Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

June 28, 2014

Via Ferrata Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

The Alps have been in the midst of some unsettled weather.  What else is new?  So after "almost" seeing the top of the Matterhorn between clouds, and with the forecast calling for lots of rain, we turned tail and ran for Venice.   Ah, sunshine.  But before we rolled the car onto a train for a tunnel to Italy, we managed to squeeze in a short Via Ferrata in Switzerland.

The Aletsch Glacier is the biggest glacier in the Alps (don't quote me on that, though!).   It's more famous at the top end for having the highest train stop above the Eiger and the town of Grindelwald.  But at the tail end of the glacier, in a whole other valley system, a small lake has been damned up, called the Gibidum-Stausee.  There it is possible to climb all the way around the steep cliffs on the wires and pegs of a recently created Via Ferrata.  It's a short route...I raced around it to beat the weather and it took me 1:40.  Most people would be happy to do it in 3 hours.   Probably without sweating, too.

The route is good for beginners...it starts easy and stays easy for a while.  The tricky bit, if you could  call it so, could be the longest suspension bridge in the Alps!  It bounces a little over a raging river, even though there is a solid walkway rather than a single braided wire like some routes have.  Don't look down, newbies.

The return side of the route is a little bit more interesting and challenging, and maybe even lives up to the rating of 3-4.   I think the whole thing is more like a 2, with an occasional adrenaline filled traverse.  Fun but after doing the Kandersteg route a few days ago, it felt too easy!  There is a short zipline, too, but you'll have to bring your own pulley if you want to do it.  Overall, a fun little route above the town of Blatten near Brig in Switzerland.

June 23, 2014

Via Ferrata Kandersteg, Switzerland

A trip to the Alps isn’t complete without experiencing climbing on a Via Ferrata, also known as Klettersteig in German. They were sort of invented during the world wars to get soldiers up and over high passes, using pegs and cables to go straight up the side of cliffs. These routes have now morphed into a sport all of their own, with new routes springing up all over. It isn’t really mountain climbing, as there are no ropes and complicated gear involved, just a harness and a via ferrata kit.

This would be my third time up this particular Via Ferrata above the town of Kandersteg, Switzerland. It starts out climbing steeply up a cliff near a waterfall, and continues to climb steeply up several ladders and across a cable bridge over a stream. Rated a 4 on a 5 scale, this particular route isn’t for the faint of heart.

There are places to stop along the way, but it’s pretty consistently exposed and vertical. I particularly like the twisting ladder to get from under a cliff and back onto the wall!  

There are even a couple of zip lines on the route, one of which has the gear already in place if you don’t bring your own. Not to mention a second long, high cable bridge! The route is very solid with good protection, although it is quite exposed....you’ll love the views even as it is hard to look down at the open air under your body.

Although this might not have been the best route to take a beginner(!), this was Jim's first Klettersteig.  He was a trooper and even cracked a smile at times, although we both felt a little exposed.  I think we secretly envied the paragliders we saw floating above us as we sweated our way up the cliff.  (Luckily, that's our plan for tomorrow!)

Overall this is a great Via Ferrata...easy to access from the valley onto the shoulder of the Almenalp, and an simple way back on the cable car within minutes of finishing the route...just make sure you are there by 5 p.m for the last ride down! 

June 21, 2014

Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg Hike, Switzerland

Whew, I’m in Switzerland! It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been here, and it’s as beautiful as ever. As expensive, too. I’ll just ignore that for the moment. First stop, Grindelwald to see the Eiger and some really big mountains. Unfortunately, it’s raining, but that doesn’t last for long. Our goal the next morning is to climb up to Kleine Scheidegg for the views looking up to the Top Of Europe. The hike starts climbing steeply right from the cog rail station near the river (and luckily near our campground!), and continues in the sunshine past quintessential swiss scenery. Lovely chalets, spring flowers, well-maintained trails, hiking trail signs to everywhere, and snow-capped peaks towering above it all. Not to mention cows wearing bells bigger than my head, ringing so loudly we couldn’t hear ourselves talk.  Oh, and we even got to practice blowing a swiss horn, and milking a cow.  Yeah, it was fun, even if it was only a plastic udder.  And I'm not going to try out for a tuba player anytime soon.

We climbed for a couple of hours in such surrounding to get up to Kleine Scheidegg, which is a mini city inself at the top of the mountain, with a large hotel and a big rail station. It’s the point where many tourists continue on the cog railway up to Jungfraujoch, or the highest glacier in the Alps (at least, where you can take a train to anyway). It was also chilly and almost raining when we arrived, so we felt justified in not having paid an outrageous CHF 177 to go up to a glacier only to be socked into the fog. Anyway, we were feeling spry and decided to continue walking up to the Männlichen cable car stop. We were rewarded with a few minutes of views down into Lauterbrunnen before the fog closed us in. We could have continued down that side of the ridge and taken the bus back to Grindelwald, but it sounded like more fun to walk all the way back down to our campground. Which we did in another couple of hours, for a 7 hour day of walking and about 1000 meters of elevation change. 

Oh, and totally off subject, but we didn't have enough luggage space for camping gear when flying over here, so we purchased stuff when we arrived in Germany. (And already saved enough in hotel bills to pay for the tent, sleeping bags and mattress!?!)  So we got this totally cool tent which unfolds itself in 2 seconds.   Oddly enough, the tent is called the 2 Seconds tent…   It doesn't exactly pack up in that amount of time. but we did manage to wrestle it back into the large circle it originally came in.  In the rain, undo a couple of clips, and voila, the tent flips open and you crawl in.  Now if it only weighed less than a small cow….