Swiss spring landscapes

This spring the weather was very on-and-off. It even snowed in Bern well into the season. So to dodge the weather, Tanya and I got out into the countryside during the fine spells. We went to Pilatus, the craggy peak that overlooks Lucerne and has a cable-car laced up one side. From the top you can see out across most of the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne) in one direction, and in the other you can see across the canton of Obwald to the high alps of the Bernese Oberland.

Lake Lucerne, or the Vierwaldstättersee.
Pilatus still icy in spring.
The view across Obwald to the Eiger.
The Pilatus cable-car.
Spring melt.
Lucerne glory.

We walked and biked around the pretty countryside between Bern and Thun, where there were lambs in the fields and daffodils starting to bloom. Two weekends in a row we ended up passing through Wattenwil, a little town that sits underneath the Gantrisch mountain range.

Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau.
Wattenwil and its mountain backdrop.
A week later the mountains were still there.
Wattenwil from a slightly different angle.
The Gantrisch range.

And we went for a walk in the snow high in Valais, near the Aletsch glacier. The weather that particular day was more average, with the hills coming and going behind cloud and the glacier hiding under fog and snow.

Looking across the Rhône.
Monochrome conditions near the Aletsch glacier.
May 30, 2019
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North of Auckland, New Zealand

Here are some pictures from a short trip to New Zealand in March, for the wedding of the fantastic Andy and Karl. We spent a wonderful few days just north of Auckland, where there were plenty of beaches, great food, and excellent people assembled for the wedding. We went snorkelling at Goat Island and saw eagle rays hanging out in the kelp forest, did yoga on the beach, and were lucky to see a couple of very rare takahe roaming inside a predator-free park.

Tawharanui beach, New Zealand.
Surfers at Tawharanui.
Flax.
Super rare Takahe!
The green hills of the Auckland region.
Beach time!
Goat Island marine reserve.
Pohutakawa reaching for the sea.
Tawharanui beach reflections.
May 19, 2019
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Canberra and Hobart

In February and early March this year I was lucky enough to be back in Canberra — my hometown. Looking at the photos now, while winter is still lurking here in the northern hemisphere, I am struck by the brightness of the colours and the obvious warmth of the sun. I caught up with my wonderful family and fantastic friends, enjoyed flat white coffee and fresh food, and strolled through the campus of ANU which is so changed as to be unrecognisable in places. It was a relaxing and rejuvenating trip.

Black Mountain in Canberra.
My Mum’s impressive vege haul.
Yellow banksia — a favourite.
At the old Stromlo Observatory.
(“Exterminate!”)
Cafe weather.
View from the National Arboretum.
Sturt desert peas in the National Botanic Gardens.
More banksias.

I also decided to pop past Hobart and catch up with some amazing friends there. We went to the top of the imposing Mt Wellington from where you get just a taste of the wilderness that stretches to the horizon.

Mount Wellington on a smokey day.
Mount Wellington summit.
Tetris rock.
Good walls in Hobart!
May 7, 2019
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Seeya 2018, hello 2019

It’s been a little while since I wrote on this blog. Here are some highlights of things that have happened since November 2018.

Starting in November, Anna was in Paris for a couple of months for an art residency, so I went there to see her. We wandered the rainy streets, saw some great art, and ate some great crêpes.

Anna in Paris.
I’ve always loved Paris’ thin corner houses.
Shop display.

Keytie also came to Paris, and Tanya too, and we all went out to Fontainebleu to see what the bouldering fuss is about. I can now say I’ve touched the rock at Font — but it was slimy and wet because of the rain. We didn’t climb.

Wandering in the forest at Fontainebleu.
Mischief.

Winter arrived in Bern and it snowed from time to time. The days got shorter and the colour drained a bit from the city.

Bern mountain skyline at dusk.
The Münster looms in the fog.
After a fresh snowfall.

The four of us had a lovely, quiet, simple Christmas at Tanya’s and my place in Bern. We popped sparkling on the balcony and ate a roast chicken, and we wore funny Christmas woollen jumpers that Anna and Keytie had bought — by the kilo — in Paris, the fashion capital of the world. My jumper had a penguin on it, Anna’s had red birds, Tanya’s had snowflakes, and Keytie’s appeared to have been made by someone with a glue gun, a father christmas toy, and a pair of scissors.

Christmas day.
Bern’s normally busy main street, quiet on Christmas afternoon.

After Christmas we went for a snowshoe hike above Grindelwald on a crystal-clear blue-sky winter’s day.

Wetterhorn — the red dot in the lower-right is a paraglider.
I think sleds are dangerous, but these ones were pretty.

We took the TGV back to Paris to see in the new year, and stayed in the 17th Arrondisseement. On on the 31st we had a gorgeous meal at a little restaurant nearby, then took the metro and found a spot, with thousands of others, at the Place du Trocadéro. There was an incredible view of the Eiffel tower across the river, and we waited there for midnight. Strangely, when the moment came there was no countdown from the crowd and no fireworks over the tower. The next day I searched for Paris on Instagram and all the top-rated recent pictures showed magnificent photoshopped or misdated fireworks. Welcome to 2019.

Lots of phones out on NYE!
A few minutes into 2019.

Unfortunately Anna and Keytie had to travel home, and Tanya and me too. We went for several day-trips into the mountains in January, to Mürren, Gstaad, and Haute-Savoie.

Near Mürren.
Near Gstaad.
A huge storm over Lac Léman (from the ferry back from France).

More recently, we went to see the Oeschinensee, which we were last at in summer. This time the lake was frozen and ice fishers dotted its smooth white surface.

Oeschinensee in winter mode.
Avalanche debris.
Tracks in the snow, on the lake.
Kandersteg peaks.

Here finishes this update. 2019 is off to a good start!

March 31, 2019
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Frozen Bachsee

One of our most spectacular walks in the mountains in 2018 was to Bachsee above Grindelwald. We caught a cable car up to First, which is the third stop on the cablecar after Bort and Schreckfeld. From there it was a short walk up to the lake, and we roamed a little further by climbing up to a little col called Gassenboden.

Tanya photographing the Wetterhorn (3690 m).
Semilihorn and early snow showing the slope orientation.
Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn (4078 m), Finsteraarhorn (4274 m).

It was November and although there was a little snow around I expected the lake to not yet be frozen and therefore to reflect the mountains. But we arrived to see that the lake was frozen white, covered in snow, and it reminded me strongly of a salt lake. The sky was cloud free.

View of the peaks over the frozen Bachsee.
Shadow creeping over Bachsee.
Schreckhorn on centre stage.
Tanya’s always good with the map.
At Gassenboden.
Serac collapse on Wetterhorn.

On the way back down to First the light became just ridiculously good for photographs. The shadows got long and covered the lake and the snow-free parts of the world were bright in the sun. It was one of those magic afternoons in the mountains when everything sparkles, and it was a happy walk.

Now all in shadow.
Fading light of the afternoon.
Eiger north face.
Taking in the view from Grindelwald First.
Wetterhorn at sunset.
January 6, 2019
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Early-season Zermatt

The Matterhorn’s reputation as Switzerland’s most iconic mountain is very well deserved. Here are a few photographs taken while on a short wander from Zermatt, up to Zmutt, and back along the höhweg at about 2100 m. These pictures were taken in mid-November when the trees were just finished changing colour and were preparing themselves for winter snows.

The mighty Matterhorn (4478 m).
Wood carving on the path.
Getting cold in mid-November.
I am totally fascinated by icicles.
Snow-makers on the go.
Tanya with Dom (4545 m) behind.
Zermatt in the valley.
Rimpfischhorn (4198 m), Strahlhorn (4190 m), and Adlerhorn (3988 m).
The last of the autumn colours.
December 23, 2018
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Autumn in Val d’Hérens

This year, early November brought the first snows to the high mountains in Valais. Tanya and I went exploring for an afternoon around La Forclaz, which is a favourite haunt. It is spectacular year-round, but in autumn the larch trees turn golden and the snowline descends and it has a cold and magical charm of its own. Here are pictures from this wintery day in mid-autumn in Val d’Hérens.

Les Dents de Veisivi.
Mélèze needles on the snow.
View up from the Mayens de Bréonna.
The Ferpècle valley.
The view up towards Tête Blanche, hidden in the clouds.
Snowline across the valley.
December 23, 2018
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Le Catogne

If you look down the Rhône valley from Lac Léman on a clear day, you can see past the point where the valley does its ninety degree turn to the north-east, and see sitting on its own a conical mountain called Le Catogne. It’s a classic view and a distinctive mountain and so for many years I have wanted to walk up there. In late autumn we did just that, and hiked up with some friends, starting from Champex Lac.

Les Aiguilles d’Arpette with a light dusting of snow.
Val d’Arpette leading up to the Plateau du Trient.
Aiguille du Tour on the right, Aiguille d’Argentière on the left.

It was still hot weather then — the temperatures have since plummeted and the Catogne now has a crown of snow — and it was a sweaty walk up the surprisingly steep path to the top. The view over the surrounding mountains, and especially over to the Glacier du Trient, got more and more impressive as we climbed.

The mighty Grand Combin (4314 m).
The view from the top, looking back towards Lac Léman.
We were far from the fog over the lake.
Les Dents du Midi.
Grand Combin from the summit of the Catogne.

After hanging out on the summit for a while, enjoying the views, we turned and walked back down through the beautiful autumn forest.

November 17, 2018
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Oeschinensee and Blüemlisalphütte

Blüemlisalphütte has been on our list of huts to visit for a long time, mostly because Tanya knows that a cat lives there in the summer (it gets carried up in a basket). The hut’s already closed for this year and the cat has left the building, but before the snow came for the winter Tanya and I walked there anyway a couple of weeks back. We weren’t actually intending to walk to the hut, but rather to have a gander around the Oeschinensee, a lake near Kandersteg that is renowned for reflecting the mountains around it.

Oeschinensee in the morning.

We caught the cable car up from Kandersteg, and had a look at the lake, which was spectacular indeed. But it seemed a shame to stop there so we started walking up, and kept walking up. After a while it became apparent that we could walk all the way to the hut, and so we did. The countryside was spectacular and we got wonderful views of the Blüemlisalphorn and the other peaks in the Blüemlisalp range, Wildi Frau and Wissi Frau (let’s call them die Blüemlisalpfrauen). Next to the hut we stopped and marvelled at the Blüemlisalpgletscher.

Getting higher all the time.
Blüemlisalphütte on the ridge, and Wildi Frau from a distance.
Wyssi Frau, Ufem Stock, and the Blüemlisalpgletscher.
From Hohtürli, looking down Kiental to Thun and the Thunersee.
And across to the Eiger north face (L).

At the hut we considered walking down the other side of the col into Kiental, but on balance decided that the Oeschinensee would be worth seeing in the afternoon, so we walked back the way we had come.

Wyssi Frau (3648 m).
The track down from Blüemlisalphütte to Kandersteg.
Blüemlisalphorn (3661 m) and Blüemlisalp Rotthorn.
Tanya in her element.
Blüemlisalphorn.
Wildi Frau, Ufem Stock, and Blüemlisalphorn.
Looking back to Wyssi Frau.

The Oeschinensee was shining in the afternoon light when we got back there, and the cliffs lit by the sun were perfectly reflected — it deserves its reputation. I particularly enjoyed the zig-zag patterns of shadow and light that were formed. After spending a good while at the lake we walked down to Kandersteg to finish a great day of walking in the hills.

Oeschinensee in mirror lake mode.
Zig zag shadows on the Oeschinensee.
Evening light.
Autumn colour next to the Oeschinensee.
Reflections!
Fading light of the evening.
November 1, 2018
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Lötschepass

If you want to travel from the Swiss canton of Bern to the canton of Valais, which lies to the south, you can take one of two rail tunnels. The Lötschberg tunnel connects Kandersteg to Goppenstein, and the much more recent Lötschberg Base tunnel goes from Frutigen to Raron. This second tunnel cut the travel time in half, is twice the length and 400 m lower than the older tunnel. Alternatively, you can walk over the top by hiking the Lötschepass (2690 m). At the pass, you would have no idea that trains are passing 1.5—2 km below.

Doldenhorn and Gasteretal.

Tanya and Florence and I hiked over the pass, starting from the town of Selden in Gasteretal. We climbed steeply to the Lötschegletscher, which the path crosses without fuss; it looks and feels like walking on gravel, except that every so often the blue ice of the glacier peeks out.

Gasteretal.
Lötschegletscher and the walls of Balmhorn.

There’s a cabin at the pass, perched in a stark rocky landscape between mountains. We walked past the hut and continued to a good view point at about 3030 m. From there we could see a lot of the Valaisan Alps and had an epic view of the Doldenhorn in one direction, and the Bietschhorn in the other.

At our lookout point.
Doldenhorn (3643 m) across the Gasteretal.
Bietschhorn (3934 m) across the Lötschental.

We stayed in the Lötchepasshütte that night. In the evening the setting sun lit up Bietschhorn and the bright golden mineral landscape surrounding the cabin. In the morning the view was even more spectacular — the clouds had disappeared overnight and the first rays of sun lit up the big peaks of the Valaisan Alps in a gorgeous array of colours.

Evening light on Bietschhorn.
Morning light on Switzerland’s highest mountains. Dom (4545 m) in centre, and the Monte Rosa massif (4634 m) on its right.
Ferdenrothorn (3180 m).
Dom, Monte Rosa, and on the right the light catching Weisshorn (4506 m).
Light rays appearing over Bietschhorn.

We walked along the höhenweg path into the Lötschental. This path stays high along the valley and contours along almost its entire length, gently dropping height to end up in Fafleralp. Early on I heard a distinctive growling chirp and sure enough there was a group of lagopède alpin (rock ptarmigan) hanging out next to an alpine lake. Further down we walked through brilliant larch forest and past babbling streams to end up in the valley.

Looking back at the incredible rock folds in Ferdenrothorn.
Amazing walking. On the right is Weissmeis and the (very tiny) Matterhorn.
So fluffy!
A lone mélèze amongst the red blueberry bushes.
Red bushes, blue berries.
Mélèzes over Lötschental.

From Fafleralp it was an easy Postbus ride to Goppenstein. After a wonderful weekend of hiking across the Lötchepass, we caught the train back to Bern. In the dark of the Lötchberg tunnel it was surreal to think that only hours before we were directly above that point, oblivious to passing trains, watching the sun rise over the Alps.

Finishing off the hike towards Fafleralp.
October 14, 2018
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