Saturday, 12 September 2009
Roger: 'Isn't that Martin rude, not coming to our 25th wedding anniversary party?'
Sandra: 'Yes, especially as he was your Best Man!'
R: 'He did have an excuse.'
S: '"Going to The Alps."'
R: 'He's always going to The Alps.'
S: 'I'm not sure, maybe it was just an excuse not to come to our party.'
R: 'Perhaps he didn't want to come. Maybe Sue is just a figment of his imagination.'
S: 'Surely not!'
R: 'Why don't we check his alibi then?'
S: 'What, go to The Alps?'
R: 'Yes, I haven't worked on the railways for 42 years for nothing - we can get there, first class, for a snip.'
S: 'Ok, but I don't think we'll find Martin. The Alps is a Big Place you know.'
R: 'Don't be pessimistic. If he's there we'll see him...'
By and by, Roger and Sandra duly embarked for The Alps in their First Class Charabanc. One day, on a bike ride to Thuner See, near Interlaken, a white haired man stepped out in front of them.
"Hello Roger, Hello Sandra, sorry I couldn't make your party, I was here in The Alps."
"Just checking" said Roger drolly, "where's Sue?"
You see, it really is a small world. We went to Interlaken today and bumped into Roger and Sandra, who live near Lilo and Trish, and all those many years of Christmas cards now seem worthwhile. We had no idea that R and S were in the Alps. Reminiscences were only just getting under way (I think they stalled on the 'Three Tarns Adventure') when we had to part again, so we hope to resume those in the near future.
Roger did ask us to pass on one message to another contemporary from our days at UMIST: "Hello Peter!"
The gardens of Interlaken seemed to be decked with sunflowers vying for the best views of the paragliders and (increasingly rare) hang gliders.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Low cloud, as predicted, started to clear, as predicted. So we headed off to the Sunnbüel cablecar for some high level fun.
After an hour's crocodile walk past big pylons and bell-ringing cows the Schwarenbach restaurant beckoned. We enjoyed coffees in the sunshine whilst a school party armed with small laminated maps devoured countless flagons of soup, and aged Americans devoured the beauty of the place (...what pylons?...)
Actually, the views are magnificent despite the pylons - I'll add an image or two when we get back. (Here's one - there will be more for those interested in a slide show in due course - see index - here you can just about see the huge pylons marching across the landscape at the top of the vegetation on the left.)
There's a shortcut from the restaurant to the Rote Chumme path. This well graded route led us through columbine meadows under limestone cliffs to a grassy lunch spot where it joins the main Rote Chumme path before its steep final 200 metre ascent to 2600 metres.
Up at this high point for the day the mist swirled, but we were granted excellent views, as in today's postcard.
We lingered together with circling choughs before descending in an area previously occupied by a glacier, past a glacial lake - Tälliseeli - then dropping steeply to the Inner Üschene valley.
Dense clumps of the pretty yellow flowers of Yellow Mountain Saxifrage had taken root in the glacial area, and families of marmots and chamois kept close tabs on us as we made our way through the wide area of glacial debris.
We lost the view at around 2300 metres, and after 2.30 pm we saw no other walkers (a few had been descending Rote Chumme earlier). Mist and low cloud dominated the rest of the day, with the temperature dropping as low as 11C.
We were grateful for the well marked paths, the lack of rain and, later, the well stocked shops of Kandersteg.
But dinner was eaten without our usual view of the mesmerising waterfall, and even the nearby Öeschinensee cablecar stanchions disappeared into the gloom as we tucked into some of the Marmotte Tea Room's Magic Cakes.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
We took the 9.50 am minibus up to Selden, a hamlet at the head of the long Gasterntal valley. The 25 minute ride (we needed to book ahead to get seats) saves a good couple of hours, so is well worthwhile.
We were last away of the disgorged passengers due to my faffing and sun tan creaming, but soon drew ahead of any others as we commenced our 900 metre ascent to the tongue of the Kanderfirn glacier.
The route started gently through meadows where harebells, cranesbills, clovers, campions and crocuses are hanging on until the autumn snows finally dampen their growth hormones. Dwarf pines and juniper abound in the valley, and marmots whistled as we ascended over increasingly rocky terrain to a moraine wall. 'Elevenses' taken here granted us a bird's eye view of an avalanche across the valley down the cliffs of the Doldenhorn.
The cliffs we were heading for seemed very close, and the Gasterntal looked far below, but we still had 500 metres to climb! A well graded path got us there for lunch time, only a little more than two hours after setting out. We were going well in the slightly cooler conditions.
It was a surprise to find a visitors book up at 2400 metres where the red and white path turned blue and white, indicating that glacier skills are advised from this point. We wrote an entry and settled down for lunch in this magnificent spot, perched above the tongue of the huge Kanderfirn glacier.
Sue posed for today's postcard, and we both regretted not having the skills or equipment to safely carry on to the Mutthorn Hut (2901 metres), high up on the edge of the glacier.
Three others appeared from the valley, and three more from the glacier, but we encountered really very few people today.
There's fresh snow above 3000 metres on the nearby mountains. It must have fallen a week ago when it last rained in Kandersteg, and despite the subsequent hot weather this snow has clung on, especially to north facing slopes. First signs of the 2010 winter, I suppose.
The long and fine descent to Kandersteg, some 1200 metres below, took a good four hours, during which time the sky filled with cloud and a cool breeze kept me comfy in the cotton t-shirt that I discovered this morning was the last of my clean clothes. We've been so busy doing the Belgians' laundry that we forgot our own!
We were down in plenty of time to replenish our provisions from the Co-op and enjoy another fine home cooked meal.
All in all, another most pleasurable day out.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
(Duly replaced, and now you can see clearly why it's called the 'Fringed Gentian'.)
The pretty blue flower, 1 to 2 cm in diameter, is abundant hereabouts. We also saw it around Chamonix. Curiously it doesn't feature in my book 'Alpine Flowers of Britain and Europe', published 30 years ago. Perhaps it has flourished since then. It's almost unheard of to find deficiencies in this book, but the correct identification was verified by two separate flower books that we spotted in Aosta a couple of days ago.
There are still some very pretty flowers about, despite the approach of Autumn, heralded by the Autumn Crocuses already referred to in these pages.
Today was another thoroughly summery day. We took the Öeschinensee cablecar then set about reversing the circuit that I found so exhausting last week. I was perfectly ok today, and we managed an extension beyond the sparkly lake by walking up to 2400 metres for lunch some 400 metres above last week's high point but still 400 metres below the Hohtürli Pass.
Two sheep tried to share our lunch, but a nearby flock of yellow beaked choughs (which we would normally expect to intrude) must have had other things on its mind.
The postcard shows Sue at this spot below several glaciers, with Hohtürli and the Blümlisalphütte high above her head, on the horizon. Our lunch was punctuated by the crash of avalanches near the feet of these glaciers. The path follows a lateral morraine, and there are steep drops down to where a huge glacier once flowed. I can recall the moment on my first visit to this spot over 20 years ago - when a rather frightened pair, Dave Scruby and I, turned around in a July snowstorm and returned to Kandersteg.
Sue and I turned around today at almost the same spot, but for a different reason - we had never planned to go to the pass, and time was against us.
We found the descent easy, and chuckled as we overtook a mountain biker on a wired section. Then a young calf approached Sue "may I lick your leg?" his little bell jingled. "Of course" replied Sue. Having extracted a mixture of salt, sun tan cream and dead skin from the leg, the calf proceeded to try to untie her shoe laces. Its mother stood nearby, unperturbed. Here the cows roam freely, much like sheep in the UK; dogs wander without need for leads. Strange to contrast this with angry UK cows that trample folk to death.
Finally (for those still awake - and my own level of wakefulness is very low!), thanks Mark A for your comment on yesterday's entry. It's always good to receive your words of encouragement, and despite the paucity of comments at present, I know there are a number of other readers out there.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors, and do take care.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
The views are superb on a good day like today, but on a bad day the weather can be grim.
The col is however notorious for the (un)welcome given by the guardian of the Refuge du Col de Balme. We experienced this nine years ago; Pete and Trish were there a few days ago. The guardian had not changed and nor had her welcome. The hut is cold, with damp in the air; there is a menu; one selects one's preferred meal; it's not available; a second choice is made; the guardian becomes aggravated - "why can't you choose something that's available?" Eventually you finish up with soup, the only thing she has got around to cooking today.
Pete and Trish found all this particularly tedious as they were recovering from drinking stream water coming off Mont Blanc. They had done this without realising that the numerous high mountain huts dispose of their effluent by chucking it down the mountain!
Today we returned to Kandersteg by an efficient underground route (aka Autoverlad Lötschberg - car transport through a railway tunnel) to discover the affect of 6 days of 6 Belgians on the apartment we have grown so fond of. Our worries were unfounded, as the Belgians had made a good stab at clearing up after themselves despite the sweltering heat. We have already dealt with all their rubbish, have renewed our friendship with 'ginger', and tomorrow will embark on our new careers as laundry attendants.
What it must be like for Annie and Peter, the owners, we hate to think; even as sort of caretaker visitors we find we have become very protective towards this place...
...as indeed we have towards John and Janet's splendid pad in Chamonix from which we reluctantly departed this morning. Rest assured, everything there is spic and span, with not a crumb in sight.
Anyway, we stopped again at the Col de la Forclaz, this time on the brightest and clearest summer's day imaginable. So we paused for a stroll beside the 'Bisse' - a small canal built in 1895 to channel water from the splendid Glacier du Trient to the col, for use in irrigation on the slopes below. The Bisse (it would be called a levada in Madeira) drops 60 metres on its 3 km journey from its source to the col, but from the Path to Col de Balme it looks as if it rises sharply to the Col de la Forclaz - an optical illusion.
There is no such excitement with the view up to the Col de Balme from the Bisse. As you can see from today's postcard there is no illusion regarding the 900 metre ascent to the unfriendly refuge on the col.
The Alpine flowers are mostly on the wane just now. As you can see from the image, even the Rosebay Willowherb has mostly gone to seed.
But summer reigns supreme - it was 31C when we arrived here on today's perfect summer's day.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Today's highlight was a visit Les Tines to Mark the Mountain Guide, expert alpiniste and purveyor of children's mountaineering epics.
He is also an outdoors blogger - see:
http://www.markthemountainguide.com/ and http://www.markseaton.com/
We exchanged stories of common acquaintances and all matters mountaineering over tea and cake outside his and Jane's lovely house in Les Tines.
A most pleasurable afternoon, and a delight to meet someone whose exploits we have followed vicariously for some time.
His books are outstanding - essential for the library of any budding junior alpiniste.
We travelled to Les Tines via the Planpraz cablecar, then along the Grand Balcon Sud to La Flégère for lunch, and on down through lovely woodland to Le Paradis (aren't these place names wonderful!) and Les Tines, where the house numbers puzzled us until Mark explained that they represent the distance in metres of each house from the main road.
Before we left, Mark kindly posed with Walter (aka 'Leo') at the request of Andrew, our 7 year old friend, and fan of Mark's books.
The previously clear skies developed a little high cloud today, which made for a wonderfully pink sunset on Mont Blanc, from where paragliders continued to drift relentlessly down.
Today's postcard was taken near La Flégère at lunchtime, and shows Sue chomping under the magnificent backdrop of Les Drus and Aiguille Verte.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Mr Grumpy in the Trafford Centre
Weird Darren in a Cambridge mafia den
JJ - hobbling around Timperley Land
An Old Hobo on the top of Sergeant Man
Lilo Lil and Trish in the Gecko Bar
not forgetting Mr Slowman's regular forensic forays onto these pages
....the list goes on.
The Gecko Bar is a two minute walk from our present abode in Chamonix, so it seemed only polite to welcome Pete (Lilo) and Trish into our borrowed piece of wonderland, with its magnificent views of Mont Blanc.
We spent a somewhat surreal afternoon watching a cricket match between the world's northern and southern hemispheres, being played by residents of the Chamonix valley. Local rules applied (I won't go into them now) and the match umpire appeared to be a dog. A sizable crowd spectated from a hill that was actually within the field of play. We sat with beers on our patio as the game continued until sundown. Mont Blanc glittered under a cloudless sky in the background. Play was regularly interrupted by paragliding incidents. They kept landing on the pitch.
The match was eventually abandoned when the ball was lost in some deep grass in the dimming light.
Today's postcard shows Trish, Lilo and Sue, lounging with beers on our patio during a particularly enthralling passage of play.