Trekking through the Bernese Oberland
The Bernese Oberland in Switzerland is the home of Europe's largest glaciers. I signed up for a week-long high altitude trek across these mountains. The Bernese Oberland is part of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage Site and therefore includes some stunning scenery.
I managed to catch measles during June 2013, right in the middle of my pre-trip fitness training. This laid me low for a few weeks to the point where I struggled even to walk up a flight of stairs. I was determined to keep my booking and get fit for the challenging trek. I was nervous that I hadn't done enough training prior to the trip when I departed the UK.
After a short flight from London, the ever efficient Swiss trains provided great views across the Alps during the journey from Zurich. I met my trip companions in Kandersteg, a small mountain town near Interlaken. We met our guide and prepared for the week-long trek departing early the next morning. All our climbing equipment and clothing was to fit in a small backpack for the duration of the trek.
Our first day was a climb up to the Kanderfirn Glacier. We traversed across the glacier to Mutthorn Hut. The clear skies provided good views across the mountains as we climbed higher. Some bad weather closed in as we approached the hut. There was hardly anyone there which was unusual for the height of summer holidays as it was late August.
The weather continued to close in the next day. We crossed the Petersgrat which was supposed to have a nice view across the mountains but the clouds, sleet and rain didn't provide much visibility. We didn't hang around in the cold conditions and descended into Falferalp via the Talgletscher. A sharp descent took us to our hotel for the night and we had the luxury of drying out our clothes before a well earned dinner.
Fortunately the next morning was cold and clear for our climb up to Hollandia Hut. We crossed farmland before having coffee and cake at the refurbished Anenhutte. We continued along the valley until we reached the Langgletscher and put our crampons on for traversing the glacier. The air was very still and the sun was warm which made for a sweaty climb up the glacial bowl. We couldn't rest too much as the warming sun was melting ice holding rocks up high which occasionally fell nearby. We made it up to the Lotschenlucke pass and roped up for the steep remainder of the climb into Hollandia Hut. The drop to the left was significant where even a small slip could mean a major fall. Hollandia Hut had a great view down the valley to Mont Blanc and we were treated to a spectacular sunset.
The next morning was a 4am alpine start to allow a summit attempt. We climbed steadily from the Hollandia hut before traversing a large glacial bowl. We didn't stop as it was quite cold. There was a steep climb around the back of the peak with a few large crevasses which we were careful to avoid. A few crevasses required jumping over but our ropes kept us safe. I remembered from my mountaineering training: don't fall down a crevasse! We reached the summit of Abeni Flue around 7am. It was perfectly still so we were lucky to spend some time up there admiring the view across the mountains. Mont Blanc, Jangfrau and the Eiger were all visible amongst others. A great summit feeling!
We descended as the sun got higher and it was very warm as we crossed the glacier. We still had all our warm clothes on for the early morning start so we were soon overheating. It was a relief to get back to Hollandia Hut and cool down and have a well earned brunch. Our route took us down to Konkordia which is a junction of several large glaciers at the top of the Aletsch Glacier. This presented a maze of huge crevasses and rocks. We were roped up initially but soon the Aletschfirn Glacier became dry so we unroped and kept our crampons on so we could jump across the countless crevasses. I avoided looking down the crevasses as they were so deep that I couldn't even see the bottom of many of them. The glacier is around 900m deep in some parts.
After crossing Konkordia, our final task of the day was to climb about 780 steps up a cliff to our hut for the night, Konkordiahutte. My legs were telling me otherwise. Apparently these metal stairs were much safer than the older wooden stairs which we could see strewn over the rockface. They didn't hide the fall below which was a few hundred meters. It's a common problem in the Alps these days. With the retreating glaciers, many huts are now high above the glaciers which makes for a difficult climb to reach the hut which is unwelcome at the end of a long day.
My mountain boots were very stiff which were great for vertical ice climbing but not so great for traversing glacial terrains. At the end of a 12 hour day, it was a relief to peel off my boots and air my feet. This also revealed some huge blisters on the back of each of my heals. I had taped up my heals as a precaution earlier in the day but the boots had worn through the tape to my skin. Our guide drained each blister and we were careful to apply disinfectant to prevent any infection. We doubled up on the dressing by using blistex and trusty gaffer tape. A beer helped numb the pain!
We slept in until 6am when we descended the 780 steps and crossed into a nearby valley for a steep climb up to the pass at Grunhornluke. It was very cold in the morning light but at least the sun was slowly becoming warmer. It was hard ice so we roped up and dug in with our crampons. We saw some other climbers for the first time in a week crossing over the pass. We couldn't understand why there weren't many other climbers around in the peak of the climbing season.
Another descent to Fieschergletscher yielded more crevasse crossings. These were some of the larger crevasses and we had to change our course on a number of occasions as we came to dead ends in our route. As it was another dry glacier we only had our crampons and no ropes.
As we descended we could see across to Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn to the south. We had another climb to the Oberaarjoch and our final mountain hut of the trip. As it was midday, the sun was very warm for our climb. Some jet fighters came out of nowhere to give us an awesome display right above the Studergletscher. The air display lasted for a good 15 minutes and was a welcome distraction from the hot climb we were facing. We continued on towards the hut. The steepest part of the climb was at the end of the day. Then there was the scramble up to the Oberaarjoch Hut itself over a rock crag. Fortunately there was a ladder to assist but again there was no room for any mistakes with the large drop below us.
The Oberaarjoch hut had a terrific view across the glacier we had just climbed and we enjoyed some very refreshing beer as we watched other climbers. This was probably the busiest hut we'd stayed in.
There was mist coming up the valley for our last day which provided very atmospheric views across the mountains as we prepared for our final descent down the Oberaargletscher. It was a straightforward walk down the glacier. We took our ropes off partway down and enjoyed the view which opened up across the valley.
We reached Oberaarsee Lake and saw some day walkers who were the first "normal" people we had seen in a week. A miscommunication with our taxi company meant we had to walk an extra 10km down the road past the carpark to Grimselpass. My feet were very sore in the mountain boots but fortunately they survived. We were at Grimselpass by lunchtime and had shared some beer to celebrate completing our trip. Motorbikes and cars were everywhere which was quite a change from the quiet of the mountains we'd enjoyed for the past week.
A bus and train from Grimselpass took us into Interlaken where our kit bags of clean clothes allowed us to have a shower and look respectable again. We had a good meal that night and sleep well with the satisfaction of successfully completing a challenging trek through the Swiss Alps.
The next morning we had a brief tour around the stunning Interlaken and the Harder Kulm lookout in sunny skies. The pouring rain settled in for our train trip back to Zurich. We were very lucky with the weather!
It was a great trek to complete. We had some amazing mountain landscapes to ourselves for much of the trek and it's always a privilege to experience an alpine environment.
More photos from our trip are in my photo gallery: http://elly.net.au/bernese-oberland
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