In Search Of Sunrise on Mount Rigi

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

Alpenhorn at Sunrise on Rigi

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.

View from Summit of Rigi, Switzerland

Celebrity Mountain
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.

View from summit of Mount Rigi

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.

Cogwheel railway Vitznau to Rigi

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.

Walking up Rigi

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.

Guest Book Hotel Rigi Kulm, 1863

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

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+

About Andy 227 Articles
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is an author, freelance travel writer, award-winning blogger, and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites and travel guides. Author of The banana Road - It's Tenerife But Not As You Know It and Pocket Rough Guide Tenerife & La Gomera. Former Tenerife Expert for The Telegraph and Overseas Consultant for Inntravel. Published in The Independent, The Telegraph, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine and Wizz.


  1. **Sigh** I love this piece. I love to follow history, and love the Mark Twain experience….makes history feel so “real” somehow! The one and only time I was in Switzerland must be all of 18 years ago, and I’ve been meaning to go back ever since. Now I feel like slinging my boots into a bag and leaving right away!

    • I agree with you 100%, Linda. I’m a history addict too, that’s what made the entry in the guest book at Rigi Kulm so emotional for me. I love to imagine whose feet have trodden paths before mine and in this case, I knew so much about them. The Mark Twain account is priceless and worth reading in full – that man’s writing cracks me up 🙂
      This was my first visit to Switzerland but I was smitten. I only hope I get to go back one day and see all the places I didn’t get to visit this time, preferably when there’s less cloud around!

  2. Thank you very much! Very interesting! Do I understand correctly that you were able to browse through the historic guestbooks up there in the hotel? I would love to see these books for my own research (on the composer Anton Bruckner wo was there in 1880) but I would not have thought that they are still up there ?! Thanks a lot again and all best

    • Hi Felix, Yes the visitor book was certainly available to view when I was there. I would recommend emailing the hotel to confirm before making the journey. It’s quite a special place – I hope you get to see the sunrise, unlike me!

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