Dent d’Oche

Dent d’Oche (2222 m) is a prominent mountain seen from Lausanne, and while I lived in Lausanne I would often look at it across the lake and think that one day I should walk up there. In late summer this year I finally did. We walked from Fontaine, up past Darbon and the Chalets d’Oche, then steeply up the south-west side of Dent d’Oche to go past the refuge and get to the summit.

Dent d’Oche from the French side, with the path up on the left.

From the top there were breathtaking views: to the north was the giant Lac Léman with Lausanne on its other shore and the Jura in the distance. To the south, Mont Blanc’s pale form hovered mystically on the horizon. Nearby there were rows and rows of jagged mountains, including the Dents du Midi and Cornettes de Bise. It was a magnificently clear day.

The view down to the easten end of Lac Léman, with Montreux.
Across the lake to Lausanne.
South-east to the Dents du Midi.
Grammont (L) and the Cornettes de Bise (R).
North-east to Vevey.
West towards Geneva.

Here are two panorama pictures: the first looks north-west, the second south-east.

We traversed the mountain and walked down on the east side of the summit, then over a little col to the Lac de Darbon and up to cut under the Pointe de Bénévent. The views of the Cornettes de Bise became more and more impressive.

Cornettes de Bise.
Here the Grand Combin appeared between the Cornettes and the Dents du Midi.
More Cornettes de Bise.

While walking near Mont de Chillon we were shepherded past a flock of sheep by a very large, white, shepherd dog (un patou) who ensured we kept a safe distance. Unlike the last time I met a patou on a hike, this time there was no barking and we were allowed to pass. This was extra lucky because right after we were out of range of the dog, we saw a truly enormous herd of bouquetin (ibex) just hanging out in the sunny field. There were at least 30 of them! It made for a wonderful end to a wonderful walk.

Cornettes de Bise reflected in the Lac de Fontaine.
September 23, 2018
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L’Argentine

The Argentine is a spiny backbone of rock between Les Diablerets and Grand Muveran, in the canton of Vaud. We hiked to its second highest point, the Haute Corde, on a warm summer’s day. Actually, this was a bike and hike, because we started lower in the valley, biked up to Solalex, then hiked the rest of the way to the summit. L’Argentine is a climber’s paradise and seeing all the climbers topping out of the Mirroir d’Argentine made me think fondly of the freedom of moving on rock above the void, and made my fingers itch for chalk. We took the long way up past Anzeinde and the Col des Essets, and got back to Solalex by dropping down a steep and exposed gully. After darkness fell we swooped back down the valley on our bikes, hooping down dark roads in the fresh coolness of the evening.

Happy cows near the Col des Essets.
Haute Pointe seen from Haute Corde.
Les Diablerets (with amazing rock folds).
Edelweiss!
The Argentine at dusk, from Solalex.
September 2, 2018
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Sustenhorn

On Swiss national day, the first of August, Tanya and I walked from Steingletscher to the Tierberglihütte. The path rose gently from the valley before a sudden uphill section climbed 700 m in one go, and before we knew it we arrived at the hut, right as a thunderstorm rolled over the surrounding peaks.

Sustenhorn (3502 m).
Steingletscher.

Bizarrely, we were the only clients staying in the hut. Inside the dining room as it stormed outside were four or five bees, trapped against the glass, and after letting them out it was only us and the hut wardens left. That night there was a spectacular post-storm sunset that lit up our objective for the next morning — the Sustenhorn.

Sunset colours from the Tierberglihütte.
Sunset over Giglistock (2900 m).
Crevasses lit by the setting sun.
This photo shows the entire route across the glacier and up Sustenhorn.
The view down to the Sustenpass.
A very quiet Tierberglihütte.

In the morning we rose early, ate breakfast, and set out onto the ice of the Steingletscher. Normally in the Alps there are at least a few other groups going up any mountain we choose to climb, and it was strange and surprisingly unnerving to step out onto the glacier with not another soul around.

(Tanya for scale).

Higher on the glacier, there were some impressively open crevasses for us to cross, and we moved carefully. Higher still we came to a point where there was sheet ice that wasn’t comfortable going, and while we considered whether there was another way around, clouds started forming on the summit. We made the decision to turn around and leave the mountain for another day.

Crevasses and weather.

The trip was great fun. Our wander on the glacier was exciting and we had incredible views. To get home we took the bus from Steingletscher over the Sustenpass and all the way down into Valais, from where we could take a train through a tunnel to get back to Bern. It made for an interesting round trip and a satisfying end to a couple of days in the hills.

Gwächtenhorn (3404 m).
Our route went to the right of these seracs.
Just off the glacier.
August 29, 2018
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Rome

Here are some pictures from a trip to Rome. Rome is almost unimaginably old, which is fascinating, and I was continually reminded of Ozymandias. We spent a weekend looking upon the works of Rome, but did not despair, mostly because modern Rome has great food and an incredible atmosphere.

The Roman Forum.
Colosseum from the forum.
The roof of the Pantheon.
Inside the Pantheon.
View from the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.
Not much room on the stairs inside the St Peter’s dome.
St Peter’s Basilica.
Street art in Rome.
View over Rome to St Peter’s.
The courtyard of the Capitoline Museum.
August 26, 2018
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Trifthütte

The Triftgletscher lies a couple of valleys above Meiringen in the Swiss canton of Bern. To get there, like anywhere in Switzerland, you can take public transport and then walk. You get the train to Meiringen, catch a tiny one-carriage train to Innertkirchen, jump on a post bus to Triftbahn, and then you have the option to either catch a cable car and walk, or just walk from the road. Andy, Karl, Tanya and I took the second option and weaved our way on foot through gorgeous fields, past the end of the cable car, and to the Windegghütte at 1887 m. From there a short scramble through rocks took us towards Triftbrücke and our first glimpse of the Trift glacier itself.

The Triftgletscher.
Triftgletscher over the newly formed Triftsee.

Looking at this glacier on historic maps I was shocked and greatly saddened to see how much it has melted recently. Look at the photo above, and then consider that as recently as the year 2000 no lake existed — the glacial itself covered the entire valley floor. (The first Swiss map to show the lake is from 2007). The photo is taken from a new bridge which is an impressive distance above the river below, and maps from the 1950s show ice well above the bridge level. It is upsetting to see the effects of climate change happening so clearly and so quickly.

The view down from the bridge at Triftbrücke.

We kept walking. After the bridge the track changed from a “mountain” path to an “alpine” path and as if to prove the point the track immediately presented several ladders to climb down and then a couple of small river crossings. We climbed steeply up the east side of the valley, making the lake smaller and smaller as it fell away below us.

Ladders!
It was rhododendron season and the bright flowers were everywhere.
Gorgeous hiking country.
Monster rock!
A track marker and the ever-present rhodos.

The track sidled around the slope and was quite steep at times, and there were chains strung between handy rocks that we could hold onto as an extra bit of assurance. As we got higher, the icy plains above the glacier snout opened up, and we could see more and more of the surrounding snowy peaks.

Tanya and Karl hiking above the Triftsee (the bridge is way back in the narrow section of the valley, next to the lake).
Now on level with the Triftgletscher.

After a good day’s walk, we arrived at the Trifthütte at 2520 m. We were very warmly welcomed, and the scenery was spectacular: clouds played around the tops and occasionally the sound of ice moving in the glacier would reach us at the hut.

At Trifthütte.

That evening there was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in the mountains.

Sunset from Trifthütte.

The next day just involved walking down again! We explored the edge of the ice field, and then turned for the descent, leaving behind us the melting glacier and its rhododendrons.

Morning at Trifthütte.
Look carefully here to see Tanya in silhouette.
Triftsee from on high.
Tanya and Andy exploring the moraine.
Rhododendrons on the descent.
August 19, 2018
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Schwarenbach

Back in June, together with Tanya’s sister Andy, Andy’s boyfriend Karl, and friends Eric, Linda, and Matt, we walked from Kandersteg to the Berghotel Schwarenbach, and then on to the Gemmipass. It was early in the hiking season, the wildflowers were out in force, and the sun was shining strongly and melting the last of the snow drifts around the peaks.

This wooden man milks a wooden cow when the wind blows.
The team questing up a hill.
The wild-flowers were off the hook.
Tanya and Eric.
An abandoned building at Gemmipass (2315 m).
Matt and Karl hiking past snow drifts.
Daubenhorn (2942 m).
Daubensee.
Karl and Andy.
The lake under Schwarenbach.

We stayed the night at the Berghotel, and the next day walked back to Kandersteg via a different route over Schwarzgrätli. At the col we were lucky to see two ibex amble neatly across some steep névé in search of lichen on the rocks. A steep descent into the Inner Üschene valley brought us yet more wildflowers and a river crossing that required a little bit of detective work to avoid getting wet.

Mist and wildflowers.

Back in Kandersteg in the evening, we walked past this painting of a cat, which if I am not mistaken is a portrait of Tomba the Gipfelstürmer (Tomba the peak-stormer), about whom we had had the pleasure to learn at the Berghotel. Tomba was a cat who lived at Schwarenbach and became famous for accompanying mountaineers to the top of nearby mountains, including the Balmhorn (3699 m). His exploits are detailed, along with some fantastic pictures, here. He reportedly saved a couple of mountaineers from an avalanche by leading them behind a secure rock.

Tomba’s portrait on a street in Kandersteg.
August 18, 2018
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Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen

Tanya’s sister Andy and Andy’s boyfriend Karl came to visit us in Bern, and we did some excellent hiking in the Alps. At the end of June we went to Grindelwald, and walked over Kleine Scheidegg, up to the Eigergletscher station (yes, there’s a train even up here!), then down to Lauterbrunnen. It turned out to be a long walk of over 26 km and about 1400 m of climb, and the views were spectacular the entire way, from the start under the north face of the Eiger to the end in the incredible Lauterbrunnen valley that inspired Tolkien’s Rivendell. Here are photos from this hike.

Grindelwald and Wetterhorn (3692 m).
Swiss scene — cows under the Eiger north wall.
Tanya and the Eiger.
Rock walls under Mönch.
Lunch spot under the Eiger (3970 m).
Looking up at Mönch (4107 m).
Tanya and Karl starting the descent near Eigergletscher.
The wildflowers were in fantastic form.
Eiger and Mönch.
Valley time.
Looking up at Jungfrau (4158 m).
Mönch, Jungfraujoch, and Jungfrau.
Karl, Andy, and Tanya under the Jungfrau.
The view from on high as we walked down to Lauterbrunnen.
August 3, 2018
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Strasbourg to Basel

My brother Alex spent a couple of months riding his bike around Europe this year. He started in Rotterdam in May, and in early June Tanya and I caught the train to Strasbourg to ride with him on a small segment of his trip.

Dusk clouds in Strasbourg.

In Strasbourg we braved storm clouds to go for tartes flambées, and gee they were amazing. Fuelled by the cream and ham tartes, the next day we started riding on the Eurovelo 5 bike route, which weaves through gorgeous vineyards to Colmar.

Strasbourg in the morning.
From the top of the Strasbourg cathedral.
My excellent steed.
Alex enjoying EuroVelo 5.

Along the way we saw storks — they are giant — nesting in improbable places. Every turn of the path brought more amazing views, including back over the plains to Strasbourg where we could, even late in the day, still see the imposing Strasbourg cathedral standing out. We arrived in Colmar with time to walk around and enjoy the old town.

Stork nest over the gate of a town.
Canals in Colmar.
Colmar’s “Petite Venise”.

The next day we headed early into the vines and continued wending our way across the countryside towards Basel.

French wildflowers.

During this warm day Alex developed a particularly strong craving for a coke, and started to look for one in every little town we passed through. But all the shops were shut because it was Sunday in France. Eventually we saw a lone vending machine baking in the sun on the side of the road. Alex screeched to a halt, and the machine promptly ate several of his previous euro coins without delivering anything in return.

Somewhere around Mulhouse we stopped following the vineyard route and switched to riding along the Rhine, where the path is flat and fast. In the early evening we arrived in Basel and crossed the bridge past the triple junction where Switzerland, Germany, and France all meet. The sun set on our trip while we rode through Basel to the train station, where we rushed onto the train to Bern.

Tanya in Mulhouse.
Next to the Rhine.
Switzerland on the left, France on the right, Germany behind and left.
Basel at sunset.
August 3, 2018
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Grosse Scheidegg

Grosse Scheidegg is a mountain pass between Grindelwald and Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland. It’s a climb of about 1600 m, in an exciting location, with only local cars and busses allowed to use the route, and this all makes it an extremely attractive target for cyclists. Tanya and I were not remotely immune to its charms, and decided to ride it.

Early on in the day.

The weather on the day in question was forecast to be clear in the morning and then to degrade to storms later. Not wanting to tangle with any kind of alpine convection, we set out super early on the train from Bern. Much to our surprise nearly all the bike spots on the train were taken; clearly the first train is the cyclists’ choice. We rode from Meiringen south-west to Grindelwald, so as to maximise our time facing towards the looming mountains.

Near Rosenlaui.
The world’s most inviting cycle path.

As we climbed higher the road got steeper and the mountains more magnificant. At one point a fox appeared with a lonely call that sounded like a forlorn bird; he walked carefully but boldly past us and continued on his rounds.

Postbus warning.
Tanya near the top.

At the top of the pass, we were right next to the mighty Wetterhorn, and the rest of the Grindelwald valley came into view, and the Eiger and its north face were there with Mönch behind, and it was a brilliant sight.

Tanya at Grosse Scheidegg.
The postbus heading back the way we rode up.
And another postbus heading down to Grindelwald; Eiger and Mönch behind.

The ride down to Grindwald was a wonderful long descent and a beautiful rest after the hard climb; we whisked past fields with cows and wildflowers and waterfalls in the distance.

Looking up at Wetterhorn.
Grindelwald cows (and valleys).

We finished the day by pedalling down to Interlaken. Grosse Scheidegg was a spectacular climb and a great challenge in a wonderful region. Can’t really ask for more!

Looking back to Wetterhorn after passing Grindelwald.
June 12, 2018
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Spiez to Zweisimmen

Tanya and I have been hitting the cycling recently. A couple of Sundays back we rode from Spiez to Zweisimmen, where we were turned around by rain (and took the train back to Bern). The ride was a beautiful jaunt following the Simme river up the valley.

Tanya and hydro power.
The Simme.
June 11, 2018
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