Illustration: Laughing wanderer
© Daniel Egnéus

The joke is the trail


When exactly did it start, the mania for coming up with tortuously contrived original mottoes for every hiking trail? And when will it finally end?

It’s perfectly natural: We encounter Nature at every turn, and it’s usually a lovely sight. Innumerable hiking trails traverse thousands of mountains and even more hills, pass through woods and across meadows. And when all’s said and done, a hiking trail really is a wonderful thing if it is well maintained, its surface is safe and free of pitfalls, markings point the way, and notice boards provide information about walking times and – very, very important – where sustenance can be found. But there are so many of them around! So what can a tourism office do to set itself apart from all the others? Think of something completely new, of course.

And so Switzerland now has not only more and more regular hiking trails, but fairy-tale trails, planet trails, herb trails, health trails, barefoot trails, Schellen-Ursli paths (after the namesake children’s book A Bell for Ursli), poor trails, sorcerers’ trails, shingle makers’ trails, didactic trails for protection forests, groundhog trails, and, and, and … and joke trails. Who, after all, would scorn laughter? No one can have anything against laughter.
The Hultegg, for instance, has one of these joke trails. Now, if you were just thinking you’d never heard of the Hultegg before, you would not be alone. It is neither a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, nor will it ever be picked as a location for a James Bond action scene. It is just a wholly unspectacular pass of moderate altitude (953 meters above sea level) in the unspectacular Prealps which connects two ordinary valleys in which very little ever happens. The Hulftegg Pass has a restaurant that’s popular with day trippers – convertible drivers, cyclists and bikers, who spend their time flitting across the countryside in search of exciting bends. The restaurant serves every schnitzels in all variations, smoked tofu slices with herb butter and chips and of course, Hawaii toast, the wanderlust classic. It is here, at this restaurant, that the joke trail begins. It isn’t a particularly long trail – just 267 steps to be precise. Posted by the wayside are 44 notice boards, each with a joke fresh off the computer printer.

“A man catches flies. His wife asks him how many he has caught so far. – Five! Three males, two females. – How do you know that? – Three were sitting on the beer glass, two on the phone.”

Three steps further along: “Darling, I’m off to the pub. If I’m not back by lunchtime, don’t wait with supper!”

Another three steps further along: “Miller, why are you only coming to work now? – Because yesterday you told me in no uncertain terms that I should read my paper at home.”

The final joke on this circular trail goes like this: “Oh, I’m so sorry, I almost sat on your glasses. – Don’t worry about it, they’ve seen far worse.”

Ha. Haha. Hahaha.

And while you’re standing there, about to bust a gut laughing (or maybe not), you realize you are already right back at the start of the joke course. Now that you’re up here, though, the best thing you can do is retie your hiking boots, shoulder a light backpack and turn onto the trail heading southeast. Why? Because with or without jokes, 267 steps are far from enough! Soon, the deafening silence and mild coolness of a wood have swallowed you up. The air here is heavy with the scent of a veritable green sea of wild garlic. Before long, you reach the top of dwarf mountains and gaze down into unremarkable ravines, step over tangled roots and continue past lush, green meadows buzzing with flying insects and up to the Schnebelhorn, at 1292 meters the highest elevation anywhere in the Canton of Zurich. From there, the view is panoramic.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, but in the good, happy way. In my notebook, I wrote: Went on a wonderful hike. Walking time: four hours. Only got one blister, on my right heel. And came to the conclusion that Nature needs no theme trails – and definitely needs no jokes. The trail up the Schnebelhorn is just what it is, namely a trail that has no theme but one: Nature.”