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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Gehrihorn

2130 M. 6988 ft.

Difficulty: T2

Gehrihorn 19 August It was already the second half of the month; that trip to Scotland, Ireland and then England had involved three weeks spent mostly in a car. The weather in Ireland in particular had been so poor that there hadn't been much alternative. After 5400 kilometres of driving, my fitness had just about reverted to where it was when I left New Zealand; it would be necessary to start with something fairly easy once again. Also, the weather was a little unstable, with days of humidity alternating with days of humidity and rain.

Looking around local peaks, the Gehrihorn came to mind. I had been there once before, many years ago; it was a modest peak, and the weather would not pose too much of a risk. The starting point was one of the closest to home, the big car park on the valley floor at Kiental village. Also, there had been an amusing surprise on the summit and I wanted to see if it was still there.

I had one of the days without showers as I set off from Kiental. Missing the beginning of the scrappy path, I set off up the pleasant road towards Ramslauenen. At a bend in the road, there were some fine examples of the Swiss technique of stacking firewood for the winter, and below the cumulus, the cool Kiental slopes were startlingly clear. Beyond Ramslauenen, a perfectly standard path wound its way up the alpine meadows, becoming slightly more interesting on the upper slopes of the mountain.

On top at last, the distant views were ever-changing ones of cloud-wreathed hills, but there was a slightly better view of Frutigen framed by rising cumulus. The summit furniture included a signpost with a box for the summit book, plus a lone wooden stake with a pulley wheel on top and some bits of wire. This last was a disappointment, for ten years ago, when I last ascended the peak, there had been a wire running down the mountain from the post, and as soon as I arrived, the pulley had begun to turn. The mystery as to what was being transported was soon revealed when a tray with snacks, soft drinks, a price list and a little cashbox arrived at the post. The source of the snacks was the uppermost alpine chalet below. It worked because the summit was narrow enough that those on it could be seen from there and, presumably, because the level of honesty was high enough then. I was sorry to see it gone.

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Tour de Mayen

2326 M. 7631 ft.

Difficulty: T4

Tour de Mayen 23 August After the Gehrihorn, rain cleared to summer cumulus and then gave way to a series of cloudless days. As soon as other obligations allowed, I rang the Walking Friend and arranged to pick him up the following morning to do a peak not far from where he lived above Montreux. As I had not risen early, it was nearly eleven when we set out from our parking spot in Feydey, the highest suburb of Leysin. The days were still long, though, and that wasn't a concern.

We were quickly confronted with a problem typical of many sizeable mountain resorts, namely how do we find the right way out of town? A promising signpost by the railway station led us up a track and into the garden of a chalet hotel. With no obvious continuation, the WF had to find someone in the hotel and ask. The solution was to go around the side of the house and up to the road above, where things did become a little clearer. An initial steep path through forest led on to a longer stretch along a road past Le Temeley. The tedium was relieved by some lovely views in the clear air, including that over Le Sépey to the Col du Pillon. We were finally able to leave the road at Mayen, a hamlet of a few buildings with a view of the cliffs of the Plan de Mayen and the Tour de Mayen behind it.

A conventional track skirted the cliffs of the Plan de Mayen on the eastern side, rising to a bowl containing the tiny Lac de Segray roughly ENE of the summit of the Tour; only on this side can the lower vertical band of cliffs surrounding the mountain be avoided. As access through the uppermost band of cliffs is on the SW side, we would have to follow terraces nearly 180° around the peak to reach the top. The ascent along these terraces grew gradually steeper, ultimately becoming quite steep below those final cliffs. Here was the crux of the walk, a near-vertical slot in the rock wall beyond which an easy path led to the adjacent summit.

The summit area consisted of a gently sloping alpine meadow, charmingly clean and fresh due to its being out of the reach of livestock. For once, we could sit wherever we liked to have our late lunch amidst the lupins. In the cloudless weather, the views were as good as you could hope for. The mountain's marginally taller twin, the Tour d'Aï was having visitors, and barely a trace of haze sullied the view of the Les Diablerets Massif to the east. Looking steeply downwards off the mountain's vertical eastern cliffs, I could see the Lac de Segray far below and part of our path up.

There was one respect in which the Tour de Mayen was less than perfect, however... the worst military noise the WF or I had ever heard. It's common enough to experience the roar of fighter jets in the Alps, especially when walking near a military airfield, but this set an entirely new standard. At intervals, the air was rent by deafening explosions and some sort of drawn-out airy roar. No distant booms, these explosions felt uncomfortably close. We scanned the head of the Hongrin Valley below, but neither of us could see anything. Finally I spotted the smoke of a detonation in a rocky cirque about five hundred metres below us, but we never did figure out what was being fired, or from where.

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Schwalmeren

2777 M. 9111 ft.

Difficulty: T3

Schwalmeren 25 August With the weather continuing in summer mode and other commitments looming, I decided to get out once more only two days after the last walk. Conditions were now good for slightly higher peaks, and the Schwalmeren sprang to mind as one I had last ascended eighteen years previously. Also, an old work colleague wanted to do something and was free on the day, so we arranged to meet in the car park in Kiental Village. One change was immediately obvious... Aellig's Bakery was no longer collecting the ten-franc road fee for the narrow mountain road along the Spiggengrund Valley towards the Schwalmeren; indeed, once the OWC had jumped into my car, we drove all the way to the end of the valley without ever seeing any indication that we had to pay1. At an area called Gruenerli, we finally encountered a sign barring further progress and parked in a clearing at the side of the road.

It was a kilometre or so to the end of the road at Glütschnessli before a path led up to a solitary alp hut at Glütsch, where the views opened out to reveal the Hoganthorn at the head of the valley; our target lay almost out of sight to the left. Higher up, we had to traverse an extensive stony wilderness below the saddle between the two peaks. On the saddle, a few plants held out between the stones, and the view included the Blümlisalp Range to the south. Memory had served me well, and the snow patch that I had noted eighteen years ago in the lee of the saddle was still clinging on, within easy reach and the last one before the summit. I filled some into the plastic bag I had brought so I could have my lunch drinks on the rocks.

On top at last, we spent the first few minutes making the place untidy. The Schwalmeren is a broad-shouldered peak, and its colourful and barren ridges reached as far as Pt. 2724 to the north. The Cairn Fairy had built a single fine cairn, but for some unaccountable reason placed it not at the summit, but a little distance down the west ridge. In the near-perfect weather, the views were all that could be desired. Far below, the little Latrejebach meandered its way down to the Suld Valley, where the path up the the Morgenberghorn starts.

After a couple of luxurious hours in the sunshine, we set off down by our ascent route. Back at the Glütsch chalet, drinks were available for passing walkers, and we chatted for a while with the farmer's wife. Like many alpine farmers, they made their own Bergkäse, and we inspected the neatly stacked wheels in their cellar. For the first time ever, I bought some.

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Spitzstein

2828 M. 9278 ft.

Difficulty: T4

Spitzstein 31 August After a few days lost to social events, August was ending on a slightly cooler note. I needed to get one more walk in for the month, and the very last day didn't look too bad. Rising early, I set off for Kandersteg, where it took a while to find the ideal parking spot at a place called Schützenhaus. Even from here, the distant Spitzstein could be seen, poking implausibly out of a ridge far above.

A kilometre or so up the closed road to the Oeschinensee, the Doldenhorn Hut track turned off to ascend the Biberg woods, crossing a ramshackle bridge while climbing a small cliff. An easy stretch over pleasant shrubby ground led to the Doldenhorn Hut, closed... but just for the day. The Hüttenwart and his wife must have had a family event. In any case, I could snack on the terrace and use the outdoor facilities without charge, since I always carry all the food and drink I need precisely for cases like this. From the hut, the composition of the ridge became clearer. Right of the Spitzstein and slightly higher stood a round prominence with a cross on top. Called the Frühstucksplatz (breakfast place), it is used as such by climbers headed for the Doldenhorn. That would be a good place to aim for.

There followed a long stretch up ever more barren slopes. Quite far up, I came across a stone with barely decipherable markings indicating some sort of traverse to the the Fründen Hut to the east. A challenge for another day, it would not be easy. By now, it was clear that the Spitzstein was just the most spectacular of a cluster of monster boulders holding out against the frenetic pace of erosion at this altitude. Some of the mid-sized examples were quite picturesque. In places it is almost comically obvious how the rock is being sliced and diced by the relentless freeze-thaw cycles. As the track passed the foot of the Spitzstein (itself not walkable), the jumble of towering rocks became more extreme, and the always ill-defined track finally came to an end at the foot of a wall, just level with the tip of the Spitzstein.

I was now faced with a problem. The wall was not a goer; stretching off to the right below it was a steepish slope of undisturbed medium-sized stones with no signs of foot traffic. To the right was an oddly smooth slot in the ridge with an even floor of stones, almost like a railway cutting. I traversed that to find deep permanent snow leading downwards, but just above the exit from the cutting, more giant slices of rock leaned against the ridge. I worked my up this crawl space for some distance, but found only more glimpses of what looked like untrodden snow. Nowhere was there a line of sight to the Frühstucksplatz, though it had been easily visible not far below. There was nothing for it but to return to the top of the track and sit down with my sandwiches to enjoy the impressive view of the Spitzstein and the Kander Valley far below.

The weather was closing in, and this was one of the rare days when rain started before I got back to the car. It set in below the hut and luckily stayed light enough not to matter much.

Notes:
  1. It seems that the collection of toll fees in the Kiental was ruled illegal by the Bernese authorities, so control of the road passed from the local cooperative to the nearby township of Reichenbach in 2011. The tolls have been replaced by parking fees at designated parking places along the road to Griesalp, but the road to Spiggengrund is unaffected.  ↑