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Time Travel in the Swiss Alps

By: Pete Royall, posted 24th July '12

Having worked for KE for 20 years with more than half of that time spent out in the field as a trek leader, I have been fortunate to take part in some spectacular treks and expeditions all over the world. These days I have been generally ‘put out to grass’ but whenever the gate is left open I am off like a shot and so it was that I found myself a couple of weeks ago, joining a group of aficionados of Alpine walking and climbing on what turned out to be a truly sensational trek across a quiet and unspoilt corner of the Bernese Oberland.

Everybody has heard of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, the Eiger and the Jungfrau and if you go to the area around Chamonix or to the popular Eastern end of the Bernese Oberland, you will share the trails, glaciers and summits with hundreds of other trekkers and Alpinists. But if you climb the Wildhorn, not only will you get sensational views of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, the Eiger and the Jungfrau, you will probably also have them all to yourself as we did. For me, trekking through the Western Bernese Oberland was like stepping back in time to an age when just a few intrepid souls ventured above the tree line.

Sun  8th July – Sensational views of the Matterhorn

After gathering in the pretty Swiss mountain town of Aigle we started our adventure by taking a cable car up to the intriguingly named Sex Rouge at 2940 metres. It was crampons on from the very start and our UIAGM guide, Kathy Murphy, took us through the routines of roped glacier travel as we headed gradually uphill to Des Diablerets (3209m), the first of six 3,000 metre summits we would tackle in the course of the next six days. We spent our first night in a traditional stone built hut at over 2500 metres with tremendous views of the Bernese Alps including the unmistakable Matterhorn.

Mon 9th July – Alpine trekking at its best!

The next day we dropped down to the col du Sanetch before following a sinuously curving ridge to the summit slopes of our second peak, the Arpelistock (3035m). For our second night we were treated to hot showers and draught beer in the very comfortable Gelten hut in an alpine meadow setting, complete with edelweiss, tinkling goat bells and stunning waterfalls cascading down from the rocky apron of the Geternhorn (3065m), which would be the third peak in our Western Oberland series.

Tues 10th July – From the Rhine to the Rhone

On our third day, after climbing the Geltenhorn, we crossed the Col du Brochet on the main watershed between the valleys of the Rhine and the Rhone. Up to this point all the glaciers we had crossed would eventually find their way to the North Sea. From now on, the melt waters were heading for the Mediterranean! The day ended with an exhilarating ladder-assisted scramble over the Col des Audannes and down to a modern hut beside a turquoise blue lake.  By now our little band of alpine trekkers were well into the swing of hut life with gear and boots stored away, hut slippers on and enjoying a tea or a glass of wine on the viewing terrace in the late afternoon sunshine.

Wed 11th July – The magnificent Wildhorn

A highlight of the holiday, we all agreed, was the ascent on the fourth day of the Wildhorn (3247m). This is the highest peak in the Western Bernese Oberland and from its summit we had views stretching from Mont Blanc to the Eiger. The climbing, like all the peaks on this alpine trekking holiday, was technically easy but continuously interesting with a great variety of terrain. We would begin with some delightful walking on a marked trail, enjoy an easy scramble to the glaciated flanks of the peak where we put on crampons and ropes, then a steady ascent to the summit adorned with an iron or wooden cross. As this was a traverse, descent would normally involve a different route, usually down to flower-filled meadows, before picking up the standard hikers trail to our next hut.

Thursday 12th July – Trekking across the Switzeland ‘Snow Lake’

Although the Wildhorn was the literal high point of the trip we there was plenty more spectacular scenery and two more peaks to come. From the Wildstrubal hut we descended to a large level glacier known as the Plaine Morte and after crossing this vast ‘snow lake’, we began the ascent of the Wildstrubel (3242m). By now our group was fit and acclimatised so we made short work of this ascent and the subsequent Mittlerer Gipfel (also 3242m). As on all the days of this walking adventure the views of the entire alpine chain from Chamonix to Zermatt were superb. Our last hut of the holiday was the Lammeren where we met a troop of scouts from the Kandersteg International Scout Centre who entertained us during dinner with some traditional songs.

Fri 13th July – Out of the mountains to Kandersteg

On our last day in the mountains of the Bernese Oberland, we began with a rocky scramble down the trail from the hut and ended with a delightful walk through a green valley possessing two large lakes and a coffee shop serving the most delicious fresh baked apricot pie. When Kathy finally led us up the last hill to the Sunnbeil cable car station, it was with genuine regret that we rode down out of the mountains to rejoin the civilised world at Kandersteg.  

This brilliant traverse of the lesser visited western end of the Bernese Oberland was put together for KE by Kathy Murphy who has lived and worked as a guide in the Alps for many years. We were fortunate enough to have Kathy as guide for our own holiday. This was also a happy reunion for me as I have shared several adventures with Kathy since our chance meeting on the Blatoro glacier in Pakistan during her participation in the first ever British women’s expedition to an 8,000 metre peak. I could not think of a better person to have as a guide through these mountains.

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