The walking route to a Bernese Oberland peak of almost 3000m
Surrounded by the lifting mists which had hung just above Murren I began the ascent. Almendhubel is situated in an area of cool damp woods and grassy alpine meadows at an altitude of about 1800 m and the path (signposted Schilthorn and Schilthorn hut) led up from the station to a small summit where an information board gave facts abut the Eiger which was hidden somewhere in the mist behind me.
The path led downhill slightly at first along a wide grassy ridge before beginning a steep and unrelenting ascent of the slope ahead. This is the course of the Inferno Ski Run from the Schilthorn’s summit down to Murren. Looking at the gradient it would appear that only a grisly death on the rocks below could result from skiing down here. Equally mad, a sign declared it to be the route of a half marathon! I’ll not be entering either race.
It was a peaceful rest stop. Silence apart from distant cowbells and the sound of an unseen stream somewhere. As I watched, the eternal snows of the Jungfrau emerged half seen across the valley. The contrast of the sunlit snow and dark rock hung like a mirage in a hole in the clouds before fading as the mist closed back in.
Now the path turned a sharp left up a wide gully before the angle at last eased and the country opened out. I walked for some time over cropped turf of alpine meadows climbing slowly but steadily. The mist surrounded everything but it didn’t rain and the path was clear to follow. Presently I started to spot patches of melting snow which became more frequent until ahead a seemingly endless snow slope emerged from the drifting cloud.
A group of hikers, who turned out to be English, took form from the fog and informed me that the hut wasn’t far, “just 5 minutes”. They’d taken the cable car to Birg at 2670m and walked down. The way at least that far was easy despite the snow, but they didn’t know what the route to the summit was like.
Up the snow I went and indeed reached a sign in a couple of minutes pointing to the hut just off to the left. From here the way was barred – apparently a rock fall had come down and made the main path hazardous. I followed the diversion to the left across more snow and all of a sudden a gap in the cloud opened up. The way ahead was seen up the snowfields in the middle.
Another steep haul, kicking steps as I went brought me back to the main path and the going at once became easier again. Here were 2 more people up ahead. I must say for a mountain that is accessible by cable car, I’d seen surprisingly few people. Maybe it was the weather or amount of snow but I’d have expected more walking downhill if not climbing the peak. They turned out to be an American couple who’d walked down from Birg, the middle station, which had been visible above as I climbed the valley.
“It’s just great to be without the car”, commented the guy, “not having to worry about parking and finding gas”. I agreed ad told them that I never bothered with one in Switzerland – you didn’t need a car here, the transport was so good. Totally different from being in the States, where buses and trains are few and far between away from the cities. I guess Britain’s about half way between the two.
We bade each other well for the rest of our walks and I headed on up, following a sign for the Schilthorn again. The main path led off around the slope to the left for Birg but my route kept on up to the ridge between the 2 peaks. I guessed it was unusual to find an American who disliked cars, but I just had.
My route now led past a mountain tarn below to the left, with the cloud revealing a variable amount of the snowy wilderness I headed into. Down beyond the tarn there were occasional glimpses of the Lauterbrunnen valley through the ragged clouds. It was a long, long way down and I was surprised how high I was. The air here was thin and cold and the snow was no longer melting. For a while the Jungfrau was visible again and there was blue sky as if I were emerging above the cloud but as I climbed the mist overtook me again.
The route was marked by red and white splotches of paint and small cairns here and there, so despite the snow cover, now 6 or more inches deep in places, the way was easy to find. Up and over rocks in short scrambles followed by plods through deep snow. I paused by a rock as I needed the loo, first listening out to see if the cable car was near by. I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down just as the cable car appeared out of the mist, its full load of tourists clicking away on their cameras. The thought of the cable car appearing amused me, it didn’t of course – I’d gone under its path some way back. I presently passed a memorial to Alice Arbuthnot who was killed up here by lightning in 1865. This served to remind me of the dangers and concentrate on the job in hand.
As the path steepened great care was needed on the snowy parts but soon sections of fixed rope appeared as the route began to follow the crest of the ridge. Beyond it was a misty white void. I reached a minor summit just as the sun came out. Beyond, the fixed rope led across a narrow section of ridge only a foot or two wide, the summit just beyond, with the famous Piz Gloria restaurant clearly visible on top.
I set off across the narrow section, it was a bit like Sharp Edge in the Lake District but the proximity of the cloud tops gave the sensation of walking in the sky. Just to add to the impression of height – as if it needed to – holes in the cloud revealed the Lauterbrunnen valley 7000 feet below while snow peaks floated dizzily on the fog banks like some great oceanic icebergs on the far side of the valley.
I was soon, however, across this rather exciting section and climbing the rocks on the far side by a series of stone steps hewn out of the rock itself. A last breathless climb brought me onto the summit structure where tourists milled about looking cold and the worse for the altitude. The Schilthorn is 2970m or 9745 feet so a rapid ascent from valley level on the cable car would quite literally take your breath away.
The views from here are famous and extend from the Black Forest in Germany to Mont Blanc but today they didn’t! We appeared to be level with the top of the cloud layer so sometimes the sun shone and some of the nearer mountains were visible then the mist would roll back over us hiding all but this cold airy platform.
I went inside for a minute but it was too warm and crowded so I amused myself by watching the tourists come dashing out for a view of the Eiger only for the cloud to come back in before they could get their cameras out of their bags. The simple things are always the best! Apparently there’s a cinema up here where you can watch James Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” which was filmed here. They still mention this in the tourist blurb even though it was years ago. I’ve seen the film, so I didn’t bother on this occasion...
Pete Buckley July 2007
Here are the photos from this trip