A surprising Bus Ride

It was supposed to be just a travel day, but Roger chose our route carefully. We went from Gadman over the Susten Pass to Andermatt, then then the Gotthard Pass to Arolla, then the Nufenen Pass to Ulrichen, where we caught a train to Randa just north of Zermatt. We covered much of this route by train in 2009 but didn’t particularly remember it because there were a lot of tunnels. Today, we went by bus and were awe-struck.

First, we learned that we erred yesterday by stopping short of the Susten Pass. Beyond the pass, the bus descended about 45 minutes without a hint of ascent. The scenery was wild and beautiful. We came upon more deciduous vegetation, and thus more fall color than we had seen.

Arolla is in the Italian Ticino region of Switzerland. It was interesting to see the Italianate architecture suddenly appear and then disappear as we returned to the Germanic region.

Reflections and glare made photos difficult, but we clicked anyway. It was difficult to decide which to include, but here are a few:

Another view of the waterfall tunnel


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We had several rest breaks. At one station, cannabis tea in the vending machine cost less than Coke. We did not try it.

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Steingletscher

Today we puttered around several very sick glaciers, the most prominent of which was the Steingletscher, near the Susten Pass. The scenery was Rockies pretty, not the jaw-dropping dimensions we’ve experienced the last few weeks. We climbed a bit less than 1,000 feet on trail wet with melting snow, but it was quite easy compared to yesterday.

The history of this lake

is explained by this sign. The glacier dug the hole and filled it with glacial ice, which melted when the glacier receded. Now it is filled with melt water from the receding glacier. The color is because of the glacial flour in the water. The referenced Tierberglihütte, closed for the season, appears as a tiny dot near the skyline in deep snow.

There were also many rocks with scars and polish from the glaciers.

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There were many wild blueberries which were delicious. We have noticed an abundance of blueberry jam in Switzerland.

and

The name of this formation translates to “Five Fingers.”

More of Roger’s photos:

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and my favorite. How many tunnels are built to go under waterfalls?

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Gadmen

We left the high mountains behind today after a bit of alpen glow

and a last shot of the Breithorn standing more than 6,500 feet above Obersteinberg.

The 2,800-foot descent to Stechelberg in the Lauterbrunnen valley began innocuously, with decent trail and nice views.

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At Hotel Tschingelhorn,

the path split into upper and lower trails. We took the lower path in 2009–wide, well-graded, no surprises. This time we took the upper path. Big mistake.

This trail was a conglomeration of all the trail hazards I like least: slick limestone, slick tree roots, slick mud, exposure, and, worst of all, slick and exposure together. Anything wood was not to be trusted. Even the gravel could not be trusted. This is the first time I have ever scrambled down tree roots. It was exhausting to be so careful with each step.

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Finally, we reached Stechelberg and enjoyed good trail at last. This fellow didn’t mind our passing.

By bus, train, then bus again, we have arrived in Gadman, northeast of the Grindelwald area. Other than farming activity, there is nothing at our bus stop except the hotel and a neighboring campground with one pitched tent. We are much lower and warmer than we have been the last couple of weeks. However, we are poised to investigate more glaciers tomorrow.

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Oberhornsee

Oberhornsee is a “lake” above Obersteinberg. At least, it used to be a lake. Today, I would call it a small pond.

The setting, though, is beyond spectacular and made for a day we didn’t want to end.

Looking up from Obersteinberg, I couldn’t imagine how there could be a trail up there that we could hike on.

Behind the hotel, we were startled by the sudden appearance of the deep-cut valley below us.

We followed this brink until we crossed a bridge

and found ourselves in a rolling meadow.

Then we began climbing. It was good trail, but there was slick ice to be avoided.

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At last we came to the Oberhornsee. More importantly, we found a moraine upon which we had lunch.

The sky was a deep blue without a hint of cloud. I was mesmerized by the lighting on the Ellstabhorn. It appeared two-dimensional and glittered as if lit. Roger tells me that it rises 3,000 feet above us.

At 180°, the bases of the Breithorn, the Tschingelhorn and the Wetterhorn Kanzel were so close they looked like walk-ups. The Breithorn rises about a mile above us.

For the return, we chose a loop that would allow us to avoid the steep icy steps. We got steep snowy steps instead, but overall it was better trail.

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We passed another small alp, the Oberhorn. It appeared the cows had already been moved to lower pasture.

We finished the day, and dinner, with the traditional Swiss dessert meringue with cream. This time, the cream was fresh.

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Obersteinberg, Part 2: 20 September

Much better than good enough. First a view toward the Lauterbrunnen valley. Mürren is upper left, Gimmelwald is below Mürren, toward the foreground. The village of Lauterbrunnen is at the far end of the valley. Schynige Platte is on the far skyline.

In the other direction, a wall of white we will become more familiar with as we head their way.

So we went down to the trail and the real fun began.

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And, finally–actually too soon, Hotel Obersteinberg below us.

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By the time we got to Obersteinberg, the sun was beginning to set and it was getting cold. Obersteinberg appears to have electricity only in the kitchen and heat only in the kitchen and dining areas–if you call 52°F heat. The dining area was lit by candles and gas light.

Our matratzenlager has no heat, no lights. Neither do the private rooms people pay about $50 more per night for. They complained more than we did. The night-time temperature dropped to the mid-20’s.

In addition to the hotel, Obersteinberg is a working alp. We are served cheese that is made here. This is also the place where pigs fly–they go to market by helicopter.

We ended our day with a candlight dinner with the Jungfrau shining out the window.

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Obersteinberg, Part 1: 20 September

Today’s hike has to be one of the most beautiful in the Alps. It is the one I remember most fondly from 2009 and the driving force of my desire to return. We judged the weather well. While the 2009 hike was in light rain and fog, today’s weather was perfect. And while the hike totally exhausted us in 2009, today it was just a hike.

Not to say that it was easy. The best part is near the end and it comes hard-earned after a steep 2,300ft climb through the woods–after we had endured a steep descent of about 1,000 feet from Mürren to the stream at the bottom of the valley.

The day started in Mürren with some clouds. We did not rush to get on the trail because we knew the weather would get better.

We descended to the village of Gimmelwald on a heavily touristed trail. As we turned a corner, we began to glimpse what the day would become.

I’m not sure, but I think this flower is only found in the Mürren area, according to signage we saw at Allmendhubel a few days ago.

We left the tourist trail and descended to a bridge,

then began the ascent through the woods. No photos from the steep part–we were too busy.

After the woods, the views opened up.

We finally reached the turnoff to the Tanzbödeli (dance floor), a high flat viewing point. In this photo, it is on the center skyline.

In 2009, we were too exhausted to even consider this side trip, but today we headed up. For the first time ever, we dropped our packs at the trail junction.

The trail was steep with lots of slick limestone, but the views kept getting better. Finally we reached our turnaround point–like our decision on the Platthorn, the view was good enough, and this last bit just didn’t seem worth the extra effort.

The views were actually much better than good enough, but I am going to end this post now and continue in Part 2. Cell signal is marginal.

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Mürren

As evidence of how little we did today, I never even put on my boots. We transferred to a room with a view and vegetated.

The best views of the day were early.

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For the rest of the day, it was very cold and snowed intermittently.

The weather is supposed to be clear but cold tomorrow, which will be one of our major hikes.

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Rotstockhütte

We didn’t expect much of the weather today, but figured it would be decent enough for a hike to the Rotstockhütte, about 2,000 feet above Mürren. We did OK, with only brief spells of sleet and snow. The worst part was that we got only a few glimpses of amazing views.

We started the hike at about the time farmers were calling their cows. They enticed the cows by shaking bags of grain, but the cows were not always cooperative.

This barn, like several we passed, has a modern touch.

There was nothing modern about the piles of manure we maneuvered around.

After some woods,

the trail soon ascended sharply up the nose of a ridge. Fortunately, it was rocky, but there was also some exposure. Some switchbacks were only a few steps.

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Balls of snow rolled downhill and fell onto the trail.

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Sometimes near mountains cane into view

And we got occasional glimpses of the view we might have had.

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At one point we glimpsed relief Roger estimated as about a mile from valley floor to peak, and these were not the tallest mountains.

Rotstockhütte is a small hut positioned below the pass to the next valley west.

We had our usual rösti, this one garnished with a purple flower.

We took a different path back to Mürren to avoid the ridge line. This path was much more benign.

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These girls didn’t mind us a bit.

Tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be worse, so we probably won’t do much.

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Mürren, Allmendhubel

Mürren is on the west side of and about 2,500 feet above the Lauterbrunnen valley. In 2009, we stayed in Mürren and took lifts and trains to visit the Grindelwald area. Some of the best views are from the Mürren side, even in bad weather. Because Mürren has gotten more expensive, we had planned to stay only one night here, but with rain coming, we decided to stay longer in Mürren rather than have the extra cost and hassle of going elsewhere.

We took trains from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen, then a lift to Mürren. From here, we better see the concavity that defines the Eiger’s north face.

As soon as we got rid of our packs, we headed uphill to Allmendhubel, which is a hill above Mürren on the edge of a large valley known as the Blumental (Flower Valley). It was a pleasant trail with great views back.

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The Blumental is well-defined and has several small hotels.

From Allmendhubel, we could also see the Monk and the Jungfrau. The Monk stands between the Eiger and the Jungfrau, protecting the young woman from the ogre.

Part of the return trail was a muddy mess as they appear to be making a road of it,

but most of the trail was quite pleasant.

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At one point, we were even “stilish.”

And, of course, mountains peeking through.

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Tomorrow, we will explore more of the area above Mürren as the weather allows.

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Gletscherschlut

Otherwise known as a glacier canyon. This one is between the Schreckhorn and the Eiger.

Similarly to yesterday, our short hike seemed ordinary

until we gazed up at the Schreckhorn.

On the way, we realized we had found Grindelwald’s “wrong side of the tracks/river”, complete with a store that functioned as Walmart/Home Depot. True to the Swiss, everything still looked well-kept and clean.

The entrance to the canyon:

The canyon itself was quite bleak, though Roger found a lot of geology that interested him. We walked on catwalks

And through tunnels.

We even ventured onto the “spiderweb.”

The walls certainly had a story to tell.

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On the way back, we saw strange “land art”

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And some beautiful mushrooms we dared not touch.

We spent some time this morning adjusting our schedule to accommodate several days of rain coming our way in the next several days. We contemplated fleeing, but decided to spend the next several days in Mürren on the other side of the Lauterbrunnen valley. Yes, it will rain there, but it will be beautiful even in the rain.

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