Lucerne to Bern - 13 July
With a little more confusion over our wanting to extend the car rental we rescheduled our visit to Bern and decided today was the day. We were pleased to spend some time in the Swiss capital as it is gorgeous, fortunately it does not feel like a capital city. Our visit included giggling at the fountain depicting a giant devouring young children like Swiss chocolates, admiring the covered walkways and beautifully kept old town set in the bend of the emerald coloured river.
We headed to the opposite bank to say hello to the bears and dodged the buldosers and workman on our way back to the fresh food market. How can you resist freshly made ravioli, really. Our priority for the afternoon was to make our way from this beautiful capital to the heart of the Swiss alps in Berner Oberland. As if there isn't enough distraction for a driver in Europe, when we approached Interlarken and caught a glimps of the snow capped mountains in the background a Red Bull stunt plane competing in the Air Challenge raced just over our head. After a short stop by the glacial torrents we found our campsite in Grindelwald with an unobstructed view of the North Face on the great Eiger Mountain. This looming 2 km high wall of rock and ice became the perfect backdrop for our breakfasts and dinners for the following few days, AWESOME!
Day 1 - Jungfraujoch - 14 July
As impoversihed backpackers and determined to beat the tour buses to the highest railway station in Europe we opted for the early bird special ticket to Jungfraujoch. Luckily our campsite was situated only 5 minutes walk through the farmland to the funicular railway station so we enjoyed our sleep in till 5.30am. On the train we began talking with a lovely German couple named Veronika and Matthew who are currently living in Interlarken. Our first stop was to change trains before entering the long tunnel through the mountain. The first viewpoint was a window situated half way up the North Face, so we checked the tent was still there and it was.
When we reached the top at Jungfraujoch and scrambled up the snow to the second view point we were blown away by the near endless view of the Swiss Alps and Europes longest glacier, the Grosser Aletschgletscher at near 25 kms long. Swapping cameras back and forth between the two couples was a welcome relief from the far more difficult task of taking shots at arms length.
We ventured deep into the glacial man made ice cave to admire the ice carvings, explore the tunnels and enjoy sliding on our boots as if ice skating. The greater challenge was to come as we headed outdoors for the hour long hike across the upper glacier to the mountain hut around the corner. Puffing and panting in the thin air we were continually commenting to one another on the spectacular vistas. The pair of hiking poles Steve has been diligent in carrying since Austria came in very handy on the slippery snow.
We were determined that at reaching our highest altitude ever we would brew our own cuppa to celebrate. Unknowingly we were relying on the electric starter which at this height was rendered useless (for some reason?). Unperturbed Steve asked everyone who passed for a light and was pleased to find that few serious alpine hikers smoke. As for the tea cravings, we were saved by Matthew who came to the rescue by purchasing a lighter as a souvenir gift. The tea was possibly our best yet as we sat on top of Europe watching a small avalanche in the distance, a plane make repeated practice landings on the ice and hearing a large block of ice crack off the cliffs above us (not too close thankfully).
On our way through the mountain back down the train stopped for 20 minutes without explanation. Almost the moment it stopped Steve thought it appropriate to make jokes about spending the night then almost immediately following he got the noddies and was quiet. Veronika and Matthew suggested walking down to Alpiglen traversing the bottom of the North Face. What a wonderful walk to end the day (1.5 hours) with great company. By 6 pm that evening we could barely keep our eyes open so it was an early night for little alpinists.
Day 2 - Into the Mountains Again (Literally) - 15 July
Determined to make today relaxing and interesting after the excitement and exertion on Jungfraujoch we planned only 3 activities. First on the list was Gletshcerschlucht Gorge. The walk was approximately 1 km each way along a narrow suspended walkway over the raging glacial river below. We savoured the chilling wind that rushed through the gorge before heading out into the contrasting still and hot morning.
Back in the car we drove the short but scenic route to the adjacent valley of Lauterburnnen. The valley is home to one of the worlds only accessible glacial waterfalls inside a mountain. Trummelbachfall is a series of 10 enormous cascades falling over 150 metres with viewing platforms and tunnels carved into the rock. Our shot below does not include any water however the short glimpses of light beams caught the rising vapour which hung in the air. Seeing and hearing the awesome power of water first hand helps us understand how the surrounding valleys and mountains have been shaped over time. At any given second there is a mere 20,000 litres of water pouring over the edge carrying almost 20,000 tonnes of rock granules per year into the lakes below. The maths multiplies over millions of years to be a significant force in our world.
After a hot lunch in the moist spongy forest glen we raced down to Interlarken for the finals of the Red Bull Air Challenge. Battling the crowds initially to find a peephole through the fence was given up in favour of a quiet spot in a paddock high on a hill overlooking the whole of Interlarken, the airport where the race was being held and across the lake. While it is easy to admire the skill and courage of the pilots as they dodge and weave through air filled obstacles only metres from the ground we are still happy with our day jobs thank you very much.