We had enjoyed three days of hiking in Zermatt with perfect weather the last two. We had done hikes surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain scenery anywhere. These were the most famous mountains in the world with a rich climbing history. It would be a tough act to follow.
Of course we started our trip to Grindelwald with drag-our-bags-to-the-train-station. It wasn't that bad. This time it was only five minutes from our hotel to the train station. Fairly easy since there were no cars. We were there early and bought our tickets. It would take us four trains to reach Grindelwald and about four hours. The connections were pretty efficient, only about five or ten minutes at each station. It was easy to find our way through the train stations. The trains were comfortable. Traveling by train in Europe is actually very pleasant. I enjoy it a lot more than air travel in the US.
First there was the cog railway to Visp. It was the shortest ride but because it was so steep it was very slow and the longest ride that day - over an hour. But watching the scenery of the valley from the train it was hard to be impatient. Then we took a fast intercity train to Speiz. It seems we spent most of that time in very long tunnels under the Bernese mountains. It was like traveling at night. But that was a lot faster than going around the mountains. The third train to Interlaken was along the lake shore the whole way. Although not spectacular alpine scenery the lakes with the green hills behind them and the quaint Swiss houses was very pretty. It would be fun to spend a day or two in Interlaken on some future trip. The last train to Grindelwald had BOB (Bernese Oberland Bahn) written in large letters on the side of every car. We got used to riding the BOB train many times over the next few days.
We reached Grindelwald about two in the afternoon. Although it was mid-September the weather was like high summer. It was sunny and warm, almost hot. The forecast was for record high temperatures that day. It wasn't far from the train station to our hotel, the wellness Hotel Caprice. It only took two or three minutes. But of course it was straight up hill. We made it to the hotel and got checked in. After settling into our room it was time to go explore the town and look for a place to eat lunch.
In town we found that the Hotel Spinne had a patio restaurant that served pizza. And unlike many places in Zermatt they served it all day. That sounded good to us. It turned out to be our favorite place in Grindelwald and we ate there almost every day for either lunch or dinner. It had a nice patio with a view of the mountains. The Wetterhorn is a spectacular mountain that dominates the valley and we could sit and admire it as we ate our lunch. It's a mountain that I have always wanted to climb. It was nice to sit and drink our wine and contemplate the big peaks.
The forecast had been for late afternoon thunderstorms. So after a very late lunch (like 3 pm) we did some shopping. But when clouds started to appear we headed back to our hotel. The weatherman was right on. By five oclock it had clouded up and a downpour had started. But we were secure in our room with a bottle of wine from the local market. Hotel camping has its advantages. The forecast for the next day was clouds in the morning with some clearing. We figured that we could get a hike in. Our problem was how ambitious we should be. I finally just picked out a couple of hikes that we could do and waited till the next morning to choose one. After breakfast I went out on our patio and checked the weather. The Faulhorn ridge (one possible hike) looked cloudy while the Eiger (another possible hike) was mostly clear. So our hiking choice for the day was the Eiger Trail.
We started by taking our friend the BOB train to Kleine Scheidigg, which is a small village (really just the train station and two hotels) below the North Face of the Eiger. From there we switched trains and rode up to the Eiger Gletcher Station. From there the train continues on a tunnel through the mountain to the Jungfraujoch. Although it promised amazing views, we wanted to hike rather than ride so we hopped off the train. We opted for the Eiger Trail, which traverses for several miles directly below the famous North Face of the Eiger. It was a chance to see the famous cliff, six thousand feet high, up close and personal.
As is typical for north faces, the trail below it was in shade and seemed cold and gloomy. The wall loomed high above but the foreshortening was very pronounced. This close to the cliff it just didn't seem that big. I knew the numbers that said how high the face was, but it just didn't look like it. Being so close there was no perspective. It still seemed high, but not the Monster of all the climbing stories that I had read. Still I could pick out famous features of the classic route like the Hinterstroisser Traverse, the Jungfraubahn windows, the First and Second Icefields and the White Spider. I could look up and remember the scene in the movie "The Eiger Sanction" showing Clint Eastwood on the Hinterstroisser Traverse. I'll cover more of the history of the Eiger in another post.
After the traverse below the North Face of the Eiger the trail turned and began to drop down to Alpiglen. Finally it came out into the sun and out of the gloom of the Eiger (which does mean Ogre in German, after all). The views along the final section of the trail were very nice, looking out over the valley and Grindelwald with the Wetterhorn towering behind. Our choice of hikes for the day was vindicated by the fact tht the Faulhorn ridge on the opposite side of the valley was still shrouded in clouds. But we were enjoying warm sun and a spectacular mountain view.
When we reached Alpiglen we found that it was nothing but a few farmhouses and a tiny train station. Even that was welcome - both Sandy and I welcomed the chance to use the restrooms. But all that hiking had made us hungry and we were ready for lunch. We decided to hike down to the next station on the line. Another forty five minutes and we reached an inviting restaurant. We quickly settled in and ordered lunch and drinks. We took our time eating while we enjoyed the views. Finally we caught the train to take us down the very last section to the valley and Grindelwald.
The forecast for tomorrow was excellent weather. Our plan was to do the Faulhorn, one of the premiere hikes in the region.