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BERNESE OBERLAND
LAUTERBRUNNEN JULY 2002
The signs were good as the plane approached Zurich Airport with the complete panorama from Mont Blanc to the Austrian Alps bathed in sunshine and at the centre was the Bernese Oberland with the Jungfrau dominating the view.  The transfer to a rail connection for Lauterbrunnen where I would be staying for the next eight days was the very model of Swiss efficiency and I was soon on my way.  I was staying at the Hotel Oberland and by the time I had booked in it was only 3pm,  plenty of time to change and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.  I decided to take the funicular to Murren from where the views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau were superb.  The walk through Murren and down to Stechelberg via Gimmelwald was the best possible antidote to a long day of car, air and train travel.  I even spurned the Postbus back to Lauterbrunnen, prefering to enjoy the walk back to my hotel along the valley floor.

The following day I decided to retrace my steps through Murren but this time I would follow a path to Obersteinberg and aim to have lunch at the mountain hotel.  It was a superb day for walking and after lunch I progressed further up the valley to Oberhornsee, a small glacier lake at the foot of the Tschingelhorn glacier.  Heading back I took a route on the other side of the valley.  A welcome beer once back at Stechelberg and this time I was glad of the Postbus to Lauterbrunnen.  The next day I spent above Wengen having taken the train and cable car to Mannlichen.  The clouds had closed in and I was deprivied of dramatic views of the Eiger North wall on the path to Kleine Scheidegg.  I made my way to the Eiger Gletscher and lunched close to the old Mitteleggi climbing hut which had small display of what the conditions were like in days gone by.  I was interested to see a group of elderly climbers surrounding the hut and reminicing with what I imagined to be tales of their exploits from that particular hut.  The youngest must have been at least 75 and my imagination convinced me they must have been a few alpine guides among their number.

Bob Wilson would be joining me on Friday so I decided to have a fairly easy morning and set off to view the Trummel Bach Falls.  I meet Bob at Lauterbrunnen station and after he had booked into the Hotel Oberland we set off for a short hike above Murren to clear the cobwebs for Bob as I had done on my first day.

The reason Bob was joining me was that we had signed up some time before with Swiss Alpine Guides at Interlaken for a two day private instruction course to prepare us for an attempt to climb the Monch.  So on the 27th we set off with Hano of Swiss Alpine Guides for a days rock climbing and scrambling on a ridge facing the Steingletcher on the Susten Pass.  This was the first time I had put on a climbing harness and had been roped up.  We had a superb day climbing with Hano in complete solitude only interrupted by the impressive site of a chamois sensing our presence and taking off down a 60deg rocky slope.  The day ended with an abseil down a steep gully.  Hano was very good company and full of stories.  The one that sticks in my mind is the client refered to as 'Mr Bean'.  It would seem the guy has a burning ambition to climb the Eiger and has for several years hired a guide to climb the Eiger via the Mitteleggi Ridge.  Each year they get to the Mitteleggi Hut to stay the night before an early start on the climb proper the following day.  Each year they get 50 metres or so from the hut when blind panic sets in and the climb is abandoned.

The second day of our 'training' was spent on the Steingletscher getting used to crampons,  another first for me.  Part  of the time was rock climbing with crampons and negotiating narrow ice ridges and making steep descents.  Again a superb day in perfect weather.  I now realise that everything Hano was doing was to make us familiar with the equipment and the sort of conditions we would find on the Monch.  He was watching us carefully and assessing our capabilities.  Towards the end of the day we had a discussion and it was decided we needed a guide each so that we would feel comfortable on the exposed parts of the Monch.  Perhaps he was telling us he did not want a couple of 'Mr Beans' on his hands.  We finished the day with having a go at ice climbing out of a crevass.

Monday 29th July we set off on the first train to the Jungfraujoch with Hano and were joined by Chris from Sweden who would be my guide.  The conditions were perfect with a cloudless sky and we set off along the main track to the Monchjochshutte. Opposite the begining of the SE ridge we roped up and put crampons on.  It was about 10am when we crossed the snow field on a long rope.   Chris put me on a short rope and we began the climb.  I felt very comfortable with Chris, somewhat helped by him telling me he had climbed Annapurna last October and the North Wall of the Eiger a couple of years earlier.  The conditions were quite hot so I needed plenty of water.

We made the summit  in sunny conditions at approximately 1pm.  There was only an area the size of a dining room table which could be regarded as the summit and it was somewhat crowded with about ten climbers enjoying the stunning views towards the Eiger, looking back along the summit ridge and down to the Lauterbrunnen valley some 10,000ft below.  The descent was slow and carefull with the snow getting quite soft in the hot conditions.  Again a long rope for crossing the snowfield to the main track.   As we were crossing Chris turned and pointed to a climber who had unroped for crossing the snowfield and had fallen up to his armpits.  Fortunately he was pulled out but it demonstrated the stupidity of taking unnecessary risks.  It was a fantastic three days ending with a great feeling on reaching the summit of the Monch there was also a great deal of respect and admiration for the professionalism of our guides.

The following day was our last full day.  The weather was still superb so Bob and I repeated the hike I had made to Oberhornsee a few days earlier but in reverse direction.  Towards the end of the morning we came across farm buildings where we bought some goats cheese for lunch.  Further on there was the bizzare sight of a workman strimming the edges of this remote alpine path and another workman raking to make everything tidy - it could only happen in Switzerland!  As it was our last day we made the most of a stop at the Obersteinberg mountain hotel by downing a couple of large bottles of Feldschlossen beer.  This was perhaps not the best preparation for the descent down a steep mountain path back to Stechelberg.  There was just time before the Postbus to Lauterbrunnen for a final beer at Stechelberg and observation of a strange contraption in a field opposite the hotel veranda; the waiter told us it was a cow wash.  Again it could only happen in Switzerland!!