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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Oberhornsee

2065 M. 6775 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Oberhornsee 01 Sep At the beginning of the month, the weather forecast was a jumble, with showers expected after sunrise, then sunny weather in the middle of the day before the continuing warmth built up thunderheads by late afternoon. The wife's friend, a Congenial Swiss Lady with some experience of hillwalking, had been suggesting an outing, so this looked like a day to avoid summits because of the lightning and pick instead a high valley destination and a path which wouldn't presume unfairly on the CSL's abilities.

The choice fell almost immediately on the small lake called the Oberhornsee in the hindmost reaches of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. It was just about the only suitable place in the whole region to which I had never been, and there were a couple of mountain hotels on the way which would serve as refuges if a storm threatened. So it was that we parked the car at the end of the road in Stechelberg (tip: you can set the car park fee off against a drink in the hotel owning it afterwards) and set off. The lower stretches of the path run through some pretty pine woods before the Schmadribach Falls come into view, while at the back of the valley the Lauterbrunnen Breithorn dominates the landscape. Higher up, the track winds through mixed stony terrain alongside the upper reaches of the White Lütschine stream.

Arriving at last at the Oberhornsee, the first impression is of disappointment; it is tiny. However the towering rock walls and hanging glaciers of the peaks from the Breithorn to the Jungfrau give it a setting worth the trip. Flat stones in and around the lake provided plenty of picnic spots which the CSL and I duly enjoyed. The thunderheads never materialised, and the walk back down was in bright sunshine. The Obersteinberg Hotel at about 1800 metres was the occasion for a beer stop with a magnificent view from the Jungfrau to the Breithorn across the valley.

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Gysnauflue

632 M. 2074 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Gysnauflue 05 Sep What, only 632 M? A typo, surely? No, a brief rainy interlude was just ending and the wife wanted the car. A good day to hand it over, as conditions even on the lower peaks wouldn't have been great. Fortunately, a training hill lay not ten minutes from the apartment where were staying. The first of a row of crags overlooking the Emme as it flows through Burgdorf collectively called the Gysnauflue, it rises 94 metres directly from the road at the edge of town. Once you get off the initial rather rough stretch, a cobbled jeep track, the rest is a proper walking path making seven pleasant zigzags up through the woods to a top with a near-vertical (and totally unprotected!) view down to the road where you started. A dozen back-to-back ascents made for a total ascent of more than eleven hundred metres and a pleasant three hours.

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Dent de Brenleire

2353 M. 7720 ft.

Difficulty: (T4)

Dent de Brenleire 12 Sep This peak, like its even steeper twin the Dent de Folliéran, is usually accessed from the Gros Mont, one of those quiet alpine valleys whose serenity is protected by an access road steep and narrow enough to deter the less confident motorist. At the parking place where the public road ends at Haut du Mont, there was a signpost to the peak. It was to be the only one, and the white-red-white marks along the whole path had not been repainted in a long time.

After a stint through pleasant, leafy forest, the path emerged into steep meadow just below the chalet of Croset Dessous. Here it became unfindable; the solution was to walk straight up about ten metres of grass to the chalet, then continue upwards on jeep tracks to two more chalets called Gros Croset and Brenleire Dessus. Above the latter, the track once more petered out on sloping alpine pastures until, fifty metres higher, it was suddenly discernible again. There were no more such dif ficulties as it crossed the grassy bowl between the two main ridges descending from the summit and headed for the leftmost skyline ridge, joining this just above its steepest point behind the chalet and the pine trees in the picture. Here a problem became evident. The track was now ascending smooth grooved knuckles of stone protruding from a very steep grassy ridge. There had been rain the previous day, and the ground had not dried out. Very soon, I encountered a step where my wet boots could get no purchase at all. On a sixty-degree slope, there was little chance of arresting a fall if I lost my footing.

Exceptionally, I decided to abandon the attempt not just for the day, but for the rest of the year. This was a path best done in dry summer conditions.

From my unsteady perch on the ridge, I could photograph most of my route past the three chalets below. Heading down again with time on my hands, I searched for the missing bits of the path. Sure enough, in the grass here and there where the path had once been well formed were some orphaned marker stones with faded paint. On the LK1 1:25000 map for the area, the path is marked with the standard dotted line, interrupted for precisely the two short stretches where I couldn't find it. Hats off! Before the path reached the forest, there were fine afternoon views across the Gros Mont to the Dent de Savigny and its satellite peaks.

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Gross Schinhorn

2939 M. 9643 ft.

Difficulty: T4

Gross Schinhorn 15 Sep With another cold front looming, and the ever-increasing risk that it would be the one to put snow on higher elevations which would last into the next year, it was time to pick a reasonably high peak while I still could. I chose the Gross Schinhorn for no better reasons than that it has a distinctly odd summit and I had not been in the area before.

Unfortunately, it was a very long way from Burgdorf. As the Walking Friend was up for the expedition, it was necessary to take the car train across the Lötschberg, then drive down to Brig and pick him up from the train station before driving up the narrow Binn Valley road to its end at a hamlet called Feld. Even with perfect conditions, this took more than three hours, and we were only ready to start after ten o'clock. After the obligatory stint up steep pine forests, the cover grew thinner and there were views across the Rhône Valley to the high peaks of the Bernese Oberland. These views expand as the path becomes rougher in a landscape where the surrounding peaks were shedding boulders like dandruff. The path takes you as far as the Geisspfadsee before it continues over the low Grampielpass into Italy. This is the point where conventional walking turns into routefinding, as the peak is trackless and unmarked.

Going along the path to the back of the lake close to the pass and heading north avoided the steepest grass slopes. The grass soon came to an end below a row of impressive pinnacles and was replaced by the rubble which was to continue all the way to the summit and provide a considerable test of the knees. Despite finding no more than a couple of cairns in locations of no obvious significance, I arrived without much ado at the little Mittelbergpass and the first good view of the peak itself. The WF arrived at the pass minutes later but, unable to see me on the slopes above it, began to retrace his steps, leaving me to complete the ascent alone.

On top at last, the unusual nature of the summit was clear. One can only surmise that a few lucky boulders survived a collapse which removed everything else around; to the left and right, the drop is not far off vertical for hundreds of metres. One thing is clear... this summit "cairn" wasn't put up through human agency. The bigger stones weigh of the order of ten tons each. A nice touch is that the top two stones lie quite level, so that is is not dif ficult to stand or sit on the true summit. The view is as precipitous as one might expect, including the implausibly steep Klein Schinhorn nearby.

Back once again at the Geisspfadsee, I was reunited with the WF, who had made his way down the steeper grass slopes the ascent was designed to avoid. The late start and the time spent looking for the best way up meant that we descended from the lake near sunset, and the last part of the walk down through the pine forests had to be done flat out to reach the road before the light failed completely.

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Bonderspitz

2546 M. 8353 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Bonderspitz 22 Sep In the second half of September the inevitable first cold snap of autumn had happened. A cold front from the northwest had dumped snow as low as 1500 metres; the question now was how fast that snow would melt again. In the event, settled weather returned fairly quickly, though with temperatures not as warm as before. The Congenial Swiss Lady had a last free day before her work restarted and was eager to get out, so a good, safe peak with no more than a little summit snow would be required.

Adelboden was a place I hadn't been back to in a few years, and the Bonderspitz, with a summit looking down both on Adelboden and Kandersteg, seemed about right. Driving up the main road below the town, we couldn't find a place to park the car at first. Then opposite a restaurant a row of spaces without any obvious restrictions loomed. As we were putting on our boots, I noticed a lady outside the restaurant glaring at us and muttering. The CSL went over to investigate; the parking spaces were indeed restricted, but the sign had been partly covered by a hedge. After an emollient conversation, the proprietress relented "since we had asked" and we could set off unworried.

Soon the view behind opened up to reveal Adelboden's mountain setting, with the Albristhorn on the left and the Gsür on the right; had the snow been a little higher, we would have chosen the Albristhorn for the trip. A longish slog up grassy slopes took us to the saddle below the peak, where patches of melting snow still dotted the sunless sides of the Klein Lohner. In the other direction, virtually nothing remained on the sunny approach to the summit. There we encountered a handful of other walkers enjoying the magnificent panorama of the Blümlisalp chain and the Doldenhorn, with the distant Jungfrau at the extreme left.

The summit boasts as fine an example of the cairn fairy's work as you could wish for.

In a long string of fine, calm autumn days, this was the cloudiest. By afternoon, Adelboden was obscured below, but the ridge to the First was spared. As we prepared to descend, the clouds were draped artfully around the forbidding precipices of the Lohner and the distant Wildhorn,

Back at the car, we went across the road to the restaurant for a beer as a return for the free parking and ended up spending half an hour in pleasant conversation with the once hostile proprietress.

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Windegg Hut

1887 M. 6191 ft.

Difficulty: T3

Windegg Hut 25 Sep It was time for a break in the peak bagging, and a look at something still out of the ordinary in the Alps. The Triftbrücke suspension bridge below the Windegg Hut was built in 2005 for mountaineers needing to get to the much more remote Trift Hut. The old path crossed the lower stretches of the Trift Glacier, but these have now melted entirely, leaving a substantial lake in their place. Where a glacier tongue once squeezed between walls of rock, a bridge has been constructed which is more than a hundred metres long and a hundred above what is now the Triftwasser stream.

There was space to park the car at the terminus of the tiny Triftbahn cable car on the Susten Pass road. With cabins holding only eight people, this provides a means for walkers who don't mind queueing to reach a small dam about halfway to the bridge. Walking up instead provides views of those Triftbahn cabins as they skirt the deep cleft cut by the Triftwasser along its lower reaches. This part of the path has its tame and wild sections, but ascends about 150 metres above the upper cable car station before dropping down to it, a debt which has to be repaid later.

As the path approached the bridge, there was more evidence of the cairn fairy at work, though not very durable looking work in this case. The bridge itself is well worth the trip, with fine views of it from the rocky terraces at the eastern and the western ends. It is a very popular destination, with something of a picnic atmosphere around the supports on both sides.

From the bridge to the hut, there is a choice of paths. I chose the steeper option, the "Chetteliweg", which has a chain for security on bare rock slopes. This looks worse than it is, but does require at least a T3 rating; all the rest of the walk, though quite steep at times, is no worse than T2. The Chetteliweg crests a final rise, and you look down at the Windegg Hut surrounded by autumn colours. This hut probably does well from the numerous daytrippers coming to see the bridge; seen from the north, it has a splendid backdrop of the Tierberg peaks.

After a brief snack stop by the hut, it only remained to take the steep direct path called the Stotziger Weg down to rejoin the main bridge track and then, after the cable car station, repay those 150 metres on the way back to the car.

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Trient Hut

3170 M. 10401 ft.

Difficulty: T4

Cabane du Trient 30 Sep At the end of the month there had been ten consecutive days of calm autumn weather, with morning fogs, occasional outbursts of cumulus and abnormally warm daytime temperatures. The snow from that first cold snap would be all but completely gone again now. It was a matter of regret for the WF that he had missed the ascent of the Wasenhorn in August, so I looked for walking paths above three thousand metres in the Valaisian Alps. There weren't that many within easy reach, but the one to the Trient Hut, with its upper reaches all south-facing, looked promising.

A predawn start meant that the WF was picked up and we were parked at the start of the trail in the village of Champex just after eight. The path began by hairpinning steeply up through forest and a rockslide, so that we had gained seven hundred metres in the first hour and a quarter. That was to be the end of the quick ascent, however. The path entered a long horizontal stretch across slopes of grass and boulders towards the peak of Le Portalet on the horizon. When the path began to climb again, one of the peaks of the Arpettes Chain to the north revealed a hitherto unsuspected cubist side to the Alps. After the last grassy bowl had been left behind, the Orny Hut came into view, perched majestically above the tongue of the Orny Glacier and its lateral moraine.

Beyond this first hut, the landscape is one entirely of rubble and ice. The path is now of ficially a route, with blue paint markings instead of the white-red-white ones. It once went onto the glacier, but this has shrunk so much that the path has been rerouted exclusively through the boulder fields. Here and there, it involves clambering over rocks like these, but one rock step has had iron steps and handholds installed to simplify things. Arrived at last at the Trient Hut, we were able to enjoy a spectacular alpine panorama across the Trient Ice Plateau, including the Aiguille du Tour and the Aiguille du Chardonnet, the latter entirely in France. Frost shattering on nearby tops produced some spectacular horizons like this and this.

The length of the return journey meant that we could only remain at the Trient Hut for an hour; it had closed for the winter anyway. On the way down, there was a fine view of the Grand Combin, one of Switzerland's more remote 4000ers. As we descended the original steep stretch, the sun was setting and it was dusk by the time we reached the car.

This walk brought to a close another rewarding season in Switzerland, where the weather didn't prevent a single one of fourteen outings in two months and was excellent for most of them2. This success rate is, of course, only available to those who can choose their days freely!

Notes:
  1. The Swiss Landeskarte (see the index page).  ↑
  2. 2011 was subsequently determined to be Switzerland's warmest year since records began in 1864.  ↑