Saturday, 12 September 2009

day 6: The Last Day

Day 6 The Last Day

The last day of our concessionary rail pass, that is, and the last day of our hiking journeys into the mountains. So one last effort to plaster blistered toes, don walking boots and head off on the train to Grindelwald, and then onto the magnificent First chair lift, which rises to an awe-inspiring 2168m. We were up a bit later than we should have been, but the cloudy start and sixth day’s activity on the trot, meant that we were a bit slower than usual. But after a quick adjustment to the route, we were off. We’d made a note of the last chair-lift off the mountain, which really is our only restriction on the day, however, more of that later!!
The original route of catching a bus, or as Wilkie calls it “a buzz”, to Bussalp and walking from there up to Faulhorn and onto the Hiendertellti route up to Schwarzhorn and down to Grosse Scheidegg would take us about 7hours and was virtually impossible without an overnight stop. It does n’t really look that far on the map, but distances are really deceptive. One mention about the walking times signposted around here. Now, we don’t hang around! We’re used to snacking and drinking on the move. But the times here are tight. They don’t take into account any stops for breaks, photo-taking, slowing down cos you’re getting tired! But basically, if it’s taking you longer than the recommended time for the hike then maybe you should think again! It’s so easy to think that that peak isn’t too far away, only to find you’re still climbing it at a brisk pace, an hour or so later!
We’d adjusted the route to go from First, up and down to the base of Schwarzhorn and reaching the top of Wildgarst, recommended in the Bernese Alps walking guide, returning by the same route to First. Fairly straightforward. There is a Via Ferrata ascending Schwarzhorn, but it wasn’t recommended in bad weather. It was a bit cloudy, so we’d see how we felt.
From First onto Bachalpsee lake (which we skirted in the Schynige Platte route a few days earlier), the path split and we followed it up and over the saddle, descending through a boulder field into the “Hinterberg hanging valley”. We passed along the shores of the Hagelsee lake. Trundling on over scree, we passed another tarn called Haxenseeli, with the bleak, dark walls of the Schwarzhorn mountain filling the view ahead. If you looked closely, you could make out the ladders and metal cables of the via ferrata, used to scale the Schwarzhorn ridge. Though the mist was down, only clearing occasionally with the swirling wind, I could see a few people on the ridge. Mad! We’d come across and used via ferratas on Kinabalu and the Pinnacles in Malaysia and in the Southern Highlands NSW, Australia, but I wouldn’t like to attempt the Schwarzhorn ridge unless ascending it in good weather. Not today!
More climbing through amazing rock formations, looking up at more striped and lined grey and browny rocks. That’s something I must do. Look up some idiot’s guide to geology, so I can start to understand what’s happened to these incredible lumps of grey, white and brown, striped, razor-sharp stuff!!! At the top of another saddle, Schwarzhorn was on the right, and Wildgarst was on the left. We reached the summit in about three and a half hours from First, exactly what it said on the signposts and in the guide! Superb views all around on a better day. Today a brief glimpse here and there, enticing you to come back again and try it another day!
We’d have to get a move on to get the last chairlift off. Otherwise we’d be faced by a further two and half hours walk back to Grindelwald, and there was no chance of that happening. So a quick oat bar and cheese butty, all of five minutes rest, and then trudge onwards. With the mist completely down, navigation was quite tricky, but with recalling what the way up had been like, and staring around for the white-red-white signs painted on boulders and scree, we made our way down as fast as sore knees could pick their way through the rocks! We past a young couple who’d got a bit lost, had had to change their route and asked us how far it was to the top of Wildgarst! We politely suggested they forget it! They’d got no chance of making it to the top and back in time! And if they’d got lost at this earlier stage, they’d find it very difficult higher up! Apart from them, we only met one other couple, who did go up Schwarzhorn, and we reckon that no-one else had been up Wildgarst that day. We’d got our wish of going to a much less visited area of the mountains!
We pushed on, Ian reassuring me that we were alright for time. But when we reached the First cable car, we realised that the last gondola didn’t depart in an hour and fifteen minutes, it departed in fifteen minutes! Since Sept 8, they’d brought it forward an hour. How close we’d been to having to add two and half to three hours walking very steep downhill onto what had already been five hours and forty minutes! Phew!!!!
On the way down, there was time to relax, count our blessings, and be grateful that on the seventh day God said unto the tired and weary, take the day off!!!!

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