Oberland Odyssey, Day 6

Our last day of the trip would be a ‘straightforward’ walk back down the Aletsch glacier, retracing our steps on Day 2.  At least the weather was clearer to take in the fabulous views – and for me to show you what a glacier looks like, close up.

The Aletsch glacier is a ‘dry’ glacier in that it’s not covered in snow (in the summer anyway) so that you can see where the crevasses and holes are.  Hence the reason we are not roped up below.   On previous days, we had been on ‘wet’ glaciers where, as Des discovered, you can disappear down an unseen hole!

Even then though navigation is not that easy as the edges of the glacier tend to be all gnarled and bumpy, with lots of crevasses.  More than once we had to retrace our steps to find our way through the maze to the middle.  That’s where the glaciers coming in from each of the valleys above collide and create a relatively flat surface to walk on.

I hope you have all enjoyed this series of images and thanks for allowing me this little trip down memory lane.  Picture 4 remains one of my all-time favourite photographs.  😊

Oberland Odyssey – Day 5

Day 5 would prove to be the sunniest day of our trip and ‘perhaps’ (that’s Yorkshire for ‘definitely’) the scariest from my point of view…

From the Finsteraarhorn hut we walked directly across the Fiesch glacier to the Grünhornlücke col.  After a short descent we turned right (north) to ascend the Grünegghorn (@3,860m or 12,665ft).  All seemed quite straightforward as we approached what I though was the summit, as there were already 2 people standing there.  But then I looked ahead and saw Hannah, our guide, obviously preparing to go along what looked like a knife edge (to me anyway) – AND it was covered in snow!  (See pic 11).  Are these people completely crazy I thought to myself!

However, both Des and Aiden, who were in front of me, seemed quite relaxed, so I prepared myself for what turned out to be an amazing experience.   We climbed Alpine style, with everyone moving together.  Hannah was placing slings (short loops of rope) over the jagged edges of rock, which our connecting rope ran through, or we hooked our rope over suitable sturdy rocks in case one of us fell to the side.  At one point I placed my ice axe into the snow (long end downwards, like a walking stick to steady my progress) and when I removed it I could see daylight below!  Phew, that was a relief/scary, I can tell you!

After the obligatory photos, (you may have seen the one which Des took of me before somewhere on this website), we descended back to the Konkordia hut for a well earned beer! 

Take a good look at picture 17 of the Aletsch glacier.  Tomorrow I’ll show you a close up picture of said glacier. 😊

Bernese Oberland – Day 4

There is one key feature concerning mountain huts in the Alps, very early starts are the norm.  This is largely to make the best of the conditions, e.g. so that any ice bridges stay exactly that and don’t give way as you cross.  It’s especially true also when you plan to climb a 4,274m (or 14,022ft) peak called the Finsteraarhorn.   Des had opted out, so it was just Hannah, Aiden and I who were up at 4am to have breakfast before setting off.

Head torches on, the first rocky section was simple enough, but we soon found that we were the first group to attempt this peak since the rain/snow of Day 2.  This made going a lot slower, as poor Hannah (our guide) was having to break trail.  Every step was into a foot of snow, my feet were only a little larger and Aiden I guess had the best of it as he brought up the rear.

About half way up we spotted another group behind, taking advantage of our tracks and they soon overtook us.  We then benefited from their footprints.  The weather was relatively clear, but as we approached the shoulder, called the Hugisattel, we could see that the peak was covered in mist or cloud.  The wind had also picked up and spindrift (very small particles of ice) was battering us from the side, making life quite unpleasant.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Aiden decided he’d had enough, though Hannah convinced him to give the ridge a go.  We were already at 4,087m (13,409ft) after all, so we ‘only’ had about 200m (650ft) of height gain to go.

After rounding a large rock and climbing along the inside of a rocky ridge for no more than 50 metres/yards, Aiden reiterated that he didn’t want to continue.  My view was that I had no great desire to slog my way up a ridge in those conditions, if I was not going to get the benefit of the views from the top, so we all turned around and retraced our steps back to the Hut.

In a way it was disappointing, but my personal goal, at the beginning of the week, had been to climb higher than 4,000m and I had achieved done that and at least seen the views from there!

You may also wonder why there are so few images below – especially when there was so much magnificent scenery around.  It is true that I never used to take as many photos as I do now, but the main reason is that, when you are roped up, you don’t stop very often.  Also, quite a lot of concentration needs to go into watching the rope (for a novice like me anyway).  The rope between you and the person in front needs to be just right; not too slack (in case someone disappears down a crevasse and yanks you forward, off balance, so that you cannot arrest their fall) and not too tight, (so that you are hindering their progress).  By the end of the week, I likened it to fishing, where you are watching the line, just in case something happens.  As a result the camera tends to stay in its case until a pause is called by the leader.

 

If this whets your appetite for more, then take a look at this video courtesy of Richard Pattison.  You will see what I missed and get a sense of the strength of the wind at the top.

Oberland Odyssey – Day 3

I’ve not mentioned mountain huts very much during my posts, but I think it’s fair to say that they vary quite a bit – at least in the facilities that they provide.  You can almost guarantee that they are built in some superb places.

The Konkordia hut is at the basic end of the spectrum, with no running water to speak of.  There is a small tap which emits a few drops of water to clean your teeth and that’s it.  I’ll not describe the toilet facilities as it might put you off your breakfast, lunch or dinner, maybe all three!  However, it is positioned with a magnificent view over what can best be described as the confluence of 4 glaciers – the Grosser Aletschfirn, the Jungfraufirn, the Ewigschneefald and the Grüneggfirn.   These all join to flow down the valley as the Gross Aletsch glacier.  (See pic 1, though I will be posting more pics of this view as we returned to the Konkordia at the end of Day 4).

Our day would take us up the Grüneggfirn to the Grünhornlücke.  There we turned right and shortened the ropes to climb, alpine style (i.e. all together) up to the top of the Wyssnollen.  After a brief stop for lunch, we descended towards the Fiesch glacier.  Though Des, who was on the rope behind me, descended a little more than he expected.  Each of us had stepped over a crack, but he somehow missed it and fell into a crevasse.  Fortunately I was keeping an eye on him and grabbed and held the rope as his body disappeared.  His head was just about visible, but he was stuck and couldn’t get out.  While I held him fast, Hannah, our guide, unclipped herself, walked back up to where he was and hauled him out.

After roping back up, we then continued to cross the Fiesch glacier and ascend the short distance up to the Finsteraarhorn hut at the other side.  If you look closely at picture 12, you may be able to make out our path across the glacier.  The mountain hut is also visible if you are able to zoom in on pictures 7 & 9.  Remember, again, all of these pictures are taken in August.

 

 

 

 

Oberland Odyssey – Days 1 & 2

I mentioned in my last archive post that my wife used to work for a mountaineering company during the summer.  Having helped out at weekends* and seen many mountaineers come and go on the various courses, in August 2010, I went on one of them myself.
(*I was still working then and it was before we moved to Evolène).

As a complete novice, I chose to do the “Oberland Odyssey”, which required little if any previous high mountaineering experience.   After a day of training on the local Ferpècle glacier, the plan was to trek, from mountain hut to mountain hut, in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland – with a qualified mountain guide of course.

I was teamed up with Aiden, who had been on one of the other courses before and Des, an experienced mountaineer, who had not been feeling on top form the previous week, so he decided to join our ‘easy’ group for his second week.  Hannah would be our guide.

After a brief discussion at the base chalet in Evolène, we agreed that the Finsteraarhorn, the highest peak in the Bernese Oberland, at 4,274m or 14,022ft, would be our main objective for the week ahead.   However, the weather forecast was not great.

Day 1 – Glacier Training:

After a short drive and about an hours walk, we arrived at the foot of the Ferpècle glacier.   It’s a strange feeling strapping on crampons and walking across a glacier for the first time, but it was good to get at least little experience before setting off on our trek.  A bit of ice climbing added to the enjoyment too.  There’s something deeply satisfying when you hear that ‘kerchunk’ as the ice-axe grips into a wall of ice.  😊

Regular readers may note that this is the glacier which had the ‘hole’.   And, due to the receding ice and the difficulty of access, it’s no longer using for these training days.  (The Moiry hut and glacier iin the Val d’Anniviers, are now used instead).

 

Day 2 – Along the Aletsch glacier to the Konkordia Hut:

It was about an hours drive to Fiesch, where we took the gondola lift up to Fiescheralp and, from there, we set off towards the Aletsch glacier, carrying all our gear for the next 5 days (4 nights) in the mountains.  It has to be said that nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for the sight and size of what is the longest and possibly largest glacier in the Alps (unless you are an experienced mountaineer of course!)  Not convinced?  Check out the first picture below, then look at the following image.  There are at least 14 people, almost invisible on the first photo, who were making their way off the glacier.  An even larger number are ahead of us, just below the glacier.

As you will see from the pictures below, the weather wasn’t kind and the rain soon turned to snow as we walked up the glacier to ascend to the Konkordia hut.  I think I was lucky to get these few pictures.  Remember, this was in August!  Thankfully, the weather did improve…

Matterhorn Flight from Sion, Switzerland

For my 2nd ‘archive’ post, I’ll stay with the airborne theme of the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival and take you on a tour of the Matterhorn…  But first, some background:

For several summers after we arrived in Switzerland, my wife, Jude, worked for a mountaineering company.  (Her afternoon teas were, indeed still are, legendary!  ☕🍰)   Guests would be taken by qualified Mountain Guides to the summit of many of the (often 4,000m+) peaks in the Alps.  One of the guides, Anthony, was learning to fly and when he passed his test he offered to take me and another guest for a flight.  This was on the assumption that we paid for the ‘hire’ of the plane, which actually wasn’t that expensive at 2 Swiss Francs per minute.

So it was that, one fine Saturday morning, we took off from Sion in the Rhone valley in a 4 seater plane, with me in the co-pilot’s seat and headed up the Val d’Hérens.  Anthony was in contact with the Control Tower until we left the Rhone valley and then we were on our own.  “If you see anything, let me know” he said!

We gradually gained height as we passed over Vex and then on to the Arolla valley, doubling back to turn right at the ‘twin peaks’ of the Dents de Veisivis.  From there we passed by the Aiguille de la Tsa and it was only later, when I zoomed in on the photo, that I noticed 4 climbers on what looks like an impossible spike.  (See pics 16 & 17).

A slight left turn took us past the snowy face of the d’Hérens and across a massive glacier to circumnavigate the iconic Matterhorn.   Again, it was only later that I noticed the Solvay bivouac hut clinging to the Hörnli Ridge.  This is the ridge the mountaineers take to climb the Matterhorn from Zermatt, though there is another route up from the Italian side.

Our steady descent took us down the Zinal valley, alongside the Ober Gabelhorn, Zinalrothorn, Weisshorn ridge then over the Moiry mountain hut and reservoir of the same name.  As we approached the Rhone valley, about an hour after taking off, we regained contact with the Control Tower and were given permission to land.  After a perfect landing Anthony said: “That’s the best landing I’ve ever done!”

As you can imagine, it was an exhilarating experience and one I hope you enjoy too via these pics.  The quality isn’t great I’m afraid as the vast majority were taken through the cockpit window.

P.S. Don’t forget to look for the hidden face or “The Scream” in pic 27.  😊

Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival

Like most of you, I’m pretty much confined to barracks for the duration of this Coronavirus outbreak.  So I thought I’d dig into my archives to find you some interesting items to cheer you all up (and to give me something to do of course! 😊)

For the first in this series, I’ve gone back to January 2006 and 2008, when I visited the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival.  As you will see below, the balloons on display are many and varied, with some incredible designs.  The colours are so vibrant, especially in what was bright sunshine, I just had to take a lot of photographs.

Stay safe and healthy.  And a big THANK YOU to all those who are working tirelessly to keep the rest of us alive and well.

Mayens de Cotter Walk, via Volovron

A few weeks ago now, I placed my camera on the kitchen worktop.  When I went to pick it up, rather ironically, the safety strap got caught on a drawer handle and pulled it out of my hand, such that it fell on the tiled floor.  At first it didn’t work, but after switching it off and on a few times, it miraculously came back to life.  It had a blurred spot in the bottom left corner of the images anyway, so I decided to buy a new one, just in case it decided to pack up when I needed it most.

Having invested in spare batteries, I decided to by the same make, but ‘upgrade’ to a more expensive model (as would-be photographers tend to do) – a Sony RX100 (from a WX500).    On the face of it, it was the same camera, with much the same functions, but it had a 1″ sensor and had rave reviews.

It was only when I’d got it out of the box and tried it a few times that I realised it had a very poor zoom of only 3.6x. (My old one had a 30x zoom).  And it appears the ‘wide’ panorama isn’t quite as wide as my old one.  But, the images do seem to be a lot better.  To cover all the bases, I took both cameras with me on my walk from home today.  The route was a little challenging in places, due to the snow, but the weather was fantastic.

I always shrink the images to around 250k (to save WordPress space and you waiting aaages for the images to load).  Four of the images below, were taken with my old camera, but I would guess that you cannot tell which they are.

Spring is in the air…

When I look out of the window today, it seems inconceivable that only a week ago it was snowing and we had around a foot (30cm) of snow covering our garden.  However the temperatures have risen quite sharply since and all that snow has now gone.  Our daffodils are starting to emerge and there are signs of Spring everywhere.

Over the weekend we were pleasantly surprised to see at least a dozen different birds in and around our bird feeder.  We had the usual Great, Blue, Coal, Crested and Willow/Marsh* Tits, who are regular winter visitors, but in addition there were several Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Rock Buntings plus a Robin, a Greenfinch and a Pied Wagtail.
*I never can tell the difference.

Most of my photos were not particularly good, but I did also go for a short walk up the path behind our chalet yesterday and I thought I’d share a few of the better images for you to enjoy.

 

Abbotsbury to Dorchester Walk (Day 7)

On Day 7, Pete caught the bus and train back home, but I had an extra day before flying back to Geneva.  My plan was to walk part of the South Dorset Ridgeway then turn north to Dorchester.  But it was soon obvious that the weather and, more importantly, the state of the paths, (see pic 3), would determine the best way forward.   I figured, after all, I was there to enjoy myself and not slip and slide ankle deep in mud.

A quick look at the map showed a very direct route along quiet roads and paths and so that became Plan B – especially as it went through the delightfully named Martinstown or Winterbourne St Martin, where there was a pub. 😊  I arrived there a little early so I explored the church before spending an hour or so drying out in front of a roaring fire and chatting to the locals.  That included a 95 year old gentleman who walked in shortly after me (completely unaided by an stick or other support) and quipped “You’ve got to get up early to be the first in this pub!”  He was a great character, who’d been in the RAF. He told me his home was flooded just before Christmas and he was living temporarily in a rented cottage nearby.  He hoped to be back in his house sometime during April.

The route also took me past the Hardy Monument on the top of Black Down, where there’s a 360 degree viewpoint – on a clear day of course.  (See pic 8).   I should explain that this ‘Hardy’ was not the Dorchester writer, Thomas Hardy, famous for his Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. (I’ve never read any of these by the way, Pete told me… You can learn all sorts of things on these trips…!)  The monument was built in memory of another local hero, the Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (1769 – 1839), who was Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).  Almost any British school boy or girl will tell you, as Vice-admiral Horatio Nelson lay dying, he uttered the immortal words: “Kiss me Hardy”.

That brings us to the end of my UK trip.  I hope you have enjoyed the series.  The sun is now shining brightly in the Val d’Hérens, so I hope to bring you some more Swiss pictures in the next few days. 😊