Monday, July 22: Grindelwald
This, my last full day on vacation, has been a full one. I didn’t get back to the hotel and take a shower until almost 7, and now it is 7:30, and I am only now starting to write this up. A lot happened today. I wonder how much of it I will remember. :-)
Grindelwald is an interesting place. It is way the heck up the valley, which is to say at a significantly higher elevation than Interlaken. It seems to be the biggest place around. It is also surrounded by a bazillion stereotypical Swiss buildings. It almost looks like a village designed by Disney (other than a few more modern buildings in the center of the village).
I thought that Grindelwald, being just below the Eiger, would have a good view of the Nordwand. But it seems that the wall is sort of edge-on towards Grindelwald, so you don’t have a good view of the infamous north wall. You have to get up towards Kleine Scheidegg to get a good view. I wonder how the view (if any) is from Wengen.
I have a cheap room, so it faces away from the mountain. The other rooms would have a good view of the mountains, if not the Nordwand itself.
At check-in, the clerk suggested that I might want to go to breakfast a bit later, as earlier there are lots of “groups” there, but I got up at 7 and went down for breakfast anyway. That was the right thing to do, as the buffet was not crowded at all. As far as I can determine, it was included with the room rate. It was nice to sit next to some big windows (actually one panel was open), look at the mountains under blue skies, and watch and listen to the swallows darting about.
I packed up my backpack (warm clothes and rain clothes, tripod and walking stick) and started hiking down to the train station in Grindelwald. Along the way, I found a deli. It was sort of like the deli that you would find inside of a grocery store. The guy there didn’t speak much English, but I asked if I could get a sandwich. He went to a basket of bread, and asked in I wanted the long one or the short one. Having selected the longer roll, he then asked (all of this asking is through pantomine) which meat I wanted. I went with ham. He sliced some off and weighed it. He then proceeded to start wrapping it up in plastic wrap. I got his attention and asked for cheese. He directed me towards some blocks of cheese, but I said “for the sandwich”. I guess he understood, because he went out back, brought out a block of cheese, sliced some, weighed it, and added it to the sandwich. Then he charged me for the bread, meat, and cheese. When I actually got around to eating it, I found it surprisingly good. Rather than being a ham sandwich flavored with cheese, it was more like a cheese sandwich (cheddar I think) flavored with ham.
This area seems to be a particular favorite for the Japanese. There is a Japanese Tourism Center in town. Up in Kleine Scheidegg, there were some notices in Japanese next to the cash registers, although I have no idea what they said.
I hiked down the street and found the train station (walking to the station in Grindelwald was more convenient than driving to the next station: Grindelwald-Grund). I bought a ticket up to Kleine Scheidegg, and back from Alpiglen. Very punctually, the train came and left (with me on it). It seems that my watch and the Swiss train time are off by only about 30 seconds. :-)
The train went down to Grund and then ground up the hill. They announced that they would only stop at the intermediate stops if someone requested it. What wasn’t at all clear to me was how one would request it if one so desired. Fortunately, I was going to the end (Kleine Scheidegg), so the question was moot.
When I got off, I found that this was decidedly the *wrong* time of day to take pictures of the Eiger Nordwand. The sun was directly behind the peak, so I was shooting into the sun, with the Nordwand in the shade.
At this time, I also nearly had a heart attack. I went to put on my sun glasses, and I couldn’t find them! They weren’t in the pocket of my pants, and they weren’t in the pocket of my backpack. My best guess is that they fell out at the deli, when I tried putting the sandwich away (or perhaps at the train station in Grindelwald, when I was trying to pay for my ticket). At least it was happening at the end of my trip after all of the glacier work was over, but it was still an expensive “oops”.
Then I found them. At one of those earlier times mentioned above, I had taken my glasses (in their case) out of my pocket and dumped it into my camera bag (which was empty because the camera was around my neck). So it was disaster averted.
A helicopter came up and was acting sort of strange. I was wondering if it was some kind of rescue or something. Then I realized what was going on. It was acting as a “sky crane”, that is it was lifting building material from where it had been off loaded from something (the train?), and ferrying it up to the construction site.
I wandered through a gift shop and got something for Michael, and then I set out on my hike. The first trail was up to the Eiger Glacier. It was a very broad and clear trail, almost paved, but the operative word was “up”. It headed up, sometimes steeply. On the other hand, I rejoiced how easy it was to trudge up at 6,000 feet as compared to a mile higher at 11,000 feet. Still, a few of the steeper sections left me winded.
At one point, I came out on a little man-made lake. I don’t know if that was for drinking water for Kleine Scheidegg or something else. At another point, I came upon a little building that had a shallow wading pool with some benches in it. Apparently, you could push a button and get some water jets/fountains going.
Eventually the trail ended, up against the Nordwand (North Wall). Then I could take the second trail, which snaked along just below the Nordwand. This trail was very well marked, but not as much of a “highway” as the Eiger Glacier trail.
I thought that this longer trail would be almost deserted, but there were a fair number of people on it, including a few “trail runners”, which seemed rather painful to me. (Although to be fair, they were traveling faster than I hiked, but slower than I run.)
On the plus side, a reasonable portion of the trail was in the shade of the Eiger, although perversely the uphill segments seemed to be in the sun.
This was a very enjoyable trek, though (literally) Alpine meadows with wild flowers. The trail meandered up and down, although more down than up. Below me I could hear the almost constant tinkle of cow-bells. At various points I heard the very loud rumble of what must have been military jets. It is absolutely amazing how much noise those things make.
At another point, I head a whoosh followed by a foomp. I was wondering what the heck that was. I looked around and found that it was some sort of sky diver. The first noise was the wind rushing past his suit, and the second sound was the chute opening.
The only fly in the ointment, so to speak, was that the wild flowers seemed to be attracting bugs, particularly a few varieties of flies. These didn’t bite, but they were at times very annoying. At one point, I was hungry and stopped to eat my sandwich. I only got through about half of it before I decided that the flies were too annoying, and I packed it away and kept hiking.
I ate more of the sandwich later, but I didn’t finish it until I got to Alpiglen.
The trail winds below the Nordwand, gradually losing altitude. I crossed over a number of tiny snow fields, but I didn’t need to use my crampons. :-) At one point, I crossed a “snow bridge”. The trail went over a snow field, but there was a stream flowing into the top of the snow field, under the snow field, and out the bottom.
Eventually, the trail reaches a large waterfall. I tried taking some pictures, but I wanted to make sure that my lens wouldn’t get misted.
Then the trail starts descending rapidly through a series of switchbacks. At the bottom, there is a well-marked junction. You can take a right and continue down to Grindelwald, or you can take a left and descend to Alpiglen. I did the latter. I had thought that it was just a stop for the train, but apparently it is a little village.
About this time, I happened to glance at my camera display and found to my horror that I had set the exposure adjustment to one stop dark! I had done this a day or too ago, and at the time I thought I had been sure to change it back, but apparently I hadn’t. So all of the myriad pictures I had taken during the hike had been dark. Oh well...
(When I got home I checked, and actually I *had* changed it back the previous day. I set it one stop dark for some flower pictures under the Nordwand, and that’s the time I didn’t reset it. So it wasn’t dark for that many pictures.)
I wanted to try to get some good pictures of the Nordwand, and I found that the best time was later in the day. Unfortunately, this was a balancing act, because the later one waited, the cloudier it became. In any event, In Alpiglen, I bought a round-trip ticket to Kleine Scheidegg, and when the train came around, I went back up.
Just as I got there, a cloud was passing in front of the Nordwand. I’m not sure if it moved incredibly slowly, or whether it was forming at one end and dissipating on the other. In any event, it seemed to hang in front of the North Wall *forever*. I took some pictures anyway, then decided to get a coffee and some cake to kill some time. I was rather confused, when the waitress brought out a cup of coffee, a cup of milk, and a packet of cocoa, along with the cake. I had ordered the Milchkaffee, and thought that these other things were part of it. I later found out (when I got the bill) that I had apparently been served the coffee, cake, *and* some hot chocolate. I had drunk the hot chocolate, so I paid for it.
All during this time, I was paranoid, because I didn’t have a good view of the mountain, and I was afraid that the clouds would part when I wasn’t able to take pictures. As soon as I paid for my food, I dashed back around the restaurant to the back side, where I had an unobstructed view of the face.
There were still clouds there. Over a period of time, I took pictures, thinking that if nothing else, I could maybe Photoshop bits of different ones together to get a clear view of the face. Then after a half hour or more, something amazing happened. The clouds opened up.
For about 15 to 30 minutes, there were no clouds in front of the face. I took a bazillion pictures, some zoomed, some not, some one stop bright, some one stop dark, etc. Eventually, the clouds came back in, and I decided that I was pictured out anyway. So it was time to catch the next train down.
The ride down was uneventful. In fact, I almost dozed off at one point. Then back in Grindelwald, I hiked back up to the hotel.
My day was not yet over. I had a little time left, so I thought I would visit the Trummelbach Falls. I left the pack in my room and just grabbed my camera, tripod, and lucky umbrella. I asked the clerk at the front desk how to drive there. At first he gave me the train routes, which confused me, but then he realized that I had a car. He showed me where it was on a map, and I didn’t have trouble finding it. (Despite not having a GPS reference.)
It was driving down the valley from Grindelwald that I realized how high up I had come.
At the bottom, you pretty much take a left up the next valley over, and just keep going. You go past some amazing cliffs that rise straight up hundreds of feet if not a thousand. Eventually you come to the falls. It was about 5:40, and they close at 6:00. I checked, and that was the last admission. You had to be out by 6:20.
The falls are a series of falls as the river flows through a tiny “slot” canyon that it cut through the mountain. For a good portion, the canyon is so narrow, that it might as well be a cave.
You first take a funicular up through a tunnel, which lets you out halfway up. Then you continue up a series of man-made tunnels with viewing platforms near the various falls. Getting pictures was challenging, trying to keep the lens from getting misted. The roar of the falls, particularly in those enclosed spaces, was awesome.
After returning to the halfway point, you continue down the hill side, with viewing areas for more falls.
I think I got out around 6:10. I was going to try to drive to Wengen to see if that had better views of the Nordwand, but I couldn’t easily find it, so I just drove back to Grindelwald. (I found out later that you can’t drive to Wengen—it is above some of the cliffs.
As I drove up to the hotel, parked, and got out of the car, there was a crash of thunder, right on schedule. But today my magic umbrella seemed to be working, as it was not raining where I was.
After becoming human again, I wandered around looking for a good place for dinner. There was one interesting place that I looked at. Among other things, it served baby goat. It was a totally outdoor place, with the guy cooking on a wood fired stove. However, no one was eating there (perhaps because the tables were exposed, and the sky was threatening), so I decided not to be the first.
I saw a rainbow further up the valley, but I only had the point-and-shoot, so I don’t know how well the pictures came out.
I found one place that I decided to eat at. I ordered the schnitzel, which might be more German than Swiss, but what the heck.
It is sort of neat. Down where I am, it is clear, but the mountain tops are in the clouds. Every now and again I can hear a rumble of thunder. I just hope that it doesn’t start raining here, as I am only nominally under the overhang, There is a breeze picking up, which might be neat and might be ominous.
At one point, it started sprinkling out, and a little was coming onto me. So I got up and dragged my table a bit more under the awning. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that the chairs are folding chairs, and when you pick them up, parts move and create pinching hazards. I actually drew a little blood on one finger with that one.