He cleans the yellow signpost with a sponge. With a screwdriver he tightens a loose screw. A few metres further on, he reaches for a brush and paint. The white-red-white marking is only barely visible and needs to be touched up. Fritz Bühlmann has been maintaining the hiking trails in the Lauterbrunnen Valley for six years. We accompanied the 71-year-old on his work.
"Hotel Stechelberg" is the name of the last stop on line 141 in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The PostBus doesn't go any further. And this is also the end of the line for car drivers. Not so for us. Fritz Bühlmann has a special permit. We continue with him for another kilometre or two. Steadily uphill. As far as Sichellauenen. Until the "Pfäffer" turn-off. From here we continue on foot. And here there is already a first signpost. Fritz Bühlmann takes out a sponge and cleans up the dirty signpost.
On the way to the Upper Lauterbrunnen Valley
Fritz Bühlmann cleans the signpost with a sponge.
After the work is done, we hike off. In the direction of Trachsellauenen. At the beginning it's a steep climb. "Exercise is important, especially in old age," says the sprightly pensioner. I'm glad, soon comes a first marker that needs to be touched up. In other words: I can take a short breather while Fritz Bühlmann reaches for his brush and paint. Together with the sponge, he carries them around in a plastic pot. He carefully traces first the red, then the two white lines on the stone. "When I'm tired, after a long day of hiking, it sometimes happens that I put the red brush into the white paint or vice versa," says Fritz Bühlmann - and laughs. Today we are on a mountain hiking trail (see link "The different levels of difficulty" at the end of the article). He could leave the yellow paint - for marking easy hiking trails - at home today. He never needs blue paint for the alpine hiking trails, as he doesn't have to look after them.
Fritz Bühlmann carefully traces the white-red-white markings.
He always carries a sponge, brush and paint in a plastic container.
While cleaning the next signpost, Fritz Bühlmann notices that it is missing a few cable clamps. "That only ever happens in this area. Presumably a farmer nearby can make good use of these 'brides'". Bühlmann takes a replacement out of his rucksack - and repairs the signpost. The 71-year-old from Ringgenberg is equipped for many eventualities. A spanner for the pipe screws, a saw, a pair of bite pliers and a small stepladder can also be found in his backpack.
Fritz Bühlmann replaces the cable clamps on a signpost.
Shortly after each signpost there is a marker. "It confirms the signpost. It is prescribed that way," explains Fritz Bühlmann. By now we are in a wooded area, crossing small streams. He stops on a bridge: "It probably won't last much longer." Bühlmann notes the spot in his notebook. "In the evening I'll report this to the Lauterbrunnen path master, who will then repair the bridge. That always happens very quickly."
This bridge needs repair.
Hiking Trail Manager (District Manager) in the Lauterbrunnen Valley
Fritz Bühlmann walks almost exactly 160 km of trails every year. Spread over 10 to 15 days. He is compensated with 60 francs per day, plus expenses. A small supplement to his pension, but much more a healthy occupation. And last but not least, he can combine his hobby with his work. Cycling and hiking are his favourite pastimes - and flowers. On the way, he draws our attention to orchids in bloom and gives us tips on where to find particularly beautiful flower meadows in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Fritz Bühlmann usually walks the trails alone. "I can really switch off. I enjoy that." Sometimes the father and grandfather is accompanied by his wife. "But she finds the pace too slow with the many stops we have to make along the way. She likes to leave the job to me."
Flower meadows line our path.
We leave the forest, come to a meadow with cows on the right and goats on the left side of the path - and with a great view. But the path is confusing. Bühlmann decides to put up two new markers. "At the moment there are a lot of inexperienced, new hikers who easily get lost.
We hike past grazing cows.
Fritz Bühlmann puts a new marker on this stone.
Most of Fritz Bühlmann's work is done in spring, before the hiking season. When exactly he is on the road, however, is decided by Peter. "The paint has to be able to dry. If it's wet or there's a threat of thunderstorms, I can't go." This year, for example, May literally fell through. But Bühlmann is also called upon in winter. For example, setting up and dismantling snowshoe trails. Some signposts also have to be dismantled in winter for safety reasons - for example, if they are on a ski slope.
Enviable place to work: Fritz Bühlmann on the road in his "office".
Bühlmann was still working as a physiotherapist in his own practice when he contacted the Bernese Hiking Trails a little more than six years ago to inquire about a free area near him. "I wanted to make provisions for my pension, to get a little occupation." Sooner than he expected, an area becomes available. The Lauterbrunnen Valley. "For the first two years I looked after the hiking trails parallel to my work as a physiotherapist." He describes his area of assignment as a stroke of luck. "I didn't know the Lauterbrunnen Valley that well before," says the native of Erlenbach and Uetendorf. But now Fritz Bühlmann is in love with the region. "I can't even say where it is most beautiful in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. There are simply so many incredibly beautiful places here."
Simply beautiful: the Lauterbrunnen Valley
After about two hours we reach the Trachsellauenen mountain inn. Here we allow ourselves a short break. I ask Fritz Bühlmann if he will do this job for another six years. "That depends entirely on my health. If I am physically able to do it, why not?" On a map he still shows us his area of operation. It's... big. It stretches from Sandweidli via Oberhornsee to Schmadrihütte, or via Isenfluh, Sous and Schwalmere to Lobhornhütte. After that, we part ways. For the photographer and me, it's back to the office, while for Fritz Bühlmann there are still a few metres of altitude ahead. With a break or two. Because up to the Tschingelhorn mountain inn at just under 1700 metres above sea level, some markings are still waiting to be repainted today.
Time for a short break at the Trachsellauenen mountain inn.
Fritz Bühlmann shows us his area of operation on a map.