Monday, October 02, 2006

Switzerland's Scary Snowy Sefinenfurke

We'd snacked on the French hors d'oeuvres and already covered some serious ground in the majestic Bernese Oberland in Switzerland, but the real challenge was only just beginning.
We were mid-way through another wonderful Inntravel holiday, yomping from one small friendly hotel to another with only each other, a rucksack and the mountains for company each day as our luggage sped its way with impeccable Swiss timing to the next night's resting place .
The week had started in Grindelwald, from where we had already done the famous First-Bachalpsee-Faulhorn-Manndlenen-Schynige Platte walk in terrible weather, before moving high above the Grindelwald valley to confront the north face of the Eiger and nod at the Monch and Jungfrau peaks. That epic day had ended in Wengen before hopping over the Lauterbrunnen-Stechelberg valley to Murren at about 1,700m.
We had supper with our fellow Inntravellers (Roger & Kay; Bill & Jo; Matthew & Charlotte) at the charming Hotel Bellevue. Apparently it has fantastic views but it withheld them selfishly from us.
We'd walked independently to this point but the imminent challenges threw a cloak of embattled camaraderie over us all as we devoured the pumpkin soup and wild boar stew together, just before going over the top to face the enemy.
The rain hammered down all night. Well, at least until 4 am. I know because I was awake most of the time.. Not worried, but excited about what lay ahead...a very tough couple of days according to the Inntravel notes.
We all got up early for a hearty Alpine breakfast in an I may be gone some time sort of atmosphere. Inntravel say don't attempt today's high level walk unless in good weather - 6-7 hours via the Sefinenfurke Pass at 2,612m into the Griesalp/Kiental valley. The heavy rain of the last 24 hours has become snow almost down the village, and there is real doubt about whether we should attempt the walk. Our minds are made up by a slightly improved forecast, and a united reluctance to trek all the way around to the other valley by public transport. The desire to arrive triumphantly on foot at the Berghaus Golderli is irresistible, if a little foolhardy.
The Inntravel 8 all set off at slightly different times but with the mindset of turning back if it all begins to look a little too risky. I have to make an emergency purchase of decent gloves to go with my wooly hat from my defence, it is still August.
About an hour out of Murren Mrs M & I are spiralling sharply upwards, zig-zagging a slippery rocky path in increasingly deep snow. We've passed Jo & Bill by now and catch glimpses of the Pathfinder 4 on zigs or zags further up the walnut whip of a mountain. We soon meet a couple of shy Americans heading towards us, claiming to have turned back from the Rotstockhutte further ahead, citing the pass as a challenge too far in these conditions. We press on and at about 11 am meet the others at the hut, a great mountain refuge at 2,039m and open for 4 months of the year. It's manned in splendid isolation by a former top restaurant chef, helicoptering in supplies, baking his own bread, serving up seductive home-made veggie soup and advising in thinly veiled code that the pass is probably a bit dodgy for some of us.
Roger & Kay, our fearless front-runners, strike out to see how far they can get. Refuelled Matthew & Charlotte follow shortly afterwards, then Mrs M & I tentatively pursue their deep footprints, just after Jo & Bill have Hit The Hut. We've resisted the veggie soup - just - but succumbed to comforting hot chocolates, mine with a large slug of rum to ward off any hovering hesitation.
The next few hours involve a long tough trudge and 600m ascent up the valley towards the dreaded pass, exacerbated by dropping too far down at one stage thanks to misleading cowprints, we're told later. Bells.
The weather is showing distinct, but delayed, signs of improvement as we track the progress of the Front Four up the final 100m of disconcertingly steep scree slope. As we reach this daunting denouement the sun is alive and well and beating hard. The snow is melting on top of the slippery scree so that the occasional foot placement ends up nearly back where you started from. Or worse. And it is quite steep, trust me. Mrs M is struggling and it's only the dizzying view of the Fearless Four tucking into their packed lunches way above us on the narrow ridge of the pass that keeps us going.
We finally make it, bathed in sweat and brief sunlight...but just as we prepare to tuck into our deserved spoils and admire the supposedly fantastic views on the scarily vertiginous ridge of the Sefinenfurke Pass, so the scene director from The Truman Show yells cue the cloud. Within a minute we're perched right on the very fragile and very narrow ridge of a scarily high pass, wrapped in clouds and surrounded by ice, snow and slush.
Lunch can wait.
All we can do is hold on really tight to the slack rope anchored to the other side of the mountain, and grope our way down the steep steps carved into the precipice. Easy. We slither down, more often on arse and knees than foot, without looking backwards to what are probably some Very Steep Drops.
10 minutes later the director yells cue the sun and we're able to glimpse back upwards to the Sefinenfurke Pass, which will forever make me tingle with interesting memories.
For the next few hours after a delayed but oh so welcome lunch we're heading down the Kiental valley to Griesalp, one moment with perfect visibility under clear blue Alpine skies, the next enveloped in a real pea-souper. It looks like a beautiful valley but it's tricky to tell....
We stagger into the entrance of the Berggasthaus Golderli in Griesalp at 1,440m, knackered, mud- and slush-spattered, and in need of clean Y-fronts, a shower, food and alcohol.
One Amazing Walk.
Our luggage has fast forwarded to Kandersteg. What we've carried is all we have, so it's a quick time-rationed shower and a change into dry walking trousers and t-shirts before staggering downstairs to the simple single-sitting supper at 6:30.
The mountain B&B is run rustically but efficiently by Beatrice & Georges Jost. The quality of the food is outstanding - and not just because of the preceding 12 hours. Georges may have worked for IBM once but 13 years of alternative mountain lifestyle obviously suit him. A fantastic soup rivals last night's in Murren, followed by perfect al dente spaghetti and 3, yes 3, separate sauces, all guzzled down with beer and Swiss wine from the surprisingly posh cellar. Nectar. And it somehow all tastes so much better in the knowledge that we diced with Alpine extremes and survived.
Well, that's how it will be recorded anyway.
Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful


Blogger MRS M said...

It's all coming back to me now... That was at times a very scary and challenging walk. I remember our boots were as wet on the inside as the outside after trudging through the snow. Would I rather be struggling up that mountain today, or sitting here planning kitchens for my clients? I did suggest to Andy that we holiday in Holland or Norfolk next year but I didn't really mean it....

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It all sounds very exciting and dangerous. Have you ever considered golf?

12:52 PM  

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