Spring is certainly in the air. After three days of cold, windy rain the skies opened this morning to shine light on the changing surroundings! Green grass, trees blooming and the smell of the forest’s winter dampness slowly disappearing.
Just three weeks ago, I rode from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, a small village at the base of the Lauterbrunnen valley- Nature’s largest bathtub. It was cold and overcast, with the sun barely strong enough to break through the trees. Drinking foundations, bringing life around them, lie dormate from winter. I stopped just outside of Lauterbrunnen on the trail to take some photos, realising later that they were yellow and dull. Winter had taken its toll and the spring rains hadn’t come yet.
Today I choose the same route, but continued further down the valley to the paragliding mecca of Stechelberg. Although the trail is a continuous climb from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, the ride to Stechelberg is a cruisy one. The valley hugs you on both sides, but the 70+ waterfalls are the constant reminder that there is life above these walls. Every few minutes, paragliders dizzily fly down from the small town of Murren, located 800m above the valley floor.
Today was especially beautiful, as the recent rains had bought in fresh snow at the high elevations, covering the bare rock that protrudes in the summer months. Fresh water fills the watering holes and although the mountains won’t stay this serene for very long, it did make them look especially beautiful.
Sturdy Shoes: I have two pairs of shoes I use; one are “trail-running” shoes- I will use them for trails that are well-worn, I’m familiar with and I know will only be a few hours. My hiking boots I have are not ones that I strap on for a 2 hour hike. Their sturdy and supportive, but in 25c heat slightly toasty. Specifically I use my “trail-running” shoes for this hike. My hiking boots are perfect for anything over 5 hours as they stomp anything thrown at them (including the Nepalese Himalayas!). Obviously, choose socks wisely. They shouldn’t rub or move, add cushioning, and, if it helps, the top of the sock should be higher than the top of the boot.
Shorts: I almost always hike in shorts. I love the ones I got from North Face, as they are light, and dry very quick if rained on!
Walking Stick: The most under-rated tool I had a relationship with. I was always embarrassed to be seen with one, and thought they were just for old people, but after my Inca Trek I developed a new respect for them. It becomes almost a third leg, and is amazing whilst climbing down really uneven surfaces. Mine is the collapsible kind- nothing fancy – but I strap it to the outside of my bag if I ever need it!
In My Day Bag:
Map: I like to have a paper copy with me as there is always a chance I could truly get lost in the woods and my phone battery die.
First Aid Kit: I don’t carry anything too crazy, but if a bush rips my leg open, or a twist an ankle, its nice to have some bandages and wraps. Obviously helps if you know basic first aid as well! Not necessarily for yourself either – there is always the chance you need to help a fellow hiker.
Sunscreen: I always use SPF 50 on my face. That part of Australia has always stuck. If its hot, SPF 30 is usually all I use on the rest of my body (don’t forget ears and neck!) In this category is also sunnies and a hat. Be Sunsmart folks! (even on the cloudy days at altitude can be harse to your skin…)
Camera. Phone. Wallet. All full of juice. Although the wallet has been stuck in a life-long draught.
Hoodie/ Rain Jacket: This is something I have gotten in the habit of *always* having in my hiking bag. The weather changes radically and quickly in the mountains. It’s important to stay warm when you stop for a break/lunch too!
Sweatpants: If I know the weather could possibly be anything except sunny, I always chuck in a pair of Yoga pants- I can throw them on quickly over my shorts and they are easy to walk in. Although you may not feel the cold whilst your walking. When you stop you’ll be thankful you had an extra layer!
Food & Water: I *always* fill my 3L bladder for any hike, no matter how small. Bladders are the easiest way to quench thirst without the hassle of taking out a water bottle every stop. For day hikes, I will always take what I will eat for lunch, plus a little more. Even in Switzerland, when there is restaurants at the top of almost every mountain, I like having a few granola bars to snack on. I also like to bring a small bottle of juice or Rivella, as its nice to have something other than water with my lunch. Just a personal choice. Having so much food and water may fill heavy in the beginning, but when you stop and reward yourself with a full belly– you’ll thank yourself!
So as the summer is winding down in the tourist mecca of Interlaken, I finally had myself three days free from work. I was leaving the nest! Although Switzerland is as central Europe as it gets, leaving can sometimes be hard sans Car. With options limited to the Swiss trains, I decided to head to an ol’ favourite, Zermatt.
Placed on the Swiss-Italian Border, Zermatt is home to the famous Matterhorn, a pyramidal mountain rising over 4000 m. Standing alone on the horizon, it makes for breath-taking photos… but even after just an afternoon and 200 photos my camera begins to tire. The Matterhorn has, for over a century, been the setting for tragedy and conspiracy. Even on my third trip to Zermatt I was going to learn something new!
The adventure, literally, started on my way to Zermatt. I had decided to take my mountain bike along so as to ride the 80 km home. The fact that the Swiss Rail system is as organized and, as I assumed idiot-proof, the 2 hour journey should have be a simple ride with 2 connections. Like I mentioned earlier, I have been to Zermatt on two previous trips and had no problem.
My first connection was 20 minutes after departure in Spiez. My connecting train was on the same platform. No stairs… an easy win. My train to Visp was slightly cramped for the poor bike, which ended up being Origami’ed into the corner after two Tour Bikes decided to take 4 of the 5 places available for the bikes. (The Swiss trains usually require the bikes’ front tyre to be wedged into a metal bracket or hung from the front tyre, depending on the carriage.) The riders thought it was necessary to space their bikes apart, creating a gap too small for another bike to use the tyre bracket.With my bikes 29 inch wheels and large frame, the last (and smallest) place for the bike was all we had and although the bike storage is located in the lower half of the family carriage, I was happy we didn’t have any tots running down the aisle of this train. Add 4 Koreans’ wheely suitcases, and there wasn’t much space left to share.
When I got to Visp, I knew I would need to carry my bike to switch platforms. I had already looked online to see which direction I was heading in. However when I got to the top of the stairs on my new platform, I hopped on the closest train. Making the trip twice before, I knew that the train going to Zermatt was red and had Matterhorn Gotthard logo printed on the side. That train always goes to Zermatt.
I walked to end of the train where the bike storage was located. The train was relatively lacking in passages, but I put this down to the odd time I was traveling at. (There isn’t really an odd time, it’s just another excuse.) I took a few pics of the bike hanging alone, ready for her big trip to Zermatt.
It was probably at any point in the 5 minutes of bike selfies that something should have clicked. Zermatt sees over 2.5 million tourists a year. Not a single person on this train? I lived in Grindelwald for a year, and although the population is about 1/4 of Zermatt, and you can drive there, I still never had an empty train. I put it down to the fact I was in the bike carriage.
My first stop on the train was Brig. Now, I thought I knew from my first two experiences that from Visp you go up the Mattertal valley. Getting to Brig was a strange option. However, I still knew I was roughly in the right area and didn’t think twice about it. About 10 minutes outside of Mörel the conductor came to check my tickets. Looking at the bike pass first, he gave a nod of approval. Next, the my ticket. An eyebrow is raised, quite highly.
Conductor (In German): Where are you travelling to?
Me: Zermatt. duh, isn’t that where everyone is going?
Conductor: Um, Not on this train. We are travelling to Adermatt.
Conductor: Yes. trying not to laugh…
At this point, I knew my only option was to jump off and wait for another train heading back in the direction I wanted. The conductor told me the next train in Mörel would be half an hour. When I asked him which train… he replied and said there was only one, and it was a direct one to Zermatt! Now the journey had reached the highest level of idiot proof. I just had to not get off the train in Brig, where it would wait before continuing back to Visp and then upwards to Zermatt.
Because I had purchased a discounted fare online, my ticket was supposedly valid for only that journey from the time stated… so of course I get another eye-brow raise when the Conductor in Brig checks my ticket… Brig is not located between Interlaken- Visp- Zermatt route. I quickly told her in german that I had gotten on the wrong train. Eyebrow rested and she walked away with a smirk.
My arrival in Zermatt was greeted by a cold wind and hidden mountains. The autumn weather was certainly starting to show as tried to use Google Maps to find the hostel. Ironically, I had also stayed at this hostel once before… but as a large set of stairs are required to walk up, I needed to find a road in which I could ride up. Easier said then done. Zermatt is not that big, smaller if you are riding at a reasonable pace trying to warm up. I missed two streets and finally after turning around 3 times I could my self on the correct-ish street. It was super steep but I wasn’t going to let it dampen my spirits! I had made it to Zermatt 😀
My evening in Zermatt was entertained by the Matterhorn Museum which, for 10 fr, was probably the best bargain of the trip. The 40 minutes that I spent inside was not enough to cover all the details from the displays and films that were created around the Matterhorn. With plenty of mini-exhibits covering the history and stories of the Matterhorn and general climbing in the Swiss Alps, the museum is the perfect raining day choice in Zermatt. I learned that they never found the 3rd body of those that perished from the first descent (they all made it to the top!) and now many conspiracy stores surround the family and whether or not the gentleman was pushed, or fell. All for the Swiss to claim the first ascent! Fittingly, there is no tombstone in the Climbers cemetary either.
The next day, I went paragliding and a hike to the Stellisee hike. The paragliding was a fun experience, but being as it was my 5th time in the sky, I really just wanted awesome photos of the Matterhorn 🙂 My hike to the Stellisee was gorgeous, but only after I had put Zermatt in a summer perspective:
My other two visits to Zermatt were in Winter and everything was always blanketed in snow. Above the tree-line and without the blanket of snow, Zermatt’s mountains are littered with roads and trails (too many for my likely) and, due to my late September arrival, orange. The beginning of autumn made for some nice photos, but for the most part, the summer season had taken its toll. Service roads and mountain biking paths crisscrossed over every open space like termites chewing at a tree. Winter hid the Summer scars and I think I preferred it that way.
The following morning my boyfriend made the 2 hour train journey so we could ride the 80 km home together. We found a nice pub to get a good breakfast, and after taking a selfie with the Matterhorn we were off. With a quick train ride between Birg and Kandersteg, we were able to complete the downhill trip in around 6 hours!
Although I live in a very outdoorsy part of Switzerland, it’s ironically not a subject that comes up often… global warming, climate change, melting glaciers. Yesterday, for the first time in a while, I really took notice.
Although I live in a very outdoorsy part of Switzerland, it’s ironically not a subject that comes up often… global warming, climate change, melting glaciers. Yesterday, for the first time in a while, I really took notice.
My boyfriend and I had attempted a klettersteig or via ferrata in the Hasli Valley near the town of Meringen. It turned out that we had returned to the location where I was lucky enough to Ice Climb a few years ago, on the Steingletscher. Until yesterday, I had long forgotten where we had gone on the day trip a few years ago. I remember driving for an hour or so, and walking for almost another hour before actually being on the glacier. I also had recollections of our Berfurher telling us that when he had first starting doing the trips, the glacier actually melted directly into the lake, Steinsee.
The changes in the glacier were first noticed on our walk up to the trail head for the Via Ferrata. There is now a massive water-fall pouring out from the bottom of the glacier. Something I certainly had no memory of. Although we had planned to reach the Tierberglihutte, the Föhn had stopped us half-way. Warm wind and rain were not ideal conditions to be climbing up rebar steel pegs on the via ferrata. We took the alpine hiking trail down to the parking lot and proceeded to walk the 2km to the Alpine Center. On the way back, my boyfriend had asked if the glaciers had changed much in the last five years. Knowing that I take lots of photos of everything and have a decent photographic memory, I should have been able to answer the questions better. But I knew for certain, there was no thundering waterfall.
When we got down to the Alpine Center, I took notice of an information board of the glacier. They had provided basic information about the melting glacier and how it is changing over the decades. I made a mental note to find photos of the ice climbing and compare them.
After our coffee, we decided not to wait 3 hours for the next bus and head down the valley via the Alte Sustenweg. The valley had created a gorgeous mild micro-climate; the flora reminding us of the Canadian wilderness and the trail something out of a Nepali tea house trek. As the autumn colours danced around the valley walls, I tried to take as many photos as possible. With Switzerland’s Alps never taking a bad photograph, my boyfriend got quickly tired of the shutter noise on my phone. Mental note: Take Proper Camera. (I normally don’t on via ferratas as its impractical to always take out!)
Making our way down to Obermaad we were five minutes of the next bus coming through town. In a village where the bus is only every hour, it was meant to be! We ended up stumbling onto a difference bus route, meaning we didn’t have to wait until our original five thirty bus as originally planned. It meant we arrived home an hour early!
Although the Alte Sustenweg was one of the most beautiful paths I’ve walked in Switzerland, it truly resonated with me how much the Steingletscher had changed in the five years between my accidental visits.
In trying to find some data about the glacier, I can across the Swiss Academy of Sciences‘s website where they provide photographic evidence of the changing environment of the glaciers. My eyes quickly settled on a chart that displays the shows the changes in length… aka how fast its melting.
In just the last twenty years, the Steingletscher has receded over 800 meters. Given that the glacier was only 4.2 km in 1972, it shows that it has melted over a 1/4 of its length! A document showing the recorded data can be read here. No wonder I hadn’t seen the thundering waterfall 5 years ago! Ironically, I didn’t take any photos of the waterfall but I found photos of the Steinlimigletscher, Steingletscher’s baby sister. After looking into the records for it, I discovered sadly that the 2.8km glacier (1973 measurements) has receded over 1.4 kilometers! Over half of that has been in the last 5 years. The document showing the measurements can be found here.
I have an original hiking map of the Bernese Oberland from the 1980s and it shows both glaciers extending down, much closer, to the Susten highway. The newer mobile topography map shows how much the artist has rendered the melting glaciers. The lake is named and both glaciers are predominately smaller.
Although I’m not an expert on all things environmental, to not notice the change in the Swiss Alps a person must have their eyes closed. Even at the end of a quiet Swiss Valley, the change is inevitable. If we don’t take drastic steps nows, there won’t be the same experiences left for our future generations.
At the beginning of the European attempt at summer (or halfway through spring– pretty much the same weather), I purchased a new mountain bike. They call it a hard-tail, but that just makes me think of fish. It’s an awesome little thing– with 29″ wheels, it’s actually bigger than my boyfriends. But it is comfortable and makes me feel kind of badass. I even bought my first bike helmet since I was a kid the other week, too. Fully turning it on I am. Ironically it was sort of an impulsive purchase, although I had researched what two-wheeled companion I wanted for Summer 2015. Quickest 1000 fr. that has left my bank account. My card melted my wallet as I walked out of the bike store. I had to wait a week for the bike to arrive, but given that only my size was left in the warehouse– this relationship was meant to be.
It has been the perfect supporting actress in recent events around my neighbourhood. To be honest, I probably just would sit at home if I didn’t have it and it had also motivated me to get our local SportPass for summer. Trains and gondolas for free- let’s do this!
Yet another irony; my last two velo-adventures have received no SportPass discount. I guess they want us to be active, but without going to the “cool” places. Stupid bureaucracy and private companies.
Today’s adventure put me in one of the last places I haven’t been to in the Jungfrau Region. Offering both amazing views and a workout, Isenfluh was a quiet little place for a Tuesday. I know of the village as some where I always see from other view points. It is literally, on the side of a mountain. Sulwald, it’s higher sister, is more so isolated. Of course, this is Switzerland, so there was still a sealed road winding down somewhere. That somewhere we found on the way home.
The first, of a few firsts for the day, actually started on the 1.2 km tunnel we had to ride through. I pretty much called out and whistled my whole way. The awesome-ness of echos never get old! We stopped half way through, as there was an emergency exit (read: hole in the side of the tunnel going out to the side of the mountain. You would create another emergency if you ever used it with a vehicle). A few selfies and we were on our way again.
As we had only decided on this route over lunch a few hours before and never having been to Isenfluh before, we didn’t really know where we were going. We knew there would be a gondola, a village (or two) and some hiking trails. We had seen signs to a village called Sulwald, and I quickly assumed that would be somewhere where the gondola was, and Isenfluh was at the top. Nope.
Isenfluh is so small that the public parking is on the side of the road, before you actually arrive in center (if you call it that). Of course, the parking spaces aren’t on the inside of the road either. Let’s hope you don’t slide down the side of mountain as you pull the park-brake.
We had decided that we would take the gondola up to see what was at the top. What we didn’t expect (the 2nd and 3rd firsts of the day) is that we would be taking the gondola alone. And with the bikes.
Now, this isn’t a gondola with a 40 person and ski equipment limit. It was just large enough for a cow. Or so the attendant at the bottom said. Regarding that our bikes where almost too long to get in the doorway, we some time deliberating on how a cow would walk itself on. My boyfriend figured out that one of the narrow sides opened up, still– what cow would walk itself on to this thing??? Once we were told how to open the doors at the top, we were on our way. More selfies.
A few minutes later, we were in Sulwald. The gondola and the village’s restaurant were there. The restaurant was open. Win. I think there were two farm houses. It was clear, quickly, that Sulwald is the pit-stop for the Winter sledging that runs down to Isenfluh. There wasn’t anything else, in terms of a village, and all marketing on the side of the three buildings were winter photos.
As we had just spent an hour getting up to 1530m (we live at 500m), we had regained another small appetite. We went for the house special of Bergkäse (made by the restaurant owner’s friend) and Rivella (a swiss favourite). 17 francs later, and we were eager to get going.
Unfortunately, the grey rain clouds were moving faster than we were. And I must add, that due to cosmetic reasons, I have yet to add fenders to my bike. Practical, yes… but they look oh, so stupid. With some black plastic flapping about down the trail I feel like my back tyre has gained a bobble-head.
Anyways, as we were lucky enough to have a sealed road all the way home and rain to accompany us, we remained not dry. At one point, I really thought it was raining quite hard as I was getting a lot of water in my mouth, dripping from the brim of my helmet.
It was spray from the tyre. The dirt taste should have given it away. It didn’t help that I had put my seat down, going downhill, and essentially put myself closer to the dirt-spray. Bike 1- 0 Monika. I will get fenders.
The ride home was on the would-be awesome sledging run, a narrow sealed road back to Isenfluh. We flew past and continued back through our 1.2 km tunnel.
Riding back through Zweilütsch and onwards is a very familiar journey and we didn’t waste any time. I was soaked and had a warm shower waiting for me.
Snaps from a recent hike in the Bernese Oberland: Originally I planned to hike from Schynige Platte to Faulhorn (for lunch) then continue to Grindelwald. Unfortunately, it’s still too early in the season and snow had closed the hiking trail. The train conductor suggested that I walk down to a village called Burglauenen. Instead of walking along the ridge between the Grindelwald Valley and Lake Brienz, I would follow an alpine trail into the Grindelwald Valley. Burglauenen was fortunately a perfect stopping point as I was able to make the twice-hourly train back on Interlaken (of course, I ran through the last field as I saw the train approaching in the distance!)
Roughly half the distance, it was gorgeous alpine hike. I have regularly hiked those this region of Switzerland, and every new trail offers a striking new variation on the same mountains. The hike took me through proper alpine (and rural) Switzerland. I only realised after passing two sign-ways for the EigerUltra Trail that I was actually hiking a section of the famous annual race. I certainly wasn’t going to be running it anytime soon! It was probably one of the first times that I have never seen a fellow hiker on the same trail, and I wasn’t going to complain about the serenity. I had counted on a blue-bird day, but the clouds constantly moving around the mountains just added to the majestic feel of the Bernese Alps.
Living in a country where tourism is highly developed (and over-commercialised) certainly has its advantages. Activities and mountain-high destinations are easy to reach, whichever mode of transportation you chose, and the desire to spend time outside is easily fulfilled. A nature-freak’s winning combination of alpine mountains and an over-developed transportation system create a perfect, almost daunting, environment in which to spend your time in. Granted, trying to find that “hidden gem” may not be the easiest, but that perfect Instagram shot is around every corner.
Welcome to the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland.
Today’s adventure, starting in the region’s tourism capital of Interlaken, was on two wheels up to the Lauterbrunnen valley. Although the adventurous mountain trail didn’t start until the village of Gimmelwald, we had the muscle-warming trip up to Stechelberg … a 300m climb over 18km. We had stopped for a lunch break at AirTime Cafe in Lauterbrunnen village before continuing to the Stechelberg gondola station. Even riding through the valley, we were rewarded with gorgeous valley scenery as the skies cleared above us. I had a little reality-check halfway down the valley, we saw a bike-ride tour company having a picnic along the path, van and all. The group fully kitted up in riding shorts and vests (some clearly not regular cyclists) and they looked slightly out-of-place in the casual swiss country-side. Its the small moments that make me appreciate that I have all of this as my playground.
We boarded the gondola after purchasing a ticket for ourselves, (6.20 fr for those without any discount. The bikes received half-price 🙂 ) to the village of Gimmelwald. The gondola, designed to carry 40+ people with skies, had ample room to accommodate my friend and I, two bikes and the half a dozen others that made that journey that hour. Although the journey is only 5 mins long, it gives a constant stream of beautiful scenery to capture. As our journey was taking place mid-week, our only guests were two old Swiss ladies who were interested in practising their english with two New Yorkers out for a hike and a dog in a cargo basket with its two proud owners. Certainly not much diversity. As if the gondola attendant hadn’t seen much action for the day, he piped up when the New Yorkers were asked about Hilary Clinton by the Swiss Lady. Certain that American politics would never affect him in the slightest, he still felt that his two cents were needed.
Gimmelwald is mostly visited as a stopping point for travellers looking for Mürren. For us, it was the official start of our journey back down towards the valley floor. We pedaled through the sleeping village, stopping to translate an inscription on a traditional farm-house. My Chilean friend was able to translate it, a pleasant homestead prayer, allowing us to appreciate the humble serenity that is often missed in the bustle of Interlaken. The journey through the village was on a sealed road until we turned off, starting our downhill adventure.
Both my friend and I are amateur downhill mountain bikers at best but the over-developed tourism had paved a wide track, sign posting almost every turn. Thankfully she was just as keen to take photos every possible chance, and we definitely took our time trying to capture the scenery. Although we had only been taken over by one fellow down-hill’er in the beginning, we rode in between the odd hiking group every twenty minutes or so. Nothing is exclusive in these mountains.
As my boyfriend has ridden the trail often we were forwarned of the terrain, much of it steep with large-ish rocks. He wasn’t kidding. Although we certainly went at a comfortable pace for ourselves, we weren’t tempted to stop. Getting back on, with brakes applied and weight on the bike of the bike, was never the simplest of tasks. Twice, I walked a few feet to a point that I could at least stand on the bike. Thankfully helmets were keeping our confidence intact. Then it was just a matter of sorting out the correct bike gear.
The alpine trail was often in the shade, keeping the ground wet from recent rains. Gravel and mud were always a fun combination, right!? Recent visitors along our route weren’t limited to humans, and every photo stop we found ourselves trying to minimise the amount of cow- shit that attached itself to us. It’s always fun to get a bit dirty though, and we were enjoying every moment!
The trail led us down to the end of the Lauterbrunnen valley, to an area called Sichellaunen. We would now follow the road along the Wiess Lütschine back. Although it was only a 400m descent, it was enough to heat up the brakes and use the quad muscles. Because of our recent rains, much of the trail was delicate around the outer edge. Certainly not for any one who hasn’t ridden a bike!
Of course, getting down the mountain without any incidents opened the door for something to happen on the sealed road. The smooth road meant I could finally hear that my front tyre had become uncomfortably loose. I actually had to turn my bike over in order to tighten it enough– wobbly wheels are never a good thing! Of course, while trying to tighten the bolt, I accidentally touch the brake disk. Hot. Very Hot.
As we were calmly cruising through Stechelberg, discussing the excitement of the downhill section, my Chilean friend was messing around on her new bike, comfortable that it had got her down the mountain side. A quick pop and a pedal slip later, my friend has a small hole below her knee. Smooth sailing on the smoothest of roads, we were! Emotions and adrenaline still fully running, we were set for our cruise back to Interlaken.
Mürren is a small car-less village in the valley of Lauterbrunnen. A gorgeous starting point for many trails, both hiking and downhill biking, reward any visitor. It is also possible to continue with public transport to the top of the Schilthorn mountain, where a gorgeous panoramic view awaits. For visitors to the Jungfrau region I would rate it higher than the main attraction, Jungfraujoch. But that’s just me!
To reach this area, there are hourly trains leaving from Interlaken Ost. It is possible to drive to Stechelberg, but you will need to rent bikes in either Mürren or Lauterbrunnen. I wouldn’t do the trail without a helmet and some knowledge of down-hill riding. Tourist Centers in both Interlaken and Mürren can provide maps and up-to-date information.