Swiss scale new heights during full moon

The moon rises on June 10 over the Mönch summit (Fritz Bieri) fritz bieri

There may be something after all to the belief that a full moon can alter human and animal behaviour - if a late night hike by thousands of Swiss is anything to go by.

This content was published on June 11, 2006 minutes

They were attracted by a series of moonlight events across the country promoted by the Swiss Hiking Federation to kick off the walking season.

The federation's ultimate aim was to raise awareness of its work and that of its 26 cantonal members to maintain the 60,000 kilometres of trails criss-crossing the country.

"Everyone recognises the yellow trail markers but few know there is an organisation behind the network," the federation's Peter Gschwend told swissinfo.

"We thought a normal event would not be enough to steal the spotlight away from the World Cup, so we decided on 'Moonlight Hiking'."

The federation was overwhelmed by the response from tourist offices and railway companies. More than 90 put together guided midnight mountain hikes, tours through vineyards and along ancient smuggling routes, and visits to haunted castles.

"I'm a night owl," said Rolf Bucher, one of the 50 people taking part in the mountain ridge stroll that swissinfo joined. The impressive turnout for this one outing put paid to the popular belief that the Swiss are early-to-bed and early-to-rise.

Shadow play

"You see a lot more with the full moon shining, and it casts strange shadows," Bucher continued as we made our way along the top of the Niederhorn. "Normally I'm the only one out here during a full moon," added the passionate hiker, Fritz Bieri, who led the tour for the Niederhorn mountain railway company. "It's exceptional that we have a group of 50 doing it together."

The 2,000-metre-high mountain above Lake Thun is not impressive in height, but is popular for panorama views across to the famed trio of peaks, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

As it neared midnight and the moon rose to its zenith, the trinity became an indiscernible greyish outline, and our collective thoughts turned to the slim path in front of us.

Still covered in snow in places, the trail hugged the ridge at its narrowest. Each false step had the potential to end in tragedy at the bottom of a sheer cliff.

Stroke of midnight

"I wanted to do it because I was curious," said Monika Schmid, as the group took a short break at the stroke of midnight. "I've never been up here before, so it may have been better if we had first got to know the route by daylight," she said, laughing nervously.

Off the ridge, we followed the path which now descended sharply down the eastern flank. We slid down snowfields, stepped gingerly across a lunar landscape of jagged limestone and quickened our pace across wide-open, soggy moors.

"Normally, you use a torch to walk at night but then you can only see the path in front of you, but with this light, we can see 70km into the distance," enthused Bucher.

The path dipped below the tree line forcing everyone in possession of a torch to finally turn it on since tall, dense firs cancelled out the benefits of the moon's glow.

By 2am, we were showing the first signs of weariness, the initial enthusiasm taken over by heavy eyelids and blisters. Sausages and hot drinks served up round a roaring campfire were small comfort.

It would be another two hours before we reached our destination – the mountain hamlet of Habkern, above Interlaken. By that time the moon would be low in the sky, and a new day breaking, but our thoughts were on nothing else besides sleep.

"We don't have the longest network of trails in the world, but probably the densest," summed up Gschwend. "The trails are everywhere, so you can get from one point to any other – from north to south or east to west - along a well-marked trail."

Or at any time of day or night.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel on the Niederhorn

Key facts

There are 60,000km of marked trails in Switzerland.
The 2006 full moon walking events were the first ever co-ordinated by the Swiss Hiking Federation.
There were more than 90 walks of all kind held across the country on June 10 and 11.

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