headed up to the falls, I took a stroll around the city center where I had a fateful encounter with a local cheese shop. There, as if waiting for me since birth, was a bottle of Haslital Helles. Somewhere in my backpack, a can of Rugenbräu groaned with jealousy. With a prime new beer for the obligatory beer photo in tow, I headed up to the falls.
This is a rather short hike and it didn’t take long to reach the first viewpoint of the falls.
It is indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamor.
I am not sure Reichenbach Falls had quite the intensity that I was expecting. Tremendous abyss, coal-black rock, and boiling pit make it sound like the entrance to Hell. One can’t help but admire the purple prose of these words. Words published in 1893. Words that were entirely responsible for my standing on a muddy path next to several tourists admiring the deafening roar of water.
The blackish soil is kept forever soft by the incessant drift of spray, and a bird would leave its tread upon it. Two lines of footmarks were clearly marked along the farther end of the path, both leading away from me. There were none returning.
But as I stood there pondering how this waterfall, while impressive, would come to epitomize incalculable depth, I came upon the link between fact and fiction. A plaque which celebrated the peculiar tragedy for which I was banking on to avoid a throwaway hike.
The Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle along with the other famous Victorian era works of Charles Dickens probably had as much to do with putting Europe into my psyche as anything else. I have read all the stories and loved the old black and white Basil Rathbone movies as I was growing up.
The scene at Reichenbach Falls in The Adventure of the Final Problem may be one of the most controversial moments in fictional history. It was an attempt by Arthur Conan Doyle to throwaway his creation in favor of working on more serious writing. The public outcry over the death of Sherlock Holmes tormented Conan Doyle for 8 years until he published his seminal work The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901.
Reichenbach Falls wasn’t just pulled out of thin air as the scene of Sherlock Holmes’ penultimate tussle with the dastardly Professor Moriarty. Conan Doyle and his wife visited Meiringen in 1893, the same year that the story was written. I suppose the “torrent, swollen by melting snow,” in an age not jaded by the constant bombardment of filtered images of impressive scenery on Instagram, would have seemed much more of a “fearful place” than it does today.
After enjoying the various viewpoints around the falls, I continued my hike. The latter part of the hike has wonderful opportunities to admire the beauty of the Swiss architecture. Each chalet marvelled with their intricate decorative wood and flower-boxed exterior. Even the barns here have a fairytale flair.
The legacy of that visit by the famed author has resulted in the name and likeness of Sherlock Holmes being well represented around the village, including the Sherlock Holmes Museum in the city center. But the legacy that really mattered to me was far more personal. If the Reichenbach Falls turns a “man giddy with their constant whirl and clamor“, in my case it was the way in which it brought back memories of a more innocent time, where places like Brussels, Strasbourg, and Meiringen, all mentioned in the story, were distant unknown places only conceptualized in a wide-eyed boy’s wonder as he lost himself in a book, blanketed by the sweet aroma of its pages, momentarily disconnected from the world. That feeling as I stood at the falls was like a wormhole in time, past and present co-existing at the same point. The spray which Conan Doyle describes as “rolling up like the smoke of a burning house” opened up my senses to the appreciation of the moment, of remembering the insecurities of that boy who would find solace and escape in books. I felt like I could see him through that small cut in space-time. Walls covered in a mixture of baseball pennants and rockstar posters. A nerf basketball hoop, a stack of cassette tapes, a wiffle ball bat. As he lay there reading, I watched his eyes scanning the words thru his glasses. I knew the words were getting thru but they were bumping into a lot of other thoughts on the way. I said hello to him and encouraged him to hang in there. Unaware of my presence, he reached for his bookmark, laid the book down on his nightstand, removed his glasses, and turned off the light.
As I was doing the second half of the hike after the falls, I wasn’t thinking about a throwaway hike anymore. I was thinking about throwaway moments. These days, so much is unknown. We are increasingly forced or encouraged to sacrifice our everyday freedoms for the greater good, whether we can completely understand and quantify the benefits or not. The hike to Reichenbach Falls connected me with my past and to be able to do something like this at all, let alone during these difficult times is something that I hope I did not fail to appreciate. Making a throwaway moment out of any of our precious time would be suboptimal. Feeling resoundingly blessed, I headed back to Stechelberg for that one satisfying beer.
|Starting Point||Sherlock Holmes Museum|
|Ending Point||Tennis Club Parking|
|Moving / Total Time||1 hr 52 m / 2 hr 26 m|