An account of some walks, mostly in the Bernese Alps, serving mainly as a framework on which to present photographs of mountain scenery.

See the introductory remarks for general information about cameras and conditions.

Click on the links in the text or on the thumbnails to see the pictures. They have been resized to 1024 pixels width for the most part, so make your browser window big enough!

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Männlichen

2342 M. 7684 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Jungfraumarathon Wengen 05 September The walks in August having gone even better than those of July, the hope in September had to be that the weather would play ball long enough for an effort to do at least some bigger and more dif ficult walks before going home. From this time on, an unlucky snowfall on the heights could mean the end of the higher walks if the weakening sun failed to melt it fast enough.

That was just how it was looking as I set out for the first walk of the month and the only one-way walk of the whole season, from the valley up to the finishing point of the Jungfrau Marathon, where an old friend was taking part. A couple of cool days with some heavy rain had finally replaced the summer heat. Having stayed overnight in his family's chalet near Interlaken (...always nice to stay in a place where you have this view from your bedroom in the morning), I caught the Grindelwald train to a handy starting point at Burglauenen station. From this in­significant hamlet, a somewhat unexciting track slants upwards along the forested slopes back in the direction from which the train has come, before rounding a corner into the main Lauterbrunnen Valley. Not long before the track reaches Wengen, at that moment full of marathon runners and onlookers, I turned off onto a track which ascended 900 M. to the summit of the Männlichen in more or less continuous hairpins. On the last three hundred metres, as the track snaked between numerous avalanche barriers, traces of wet snow became more and more common. It augured badly for the rest of the season. From the summit, there were fine views of the runners making their agonising ascent towards the Wengneralp. The summit of the Männlichen is tourist territory, with lifts and restaurants nearby, and a more or less level footpath, along which I was able almost to trot the four Km. to Kleine Scheidegg, where the thousands of runners reached the finishing line to the accompaniment of a hideously loud broad­cast commentary from the speakers visible in the picture. Of the journey down in the packed Wengneralpbahn train, the less said, the better. Standing room only, and some of the standing was on my toes.

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Schilthorn

2970 M. 9745 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Schilthorn 09 September The threat of an early onset of autumn weather rapidly abated, so the door was open for a longer walk, this time on familiar territory. I had been to the summit of the Schilthorn a number of times over the years. At just over 2100 M. from the starting point at the Schilthornbahn car park, it's the biggest commonly done ascent in the Bernese Oberland. Despite the height, it is frequented by crowds off the cable car in good weather, and needs no more than a T2 rating. On arrival this time, I noticed that they were now charging for car parking. This trend has been progressing in Switzerland in recent years, presumably to force at least some income out of visitors who don't use the (expensive) facilities.

The early ascent is in the shadow of the big Oberland peaks until the last chalets above Gimmeln catch the first rays below the Eiger and Mönch. The trail continues along the high pastures of the Schilt Valley before a long and some­what steep ascent up grassy slopes to the little Grauseeli lake and the final stretch over barren rocks to the summit. I checked my watch... four hours and thirty minutes from the car park, exactly half an hour longer than it took me when I first did the same walk, thirty-two years almost to the day earlier. No lonely eyrie this, with hordes of tourists ferried up on the long cable car run via Gimmelwald, Mürren and the Birg, some of the more active ones venturing off the observation terraces for the view down to the upper Kiental. A Bollywood crew was filming some fatheaded takes; with temperatures around 5°C, the actress didn't stay dressed like that for long. The Büttlassen was not far away, the recent snow having probably closed it to walkers for the rest of the year.

I had passed cattle being herded down from their summer pastures as I ascended, and now, on the way down, I watched Mountainy Man dismantling fences while the sun still shone. In the clear September light, the high peaks remained splendidly visible until the path finally descended into the shadowy Lauterbrunnen Valley once more.

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Gantrisch

2175 M. 7136 ft.

Difficulty: T3

Gantrisch 12 September Autumn reasserted itself a few days later, with a high over Britain steering cool continental winds over Switzerland, and the towns and valleys under the dull layer of stratus called Hochnebel. A good time to burst through the cloud and have a morning walk in the sun, so off I went, rally driving up the hairpin bends to the Gurnigel and over to the usual parking place at the foot of the Gantrisch. Because of the extreme familiarity of the terrain, I was able to dispense with my rucksack and rush against a stiff, cold breeze up to the Morgetepass saddle and on, foodless and drinkless, to the summit. The Prealps towards the west appeared and disappeared in the mist, which was more disturbed than usual due to the wind. A few other groups were there, photographing one another above the clouds. After a mere ten minutes at the summit, I made the descent in less than forty, thanks to an unmarked short cut. The whole walk took less than two hours, and I was home in time for lunch.

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Stockhorn

2190 M. 7185 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Stockhorn 16 September By mid September, dull and calm weather had set in, with high-altitude cloud above a motionless layer of greasy murk on the plains. A familiar but longer walk was indicated, so I chose to do an afternoon trip up the Stockhorn, this time via the "tourist route" from the Simmental mentioned earlier. I parked in the big park opposite the cable car station in Erlenbach (free here!), and sped up the steep village streets towards the start of the path.

Passing a school where classes had ended and kids were heading off in all directions. I suddenly noticed that one, a boy of eight or nine, was speaking to me... something about Dad often not driving down to pick him up, so he would accompany me up to his house up the hill if I didn't mind. Er, was the house near the path to the Stockhorn (my Schwyzerdüütsch extends just far enough to talk to children)? I didn't want to have to make a big detour if not. Oh yes, close by! So off we set for twenty minutes of quite pleasant conversation about school, the names of the surrounding hills and so on until, some two hundred metres higher, the house was indeed visible a little off the trail, with Dad in the garden. "What's your name?", I asked as we parted. "Caroline"... the perky boy-cut hair had had me fooled. I thought sadly as I continued upwards that such an encounter would probably not be possible any more in New Zealand or Britain, where the precautionary approach towards protecting children now transcends all sense.

Between the murk below and the high cloud, the view from the summit over the plains was clear enough, but too leaden for ordinary photographs to be interesting, so I turned on the camera's artistic functions for a posterised shot of the Stockhorn's telecoms tower and another of the Hinterstockensee and the trail down to Erlenbach. Weak rain towards Grindelwald never reached the peak as I sped back down through the dullness. A season's exercise was clearly showing results, with the whole walk, including looking after kids and forty minutes' rest at the summit, taking only a hair over the signposted time for the ascent.

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Dents du Midi Haute Cime

3257 M. 10686 ft.

Difficulty: T4-

Dents du Midi 22 September The stay in Europe was drawing to an end and the indifferent weather continued, frequently dull, with occasional drizzle and no longer warm. Crucially, however, there were no stormy intervals and no real cold yet. This meant that conditions on the high peaks were still likely to be good, especially on southern aspects. So for the final act of the season I settled on the Dents du Midi, whose multiple summits loom above the Rhône Valley in an area where the climate is slightly milder than that of the Bernese Oberland. As the "Haute Cime", the highest summit and the only one accessible to walkers, is well above 3000 metres, I rang the the hut at its foot the day before to check conditions before setting out on an expedition which would involve more than 300 Km. of driving on top of everything else. No problem at all, said the patronne of the Cabane de Susanfe. No snow, no ice. Yay!

I was on the way from Burgdorf at five thirty the next morning to set out from Champéry as the sun rose. The first thousand metres of ascent take one through the woods above the town and the Pas D'Encel with its secured passages on a cliff leading into the enclosed, grassy Susanfe Valley where the hut lies. Beyond the hut, the Haute Cime comes into view as the grass fades away on the approach to the Col de Susanfe, where the unmarked summit track begins. On the way up, there are views of the other Dents and the little Plan Nevé glacier. If the scree is already bad above the Col, it becomes truly horrendous after the Col des Paresseux (where lazy walkers are said to give up), and it was at times quite dif ficult to identify the "path" at all. On top, at last, the tilted strata made it something of a struggle to find a comfortable resting place. The summit would in any case be a great viewpoint, but its isolation makes it exceptional. Down the north face, the whole of the Val d'Illiez is visible, including Champéry. The views into France are particularly good, including the Dru and the Dent du Géant and the Aiguille du Midi téléphérique station silhouetted against the snows of Mont Blanc. The hour spent alone on the summit was a time of exceptional quality in a day in which everything went right.

Back down in greener surroundings after the last, best walk of the season, I could be thankful for a year when the weather never seriously interfered with my plans. I broke the return journey for dinner in Montreux and was home by midnight.

Two days later, I was on the plane to New Zealand. That's the way to do it!