Friday, August 12, 2011

Climbing the Eiger (or not)

Darrell and I bought Swiss train passes that give us six days (during a one-month time frame) of almost unlimited train travel in Switzerland.  We immediately learned what “almost” means on the cog-wheel train from Grindewald to Kleine Scheidegg – a pass that tops out at a slightly lower altitude than Flagstaff, at 6,762 feet.  We paid the extra 48 franks that weren’t covered by our passes (oops) and sat back to enjoy the scenery.  It was our first trip together to the Bernese Oberland and we had impatiently waited until we had spectacular weather.

Darrell reflected in the train window out of Grindewald
 Our plan was to hike to the viewpoint of the Eigergletscher, the glacier that descends to the east of the Eiger’s famous north wall.  So we hiked up about 1,000 feet where we had a good view of the glacier and could even walk on the moraine.  The train in the next picture is ascending to the restaurant and site known as “The Top of Europe” between the Mönch and Jungfrau mountains.  This cog-wheel train ascends mostly through a tunnel to 11,333 feet.  I’m sure the view is spectacular up there, but going through a tunnel to a giant tourist destination just didn’t feel quite right to us.

The restaurant sits in the snowy saddle straight above the train
Hiking in Switzerland is different than hiking in some other places we’ve been like the Rockies, Alaska, or Iceland where the sense of wilderness is more present.  I’m sure if you are halfway up the Eiger, using your own sweat, it has plenty of wildness; but at the base, there were cows serenely eating grass.

Bessie at the base of the Eiger
I figured if a cow could get that close to the Eiger, I’d give it my best shot.  They have a nice rock with gear showing how both ropes and hardware have changed over the decades that the Eiger has been climbed.  I’m sure my form needs some work – but I managed to get a foot off the ground at least!

Look ma, no harness!
From that high point, we walked down the well-defined Little Ice Age moraine toward Lauterbrunnen, the small town that Katherine and I had visited two weeks ago when it was too cloudy to get great views.

Note that fresh-looking moraine!
While our quest for the elusive edelweiss flower was unrewarded, we did see some beautiful meadows.  Darrell has always had a fondness for monkshood.  The scientific name of this beauty is Aconitum napellus for all my botanist friends.

Monkshoods, glaciers, and Darrell!
And I guess I have a fondness for water fountains as I couldn’t resist a photo of this one either.  The town in the right background, perched high on a cliff, is Mürren, where Katherine and I ate carrot soup while waiting for the view…

See the village perched above the cliff?
As we hiked farther east we got new views of different mountains and glaciers in the Jungfrau region.  I was happy to see one of our favorite flowers, fireweed.

How much prettier can a place be?
Soon after this point we started a relentless downhill hike.  We ended up hiking over 5,000 feet downhill – almost like going from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River – but the weather was not as hot as summer in the canyon, and it was honestly more continuously steep.  Most of the trail was dirt, but there were some paved switchbacks as we got closer to the village of Lauterbrunnen near the bottom of the valley.

Well-engineered switchbacks that still hurt my legs!
The view of the valley was gorgeous.  This is looking upvalley toward the falls that Katherine and I walked to and toward the village where we took the gondola up to Mürren.

Definitely worth the hike!
I’m not sure the pizza and beer we had in Lauterbrunnen revived us – or just let us give in to our exhaustion.  But it was a welcome ending to a great day!

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