Berner Oberland Ski Tour
Trip Start Oct 26, 2006
81Trip End Aug 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Seth and I were pretty ecstatic when our friend Keith invited us to go along with him and friends Adrian and Lissa on the Berner Oberland ski tour in Switzerland. Keith is a fully certified IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide who spends his winters in La Grave ski guiding clients around the area. In order to further build his repertoire for his guiding company, he wanted to do a practice run in the Berner Oberland before taking paying clients. So we were his very willing guinea pigs. Adrian is an aspirant guide, which means he is in the middle of taking his tests to become a fully certified guide (which is normally about a 5 year, intensive process). He will take his final test, the ski part, next year. Adrian and his wife, Lissa, live in Aspen, CO, though Adrian is rarely there as he is normally off guiding clients on climbing expeditions in places such as South America and Asia
The plan was to spend 5 nights and 6 days on the tour. We met in Interlaken on Sunday evening, to prepare for our early Monday morning start. We would begin by taking a series of trains (3 in total) from Interlaken at 568m (1863 ft) to the Jungfraujoch at 3471m (11,388 ft). The Jungfraujoch, or the "Top of Europe" as they call it, is the end of the train station at the base of the Jungfrau and Mönch mountains. Back in 1896, the Swiss bored a train tunnel up through the Eiger to get to this point. It took 30 years to drill the tunnel. The Jungfraujoch has a restaurant, hotel, highest post office in the world, as well as a high tech weather station. From afar it looks like something out of James Bond. Those Swiss are crazy! On the climb up through the Eiger the train stops at several points so that passengers can go and look out the "windows" part way up the Eiger to take in the views. After a coffee and some views from the top, we walked through the tunnel to the door leading us out to the sunshine and wild masses of mountains and glaciers. From the Jungfraujoch we had just a short 20 minute skin to the Mönchsjochhütte at 3650m (11,976 ft)
Life in the Hut
The huts are these beautifully built, environmentally-friendly structures placed at amazingly high and precarious places in the mountains, normally perched on the side of a mountain like a bird's nest. Those Swiss are crazy! Huts in the Berner Oberland are pricier than others we have stayed at - normally between 50 - 70 Swiss francs ($40 - 56) per person, per night, which includes dinner and breakfast
Tuesday brought us, once again, beautiful blue skies. Our first task upon leaving the Mönchsjochhütte was to climb and then ski off of the Jungfrau at 4100m. Adrian short-roped me again for the final part of the climb, which was much appreciated
After the Jungfrau we started skinning again, as the sun really started to heat up, and I felt myself falling farther and farther behind the group. I figured it was due to fatigue from bootpacking up both the Mönch and then the Jungfrau, which my leg muscles are not used to. At the top of the col we then descended down through the most amazing serac field I have ever seen (or maybe the only serac field I've ever descended through). We saw some of the most intense colors of blue and gray in the glacier. The final skin up before the descent to the Hollandiahutte had a couple of options. There was, of course, a longer option, which would have involved getting to the top of Abeni Flue, resulting in a 2100m day (6,700 feet of elevation gain). This is by no means something out of my ability, as Seth and I had one 2200m day in La Grave this winter, and we had just finished a week of ski touring in Italy. After that I had 4 days off just prior to starting the Berner Oberland, so plenty of recovery time. The shorter option would result in an 1800m day (5700 feet of ascending), which is about an average length ski tour for us, though maybe a little more with our heavier packs today. After maybe ¼ the way up the Abeni Flue, I basically could go no further, feeling so hot, fatigued, winded. "What is wrong with me??", I was thinking to myself. We were not at so much of a higher altitude than normal for me to be feeling this horrible. The only thing I could attribute it to was just that it was the end of a long winter and my body just needed to rest, maybe some fatigue from bootpacking, hotter sun than I'm used to, but why weren't the others feeling this way? I'm never the strongest in the group, but normally I can hold my own and keep up decently well
We arrived at the beautiful Hollandiahütte at 3238m (10,360 ft), thankful to take off our stinky, sweaty boots. There were fewer people staying at this hut, so we got a table all to ourselves for dinner and breakfast. Dinner conversation included sunburnt body parts. The sun does not spare anything that you have missed in your morning sunscreen lathering ritual. Dinner was a yummy chicken curry with rice, of which we had several helpings. In the evening I was continuing to feel very fatigued; easily winded walking up the stairs to our room, or even just rolling over in bed at night.
Woke up to yet another day of beautiful skies. Our first task of the day was to ski/glide/pole our way across the slightly descending huge glacier (can't remember the name) to the Konkordiahütte, at which point we will drop off as much as possible before doing our tour for the day. We had already heard great things about this hut, including the 150m (480ft.) stairway going straight up the mountain to the hut. When they first built the original hut in 1877 (they have since rebuilt several times and expanded), it was built right next to the glacier
That night I woke up at 1am and the small, stuffy room we were sleeping in with 10 other people seemed to make breathing difficult. Then I started hearing this funny noise as I exhaled. I realized that this noise was coming from my lungs! The only way I can describe it is the sound that comes from a paper bag after you have blown air into it to fill it, then suck the air back in
Very special thanks to Keith for organizing this trip and inviting us to come along. We felt very honored to get the invitation and hope that we can convince some of our friends and family to use his mountain guiding services at some point
→ www.allmountainadventures.com ←
→ www.alpenglowexpeditions.com ←
Diagnosis: I finally made it to a doctor 4 days later back in La Grave to get an official diagnosis and to find out if I had any lingering issues in my lungs. After describing the events leading up to, as well as the culmination of awful crackling noises coming from my lungs, she said that I definitely had pulmonary edema, and it was a very good thing that we descended when we did. Fortunately, after giving me a good check-up, she said that everything now sounds completely normal. Pulmonary edema is essentially fluid accumulation in the lungs, due to the failure of the heart to remove fluid from lung circulation (from lack of oxygen). High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is the major cause of death related to high altitude exposure with a high mortality in absence of emergency treatment. The signs/symptoms listed in Wikipedia that I had were: difficulty breathing, frequent urination at night, inability to lie down flat due to breathlessness, and pale skin. According to the doctor, my first signs were the phlegmy cough the afternoon before, as well as the abnormal fatigue on the 2nd and 3rd days leading up to it.