My friend Steve Winter and I visited the Falls with our spouses on Oct. 13, 2008. But on that fall morning, off in the distance from a point close to our hotel, the Falls looked more like the Reichenbach Trickle than the awesome force of nature described by Watson. No matter. Steve and I set off with determination on the fussweg, or footpath, well-marked (at least at first) with signs bearing the universally recognized image of Sherlock Holmes. Along the way our wives fell back and Steve and I hiked on past cows, goats, and Swiss chalets with satellite dishes. Without the funicular “Zum Reichenbachfall,” which marked “100 Jahre” in 1999, we had a delightful sense that we were walking more closely in the footsteps of Holmes and Watson than if we had taken the cable car much of the way up.
About two thirds toward the top of the mountain, within site of the Falls, we unexpectedly came across yet another plaque. In English, followed by German and then French, it said:
AT THIS FEARFUL PLACE,
MORIARTY ON 4 MAY 1891.
It was erected in the 1990s by the Bimetallic Question of Montreal and the Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland, and not arbitrarily. The spot certainly fit the description of where Holmes and Moriarty tussled, just above a ledge now protected with a metal railing. Heights not being my favorite thing, it was to me indeed a “fearful place.” Even the intrepid Steve told me later that he could imagine the fear and awe that one would have felt looking down into the chasm when the Falls were cascading over the jutting rocks at full force – especially in the days before funiculars, safety rails and marked trails.
By this time, it was clear that the view from below had been deceiving. In October, virtually shut off, the mighty Reichenbach is still a lot more than a trickle. In another context, with lower expectations, it would be considered a respectable waterfall. “The Falls, even now, are quite loud,” I wrote in my travel diary as we stood on a bridge overlooking the great chasm and the cascading water. And their roar was the only sound to be heard in the stillness of nature that fall morning. Steve and I had seen no one else, except for a distant hiker that never came close to us. “This really was a pilgrimage for two,” Steve said as we began our descent about two and a half hours after we had started up.
A pilgrimage indeed, and one that I wrote about in my first Sherlockian Book, Baker Street Beat.