A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

The Faulhorn

The walk to a popular viewpoint above Grindelwald

sunny 10 °C

Once the chalet developments were left behind, a leisurely gondola ride over a peaceful scene of pine forest and alpine meadow brought me up out of the valley with constant views of the Eiger and the surrounding Oberland summits as a backdrop. On arrival at First, the air is filled with the sound of cowbells - I wonder if the sound annoys the creatures? I suppose they get used to it.

The way ahead followed a wide track clearly marked for Bachalpsee and the Faulhorn and wound steadily higher through the pastures. The Sun was becoming quite hot as the day progressed so I stopped at a suitable rest rock and packed away my jacket which was no longer needed.

I presently arrived at the Bachalpsee which turned out to be a pleasant tarn of exceptionally clear water in a fine mountain setting. Shoals of tiny fish swam near the shore but I couldn't see anything bigger. That famous view looking back across the tarn towards the Schreckhorn is well worth the walk up and is best seen from the far side of the lake though today it wasn't dead calm so no mirror effect! Not to worry - still a great view. The aim for today, the Faulhorn, in the other direction was looking somewhat nearer than from First, the Berghotel clearly visible just below the rounded summit.

Heading past the tarn, the way steepened considerably though was still wide and without difficulty. Passing the small Burgener Hut the gradient eased for 10 minutes before steepening again as the path wound up beneath the crags of the Simelihorn which towered on the left. The pastures became much rougher and stonier and the ever present sound of cowbells began to fade below as I reached the last push up to the Gassenboden Col passing another little hut I think was called the Reeti Hut.

Turning right at the col the view now opened out with extensive vistas over the other side of the range to Lake Thun, the distant plains and the rest of the Oberland summits to the West. The summit was a final few zigzags of the path and passing the hotel buildings 2 hours after leaving First, I was greeted with a truly fantastic panorama all around. The cairn itself was perched on a dizzy edge with the turquoise blue Brienzersee appearing over 2000m below.

Time for lunch! That was good, most of the people up here had opted for the hotel terrace so there were only 2 or 3 of us milling around up here and I had one of the benches to myself for a bit facing the Jungfrau , Monch and Eiger across the Grindelwald Valley.

One last look around and I headed back down, this time turning right at the col down the other side of the mountain. This way led to a place called Bussalp where I'd be able to catch, yes, a bus, back to Grindelwald, (well we are easywayup.com and it would be rude to do an unnecessary road walk!).

This route was quieter - I saw 2 people all the way down - steeper and rougher than the way I'd come up but nowhere was it difficult and was marked with red and white paint marks for its duration. Altogether it was a better way than from First although I did like Bachalpsee and this route would take much longer to ascend.

After descending through a wild looking high valley, I came out above the Alp hamlets of Oberlager and was back on a wide track which led down to Bussalp and yes , I was just in time for the bus back to Grindelwald!

Pete Buckley September 2006

Essentials >>> Up 510m >>> Down 900m>>> How Far? 8km >>> How High? 2681m/8796ft

Here are the rest of the photos from the Faulhorn trip.

Path to the Faulhorn

Path to the Faulhorn


Faulhorn

Faulhorn

Posted by PeteB 11:57 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains walking hiking vacation holidays foot Comments (0)

Climbing the Breithorn

An easy 4000 metre peak near Zermatt

sunny -5 °C

This must rank as one of my best days out in the mountains mainly thanks to the perfect conditions we enjoyed for the trip. The ascent of the Breithorn at 4164m or 13662 ft is just outside the normal remit for walking as it crosses a crevassed glacier and ascends a snow/ice slope normally requiring the use of crampons. For these reasons, you need to go with a guide (or as part of a rope team if experienced on glaciers) but its not difficult - just make sure of acclimatisation before going over 4000m.

In the predawn light of a June morning I made my way through Zermatt, following the river from my hotel. The streets were almost deserted at this hour and the thermometer read a cool 8 C under a clear sky. Crossing the bridge to walk up to the cable car station, I had a great view of the Matterhorn. Lit by the early morning sun, its pyramid, newly whitewashed by recent snow, rose into the blue far above the still sleeping village.

"Ah, here's my group" I thought as I saw a group of people, obviously climbers, milling around near the station entrance, comparing ice axes and other pieces of kit. It's always a little unnerving to join a group I've never met before as I more often than not, go walking alone but they seemed a decent bunch. Our guide from Zermatt Alpine centre was a cheerful chap and I was immediately befriended by 2 German doctors who had an interesting tale to tell.

They'd been mates at medical school and had gone off to practice as GP's in different parts of Germany. For anniversary presents their wives had let them both come down to Switzerland to climb mountains while they looked after the kids back home. I guess Jacqui had done the same for me. These 2 later invited me out to a bar to watch Germany v Argentina in the World Cup which beat staying at the hotel!

The cable car to Klein Matterhorn climbs the 2200m from Zermatt in 3 stages. Firstly over the pinewoods up to Furi, then a fast and steep ascent to sub arctic Trockener Steg, followed by a wonderful journey over the icefields to the cold thin air of the 3800m summit.

The view from Klein Matterhorn is well worth going up for though we were going still higher. It was below -5 C and yet the sun was hot as we set off across the dazzling white snow of the Plateau Rosa. The day was one of exceptional clarity with mountains maybe 100 miles distant as crystal clear as those across the valley.

Moving in a line and roped together, we headed around to the left and across the snow towards a distant looking spot where the guide said we'd have a rest. I would have had one by now I think, but the pace though quick wasn't actually too bad.

In a surprisingly short space of time we reached the rest spot where the tracks in the snow curved around more to the left. It had been fairly flat until now but ahead the slope rose up, steepening the higher you got. At this point we put on crampons and leaving our walking poles in a pile in the snow, set off again towards the peak. Italy was behind us with its craggy mountains and deep valleys spread out below us. All around was the silent world of ice and snow stretching along the ridge towards Monte Rosa's numerous summits.

The slope steepened as we progressed higher in long zig zags, firstly with the slope up to our right and facing the Klein Matterhorn, now below us and then with Italy to our right and Castor, Pollux and Monte Rosa in front. It was hard going, easier if you could keep a rhythm, but fun all the same.

A final stop below the steepest bit saw us almost level with the spiky peak of Pollux which is 4092m.
"Nearly up" I said, relieved, to the chap in front who confirmed with his GPS that we were at 4050m. Only 100m or so to go. On up the steepest part without difficulty, and we were above the cornice overhanging the northern cliffs you can see from below. Our guide made sure we took extra care here though you couldn't really tell that we were above a 1000m drop as it was hidden by the slope. Not, though, the best place to fall off!

Breathlessly up a snowy cone, the top of the ridge to my left and then - the sharp white peaks of the Bernese Oberland stood in a line beyond the hazy depths of the Rhone Valley 12000 feet below. Closer at hand were the dappled greens of Zermatt's valley at our feet. The Matterhorn, unfamiliar from this angle, rose up to just above our level and back out across Italian airspace there stood 2 prominent white summits resembling icebergs floating on the lowland haze - Mont Blanc and the Gran Paradiso.

The ridge was narrow, but wide enough to walk along. To the south, the steep snow slope we'd just come up while to the north, a fearsome drop to the Monte Rosa Glacier. We took photos while our guide pointed out most of the peaks we could see. In the east the ridge dropped down and over the Breithorn's subsidiary summits before rising again to Castor and Pollux before reaching the Himalayan looking Liskamm and Monte Rosa. Far to the east over the top of the Allalinhorn, could be seen the far off snows of Bernina on the eastern rim of Switzerland.

I borrowed an axe to scoop out a seat in the snow and had lunch at 4164m looking out across Italy. Our return was much faster and easier being downhill and we were soon back in a line quickly approaching the Klein Matterhorn station to the clicking of Japanese cameras. They'd been following our progress across the glacier like watching the peloton finishing a stage in the Tour de France. All in all what I'd call a good day out - Germany won the match by the way.

Pete Buckley June 2006

More photos of this trip can be seen here

Breithorn Summit

Breithorn Summit


Summit View

Summit View

Posted by PeteB 11:43 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains snow walking hiking foot Comments (0)

The Ascent of the Schilthorn

The walking route to a Bernese Oberland peak of almost 3000m

overcast

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

Posted by PeteB 08:46 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains walking hiking vacation holidays Comments (2)

The Oberrothorn

Switzerland's highest trekking peak

semi-overcast

I awoke to the sound of the river right outside the open window of my hotel room. I'd arrived in Zermatt the previous evening after a flight from Liverpool and a train journey up the Rhone valley from Geneva. The first thing I'd noticed about Zermatt was that you can't actually see the Matterhorn from the centre of town, I'd always thought that you could, but a short walk up to the far end of the main street had revealed the particular big grey clouds that hid the national symbol of Switzerland! This morning however had dawned fine and sunny so the views should be good.

The plan today was to climb the Oberrothorn which rises to the East of Zermatt and at 3415m or 11204 feet, is apparently Switzerland's highest peak with a marked path to it. The path known as the Weg zur Freiheit leaves the top station of the Rothorn cableway and climbs to the higher peak of the Oberrothorn. Having arrived the previous day and not yet being used to the altitude, I opted to do the route from there. This would save me the hike up from Blauherd or Sunnegga which would have made a better full day outing though I did intend to walk down to one of these stations from the top. Incidently, if your name's Clarke and you work for "The Daily Planet" then the ascent can be made from Zermatt using neither train nor cablecar but I wasn't up for a climb of over 1800m today!

Leaving the hotel I made my way along the road following the river down to the Rothorn/Sunegga station. The Japanese were out in force though not too many other tourists this early in the season. The weather had cleared up quite well and the digital indicator showed that it was 17c in the valley.

The Sunnegga underground funicular was rather like being on a London Tube Train going steeply uphill. It seemed fast compared to other funiculars I'd been on before and in a few minutes brought me to the Sunnegga station at 2288m. Leaving the underground station I was hit firstly by the light and secondly by the amazing view which greeted me on walking out into the sunlit Alpine pastures. The Matterhorn towered on the opposite side of the valley, its true size now apparent from this high vantage point while further to the right, the Ober Gabelhorn and Zinal Rothorn rose in sharp outline amongst the drifting clouds. South across the immediate valley was the Gornergrat with the line of the railway visibleon its side.

Lingering to take a few photos I then made my way up to the cableway. This section took me to the next station at Blauherd at just over 2500m. From the high pastures of Blauherd, a second, larger cablecar whisked me in a few minutes up to the Unter Rothorn. Up here at over 10000 feet the air was chilly (+3c on the station thermometer) and thinner too. Having come up so quickly, the altitude was pretty noticeable but I didn't feel ill or have a headache so I decided to rest here for half an hour before continuing. If I felt worse then I could walk down from the col to one of the lower stations and still have a good walk.

The view from here was more extensive than from Sunnegga. Zermatt appeared far below in its valley. It figured that I'd be able to see my hotel from here but couldn't make it out for sure. Around the viewing area were pictures and descriptions of all the 4000m peaks which are visible from here. We were now level with the Gornergrat, the silver dome visible on its top and could also see over the ridge to the massive, ice clad peaks of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and the Breithorn.

After a look at the map I set off. The trail was fairly obvious, heading in a roughly Easterly direction towards the bulky peak of the Ober Rotorn a mile or so distant. The trail led down towards the col separating the 2 peaks, at first over rough stony terrain and then down an easy angled snowfield bringing me to the col at just over 2900m.

"500m to climb - about 1600 feet - should be OK" I thought. The track turned right and led on down in the direction of Blauherd. My route led off up to the left of the main track over a large drift of snow. This narrower path was easily visible leading across the mountainside above climbing steadily.

The summit was up to the left above a line of cliffs and the path seemed to be heading around the peak to avoid these cliffs and go up around the far side of the mountain. There was no difficulty at all so far but as the trail steepened, I began to notice the altitude again. Passing one of the eye shaped monuments, on the route (these describe plant, animal, human and spiritual life as one progresses higher) the route turned around more to the North East towards the icy Strahlhorn and spikey rocks of the Rimpfischhorn and now zig-zagged up to become level with the cliffs on the left. The path turned above these on the ridgeline in front.

Here was the steepest section - easy today but in ice or snow, care would be needed at this point. I was soon however on the ridge, my map showing me to be at 3270m. Below was the ice of the Findelgletcher with a hut by its side, the Berghutte Fluhalp I think.

The route now headed round this easterly side of the peak before doubling back roughly westwards and still going up. I tried working out the height of the mountain in feet from the metres shown on my map but only managed to figure that it was over 11000 which probably accounted for not being able to add up properly! Don't do this route on your first day here!

When it seemed that the air would run out before I made the top, I was suddenly greeted with the view of my starting point, the Unter Rothorn, well below and in front of me, the Matterhorn rising beyond across the valley. Over to the South I was above the Gornergrat almost level with the snowy Stockhorn. Behind, a pinaccled rock ridge ran across and up towards the Rimpfischhorn.

In front the ground fell away leaving the only way up obvious to the right. I turned and walked up the snowfield for maybe 5 minutes where I was faced with a sheer drop off to the North and East and a view to the previously hidden Mischabel Range and the final monument marking the summit of Switzerland's highest trekking peak.

Pete Buckley June 2006 Zermatt

Some photos of the Oberrothorn are available here

Posted by PeteB 08:29 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains walking hiking vacation holidays Comments (0)

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