Wednesday, September 5, 2012 (Day 19)
weather: mostly cool to cold, but warm in the sun, sunny, beautiful day
Waking up in a mountain lodge in the Swiss Alps is like a dream come true. We are already up on top of the mountain, so all we need to do is wake up and start hiking. The night last night was crisp and cool and this morning we woke up to temps in the low 50s and the beautiful sun rising to warm up the world. Our lodge up here looking down at the mountain town of Riederalp is the Mountain Lodge – Riederfurka by Art Furrer. It has over 20 rooms and is really quite nice especially considering it’s a hiking lodge. We do have a shared shower, but at least there is a sink in the room and really, last night we were one of 2 couples at the lodge. The whole place is built of wood and the floors are some of the squeakist and creakiest you’ll ever come across! It seemed like just breathing made the floors creak and each step could be heard everywhere.
We were up at 7:30am and down for our included breakfast which had enough food that we were able to make sandwiches for a picnic lunch as well. It took a little while to get ready this morning and we were out for the start of our hike at 9:15am. We plan to be out hiking all day today to hike down to the suspension bridge over the bottom of the Aletsch Glacier, then up and across the mountains following the glacier to just past chalchofu.
The hike from our lodge to the bridge was a chilly one since we stayed on the shade side of the mountain as we hiked straight down for 2 hours!! We hiked in a fairly dense forest and almost could never see the views across the gorge to the mountains on the other side. We are supposed to be going to a suspension bridge that crosses the bottom of the Aletsch Glacier, but we certainly can’t see it. The Aletsch Glacier is the one we viewed from the Jungfrau a couple weeks ago at the beginning of our trip when we were in Grindelwald. It’s so cool that 2 weeks ago we were just on the other side of those tall Alps covered in snow that we can see from our mountain lodge. We saw the top and very start of the glacier at the Jungfrau, and now we are hiking to the bottom where the ice and snow melt to a waterfall which we will cross via bridge.
In the dense forest, we finally saw some real wildlife other than the birds. Europe doesn’t have too much wildlife that we’ve seen, really. But today we found squirrels! They are different from the typical brown, chubby American squirrels that beg for food in the parks. These squirrels kept their distance, but we could see that their bodies were so dark brown, they were almost black and their tail was much bushier than the American ones. The bodies were pretty tiny and most of the profile was really the tail.
(Riederfurka was at elevation 2065m and Hangebruck at elevation 1599m.)
Finally, we arrived at the bridge called hangebruck at 11:15am, so much farther down the mountain than we started. The suspension bridge was long and fun to cross, for sure, but we still felt that the Trift bridge had a better view. We could see the giant waterfalls below from all the meltwater coming off the Aletschgletscher, though the glacier toe itself was a bit farther away. The purpose of this bridge is to cross the deep gorge below to continue hiking on to Belalp, though we didn’t really plan on going that way. Instead we came to see the bridge, so we turned around and back on the other side, we started the rest of our hike.
From here on, the rest of our hike was mostly outside the forest so we had much better views. Across the gorge, and the glacier down in the gorge, we could see the Beich – Gletscher overhead between two mountain peaks. That was the glacier above us, though it was across the way. It was pretty cool that our hike was above the Aletsch glacier, so we were sandwiched between the two. We could see the meltwater from the Biech glacier coming down in large and scattered waterfalls as we started climbing again.
Up, up, up, up we went, hiking on to reach the ridgeline again. At one point we passed a HUGE anthill that almost rivaled the anthills in Australia. This one was about 2 feet tall, 4 feet in diameter, and looked like it was moving since it was completely covered in ants. I’m shuddering again just thinking about it. We stopped for lunch when we had a good viewpoint in a little saddle between some mountains at 12:15p. It was a cold and somewhat windy spot, but the view was excellent. We put on our fleeces and sat with our backs warming in the sun as we looked over the Aletsch glacier looking like a racetrack down below, and also across to the Beich glacier threatening up above.
Hiking on after lunch, the trail seemed to flatten out a little bit, though, we were still ascending. We came across an area filled with rock designs done by someone, or someones who were very bored. One design was a pattern of concentric circles radiating outwards to a diameter of more than 10 feet. By far the coolest design, though, was an elephant flat on the ground filled in with rocks. They even used small sticks and twigs to make the hair on the head and tail. Mark liked the goomba-looking design that I thought might be more like a penguin.
We hiked on, and most of the way, we were hiking with views of the glacier down below. It really was beautiful and marvelous. The glacier below us in the deep gorge, the snow and glacier covered peaks across the gorge and also in front of us, the sunny day and cool weather….Beautiful and perfect. =) We saw some people here and there, but mostly we had the hike to ourselves.
We finally stopped somewhere between Chalchofu and Chazulecher where a marvelous viewpoint over the glacier had opened up. We hiked a bit off the trail to get out of the pine trees and then just took a long break here admiring the view and breathing the fresh mountain air. We originally planned to hike all the way to Betteralp or Eggishorn, but this was a good place to stop. We haven’t been hiking as far as it felt like we hiked, but our hike today has been either up or straight down and not that much flat hiking. So, we had too many stops. It’s worth it to slow down and admire the day, though.
We stayed for a while, taking photos and watching some clouds form over the Eggishorn far out in front of us. We’ve been seeing several happy, friendly clouds today, but still sunny skies and these clouds were looking a bit gray. So, we figured we better turn around and start hiking back b/c we might get a brief afternoon shower.
We were able to take a different route on the way back, staying up on the ridge-line and bypassing the bridge of course. Soon, we were back in the forest of mostly pine trees. Then, the air turned moist and we stopped under a large tree to put on our rain gear for the sprinkling shower coming. The tree provided great cover and we could see that the rain cloud was small with blue skies following it. So, in no rush at all, we waited under the tree for maybe 20 minutes for the rain to pass. The rain brought cool temps around 60 degrees with it and we hiked out wearing our jackets still.
On our hike back, we saw absolutely no other hikers which makes a perfect hike. We managed to happen upon a herd of about 10 deer digging around in the mud for food. They spotted us, though, and ran away quickly. Still….deer! Common in the States, but not so much in Europe. We also saw a couple goats on the hike back to our mountain lodge. We arrived back about 5:45pm, hiking 13 km (about 8 miles). It might not sound like much, but those kilometers were all up or down and quite strenuous. 😉
We cleaned up in the lodge and came down for a dinner of Wallis area specialties. Mark had an Alpler-Rosti with ham, cheese, potato (of course) and a fried egg on top, while I tried the Alpler-Makkaroni which was mac and cheese with leeks, ham, potato, and a side of applesauce. It was all delicious. After dinner, we tried to go out and get some more sunset photos, but the clouds were too thick now and starting to look dark. I gave up and we went back inside. It’s a good thing, too, because later we noticed it raining outside again.
We went down to the common area in the lodge to do some Zermatt research and use their wifi (so awesome to have wifi in the mountains!) before heading to bed. Tomorrow we will hike down the mountain with our luggage to make the trek to Zermatt, our final destination in Switzerland.