My most gentrified hike was nine days through the Bernese Oberland, over the passes among some of the most spectacular mountains of Switzerland.
We began at Montreux, Switzerland on the shore of Lake Geneva. And ended nine days later at Mönchshutte, the highest hut in Switzerland, at 12,001 feet elevation in the Bernese Alps.
The Sorting Out
My friend, Lou Perez, invited me as the thirteenth hiker to join a group being put together by his friend, Herb Klinger and wife, Judy, for a trek from hut to hut across the highest passes in the Swiss Alps.
By departure date, though, the group had dwindled down to seven of us.
The other three couples couldn’t make it for a variety of reasons — sickness, work schedules, etcetera. Lou and his wife, Patti, were among the drop-outs.
While I had only met Herb and Judy once and didn’t know any of the others, I was still gung-ho to go.
I was virtually alone among strangers, three couples and me.
Five of us gathered in Montreux. We got acquainted at dinner and breakfast in our hotel before hoofing it up into the forests of the Alpine foothills.
A third couple of newlyweds joined us for their honeymoon at a hut our first night on the trail.
We hit pay-dirt our third night with a gin-and-tonic-and-wine dinner in an Alpine resort town. Otherwise it was rustic mountain huts until we reached Kandersteg. The huts were modest but their views and food were terrific.
Our hiking route took us across one mountain pass after another, then down into lowlands on the opposite side before climbing to the next pass.
We stayed most nights in mountain hut dorms.
But when we got to Kandersteg we passed up all the three-star resort hotels in town.
Instead, we hiked on through town and a couple of miles up into the lower reaches of the next mountain pass, to our next night’s lodging.
Methane Mountain-Aire Resort
Herb had booked us for the night in a farmhouse in a bucolic mountain meadow near one of Switzerland’s most beautiful mountain lakes, Lake Oeschinen, on the famous Allmenalp Trail.
The idea was to cut down the distance we’d have to climb to our next night’s lodging.
It sounded so romantic in the brochure we could hardly wait to get there.
However, upon arrival we discovered that our farmhouse-night was to be spent in what Herb later dubbed a Methane Mountain-Aire resort, with heavy emphasis upon the methane.
We were shown to our co-ed “bedroom,” which had the strong stench of cow and goat manure.
We now knew what the Holy Family had to endure their fateful night, ‘rooming’ by their babe in the manger!
After a few nauseating sniffs, I chose instead to sleep out under the stars, which while chilly was in delightfully fresh mountain air.
I must add that, I was greeted in the morning by close company of some of the farm’s goats.
The next day was the most memorable of the entire hike.
I was feeling exceptionally energetic.
It was a brilliant Alpine sunny day.
I was fresh and eager to trot.
Just as we were setting out that morning, a young attractive woman hiker passed by on our trail.
That motivated me. I decided to catch up and hike with her to the pass
I strode out heartily ahead of our group.
But after several minutes of quick-stepping I saw that I was not gaining on her.
So I upped my speed.
Still she remained way ahead of me and the distance between us did not seem to have shortened much.
I put on more steam and did gain a bit on her, but at a great cost of energy.
The trail was steepening and I could feel energy uselessly slipping away from me.
I had to slacken my pace and, in doing so, was just able to keep up to her pace, maintaining a steady distance between us.
I was impressed.
And allowed myself to enjoy the remainder of the three-hour push to the pass where I had to wait for the rest of my group, while the lady hiker continued on her way across the pass.
There was a fine hostel at the pass, the Blüemlisalphütte, which was famous, though I had no idea of that at the time. I just considered it “another mountain hut.”
While I waited for the others I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and a Swiss pastry.
“Hut” barely describes these mountain facilities, for they really are a more full-service inn, though on a more humble scale.
And they are huge.
This one could sleep 138 hikers. And when we stayed in it, our three ladies were the only females among something over a hundred male hikers.
What a pleasure just taking in the mountain scene from the hut.
We arose to greet the dawn with the rest of the hikers.
We were in fine shape for our next day’s hike, though in no hurry to get started.
While the hiking was all down hill, it was not so easy!
The trail is so steep that one section has fixed-ropes, chains and iron hand holds to grip onto while working our down to wooden steps.
And the exposure!
While one side of the trail was a mountain wall, the other dropped off hundreds of feet through wide open space!
It was the most beautiful part of our hike though, passing by magnificent glaciers and waterfalls, one of which we had to pass beneath.
Then the trail stretched out across beautiful alpine meadows and through patches of forests down to our next night’s rest in the delightful alpine village, Griesalp.
The next morning our party dwindled to three of us.
Two couples had enough and chose to depart for more comfortable places.
Judy, Herb and I plodded on over more beautiful alpine passes and down into the Lauterbrunnen Valley where we too reached civilization, though one quite different and more joyous than what we were accustomed to — an honest-to-goodness, genuine, locals-style folksfest with all the men in lederhosen and women in frilly blouses and colorful skirts.
We ate dinner at a long table while being entertained by choral groups — one after the other — from surrounding villages.
And of course there was free-flowing beer.
Then on to Grindlewald where our actual hike ended with comfy beds in a classy inn.
Still, we were not through.
Into the Killer Mountain
For many years I had been fascinated by the North Face of the Eiger, for every successful climb the mountain took an equal number of lives — 18 climbs, 18 deaths.
Climbing deaths put such a strain on local rescue operations that the town at its base, Kleine Scheidegg, forbade more climbers from trying it. This of course just whet the draw for more climbers willing to risk it.
I wasn’t one of them. But I had long imagined what it would be like to climb it.
Eiger Train to the 2nd Highest Rail Station in Switzerland
Herb, Judy and I took the train from Interlaken to Kleine Scheidegg where we had a splendid view of the North Face of the Eiger.
After a bit of sight-seeing, we took another train to the second highest train station in the Alps, the Eiger Glacier Station atop the 11,000-foot Jungfraujoch.
What was so inviting about this train was that its first stop was at the very base of the Eiger’s North Wall.
We got off of course, because I was eager for the thrill of walking around the camp where climbers were preparing for their turn at the dreaded North Face.
I had an exhilarating chat with four Japanese climbers who were starting their climb in the early pre-dawn the next day.
Just chatting with them sent chills up my spine.
I had read so much about the Eiger’s North Face that I vicariously joined in their preparations.
I knew each challenging difficulty they would encounter and every narrow ledge where they would have to bivouac, spending their nights roped to the frosted, rocky face of the mountain.
We were back aboard the train when it left for the next segment of its route.
It entered the tunnel cutting through the Eiger and on through a section of the Jungfrau.
It made two stops in the tunnel allowing us to look out over surrounding peaks through large openings in the walls of the mountains..
The cog-railway finally empties out onto the edge of the Aletsch Glacier, this section dubbed the Ice House where the cog-rail station is situated, with its restaurant.
After a bit of lunch, Judy and I hiked the mile-and-a-half up the glacier to have a peek into the second highest occupied hut in Switzerland, the Mönchsjochhutte.
This hut is perched precariously 12,001 feet high up on the side of the alpine peak, named the Mönch.
The hut is in the notch between two of Switzerland’s highest mountains, with spectacular views of surrounding peaks in all directions.
What a fabulous ending to our nine-day hike!
We then returned to life in a city. Though it was in Switzerland, still it was a city.
We talked about our hike and other hikes we’d like to take.
Herb told me about a guy who’d been on a previous Alpine hike with him.
This fellow was so impressed with the Alps that he immediately went off to Zermatt to climb the Matterhorn.
“So of course,” Herb said, “you mentioned wanting to climb Monte Rosa, the highest peak in Switzerland.”
“Yeah,” I said. “it’s on my ‘someday — I’ll’ list.”
“But Bill,” Herb said, “You’re already here in Switzerland. Why not climb it now, while you’re still young and strong enough?”
I thought about it a few minutes, then headed over to Zermatt to hire a guide.
That turned out to be another adventure that had some unexpected twists that i wouldn’t want to have missed.
So, as a friend reminded me, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.”
I’ll be writing about God’s laughing at my climbing adventure in another post.