Alpine Hiking

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Saturday, June 12, 2010

Today, we did some serious Alpine touring. We hiked up, and around, and down, and along, and through. I'm pretty sure there isn't a direction left we haven't hiked. Today was overcast, but I liked it. It was a good temperature for hiking, and sunburn wasn't an issue. Plus, the clouds didn't ever quite manage to make it above the mountain peaks, so it was like hiking in a giant room, with the valley walls as actual walls and the clouds as the ceiling.

Our first stop was the "Valley of 72 Waterfalls", or Lauterbrunnen. There were a bunch of huge, glacier-fed waterfalls running down the side of the valley. We only counted about 8, though, so the other 63 must have been conceptual. Actually, one of the waterfalls fell through a cave, and the signs in the cave counted the single stream of water as being 10 falls, so apparently we should have multiplied the 7 we counted by around 10. That would give close to 72.

The waterfall cave was Trümmelbach Falls. The information plaque said something confusing like, "The only waterfall inside a cave fed by glacier water melted from a west-facing slope that is the site of a penguin nesting ground in Europe." So I think they were trying to push it as a feature unique to Switzerland, but kept being corrected about its uniqueness, so they kept adding qualifiers to the description.

They really didn't need to worry. The waterfall was neat enough, even if it isn't exactly the only one in the entire world. The It goes straight down the side of the mountain, starting initially in a cave. So even though it is a cave-based waterfall, it was a vertical climb, not a hike back into a cave. A large elevator (or indoor funicular, as I like to call it) was available to take visitors about 3/4ths of the way up, or you could take the stairs. We rode the elevator. I'm all for a healthy stroll, but the entrance fee to see the falls up-close was $10. If I pay $10 to get into a place, I'm riding something.

The rest of our time in the valley was spent hiking through the center, along a fast moving river, gawking at waterfalls. Before we left, we checked on taking a cable car up to the top of the mountains. There were cameras at the station to show the top of the mountain blanketed in clouds as well, so we skipped it. It was for the best anyway, because the round-trip ride to the peak my friend wanted to visit was $90. (Have I complained about Switzerland being expensive yet?)

Our next stop was the town of Grindelwald. Grindelwald turned out to be a fairly large resort town. It appeared to have started-out as a ski area, but there was plenty going on in the summer too. (Did you know there's such a thing as "Nordic Walking"? It looks a lot like regular walking, but with extraneous ski-poles.) We were interested in two sights just outside of Grindelwald, Gletscherschlucht and Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher. The English versions of the names are a little simpler, "Glacier Gorge" and "Upper Grindelwald Glacier".

The guidebooks gave directions for hiking out to the sights from town, but we decided to save our hiking muscles for the interesting parts and drove. There was really no reason to walk if you had other transportation, as the paths to the gorge and the start of the glacier path were relatively uninteresting Swiss country road. Our morning hike through the Valley of 72 Waterfalls was much more scenic.

The gorge was cool, thermally and aesthetically (ugh). A 1 kilometer path, part tunnel cut into the gorge wall and part platform hanging off of it, ran alongside a rapidly moving river of glacier run-off. As with the cave waterfalls, that much rushing water in a confined area made quite a noise, and gave-off an impressive sense of power. There was a bungee-jumping platform near the start of the path (not open, darn). It didn't seem like the best place to try that particular adventure sport as the gorge wasn't too deep and it was somewhat narrow.

The gorge was surprisingly cold, with the glacier water sucking the heat out of the area. My friend got a few streams of water down his collar from ceiling drips and reported that the water was as cold as I thought, given the gorge air temperature. I did not. Yay, hats with brims!

Having seen where glaciers go when they die, it was time to visit the ice patch itself. According to the guidebook, there were ~800 stairs up to the glacier. It may have been the altitude, but I'm pretty sure I counted at least 2000. The stairs were steep and uneven, but I like climbing stairs to stand on top of hills and look down at how small my car is, so it was fun once we were on the top.

This may come as a shock, but summer is apparently not the best glacier viewing season. The glacier has been shrinking in recent years, and it was just barely visible this time of year from the top of the path. There was a suspension bridge you could cross to theoretically get a better look at the glacier, but the ice was so far up the mountain, the view was actually better on the near side of the bridge. The only ice we got close to was the ice cream my friend had when we made it back down to the base (and at dinner, come to think of it, we had a lot of ice cream today).

This weekend, there's a music festival going on in Interlaken. Even though our hotel is outside of town, you can hear the festival through the entire valley. The theme seems to be Goth/Industrial (the headliner is Rammstein). It doesn't quite fit with what you think of as the "Alpine Valley" spirit, but it's relatively entertaining.
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