Thursday, July 7, 2011

Snow fun and hard work

Today we visited the Jungfraujoch at the staggering altitude of over 11,000' above sea level.
This involved an early departure from the apartment (7am) to catch the train from Murren to Grutschalp where we caught the 7:30a tram down to Lauterbrunnen.  A few fast and furious minutes at the ticket booth to purchase tickets and then we hopped on the train that would take us back up out of the valley on the other side to Wengen and beyond.  Way up the mountain, we changed trains at Kleine Scheidegg for the final leg to the top.  Along the way there were 2 stops that allowed us to get off the train and go look out some large windows at the various snow capped peaks and glaciers.  
We arrived at the top about 10:30.  The whole affair is much fancier than the first time I was there in 1973.  We first took the elevator to the lookout point called the Sphynx.  You walk around the observation deck that is made up a heavy duty metallic grid so the wind is coming at you from all different directions.  Looking down is dizzying as the whole thing seems absurdly poised on a rock ridge with the sides dangling over basically nothing.  (They kept telling me to not look down.)  
One of the glaciers with two morains.
There were a lot of holes in the snow.  They were a bit creepy to me as I imagined someone falling down one and landing who knows where.  It was even a little creepier to look at the virgin expanses of snow and wonder how many holes lurked under the surface.
This video was Justin's idea.
From this viewpoint we could see the path in the snow that led up the mountain and around the edge to the Monchsjochhutte. The work joch means the pass that runs between two mountains.  So we took the elevator back down and walked out through the tunnel to the snow.
It was sunny and blinding as we trekked off up the trail.  The sun was quite warm and felt good, but the wind could be quite brisk.  In spite of the wind, the exertion kept us plenty warm and we were wearing either a light windbreaker or our fleeces.  15 minutes along the path, we find a sign that says 45 minutes to the hutte.  We have since come to the conclusion that the estimated trail times are clocked by mountain goats.  They are never accurate for those of us that need to stop and catch our breath in the thin atmosphere.  This was a heck of a workout.
Here is a photo with Justin way out in front with Bob and Hayley in the foreground waiting for the laggers to catch up.
The scenery was incredible.  In fact Bob and I agree that everywhere you look is a postcard shot.  Here are several.

We had lunch in the hutte; mainly soup or goulash and were fortified for the trek back down.  Everything that they serve there is brought in by helicopter and the prices reflected the extra expense.  
Since coming up, the sun had turned the trail to slush as the temperature hovered between 32 and 35 degrees.  So while it meant that the trail wasn't as icy, it also made it similar to walking in sand.  At one point, I got the notion to try to slide down the trail on my back in my windbreaker.  It worked pretty well on the steeper sections.  On the more shallow (?) sections, it was too slushy, but Bob, Justin and I all tried it with Hayley doing the video portion.  The other hikers were not amused.
At the bottom of the trail, there was a snow park where you could inner tube or sled and a ZIP LINE!  Bob and Justin took a whirl at this and both deemed it to be great fun.  
We then headed to the Ice Palace.  This is really more like a cave and tunnels that have been bored into the ice at the top.  
 Striations and sediment in the ice.

 I found a Yeti in the Ice Palace.
The return trip was a simple reverse of the outbound trip and it started to rain a little bit as we got back up to Murren.  We dragged ourselves down the main road of the village and back home.  Along the way we had the great idea of buying the take and bake pizza from the co-op market and had that for dinner along with a salad.
One of the things that we are noticing about Murren is that it is full of Americans.  I think it is possible to take the whole Rick Steves thing too far.  We're hosed as tourists when they start translating his books into other languages.  I just checked the website and so far we're good.
Until you visit here, you don't realize how dependent these alpine villages are upon the trains and trams.  Here is a photo of the track showing you the "teeth" that are used to ensure safe arrivals. 
The trams also have a shelf underneath the part that holds the people where they load supplies going up and haul out the trash or parts going in for service as I saw today.
Once you are up here in the village, there are a few little mini-trucks with a half - flatbed behind that they use for hauling things back and forth.  At one end of the town is the train from the valley and at the other end of the town is the tram to the top of the Schilthorn.  This is probably the route used to get supplies to the restaurant that is at the top of the Schilthorn.
After the mini-trucks the locals use the same mode of conveyance that they have used in the centuries that man has inhabited the area. 
It is really difficult to convey how steep things are here with a photo.  Unless I can get Justin to go stand on the side of one of these hillsides for some point of reference.  Just outside of the back of the village is a long tall slope that is used by the grazing cows.  When it is quiet up here, you can see the cows waaayyyy up the hillside and hear the music from the cow bells hung around their necks.  It's very charming.
Tomorrow we will travel down into the valley and visit the Trummelbach Falls.  Good old Mr. Steves refers to them as "God's bandsaw grinding through the mountains."  God or the Swiss, they both seem to like to drill tunnels in solid rock.

Step count for today:  15,008

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