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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Gantrisch

2175 M. 7136 ft.

Difficulty: T3

Gantrisch 19 Aug Having arrived quite late in the season, I needed to get a move on if anything significant was to be achieved. So I ignored the jetlag and set off for the usual starter walk up the Gantrisch the day after we had landed from NZ in Zürich. Treating the jetlag with this sort of contempt makes it go away faster anyway.

As it was the middle of the week, and as I had started mid afternoon, there were few other people on the track snaking its way up to the summit block. For once I had the summit to myself. I had set out late because the morning was rainy, and the views were typical clearing ones. The Fribourg Prealps stretched jaggedly southwest into the afternoon glare, and in the other direction, the giants of the Bernese Oberland were rapidly losing their cloud cover.

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First

2167 M. 7110 ft.

Difficulty: T2

First 21 Aug The weekend of the 21st was forecast to be hot and sunny, perhaps the last such of the summer. With temperatures around 30°C on the plains, the thing would be to walk as high as possible. With that in mind, I decided to go to the end of the public part of the road from Grindelwald to the Grosse Scheidegg, where there is a large car park beside the Hotel Wetterhorn. From there, at 1228 M., the Schwarzhorn (2928 M.) is accessible via First, the terminus of the téléphérique from Grindelwald. This was a bad choice for various reasons. For a start, driving to and through a major Alpine resort on a fine August weekend was asking for trouble. In the event, the various jams were minor enough, but they still cost valuable time. Then the maze of roads and walking tracks above that side of Grindelwald contains many lateral stretches, so that rapid ascent is hard to achieve. Also, it was too warm even at 1500 M. and there was no cloud cover to provide respite, and finally, I wasn't yet fit enough for such a long ascent.

The upshot was that I got only as far as First after choosing a demoralising route which consisted mostly of asphalt road winding up the hill in lazy hairpins. By then I could detect the first signs of heat stress, so I decided to spend some time in the restaurant, drinking more than I felt like to stave off dehydration. The tourist complex is not remotely photogenic, but for anyone who is familiar with alpine choughs and their predilection for discarded food scraps, First's flock of choughs is one of the biggest. They clustered in their hundreds on the shady vertical cliffs below the restaurant. Gallingly, the Schwarzhorn (seen here in a photograph from 1977) and the peak of second choice, the Faulhorn, were both visible in perfect conditions the whole time. The day wasn't all wasted, however. Rather than go back down by the same boring route, I took the tourist trail across to Grosse Scheidegg and descended from there. Although this trail is absolutely easy, the views of the Bernese Oberland peaks are nonetheless wonderful, and for the ordinary traveller, it offers perhaps the best of all views of the Wetterhorn.

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Niesehorn

2776 M. 9108 ft.

Difficulty: T4

Niesehorn 25 Aug After a few days spent attending to more sociable duties, fortunately con­temporaneous with a period of poorer weather including a thundery night, another couple of warm days beckoned. A middling ascent, starting not too low because of the heat, was what was needed. I thought of the If figenalp behind Lenk, a place I hadn't been for perhaps twenty five years. Two trails start from there, both familiar; one to the Wildstrubel Hut and another to the Wildhorn Hut. What clinched it for the latter was that beyond it, on an allegedly unmarked track, lay a peak I didn't know, the Niesehorn. At about 1200 M. above the starting point at the little Restaurant If figenalp, there was just the right amount of exertion involved.

So it was that, an hour and a half after leaving home, I drove up the narrow one-way-at-a-time road and parked by the restaurant. Bold rocky prominences promised fine views ahead on the first stretch up an alp track, but even without those, the early part of the ascent had its moments. After the typical ascent up grass, watery gravel flats provided a pleasant change, though very likely less pleasant earlier in the season, when melting snow would fill the streams. Just above the flats lies the splendidly situated Wildhorn Hut, start of the standard route up the Wildhorn, the tallest peak in the western Bernese Oberland. The track up the Niesehorn continues up the saddle behind the hut, marked for a time, but the markings cease at the flat saddle, where it would be easy to get lost in poor visibility. In fine weather, the final ascent was obvious and on the stony summit, the cairn fairy had been at work again. There is another fine view of the Wildhorn Hut below and of the mountain it serves. The descent in still sunny weather was enlivened by a stream springing straight out of a vertical rock wall.

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Cornettes de Bise

2432 M. 7979 ft.

Difficulty: T3

Cornettes de Bise 29 Aug The latter half of August continued its below par weather. A long tail of rain clouds surrounding a low was receding north-east across central Switzerland, so the best bet was to head the other way, namely into the Suisse Romande. Whenever I had been in the Montreux area, I had often looked across Lake Geneva to the peaks which straddle the border with France, and set a mental flag to walk the highest of them, the Cornettes de Bise. A quick call to the walking friend living in Montreux ensured that I had a companion this time, and I picked the WF up before continuing into the Rhône Valley and up a tiny, winding road to the hamlet of Flon.

We weren't the only people to have had that idea on this particular Sunday, so we were lucky to find the second last parking place in the little lot which was the only option anywhere near the trailhead. The first waypoint, the saddle called the Col de Verne, was visible as we set off. From the Col right on the frontier, there was a pleasant view of jumbled hills in Haute-Savoie, but it was already quite cool, and cloud was touching the highest local summits. After ascending a grassy knob, the path entered a longish stretch of stony wilderness (where the WF can just be made out trying to photograph a chamois). Unfortunately, the mist was still streaming across the summit when we reached it, so that such views as there were were downwards. It wasn't a day for what would have been splendid views of Lake Geneva or Mont Blanc. Also, it was cold. We had the right clothes, except that we hadn't taken gloves, so after hardly more than half an hour of eating our snacks and taking pictures, our hands were starting to freeze, and we had to start down again. Back in Montreux, we treated ourselves to a pizza in what must have been the town's most popular Italian restaurant, judging by the crowds, before I set off on the long journey home.

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Niederhorn

1958 M. 6424 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Niederhorn 31 Aug The low which had spoiled the last days of August was receding eastwards, but its tail remained in the form of cool air and lots of low cumulus. Unfortunately, its last act had been to dump fresh snow down to about 1800 metres, but I needed the exercise, so the choice had to be some well-tried peak not much higher than that. The Niederhorn above Lake Thun was a good fit.

I parked at the lakeshore terminus of the funicular to the hillside resort of Beatenberg and set off up the forested hillside. After emerging from the woods, the path through this sizeable and long-established resort has an almost suburban air. Past another band of forest and muddy upland meadows, however, the recent cold snap had left its mark, and the few people on the summit had all come up with the cable car. Burgeoning cumulus allowed only an occasional glimpse of the Niesen on the other shore of Lake Thun. To the northeast, Burgfeldstand peak (2063 M.) was tall enough to have kept its snow cover for another day. This time, gloves hadn't been forgotten, so the summit snack was more comfortable before the trek back down to greener pastures (and kinder weather) began.