‘We counted about a hundred and fifty early risers, most of whom wore that miserable expression that would find words in Dr. Watts’ moral song ‘You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again…
…The vastness of that mighty panorama was impressively sublime and in hushed silence we gazed on that serrated belt as daylight awoke on its three hundred miles of mountains, valleys, lakes and villages.’
Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal 1863
We counted about eleven pre-dawn risers, the expressions on our faces mercifully veiled in the thick fog that enveloped us, rendering each other and our surroundings almost invisible. Only the eerie tinkle of cow bells emanating from behind the wall of bone-chilling mist convinced us that, beyond where we huddled, peaks and valleys lay, their ‘mighty panorama‘ cloaked beyond any hope of visibility.
The Alpenhorn, out of courtesy to our fellow guests, had been relocated from its historic alarm call venue of the corridors of the Hotel Rigi Kulm to the chilly cone of the Kuhn to greet the sunrise. Muffled by the damp, all pervading oppression of the pea-souper, its low lament served only to heighten the disappointment we felt as we trudged back to the warmth of the hotel and our beds to try to rekindle lost slumbers.
Although not a particularly impressive mountain in its own right, standing a mere 1798 metres above sea level, Rigi’s unique vantage over a panorama of Alpine peaks that stretch all the way to Germany and France, mirrored in the waters of Lakes Lucerne and Zug, has attracted travellers for 200 years, notable luminaries amongst them. In late August 1850 Richard Wagner ascended Rigi for the first time and experienced the phenomenon known as Rigi Ghost whereby your image is reflected in the mist sporting a halo of light. In 1868 Queen Victoria was carried up the mountain in a sedan chair, prompting a spate of visitors from both Britain and Germany to emulate the Royal experience – only without the sedan chair.
Relating the experience in his book ‘Climbing the Rigi‘, Mark Twain supplied a compellingly witty account of his three day ascent of the mountain in 1897 in the company of his friend Harris. Taking leisurely to a whole new scale, Twain and Harris spent two nights in inns en route from Lake Lucerne to Rigi Kuhn, oversleeping successively longer each morning. Finally arriving at Hotel Rigi Kulm after dark on the third day, they ‘went to sleep without rocking‘ until, wakened by the Alpenhorn they both rushed out, wrapped in their blankets, climbed the tower and watched with awe as the sun…sank. Having entirely slept through the early morning alarm call, the hapless pair had jumped out of their beds at the call of the 7.30pm Alpenhorn just in time to witness sunset.
Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal
When Jemima Morrell, her brother William, cousin Sarah and four more members of the Junior United Alpine Club set out to witness sunrise on Rigi, it was towards the end of their adventure on the first conducted tour of Switzerland organised by Thomas Cook, the excursionist. Unlike Twain and Harris, they achieved the Rigi ascent in an afternoon although they found it to be testing and were it not for the constant unwelcome attentions of cherry sellers, the party would have taken more rests. It was after dark when they arrived at the hotel and by the time they suppered, they had just four hours sleep before rising with the Alpenhorn to witness the sunrise.
Unlike Jemima, for whom most of that remarkable first tour of Switzerland had been on foot and by mule, including the nine mile ascent from Lucerne to Hotel Rigi Kulm, our party took the cogwheel railway from Vitznau, a small breakaway party of four alighting two thirds of the way up to complete the journey on foot. Through the rain and mist we climbed until we arrived at the warmth and welcome of Hotel Rigi Kulm for our final dinner together before awaking to our soggy sunrise and then going our separate ways.
I should have felt cheated at not witnessing a spectacular sunrise from the summit of Rigi, being robbed of a fitting highlight to our trip. But I didn’t. All this time, I and my companions had been following in the footsteps of Jemima’s tour as part of Switzerland’s celebration of 150 years of tourism. From the thermal springs of Leukerbad; up the snaking Gemmi Pass to Lake Daubensee and onwards to Kandersteg; to Interlaken and Grindelwald, the Geissbach and the Reichenbach Falls and finally to lovely Lucerne and Mount Rigi, we had been following characters in a Victorian diary.
But when we arrived at Hotel Rigi Kulm and looked at the guest book from 1863, there, in fine black ink were the signatures of William and Jemima Morrell and suddenly they were more than just characters in a journal, they were real people who had leaned over this book, dipped the nibs of their pens into the ink pot and inscribed their names. It was a defining moment for me and its impact was as great as any sunrise view. As I left on the cogwheel train to Goldau that morning, I felt an overwhelming sense of completion and an affection, not only for Switzerland whose green valleys, iced mountains and spectacular waterfalls had been my constant companions for the past week, but for the woman who wrote a journal 150 years ago without whom, I would not be here.
Until 2nd October, Inntravel are offering a Swiss Alps travel package based on Miss Jemima’s itinerary: prices from £1,740 pp including 12 nights’ B&B, 9 dinners and travel within Switzerland. For further information on Switzerland and rail travel, visit Switzerland Tourism and for flights to Switzerland visit swiss.com.
Walking to Rigi
I regret that my images reflect the somewhat miserable aspect of the weather on Mount Rigi, captured during a fleeting appearance of the landscape while we were at dinner. I have since heard that mists can envelope the mountain for nine months of the year. I’m told if you want a chance of seeing ‘that impressively sublime, mighty panorama‘ it would be wise to time your visit between July and September. The walk from Rigi Scheidegg to the summit at Rigi Kulm takes 4½ to 5 hours with most of the 400 metre ascent being in the last hour. The climb from Rigi Kaltbad, which we did, takes about 50 minutes to an hour.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+