Hiking in Switzerland: How Swiss transport makes alpine hiking easy and fun

There's a hairpin bend up ahead and it swings to the left. Loose stones fly as I hurtle towards it at breakneck speed, the gravel road rattling beneath my wheels. Should I brake yet? If not, when?

My brakes are fitted to both handlebars and it's imperative  to apply them evenly. If I press too hard on one side I'll swerve dangerously, with potentially catastrophic results. Get it wrong and I could go flying off the edge of the road and down a steep embankment better suited for skiing. There's a good chance I'll hurt myself.

As I approach the bend I feather the brakes and lean into the curve – gently, at first – as I steer around it. The more the road crooks, the further I lean. And the more I lean the harder I press, particularly against my left brake.

The pressure I employ is as smooth as I can make it – too jerky and I may even flip. Eventually I can't tighten my brakes any further and my left wheel locks. Both rear tyres skid across the gravel surface but I'm perfectly in control, my back end swerving, synchronising with the direction of the road. I couldn't have executed it better.

Here in Switzerland, they call my gravity-propelled three-wheeler a mountain cart. Back home, we'd call it a billy cart. And it's the first time I can remember riding one since I was a kid.

Back at Schreckfeld, before I'd fitted my helmet and strapped myself in, I'd caught a cable car down from the First Summit station on the slopes of Schwarzhorn mountain. Had the wind been calmer I'd have been able to zip-line down, travelling at a speeds approaching 80 kilometres an hour.  After this cart ride, I'll be scootering down, snaking blacktop roads until I reach Grindelwald, at the foot of the Jungfrau Range in Central Switzerland's Bernese Oberland region.

I must say this: I like this Swiss approach to hiking, where getting up and down mountains can be easy – and fun. There's no huffing. Nor puffing. And there's no excessive sweating.

Take Schynige Platte, for example. My hike earlier today took me from the ridge-top "platform" to First – a distance of about 15 kilometres. But rather than having to slog my way up on foot to my starting point, 1500 metres above the town of Wilderswil, I could instead catch a train.

Mind you, it wasn't any old train, but a historic cog railway that rattled and swayed as it ground its way uphill. Built way back in 1893, it is a characterful, creaky old bugger that saved this creaky old bugger's legs and lungs a lot of unnecessary effort, readying me for sort of the hiking I really like doing, which is walking in the mountains instead of to them.

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The Route 62 hiking trail from Schynige Platte to First is one of Switzerland's most popular alpine routes. Between the starting and finishing altitudes of just over two kilometres above sea level, the trail climbs to a high point of 2681 metres. Now I know that sounds like a tough gig on paper, but trust me when I say it's more of a stroll through gorgeous countryside than a tedious day out.

When you can whistle your way through fields of summer wildflowers and breathe in some of the freshest mountain air on the planet, always while gazing across the Grindelwald valley towards a breathtaking panorama of World Heritage-listed peaks that are so close they practically smack you in the face, it really does make you feel glad you made the effort.

Don't believe me? Well, wrap your brain around this ... my companion for the day has been a 58-year-old, chain-smoking former antiques restorer. Not exactly the sort of pedigree you'd expect to find in a mountain guide, is it? But that's what these mountains do to you – they make you want to spend time in them. And once you get to know them, falling in love is the next logical step,

Sandra Kaiser was smitten by these mountains long ago. Earlier today, she practically skipped through rolling fields filled with the sound of ringing cowbells. Sharing the path with us were Swiss girls, American men, an Israeli couple and a golden retriever, all of us converging on the alpine refuge of Berghaus Maenndlenen for lunch, and then again on the summit of Faulhorn – home to Switzerland's oldest mountain inn and the hike's highest point.

With views across Bachalp Lake towards Schreckhorn and the infamous Eiger north face, among others, we continued on to the cable car station at First, where a suspension bridge clings to vertiginous cliff faces and metal walkways jut out over a valley gushing with waterfalls. Which brings me to now.

After skidding my mountain cart to a stop in Bort, I hop onto a fat-tyred scooter called a Trottibike, weaving downhill through picture-perfect farmland until I reach Grindelwald. Even allowing for the changeover, it takes me just 40 minutes to descend more than 1000 metres and is easily the most exhilarating finish to any hike I've ever done.

But here's my concern: with beginnings and endings like these, I hope I haven't been spoiled against having to work up a sweat the next time I hike.

TRIP NOTES

Mark Daffey travelled as a guest of Switzerland Tourism.

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traveller.com.au/switzerland

myswitzerland.com

FLY

Swiss flies to Zurich via Singapore or Hong Kong, code sharing with Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Prices start from $1760. See swiss.com

VISIT

Express train services connect Zurich with Wilderswil via Interlaken in just two hours. Fares start at CHF32.02 ($44). One-way fares on the Wilderswil-Schynige Platte cog railway cost CHF32 ($44). Combo Ticket Adventure Cards costing CHF46 ($63) include First Flyer zip line, mountain cart and Trottibike scooter rides. Organise package deals and transport through myswitzerland.com

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