The morning was clear and sunny, but it was still a bit of a drive to where we wanted to go hiking today. Our drive took us past Lake Thuner, which nearly tempted us for a dip – especially when I spied the diving board! But, I could see that the weather was turning, and I wanted to get into the mountains!
We headed inland just past Interlaken, and we were immediately awed by the deep valley that were entering. The walls were high and steep, and there were snow capped mountains and their glaciers in the background.
The further we headed into the valley, the tighter and steeper the valley became. We started noticing all the waterfalls that this area is famous for – we quickly gave up trying to count.
It was still sunny, long after the predicted storms, lulling me into a false sense of security. I believed that this weather was going to last, and after the rush to get here, we started to slow down.
We had a quick lunch in the van, and made our way up to Murren – hiking, rather than catching one of the multiple forms of public transport. I saw the signs to get to Murren, so I started following them, unaware that there were multiple paths that led us to Murren. It started steeply through the town, before taking us onto a gravel road. It was a long boring slog, up a subtle, but constant gradient. We were surrounded by trees, and there was little to no view. It wasn’t the most fun hike we’d done, and were confused by all the glowing reviews recommending to hike to Murren, instead of taking the chairlift/train. As you might have guessed, we likely took an incorrect trail from Lauterbrunnen, and Risa’s suggestion to find the Tourist Office for a trail map was probably a good idea.
To make matters worse, it was hot and humid, and we were suffering in the heat. Risa found small pleasures in picking (and eating) the wild strawberries that were growing on the side of the road. They were tiny, but they packed a rather intense flavour – it was just a little too much effort for me.
Our boring gravel road eventually joined the railway, and from here things became more open and scenic. We were walking though dairy farms, and we once again had views of the distant peaks – the Ogre, the Monk and the Virgin, though I’m not sure which is which!
But, by the time we’d arrived in Murren, the heat and the sunshine had disappeared. It was now overcast, and the wind was picking up. The storms that I saw forecast for this morning were finally coming – though I was still in denial.
As a lesson learnt, we grabbed a trail map from the Tourist Office. I wanted to do the North Face trail, after being recommended it by a friend, however, the lady in the tourist office suggested that it wasn’t a good idea, especially if a storm was coming. Begrudgingly I took her advice, and we decided to do a smaller hike to Grimmelwald, and then back down to the valley floor.
There is much written about the beauty of the car-free Murren, and most of what they say is true. It’s filled with pretty little Swiss cottages with bright flower gardens – and not a car in sight. It’s very much a tourist town, and some of the charm does feel insincere.
We made our way through town, and were presented with options to continue our hike – up towards the North Face trail, or across towards Gimmelwald (as suggested by the Tourist Office). The clouds were dark, but I didn’t think it was going to rain – and certainly not with lightning. Still, I followed her advice, and we walked along and down towards Gimmelwald.
The trail got a little more interesting from this section, passing through more farms, and through small sections of forest. We even past a real-life Heidi-chan playing with the hay.
We passed through a small section of forest, and caught our first glimpse of the tiny hamlet. It was much smaller, and less touristic than Murren. There seemed to be more cows than people.
And, just as we reached the edge of town, the first spots of rain fell. Looking further afield, I could see the heavy wall of rain that was approaching, so we sought shelter under the eve of a small hut. We waited for the storm front to pass, but still got our wet weather gear out in anticipation.
The rain eased, but it certainly didn’t stop. The original plan was to continue walking down to the valley floor, back to where our van was parked. In the back of my mind I was still contemplating the walk, as the rain wasn’t that heavy, and the trails have been fairly well built. But, to understand our options, we went to the lift station to see the prices –and timetables. It was a nice surprise to see that it was only ~6CHF each, so we agreed it wasn’t worth the discomfort and risk to walk back down. Moments after that decision, the first bolts of lightning lit up the sky, as if to confirm we’d made the right choice. The only problem was it being cash only – and I didn’t have enough… There was no ATM in town (top or bottom), so it was fortunate that they accepted my Euros instead. Catching the lift down, we could see just how heavy the rain was in the valley, with waterfalls already flowing heavily, and the skies very dark (for 7PM).
I’d used the last of my Euros and Swiss Francs on the lift down to Stechelberg, but we still had a few kilometres to travel to return to our car further up the valley in Lauterbrunnen. There was no way to pay with card, and no ATM. We jumped aboard the bus that was waiting, and thought we’d deal with the problem if it arose, rather than walking back in the storm.
There were limited (affordable) accommodation options, other than the car park of a restaurant some 30 minutes drive away. It was a little weird, with a few other vehicles that were obviously long-term residents in this car park, but for 5CHF, we didn’t care.
The storm intensified during the night, with giant drops of rain hammering down hard on our roof. It was loud and disruptive, but we both fell to sleep immediately after dinner and shower.
The weather forecast had predicted that this storm was going to continue, and possibly intensify over the next few days. We’d mentally prepared for a rest day today, rather than attempt anything in miserable weather.
Instead, like a cruel joke, we woke to vivid blue skies and sunshine. We attempted to prepare for the day as quickly as possible, and come up with a new, and alternate plan.
We’d been recommended a hike from a friend who’d lived (and guided) in this area over several seasons, so we took her advice and headed for Grindelwald.
It was no longer spectacular weather, but it was far from the heavy rain we’d been expecting, so we were happy. I’d parked in the first car park I found, thinking parking would be difficult closer to the trailhead at Pfinsteggbahn. Not only was I wrong (the other car park was empty), our parking was more than double the price – and we had to walk an extra 15-minutes each way.
We found the trail, and were making quick progress up some steep switchbacks inside a thick forest. There wasn’t much to look at for the first, and steepest part of the climb. We were working up a sweat, and were both short of breath. Eventually we passed the tree line, and our horizon opened up. The weather was also clearing, giving us great views back towards Grindelwald, as well as further up the valley towards the peak of Eiger (Ogre), as well as distant peaks of Mönch (Monk) and Jungfrau (Virgin).
There were several information panels along the hike, from which we learnt that 150 years ago, the distant glacier was all the way down where we were hiking.
We also learnt that some 10 years ago, a large section of the canyon collapsed, creating a large lake below us. We could see the huge slabs of rock that had peeled off, making us feel slightly uncomfortable about where we were walking!
Then, to further put as on edge, a huge chunk of the distant glacier calved off with a thundering crash.
The clouds started gathering, and temperatures started to drop again. I’d hoped that maybe it would clear up further, but we had to be satisfied with the patches of sunlight that we’d had.
Our trail took us to a large-ish mountain refuge, Refuge Baregg. Perhaps foolishly, we’d brought enough water to get us to this refuge, with plans to fill our bottles for the descent. There was a small fountain, but there was no water flowing. I asked the lady in the restaurant if they had water, to which she answered they did – for a price. 1L of bottled water was over 10CHF, so we made do with 500mL of their tap water for 3.5CHF. I get that they need to make money, but was rather disappointed that we had to pay for some tap water. We sat down on their deck with our drinking water, and were about to eat a sandwich, only to be told people usually order food at a restaurant, and that there were plenty of rocks to have picnics on… Not the warmest hospitality, though I’m led to believe this is typical of Switzerland. We took her kind advice, and found a rock with superior views. And, when we’d drunk my flask of water, I refilled from one of the many waterfalls we walked past.
The weather was starting to close in on our descent, with the first few drops of rain giving us a little fright. It didn’t amount to anything, fortunately.
The trail took us to the small town of Pfinstegg, from where there was a small gondola back to Grindelwald. The prices were more in line with Switzerland compared to yesterday, and instead of paying the 16CHF for 5-minute gondola ride, I chose to walk the rest of the way down. Risa was suffering with an ingrown toenail, so she decided to spend the money and catch the lift – only beating me by 10 minutes.
It felt like our typical Swiss weather luck had returned, as the afternoon cleared up, and was clear, sunny – and very hot.
I read about a piece of graffiti that was written in a hostel here in town, “If Heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, send me back to Grindelwald”. We might not have had the perfect weather, but I could certainly see the charm, and the beauty, of this place.
We were facing the same lack of affordable sleeping options tonight, so chose to return to the same hotel car park, this time not paying any attention to the other long term residents. The predicted rain and storms eventually came, though it wasn’t until we were heading to bed, some 10 hours late.
In another cruel twist of fate, the predicted 100% chance of heavy rains for the morning were wrong. It was yet another clear and sunny day, possibly even clearer and sunnier than yesterday morning. We’d cancelled going to Zermatt, as the weather for the next week looked terrible in the forecast.
But, by the time we’d finished breakfast, the first dark clouds were on the horizon, and rapidly approaching. They didn’t amount to anything, but they were a sign that this weather is extremely changeable.
We decided to spend the morning catching up on chores (and rest), much to the visible annoyance of the owner of the hotel/restaurant whose car park we were stopped in – as a paying guest, I’ll reiterate.
We agreed that we’d only want to visit Zermatt if the weather was going to be close to perfect. While the forecast wasn’t entirely accurate, it did show that the next week was going to be quite mixed, with strong winds, heavy rain, and lightning storms. We had an amazing time back in February, with a truly stellar day of sunshine, so decided not to waste time (and money) going back. Instead, we agreed to head back to France via Italy.
As we were leaving, we stopped to visit a castle we’d driven past a few times the past few days. It wasn’t much, but we’d driven past too many castles in a rush the past week. The first drops of rain started falling as we left our van, which didn’t give us much confidence. We arrived at the castle, and weren’t able to find any way to enter as a tourist – it appeared to be used for local council purposes.
As we made our way back through the beautiful old village, the rain stopped being fine mist, and started being heavy drops – and the first rumble of thunder sounded. We took it as a sign to continue our travel plans, and joined the familiar section of motorway back towards Gruyere, eventually stopping for the night just short of the Italian border in Martigny.