Despite all the moving and shaking, Toni and I have been traveling as much as possible, as often as possible. I’ll try to hit all the main points as I wend my way backwards through all my recent work as I upgrade my system to Light Room, but it’s gonna take a while. It looks like the last time I posted here I was describing the culinary adventure that was Charleston, SC. That leaves basically all of our experiences untouched and I’m kinda embarrassed about that. So over the next several posts, here’s the lot in order of awesome!
First up is Grindelwald, CH.
Amazing. I’ve always been into the mountains and mountaineering and the lore associated with conquering (or at least surviving) the highest and most inhospitable places on the planet. I personally gravitate towards climbing mountains that are less likely to kill me (e.g.: Fuji and Long’s Peak), but the stories of epic spirit and adventure as well as sacrifice that accompany ascents of the big mountains hold a certain amount of romantic appeal to me. One of the more storied peaks in Europe (at least in climbing circles) is the Eiger in the Berenese Oberland section of the Swiss Alps. The Nordwand or North Face of this mountain has claimed the lives of at least 64 climbers since 1935 and several movies/documentaries/books have been made/written of some of the more harrowing journeys. So this mountain and locale called to us in a big way.
Astoundingly, the valleys on the north side of the mountain as well as the ridge between them are quite populated and the flanks of the mountain itself are quite easily accessible. We chose to stay in Grindelwald, a small town at the head of a valley at the very base of the mountain, in a hotel with an amazing view from our balcony:
Fantastic stuff! The place was chock full of tourists and felt quite like a high end ski resort town in the States. Perfect for our little vacation! It’s a charming little place with excellent, if expensive, food and friendly locals. Amusingly for us, there is an official Japanese tourism office there and probably more Japanese tourists than I’ve seen anywhere outside of Japan as a percentage than anywhere save Guam (at least to date). Kinda fun!
So we wandered around town a bit and enjoyed the food and drink and most of all the views, but we wanted a bit more. The weather was pretty bad the whole time we were there…we had sun the day/evening we arrived and the day we left (not including when we rose above it, but that story is coming) and sporadically in between. The rest was rain and overcast. We had grand plans to see so much of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau (the latter being the other two peaks in the chain), but it seemed that nature was conspiring against us. So, being us, we improvised and spent our first whole day in Lauterbrunen, the next valley over. Simply a fairy tale on Earth. It’s a small town located in the bottom of a glacial valley that left thousand foot rock cliffs and mind blowing waterfalls and cascades from the highlands above. We spent several hours wandering around and eventually took a cable car up to one of the famous mountain trains that gained us access to Mürren, where private cars are forbidden. It’s a cool little place, but it was pouring rain the entire time we were there. Also, finding a place to eat was a problem and we got a little grumpy trying to stay dry and eat the sandwiches we had brought with us. Turns out that public seating (at least any sort that is sheltered) is a rare commodity in the area. So on we hiked and ended up deciding to hike down from Mürren rather than take the train/cable car combo.
As far as hikes go, it was rather like hiking on a ski mountain in the summer or on fire roads…beautiful, but not a very inspiring trail in and of itself. That is until we got down into the upper reaches of civilization in the valley and hiked through several cow pastures and amongst many cows. A little on the stinky side, but fun being on a trail like that. Adding to our amusement was the fact that every sign that we saw on our way down gave very nearly the same distance to Lauterbrunnen: 1 std (hour). Every time. These were signs that were half to an hour apart. It got to be a joke pretty quickly and by the time we finally got down, it had taken us the better part of three or four hours to make the hike. Granted we were hiking in the rain and going a little slower because of that and stopping for me to take photos when there were breaks in the rain, but it was still pretty silly.
We went home soaked but happy and found some nice fondu to take the edge off!
The next day was as dreary as the last and we headed back to Lauterbrunnen to go further up the valley and see what we could see. We found spotty sunlight and a few more lovely waterfalls, finally deciding that we’d take a stab at heading up to the Jungfraujoch: the highest rail station in Europe at 11,388′. We had, until then, decided that it wouldn’t be worth it because you couldn’t see anything and the ticket was so damn expensive. Wandering around in a cable car station, we caught a glimpse of a live cam from there and it was clear and wonderful. So we scrambled. We just barely made the train we were after and started the almost three hour journey through the mountains (literally, it goes through the Eiger and Monch themselves) to the top.
Even coming from Japan where we trained it everywhere, this was a special train. All the lines that ascend from the valley floor are cog railways, meaning that there is a large rail in between the two for the wheels that is notched so that a cog on the drive axel can engage and, well, drive the train forward. This is because the tracks are insanely steep in places and that can seriously mess with your head. I found that because I’m used to trains being relatively level affairs, when we were at serious angles, things outside the train looked like they were tipping over. Not because anything outside was, but because my brain was pushed outside of it’s norm and was rebelling. It’s a pretty funny feeling. Also, it’s a pretty slow train. And people don’t have any problems stealing your seat when you aren’t looking. Awesome. So up we went through Wenger and Kleine Scheidegg (where we changed trains) and on into the Eiger. A little way in, there is a stop that actually looks out of the lower portion of the Eiger Nordwand. Many rescues and attempts at the same have been staged from this station in the past, but now it’s glassed in and in my opinion thusly loses some of its charm. Also, on the day we were there, the face was socked in with clouds, so visibility was zero. Bummer, but I’m sure we’ll be back some day. The next stop was overlooking the Eismeer glacier and owing to its position on the south side of the Monch, put us in brilliant sunlight and clear views. Unfortunately this station is also glassed in, but what can you do? That problem was remedied at the Junfraujoch itself. After a very expensive lunch, we headed out into the open air of the Sphinx observatory. Epic views of the Eismeer and off the north side over the vast expanse of the clouds below. One truly feels on top of the world. All the better that you took a train there!
Back down we went after waiting in an insane mob to board the train, and made our way back to our hotel and another wonderful night’s sleep. The journey out of Switzerland and back home was pretty uneventful compared to our arrival (forgot about the ATM hunt for Swiss Franks to pay the highway toll) and thus concluded our best trip to date!
Here are some photos, both from my iPhone and 5D, from the trip. More will be posted to travelingross.com when I can wrap my head around the zenfolio plug-in for Light Room.