Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger in Sun and Clouds

 I spent a week (31st July to 6th August 2010) in Mürren, almost "across the street" from the three giants of the Bernese Alps, the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger.  I could see the Jungfrau from the bedroom window of my rented apartment:

To see the Mönch (right) and Eiger (left) I had to go out on the porch:

Later on Sunday (1st August) I went for a hike, and got a chance to see all three together the way they are meant to be seen (from left to right the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau):

For two more photos of what I call the "big three" click here and here.

Here are individual shots of each; first the Jungfrau:

then the Mönch:

and finally the Eiger:

with its notorious North Face dark.

The chain of mountains extends SW beyond the Jungfrau, ending in the Lauterbrunnen Breithorn (there are many Breithorns in Switzerland, hence the qualifier).  This photo extends from just beyond the Jungfrau to the Breithorn:

Later that afternoon clouds moved in:

a prelude to a couple days of on and off drizzle.  Not enough to prevent me from hiking, but enough to abolish all views:

On the morning of the 4th the clouds lifted a bit:

 and I planned to hike to the Schilthorn with its 360° views.  The Schilthorn is associated with the James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" as well as with a ski race and a half marathon, both called Inferno.  In fact, the half marathon was to be run on the 21st, and I met several runners training for it.

Clouds quickly moved in, and by the time I reached the hut I was hiking in the clouds:

I had a second breakfast at the hut, continued for about another kilometer, and shortly before the final ascent decided to call it a day:

On the way down I noticed that, while there was no sign of the clouds lifting, some peaks were occasionally peaking out of the clouds.  I sat down and, for about twenty minutes, took a huge number of photos.  The vast majority were uninteresting and were discarded, the survivors are here, and a few of the most interesting follow.

The Jungfrau timidly peaking through the clouds

before revealing herself in all her splendor:

The Mönch trying to emerge:

and finally succeeding:

Dark clouds above the Eiger:

but it eventually also emerges:

The weather remained cloudy with frequent drizzle for the duration of my stay, but on the morning of my departure cleared spectacularly.  I just got two good photos before leaving, one of the "big three":

and one of the end of the range, with the Grosshorn and Breithorn:

From Mürren I went to St-Luc for a week, with another set of mountains!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The North Face Trail, Mürren, August 2, 2010

I am so glad that I brought my computer, with mobile internet card, this year!  Checking the forecast as soon as I wake up is a huge improvement over going to the Tourist Office.  This morning the forecast was for a dry morning, with afternoon precipitation.  I was tired, so a short morning walk seemed exactly what I wanted.  I decided to hike what the local tourist map calls The North Face Trail; it allegedly gives views of many of the north faces, with lots of boards describing routes and first ascents.  I prefer reading that kind of stuff at home, but the hike itself seemed very attractive: a couple of hours, about 6½ kilometers and two or three hundred meters of elevation gain.

Just as I was going up the steep track from the chalet I got a good view of the Lauterbrunnen Breithorn (there are several Breithorns in Switzerland):

About a couple of hundred vertical meters above central Mürren is the Pension Restaurant Sonnenberg:

Shortly after it I left the most used trail that goes north to the Allmendhubel and instead went south, soon reaching another high level pension, the Pension Suppenalp:

Just as I was wondering how guests got there a rugged car drew up with a passenger; obviously they fetch their guests from the station in the village.

After the pension the trail went up for a short distance, then was more or less level, passing through many meadows.

The meadows where cows currently graze are surrounded by electric fences with gates, that hikers are expected to close after passing through. One gate stumpted me: after looking carefully it was clear that it was not a gate, as both sides were firmly fixed. As I was thinking of climbing over it two women, smaller than I am, came up and decided to crawl through it. I decided that crawling might be easier than climbing, one of the women was kind enough to record the crawl:

Note the hat with bandana  to protect my face and neck from the sun should it have chosen to make an appearance!  I will also note that I was carrying a fanny pack as well as a Goretex top for the expected rain; I had thrown them over the gate before crawling through it.

After that the trail, wide and with excellent footing, continued on the contour. I am sure that there would have been spectacular views of the southern parts of the mountain range if the weather had been better, but as it was I saw almost nothing in the distance. I was able to enjoy the alpine meadows; unfortunately my meadow photos do not seem to reflect what I see.

Just before going down I came across the last of the mountain restaurants of the trip, the Restaurant Schiltalp:

with its decoration of cow bells:

and a man playing a flute like instrument:

Just beyond the restaurant was a barn with piggies:

I do not remember seeing any on my previous trips to Switzerland.

Shortly after I reached the hamlet of Gimmel and a wide, smooth track, paved much of the way. It started raining, and I was glad to be able to make good time (going downhill until Mürren). back at the chalet in time for lunch and an afternoon/evening of sorting out photos and updating my blog!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

From Evolène to Mürren, July 31, 2010

"If life throws you a lemon, make lemonade."

The trip from Evolène to Mürren was not something I was looking forward to. It involved a bus ride from Evolène down to Sion in the Rhône valley, then one train to Visp (higher up in the valley), a second train to Spiez, on the other side of the mountains, a third train to Interlaken, a fourth train to Lauterbrunen and finally a fifth train to Mürren. With a heavy duffel bag, a heavy pack, a laptop computer (alas, not a netbook) and a camera it did not promise to be fun.

Add to that the fact that almost all apartment rentals are from Saturday to Saturday, and that I was not at the start of the bus line, and the trip promised to be a nightmare.

First off I decided to take the earliest bus, leaving Evolène at 6:50. That would guarantee an easy bus ride, above all space for my luggage in the bus' storage compartment. Second I decided that I would take a break, spending a couple of hours in Interlaken, leaving my luggage (minus the camera!) in a locker at the station.

I left home a few minutes before 6:30. My duffel bag has wheels, but they make a lot more noise than I cared to make at 6:30 in a Swiss village! So I pulled it when there was grass to diminish the noise, and painfully carried it the rest of the way, including the final slight, but painful, uphill.

There are rewards to waking up early on a cloudless day; you get to see the mountains waking up:

Dent Blanche:

Dents de Veisivi:

and, far off at the head of the valley, the Dent d'Hérens:

In Visp (around 8:30) I had my second breakfast at the railway café, a coffee with a croissant.  I decided to have it outside, forgetting that while the insides of cafés are non-smoking, the outside areas are not.  As a result I found myself sitting next to a pair of cigarette smokers.  I survived, and thus fortified I managed to do the remaining train changes to Interlaken, which I reached around 10:00.

There is a myth that everything in Switzerland works all the time. The reality is a bit more realistic: most everything works most of the time. Good enough but ...

That morning many of the coin operated lockers at the Interlaken station were on strike, refusing to accept coins. After much frustration I found a locker willing to accept my money, put all my belongings except my camera in it, and went out to have a walk around Interlaken.

I do not know how many millions of photos have been taken of the Jungfrau across the meadow in Interlaken; I decided to look for less hackneyed pctures to take.

Reigning over that stretch of street is the Victoria Jungfrau Hotel, built when Britannia ruled, not only the waves, but also the Alps:

Its name in gold letters, to underscore its status:

But all is not well, it now has a somewhat less upscale neighbor:

A bit further is a shop which seems to think that time has stopped:

It was a beautiful day, and many para gliders were in the air:

Including one in the process of landing:

On the other side of the meadow, almost opposite the imperial Victoria Jungfrau, more modest accommodation was available:

Returning to the station I passed a memorial plaque to Adolf Guyer-Zeller, founder of the Jungfraubahn (Jungfrau cog railway):

Just before the station I came upon a taxi cab with multilingual signs; one more proof that Britannia no longer rules the Alps:

Back at the station I had to take the train to Lauterbrunnen. It is an interesting train, as it splits into two at Zweilütschinen, half going to Lauterbrunnen and the other half to Grindelwald. Signs on each half of the platform give the appropriate destinations. Once on board the public announcement system is similarly split, and at Zweilütschinen instructions are given to descend if you are still in the wrong half of the train.

At Lauterbrunnen I had to change to a cable car to Grütschalp where I changed to the final train to Mürren. On that final train ride I saw scores of walkers; a wide trail that parallels the railway is one of the most popular easy hikes from Mürren. I finally reached the chalet where I had rented the ground floor around 14:00.

After a quick trip to the supermarket (next day was not only a Sunday, but also August 1, the Swiss national holiday) I explored the village, finding a most unexpected, and welcome, sign (translation: Sunday 1 August open 11:00 - 16:00):

As it was still early I decided to do the walk along the railway to Grütschalp and back, a bit over a couple of hours. I had great views of the surrounding mountains, but there were enough clouds to spoil the photos; in any case I took much better pictures next day (some mountain pictures are on From Evolène to Mürren). Just outside the village I came upon an interesting fire hydrant:

A view of Wengen across the valley:

Signs pointing to an alpine cheese store:

and the store itself:

When you think of domestic animals in Switzerland you tend to think of cows, but if you have eaten their delicious charcuterie you should realize that they raise pigs:

Back "home" I had a well deserved beer, then shower, dinner and to bed.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

St-Luc to Zinal, July 18, 2010

This was my third trip to St-Luc, so I wanted to do a few new hikes, as well as revisit some trusty old friends.

On Sunday (18th July) we were both not in top shape after the transatlantic trip. We decided to do something known (no surprises) and settled on the spectacular high elevation hike from the top of the Tignousa finiculaire (saving us about 500 meters of elevation gain) to Zinal. This is part of the well known Sierre to Zinal marathon, run annually in early August. This is an intermediate hike: a moderate distance (about 16 kms) and minimal elevation gain (about 300 meters). The weather was excellent and the views promised to be spectacular!

After a short walk we reached the finiculaire (no discount for half fare card; 10% off for old fogies) and were whisked up 500 meters. The first three or so kilometers (until the alpage of Le Chiesso) are flat walking on a wide, smooth track. Nice views to the west, but the views to the south, with the collection of 4Ks, were yet to come. Then came the main climb, up to the Hotel Weisshorn, which was quite lively on a sunny Sunday morning:

Near the hotel we saw a couple of horses:

We also started seeing the peaks to the south:

For the next few kilometers we walked below the ridge of the Pointes de Nava that we saw from St-Luc:

As we got further south the views opened up even more:

I was most interested in the tiny bi-horned peak at the extreme left of the photo above, it is the Bishorn, seen with more zoom here:

The Bishorn had, for many years, fascinated me. I am a hiker, not a climber, but it is probably the easiest "honest" (no lifts!) alpine 4K. So easy that it is known as Le 4000 des dames (the English "Ladies' 4,000 meter peak" seems much less commonly used).  That led me to hope that I might, perhaps, one day climb it. A few years ago I concluded that I would never climb it, but I still think of "what might have been".

The slopes here are steep, and there is constant danger of both rock and snow (avalanches) sliding. So we saw several forms of protection, avalanche barriers:

metal netting to hold rocks:

and walls:

Beyond that we came upon a site where a mountain stream is diverted to the Grande Dixence system, through pipes and pumping stations. The photo shows the stream flowing above the station, with almost no flow below it:

As we got nearer to Zinal encouraging signs for the runners began to appear:


The final descent was brutal, but we reached Zinal with over an hour to spare before our bus back to St-Luc. We sat at an outdoor café and ordered two chopes de biere; well deserved after the hike.

A good start to my summer in Switzerland!

A few more photos here .