A Hike With Arcadian Beauty, Cows, And A Whole Lot Of Hay

We wanted to squeeze in a second hike after our big hike near Thun.  Thanks to our book, we found another great one that was on our way home.  We started from Rüeggisberg, in Switzerland’s Gantrisch foothills of the Bernese Alps.

Rüeggisberg is known for its mighty Cluniac priory ruin.  It is a significant stop for pilgrims along the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.  When we pulled up to start our hike, we heard music coming from the service that was being held among the ruins.

I don’t know if downtown Rüeggisberg ever sees a lot of traffic, but the typical Bernese farmhouses were dead silent on a Saturday morning.  Luckily, an old school farm town café with pictures of historic local gatherings and cows on the walls was open so we could feed our coffee addiction before setting off.

Just like we’d seen the day before in Thun, farmers took advantage of the sunny weather to cut hay.  In Europe, it is more common to use a tedder.  In fact, that’s all we’ve seen here in Switzerland.  For you non-farmers out there, a tedder spreads hay out to dry more quickly.  It speeds up the process of haymaking and allegedly allows the hay to dry better, resulting in improved aroma and color.  Can cows even see in color?

All the commotion in the fields stirs up any rodents living in them.  It cuts up any cover and small animals are in the open for the scavengers to eat.  We saw raptors circling the sky above fields and swooping down.  Cats were also out in the fields hunting the newly exposed prey.

We have only seen round bales here.

The trail led through woods.  We were excited to see the slate bottom on this creek bed.  He climbed down to take a look.  Since I still had my arm in a sling, I stayed on the trail.  Sorry there aren’t any close-ups.

We came out into more farmland.  We enjoyed checking out the well-tended farmyard.  Hopefully, you do too.

I think I have slept in places more disgusting than this pig pen.  Who am I kidding?  I know I have.

We continually caught glimpses of the snow-capped trio of the Alps above the fields.  If you look really hard, you can see them in the back of the photo below.  It is the view the cows had.  We now believe that happy cows don’t come from California (or even Wisconsin).  They come from Switzerland.

There were panoramic views and we could even see Lake Thun (the Thunersee), the Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau in the distance!

Interlaken, Your Starting Point For Canyoning, Base Jumping, Skiing or Hiking in the Bernese Oberland

Interlaken is a main town in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.  It is conveniently located on some flat land between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. The best reason to go there isn’t the town itself, but its proximity to the lakes, storied mountains like the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, fabulous valleys (like Laterbrunnen) and stellar views like that from Schlithorn.  As such, it is a convenient starting point for many outdoor activities.

The town has been a tourist hub since early in the 19th century.  Interlaken has an assortment of cute old buildings. With a few exceptions, they have been able to keep many older buildings and retain their impressive mountain views (we find the views from areas further back town the mountains even better).

The Bernese Oberland Railway and the Jungfrau Railway made Interlaken a convenient transportation hub.  It remains one and Interlaken generally seems more diverse and cosmopolitan than most of the smaller mountain towns.  We saw Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and many other diverse restaurants.  At breakfast, we heard a plethora of languages.

Paragliding, base jumping, skiing, hiking, canyoning, whitewater rafting, kayaking, etc. are available from the area.  If they aren’t your speed, you can sit down at a café and watch others shop for supplies or land in the park at the center of town.  Although we didn’t pay them a visit, we walked past the casino and an adventure park.

 

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…Or Just In Time To For It To Set

After a morning’s aborted hike in the mountains and the drive in a snowstorm, we’d lost hope that the weather would turn around or that we would be able to fit in a decent hike.

The weather in Switzerland is changeable  By mid afternoon, the weather Grindelwald had begun to clear.  By late afternoon, we’d taken our coats off.  What’s not to love?

Us…in front of some mountains

Les Incompetents Vol. 9 – Whimps In An Alpine Snowstorm

Last weekend, we went to bed in Gimmelwald, Switzerland (accessible mainly by cable car) with this view of the Lauterbraunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps.  It could have been clearer, but it’s still a pretty sweet view.  We woke up to this.

And it kept falling.

And falling.

We’re from Michigan, so we’re pretty hardy and decided that even though we were fighting off colds, we could do a few hours of hiking… in a snowstorm… on a mountain.  Yeah.  I know.  We’re geniuses.  Neither of us wanted to be the bigger baby and complain so we kept going.

And going.

Finally, the wind convinced us to turn back.  We decided that it was getting so windy that if it got much worse they might shut down the cable cars and be stuck up there that night.

Note the pitch of the flag and the temperature of -2. Balmy. Especially when I forgot to pack a hat and gloves.

Thankfully, we were able to get down to our car.   We even gave a couple of Aussies (whose paragliding trip had inexplicably been cancelled) a ride to the train station before setting off to see more of Switzerland.

Clearly the weather was ideal at lower altitudes. We ended up having a great time though. I swear, I will tell you all about it.

 

Grindelwhat? Grindelwald!

When we were in the Bernese Oberland, we stayed in a night in Grindelwald (one option if you do Kleine Scheidegg or Jungfraujoch).  We suspected that it might be a bit big and a bit touristy for our tastes.  When you have views like these of the Eiger, who cares?
In the late 18th century, foreigners discovered the scenic town.  The scenery is so photogenic that pictures of the vistas were widely reprinted.  This made the village internationally famous (the Eiger is Switzerland’s second most famous mountain after the Matterhorn), which, in turn, brought more visitors.
 In the 19th century, Englishmen came to the village to climb the alpine peaks around the valley, including:
It’s in the heart of the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland (the Bernese Alps).  In the summer, it is a popular base for hikers and a ski town in the winter.
I think this is technically Wetterhorn. Until the Eiger became more famous, it was Grindelwald’s iconic symbol.
Improvements in transportation infrastructure, the Grindelwald road (built in 1860-72) and the Bernese Oberland railway (connected to the village in 1890), transformed the difficult trip into a simple one. As a result, tourists to flooded into the village and many hotels/resorts were built.
rack railway was built to Kleine Scheidegg in 1893; it was expanded to the Jungfraujoch in 1912. It is still in use.  We watched it wind up the mountain from the balcony of our hotel room.  One of the great things about Switzerland is that the mountains are so accessible.  In the late, 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous ski lifts, cable cars, hiking trails and alpine huts were built.  Today, Grindelwald’s economy of is virtually entirely based on tourism.  Like I said, it’s a bit touristy, but with beauty like this, who cares?

 

Lauterbraunnen Valley

 
Switzerland is filled with wonderful, amazing, unique diverse places.   The Lauterbraunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps is one of these places.  It is one of the deepest trough valleys in the alps.  The mountains, with their visible limestone, rise directly up on either side of the valley.  They are perpendicular to the valley floor.  Since the valley is only about a kilometer wide, the dramatic cliffs are everywhere you look.
Snowmelt + cliffs = waterfalls.  The Lauterbrunnen Valley is filled with them; there are 72.  The largest and most well known is Staubach Falls.  Others include: Trümmelbach and Schmadrifällen. We drove into the valley at night and could hear the falls.  The next morning we woke up to this view!
The cliffs on either side make it a paradise for base jumpers (just take a look at the second photo to see where the spot where they jump).  While the vertical valley walls may be great for base jumpers, you can imagine what happens when it snows.  Avalanches are a huge danger.  This is Switzerland, they’re prepared.  Avalanche shelters dot the valley floor.
They also attack the problem from up above.  These snow fences were at high altitudes to protect towns.  This one is protecting Wengen (a town just above the valley).
We aren’t the only ones who like this area.  In 1911, J. R. R. Tolkien hiked from nearby Interlaken to the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  The valley’s landscape made a powerful impression and was a model for his sketches and watercolours of the fictitious valley of  Middle-earth‘s Rivendell valley, in his The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. It was a setting for the car chase in the 1969 James Bond (George Lazenby) film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  It’s the one where Bond escapes from Schilthorn by skiing down the mountain to reach the nearby village of Mürren at its base.
 
 

 

A Glorious Hike In The Shadow Of The Eiger

One of our favorite parts of Switzerland is the outdoors and the superb hiking.  When we hiked at the Matterhorn, I was stunned by its beauty.  In the Bernese Alps it was déjà vu all over again with sunny skies and gorgeous mountain views.
In warmer months, we fill our water bottles using these log fountains.

There were a couple of places where the trail was a bit slick (which is understandable when you see the above photo).  I only fell once.  Luckily, I have a bit of padding back there.  It softened the blow when I went crashing down.  I was a bit worried about falling and tumbling down the side of a mountain.  The Swiss like to use those hiking poles when they hike (or even walk on a flat trail by the lake in Geneva).  I might have to get a pair.    I don’t think they’d protect me from the falling rocks though.

I’ve loved cairns ever since we saw tons of them hiking Ben Nevis, but hadn’t seen such a pretty art installation.  Right on.

This is the iconic North Face of the Eiger with the town of Grindelwald below.  For a cool YouTube Movie of someone (not that guy below) climbing its North Face in record time, click here.  It’s Ueli Steck‘s Triple Speed Climbing Record.  He bested his own speed record for scaling the Eiger’s north face via the classic Heckmair Route.  This improvement is likely because he did not belay, instead he relied on a loop of rope that allowed him “to hook on occasionally,” and reduced the weight of his gear.   This isn’t his only big climb or big mountain; he’s kind of a maestro.   He also did speed ascents of the two other great north faces in the Alps, the Grandes Jorasses and the Matterhorn (completing the Grand Jorasses in 2 hours 21 minutes, and the Matterhorn in 1 hour 56) in record time.