And then it got dark…
As a landscape photographer and nature lover, I love to be in the mountains! The clean air, the rugged landscape and the tranquility make this one of the best places to be. That is why I’ll be writing a number of blogs about my adventures in the Swiss Alps.
In my previous two posts I took you up the mountain to a beautiful mountain lake and had a hard time in an incredibly beautiful landscape. Today we hike to the edge of the immense Aletsch glacier to visit an impressive ice cave. A great adventure awaits us, because the way back doesn’t go to plan.
On top of the mountain
As in the previous blog, this hike starts on top of the mountain as well, and because it ends at the same place, we buy a two-way ticket for the lift (instead of a hike pass). Here, we also make the first mistake; we assume that this middle station will be opened until approximately 10 p.m. So we leave the crowds to the start of the hike without checking the schedule.
Because we are close, we decide to climb to the top of the Eggishorn (2927 meters) first. It is a steep climb over rocks and small paths. But it’s worth the effort. The view from the top is phenomenal!
While eating a sandwich, we enjoy the sun and the beautiful view! In front of us is the enormous glacier and in the background, the Mönch (4107 m), the Eiger (3970 m) and the Jungfrau (4158 m). Each iconic mountains with legendary climbing routes!
After eating a sandwich, we walk back down and start the actual hike to the glaciers’ edge. Immediately we stumble upon a roadblock and a sign. There is a detour due to rockfall. They do not put these signs here for nothing, so we follow the diversion. This adds a fairly long (and boring) part to the route. We are on the valley side of the mountain and the view is not very exciting. But because the route is descending, progress is quick.
Weissbier & vegan rösti!
In front of us is a small reservoir; the edge of the glacier used to be here, now it is an artificial wall. The traces of global warming are all too clearly visible here… The glacier rim is now a few kilometers away from this place. Before we continue, we first order a large glass of wheat beer and a vegan rösti! Who would have thought in this place!
The place has an amazing atmosphere and the beer tastes good, but we have to continue … The glacier is calling. We follow our path through a beautiful and bizarre landscape. At first it is green and friendly, with small lakes, but the closer we get to the glacier, the more barren and hostile it gets.
At the end of the path, the vegetation stops. Here, we have to go down steeply. A stream flows through the rocks in the direction of the glacier. Like a funnel, the landscape continues into the depths. It’s bizarre, overwhelming, disturbing and beautiful at the same time. The sign at the start of the descent, gives us a clear warning: Beware! Falling rocks!
To the edge
After a steep descent, the path ends and the route continues over flat rocks. It is bizarre to think that there where tons of ice in this place just a few decades ago. However, it is clearly visible from the deep grooves in the rocks. It’s shocking to see how much ice has disappeared and how far the glacier has retreated.
We are getting closer to the glacier and finally experience its immensity. The pebbles you see from above turn out to be huge boulders. The fractures and cracks are huge crevasses. Everything is grand and imposing!
The stream we followed, enters the glacier through a cave, and disappears into the icy depths. It seems very attractive to enter through this cave as wel, but there is a big problem! There are huge cracks in the roof and there are large blocks of ice from a previous (recent) collapse. It has been warm and sunny all day, and the entrance is very unstable. Such a huge block of ice on your head is without doubt fatal, so we keep it safe and stay away from the entrance as much as possible.
While I take pictures in the opening, Joke is exploring the area. She soon finds another cave and after inspection, it turnes out to be stable. The opening is narrow and is therefore almost constantly in shade. Through the low opening you enter an extraordinarily beautiful blue world. Yet, it is also somewhat exhilarating. In the cave it is cool, you can hear the sound of running water and a monotonous hum. The latter is called: the singing of the glacier. Each glacier has its own unique tone. This sound is caused by the moving ice. To actually hear this sound, was a very special and moving moment for me.
Time is running out
Unfortunately, it is the end of the day and time is running out. We leave the glacier cave, but soon I am distracted by the beautiful colors and shapes of the higher landscape around the edge of the glacier. A few more pictures with Joke and Kyra for scale, and then we really have to go!
We have to go to the middle station to take the lift to the valley. Fortunately, we can cut a part through a tunnel of one kilometer close to the mountain hut. That saves a lot of climbing, and while the low sun illuminates the path, we talk enthusiastically about the wonderful experience.
The last ride
When we arrive at the lift station an eerie feeling strikes us; all the cable cars are inside and the cable is not moving. That is not a good sign. It soon becomes apparent that this station has closed at 6 p.m. It is now around 7.30pm. We consult for a moment; Walking to the next middle station takes more than two hours, as is walking down. We choose to the latter. The path is wide and we might come across a car that wants to give us a ride down …
We set a quick pace because the sun has just set and it won’t be long before it gets dark. Normally that is not such a problem, but just today I forgot my headlamp. It’s still on the charger in the tent.
After several turns on the wide path, our trail suddenly turns right and into the forest …
In the forest
We follow the narrow path and try to walk as fast as possible. It is already getting dark. Suddenly the path stops. We arrive at a stream. Parts of a recent landslide are clearly visible (they are taking down the old cable masts in this area). Not a safe place to get lost. Thanks to the GPS on my Garmin watch, I know that the path must be very close and after some bushwhacking up a steep hill, we get back on the trail.
The path continues downhill and suddenly we are on a steep slope full of fallen trees. Again we have lost track. For a moment it seems we cannot find the trail anymore and we need emergency services. But just before panic stikes, we manage to find the path again. This happens three more times, where we also have to climb some fences, after which we eventually get clear of the construction / demolition zone. On this side there was a sign stating that the trail was closed… if only they had placed it on the other side as well.
The path we are now following is in a much better condition, although it is pitch black and we are still on a steep mountain, we use the lamp of my telephone. We save Joke’s battery for when there is an emergency. The whole hike down, Kyra is in high spirits and enthusiastic about the whole adventure (crazy girl)! She even comforts Joke when she is about to loose it. Incredible and really special!
After descending more than 1000 meters, we finally arrive on tarmac. We are still descending, but this feels a lot better. When we finally reach the car, we have covered 23 km. A nice walk!
A few mistakes
In retrospect, we made a number of mistakes that caused us to walk down in the dark
- Regular tickets instead of a hiking pass.
- Not checking the schedule, but assuming all middle stations are opened until 10 p.m.
- Summit the Eggishorn first. This was amazing but took a lot of time.
- Too long to get to the glacier because of a detour.
- The choice to walk down to the valley instead of going to the other middle station (which we knew was open). With a hiking pass, we would certainly have chosen this option.
- No head torch. Hiking in the dark is okay, but without a headlamp it isn’t.
We could not do anything about the fact that the path was closed due to construction work. This wasn’t indicated at the start of the trail. Only when we were on the trail we noticed all the debris, building materials and twisted steel. Fortunately, I was able to use my GPS to find the route because google maps did not know about the existence of this path. In the end everything went well and we were able to stay calm, but losing a path on a steep slope in the dark is no fun.
In retrospect it was a great adventure which I would like to share with you! Hope you enjoyed it and learned something from it as well! We certainly did!
Thanks for reading
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