Because the IPCC and personal interests. Why I try to do better and especially make travel better, every day, every way.
Where: Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher & Glacier de Cheilon, Switzerland
It was a weekend a few weeks back when last minute planning resulted in one of the best tours ever, a night at Schreckhornhütte, the destination for a bergwandern trail only for “experienced mountaineers“. Which I can’t claim yet. But you have to start somewhere, and when the signpost says “only for experienced mountaineers” there is a point when you keep going even without the experience. Because there’s the first time for everything.
Nevertheless, for a similar trip without the experience, I do suggest you either hire a guide or take along companions with more experience and skills; people who you can trust no matter what. On the SAC trekkingscale, our trail was level 4, which we made even more challenging by our timing, just before the official season. During the official season, the trails have ladders and wires to support hikers on their way, and the huts have service like food. This time we could only lean on our experience and pure courage. And good weather forecast.
On this trip, we were self-catered, both on the trail and in the hut, where only the winter room facilities were at our service. Nevertheless, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever done. Basically in my backyard, which I miss a lot now when in Zürich. It’s all good here, but no mountains or glaciers as easily accessible as there.
That Saturday, I decided to join the mixed group last minute. The first two of our group had left earlier for some glacier training; the ones I’m now used to follow almost everywhere. And then there were the two paragliders, flying the last part of the hike back on Sunday. And then there was me and my favourite couple (thanks for the ride L&A). It wasn’t an easy trip for any of us, though definitely worth the effort with the mountains and glaciers and views to Finsteraarhorn, the highest peak in Berner Oberland (4274 m).
Normally, when route descriptions say 3h, I can take appr. 1h off the overall time, but this tour proved that when it’s level 4, the 5h description was more than accurate. And so, leaving quite late on Saturday, first driving to Gindelwald and taking the cable car up to Pfingstegg (8CHF with SBB half-far travelcard, in 2017) from where the initial hike started, we finally reached the hüt just in time before dark.
On the way, we were “guided” by a steinbock couple and motivated by the desire to find our way to the cabin before sunset. Stopping briefly at Berghaus Bäregg on our way, to fill our water bottles, while the paragliders collected information of flying possibilities from there for the next day. And finally, after a bit scary and very challenging hike along the exposed path next to the Obers Ischmeer glacier, we met the first “group” around the corner of the cabin, just when the sky started to turn golden. And enjoyed a magnificent sunset with well-earned sip of wine.
This weekend, we got the whole hut to ourselves. Or not the whole hüt exactly, but the parts open as so-called winter room. There was even enough room to separate the snoring ones, which is a real luxury in mountain settings. Normally, the snores, smell and unknown people belong to the most authentic mountain experience. But here’s a reason I love the off-season in the mountains; fewer people, more space and authentic off-season luxury mountaineering experience, when the timing is right.
For dinner (which btw is always 5* up there, no matter what you are eating) there was wine and extra speciality in the form of porto bottle (extra points for people carrying wine in glass bottles up the mountains!). And then there were the steinbocks and marmots and the best people as company; what else can a girl ask for? There was laughing, there were challenges overcome with the help and support of others (lots of swearing too, I have to admit), and there was just pure joy mixed with the good kind of exhaustion.
After a good night sleep, there was my quiet morning yoga moment in solitude on the hüt “terrace” (well-needed with all the stress I’ve had related to the move and life changes in general), while two of us started their climb to higher mountains and others continued sleeping a bit later. And for some reason, I came back from the trip with one inner sole less of my amazing Lowa shoes. I have the feeling those curious marmots I saw that morning had something to do with this, or then it was just the tired me leaving it to dry in the sun eternally. Nevertheless, no matter what the initial reason, the sole has now been replaced by the lovely customer service of Lowa, and I can keep on going further and higher on these mountains.
Once again I have to say these really are the kind of days and nights I’ve learned to love the most. Going forward, going higher and learning so much. This time the biggest lesson was to learn how tall the crevasses of the glaciers really are. A humbling experience indeed. Obers Ischmeer and Finsteraarhorn were magnificent, especially seeing them this close. Walking past them and standing below them, I also started to think that maybe a glacier and/or mountaineering training course would be good to take at some point. Because no matter how scary, glaciers and high mountains are oh so tempting and I want to have more of them and learn more (and krhm climb a >4000m peak before I turn 30). Zürich is nice but… I guess I was spoiled by Berner Oberland so that now I can’t be too long a time away from the mountains.
Luckily though, SBB serves quite well, to the mountains and back. And these guys just keep on being themselves no matter where we meet. Though best enjoyed in the mountains.
Where: Schreckhornhütte SAC 2’650’592.125, 1’159’206.469, from Grindelwald
This is how I spent a weekend of my dreams. Up in the mountains, learning new things and smiling a lot. This time, a few weeks back, we went to Valais region and in there Cabane des Dix, after friend’s suggestion; hiking over one a bit scary ridge and one very scary glacier (my first ever glacier crossing) and spending the night in a Swiss Alpine Club’s cabin, or hut (hütte) as they call them in here. May, in general, isn’t the best month for mountaineering, and this trip also proved to be challenging, with unstable snow and rock and mud slides, and typical glacier with its crevasses. But nothing worth having comes easy and this experience, if something, was worth to get.
It’s hard to describe the feeling when you are standing on a glacier, on the whitest of snow with a hint of glacial turquoise. When you move ahead slowly, tied to each other by a rope, and trusting each other. And end the day in the primitive cabin with only the essentials for survival; fireplace, some cups and mugs and blankets and each others company.
On Saturday midday we started our hike above Airolo, reaching the Cabane Des Dix by the evening, not extremely happy with the snow conditions on our way (would have been better with skis), but luckily only the next day we learned how it could have been even worse already in the beginning. The sun and I guess climate change too, does its job very well this time of the year, and when the temperatures don’t descend low enough at nights, the soft and wet snow doesn’t make your mountaineering efforts easy. Nevertheless, we reached our destination that day and my first ever night at SAC hut’s winter room was more that pleasant. There was wood for fire and tea and dinner, and there were the funny and smart people to share the stories and the experience (and bottle of wine) with. It wasn’t a five-star hotel, but it was a five-star experience.
Later on, I learned that the hut belongs to a variation of the Haute Route and now I just wonder on which winter I’ll finally make that dream come true… Some winter surely, as this little taste of it proved to be one if the best trips I’ve done. There are no words to describe the beauty of the mountains like Mont Blanc de Cheilon with its turquoise glaciers and majestic faces. Not to mention the peace and the huge landscape which makes one so aware of one’s real place in the world. And the primitive, yet cosy hut, which once again taught a lesson of how little one needs to be happy.
During this trip, I also said I’ve never been that scared in my life,
climbing tumbling my way up and down the unstable rocky slopes, while loose stones were falling nearby and big avalanches raced down the steeper slopes. Nevertheless, I remember being ok (kind of, the feeling isn’t so easy to describe) with the fear, using it as a stepping stone and way to keep my mind organised. I managed to be concentrated on the most important tasks and more than else trusted myself and the others, rather than letting the fear to paralyse me, or setting myself on panic mode, when something unexpected happened.
On this trip, I also learned that I do hold some important knowledge of the snow and especially how it behaves, how it sounds and what the various sounds mean. While my friend might be more experienced and trained in climbing and rope techniques and how to save himself from a crevasse, I now know that I happen to know more of what some of the sounds of the snow mean. In Switzerland, yhe mountains have finally taught me to be grateful for the lessons childhood in the north have taught me, most of them while doing something I fondly enjoy doing.
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
© René Daumal
Interested in a trip like this but not quite sure how to do it? Let me give you an introduction in here and if needed, just drop me a comment or mail and I’ll follow-up with more detailed guiding.
: Simply, you just have to put one foot on the front of the other. Repeat enough many times and you’re there. No, but really, there are various ways to do a trip like this. First of all, you may do like I
do did, and go with friends who have more experience and know their huts; adding some more extra by looking at maps and googling the interesting looking SAC huts around the country. Then you just back your pack(s) and start walking/skiing/biking/whatever style you prefer for moving forward.
Second, you can always contact local tourism office in your main destination (or home region) or company offering mountaineering trips, courses and guiding services, or similar. This’s an especially good option if and when you have not enough previous knowledge of mountains. And even if you do, local knowledge is always recommended. This time we were with my friend who has done an alpinism course in the area and stayed in the hut previously, so he was kind of our pro bono guide this weekend. Thank you, M!
That said, I would always recommend the second option first. The services are more than worth the money and more than else it’s important to do all the necessary things to return home safe in the evening, or the next day. And smile, oh boy, remember to smile! We live on an amazing planet and when you get to a place like this, you just have to smile. And most of the time, luckily, it comes naturally, in a place like this and when you know what you are (capable of) doing
Most, if not all, of the huts are officially open during the summer season and most of them even at winter for ski touring. Nevertheless, it’s always good to check what are the seasons and opening hours, and you should also either call them or make an online reservation, if possible, for a spot. Most of the huts have so-called winter rooms for adventurers looking for (a safe) place to sleep in, even in the off-season, but extra attention should be given to the firewood – some have, but most doesn’t, wood for warming up the hut during the off-season.
During the official seasons, mostly summer and spring ski touring, most of the huts offers food, breakfast, lunch and dinner for reasonable prices. In the winter rooms, you may also cook your own meals, but again check first what kind of utilities and utensils there is available (most of this can be found on the internet these days) and bring your own, if and when needed.
Most of the huts require some physical
work exercise to be reached; multi-hour hike, skiing or climbing. You don’t need to be a superwoman or superman, but being physically “fit” does make everything more enjoyable. In Switzerland, I’ve been thinking all the hours spent running and cross-country skiing, swimming and biking, as a teenager. I don’t know if I knew already then where I’d enjoy the results and the well-built endurance base best (few times the motivation was really hard to find), but I do know I enjoy my trips way better because of those hours back in the days. I can go further, I can go higher and I don’t get tired so easily; I can also stand some degree of additional pain and take the extra step because my body knows what it is capable of doing, and what not.
So yes, it’s not the toughest sport this hut touring, but it’s not super easy either. It does require some physical preconditions which you aren’t gaining on your sofa watching Netflix. Though that’s more than recommended after the hut tour; add some beer and popcorn and chilly lake or river for tired muscles (or even better: sauna) and you recover like
PS. Only later I realised I was so close to Verbier, where I did another kind of cabing trip. Mountains with their neverending possibilities and various realities simply are the best.
Cabin: Cabane Des Dix
SAC: Swiss Alpine Club
Other cabins in Switzerland: Alpine Huts in Switzerland
Photos of me (edit by me): © Maarten Camerlynck