Friday 17 September 2010

Running high

Eiger - the smoking mountain
Switzerland has not had the best of weather this summer, which was bad for the tourist trade, but it turned good for us at the beginning of September. Except for one night of heavy rain that continued until lunchtime the next day we enjoyed warm sunny days for forays into the high mountains of the Bernese Oberland.  Farmers and shepherds were all busy cutting grass and there was a constant smell of new mown hay drying in the sun. But after sundown at 6.30pm it was bitterly cold, particularly at Kandersteg where we camped at 3,500ft above sea level.
Running the Eiger Trail
At Grindelwald we camped at the Eigernordwand site directly under the Eiger's towering and foreboding north wall.  We ran the Eiger Trail again as far as the glacier, trundled down a rough path to the tourist trap of Kleine Scheidegg, then swept gloriously back downhill to Grindelwald. Four American paragliders came floating down from the Eiger under their multi-coloured canopies, skimming the tree-tops and landing on the trail ahead of us.  "How the heck did you get up there" I asked.  "We climbed up!" was their simple answer.
At the Bachalpsee
We walked a circular route from Bussalp to the top of the Faulhorn and back via Bachalpsee and the rocky trail through Feld and Uf Spitzen. Marmots shrieked at us, black butterflies danced about our path, Alpine Choughs jostled for scraps at the Faulhorn restaurant and Ravens cronked across the craggy heights. Back at Bussalp cows and their calves mingled with tourists queueing for the postbus.
Top of Mannlichen with Jungfrau behind
We couldn't understand why we'd never been up the Mannlichen before on the longest gondola cableway in Europe, possibly the world.  It took half an hour to reach the 2,229m summit from which the views were truly breathtaking, particularly of the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and the Schilthorn with its panoramic revolving restaurant featured in the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Six handicapped people in motorised wheelchairs were racing towards the viewing area, one of them accompanied by a wee terrier determined to get there first.  We haven't a clue how they got up there! We returned to Grindelwald by the Romanticaweg, a winding path through heather, juniper and tall pines where woodpeckers were feeding on the open cones. Grasshoppers rasped in the warm sunshine while Marmots proclaimed their territorial rights from the shadowy slopes of Tschuggan.
The Gallihorn
Kandersteg is a little higher than Grindelwald. It doesn't have the Eiger towering over it but is surrounded by a host of other tall mountains, First, Stand, Bunderspitz, Gallihorn, Bire, Blumlisalp, Frundenhorn and Doldenhorn, so its hours of sunshine are somewhat limited.  Normally, while camping, I'm up making breakfast at first light but there's little incentive to do that when the temperature is down to zero and the flysheet is dripping with condensation. On the only wet and windy night some hungry animal, most likely a fox, put three small holes in the tent in its quest to get at our food.  It failed.
Phallic rock tower on the Doldenhorn
The signpost at the start of the steep climb to the Doldenhorn hutte said '2 hours' but we did it in 1½, so reckoned we must be getting fitter.  We climbed way beyond the hut to get good pictures of a snowclad Blumlisalp and the leaning phallic rock tower on the Doldenhorn ridge. A falcon flashed past in pursuit of some smaller bird until the two became one.  Other birds, like large grouse with lighter bars on their wings, flushed from the scrubby scree ahead of us.  But strangest of all was something we 'thought' was a large bird travelling at great speed parallel to a high cliff on our way down. As it sped past we realised it was making a peculiar humming noise and was in fact some kind of missile.
Signing the visitor's book on the Gallihorn
On a day of nasty gripes and diarrhoea, and after a certain amount of washing, we climbed the Gallihorn, an impressive looking 2,284m peak directly overshadowing the town of Kandersteg. Emerging from a very narrow and rocky woodland path onto a wider trail we were confronted by a large flock of sheep about to be herded down that very path we'd just vacated.  Ahead were warnings of stonefalls and a diversionary path had been created. We ignored the diversion. A Marmot scurried to safety under a huge boulder.  The path rose to an exposed grassy tongue where a signpost said 'Gallihorn 30 mins' but it took us but 20 to stride onto its summit.  A cross had been erected alongside a huge cairn with a recess containing a visitors book.  Cloud drifted around us, intermittently clearing to give magnificent views of the great cleft of the Gasterntal valley, with the Bahnhorn towering over it, and the frightening vertical drop down thousands of feet to the town below.
On the Alpschelehabel
Though somewhat reluctant, in view of continuing nasty squitters and not being able to sleep in fear of further spasms, we set off next day to climb the Bunderspitz, a 2,546m peak over which the sun said goodbye to us each evening.  It was another gloriously sunny day so it was warm work toiling up its flanks.  Two hunters crouched quietly behind a large boulder were presumably waiting for the appearance of Steinbok. Eight other people had beaten us to the summit, including two small children! Since last year a new cross has been erected at the summit so, of course, it had to be photographed. Returning, we traversed round by the Bunderschrinde, onto a lofty lookout called Alpschelehabel where we ate lunch, then descended to the valley floor by the Allmenalp cable car.
Running round the Daubensee
On our final day of activity we decided, in view of an impending half marathon in the Lake District, that it was time to do a serious high level run.  We opted for a figure of eight route that included a circuit of the Daubensee, a lake who's surface is around the 2,224m contour.  To start this 11 mile run we took the cable car to Sunnbuel (1,934m) and in ½ hour were passing a deserted Schwarenbach Berghotel where a French waiter bid us a hearty 'Bonjour'. In another ½ hour we were commencing our run round the Daubensee passing richly clad tourists, mostly Germans, invariably clicking along with a pair of trekking poles.  I'll admit, I've never come to terms with trekking poles which, for the majority of people, are totally unnecessary and little more than a gimmick.  At an exposed section a couple hanging onto a wire cable for support seemed quite shocked when I slid past them on sloping rocks without breaking stride!  At that height it was bitterly cold so it was imperative, wearing only minimal running clothes, to keep moving.  Pretty soon, the circuit of the lake was complete and we were heading back to Sunnbuel by a much less used, but longer, trail. We missed our scheduled cable car by a mere minute but luckily the sun was at its height, warming our bodies and drying sweaty clothes.
Bums and Blumlisalp
There were other things we did in Switzerland and other places we went.  I haven't worked out how many thousands of feet we climbed but it must have been one heck of a lot, all in the most breathtaking scenery and mostly in warm sunshine. On reaching home my scales told me I'd shed 5lbs of blubber but whether this was due to much increased activity or problems with my plumbing I'm not sure. Probably a combination of both.
At current exchange rates it was a fairly expensive holiday but for outdoor enthusiasts who love the high places it's as good value for money as you'll get anywhere.  Roll on next year!


  1. Hi Runningfox,
    It sounds like you had a huge adventure! This was a wonderful post filled with beautiful pictures of your trip. I would love to visit Switzerland some day:) Take care of yourself and happy running!

  2. Welcome back! That account and those photographs are magnificent... I walked the Twelve Pens (our local 'mountain' range) a few weeks ago, and though I'm new to hillwalking I felt straight away a lure to do this more often. The thought of camping in the hills appeals to me a good deal - how do you manage with regard water, food and lugging your tent around?

  3. Glad the weather was sunny while you was on holiday in Switzerland. You wrote an interesting report about the wonderful places you climbed. Beautiful colours the Gallihorn!
    And now, after climbing, have a nice running :)