Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

June 7

June 7th, 2016

June 7
Hospenthal to Airolo



Crossing a high mountain pass always brings a sense of anticipation. Inevitably the path follows a river which dwindles with the altitude gain. All the while walking, you look at the steam knowing you cannot cross over until it becomes the merest trickle. Gotthard pass is riddled with tunnels, roads, and old paths. Trains pass beneath and climb over. Cars speed on a highway that most of the time is tucked into the rock of the mountainside and roofed with concrete supporting the pasture above that bleeds onto the framework. At lower elevations, animals graze on the roof above the highway. The Trans-Swiss trail alternates between cutting off switchbacks with steep, rocky, narrow paths, and following a now closed old road that is a magnificent example of engineering. The road bed is made of cobbles set in a fan shaped pattern and going on for more than 20 km. On the Ticino side, it twists like overcooked spaghetti, inviting sport car enthusiasts but accepting only bicyclists and trampers. The way up felt long but was gradual with the vegetation waning until it was only rock and scrub. Near the top, the road was drifted over with rotting snow, so I could not see the exact point where the water stopped flowing, though I could feel and hear it trickling beneath the drifts. There were points where snowshoes would have helped, but soon I was at the Gotthard Pass village, or now, as this is the Italian Canton, the Gotthardo Pass village. The pass is important politically and economically, but also geologically. The Gotthard massif is the source of four major rivers–the Ticino, Ruess, Rhine, and Rhone–so much of the geography of Europe has its beginnings in that snow I was tramping through today. The source of Hölderlin’s Ister was beneath my feet.

T. Hugh Crawford