September 21, 2007

Dispatch from Europahütte

The morning dawned cold and cloudy. Breakfast helped my mood a bit -- lots of cereal, juice, bread, ham, cheese, and good coffee. And, the clouds thinning to the north also helped. By the time I started out, it looked promising. It was still cold, though, and there was frost in the woods.

This time, I bid Glyn and Elena goodbye for real, as they opted to use one of their extra days exploring the many trails around Gasenried and Grächen.

The trail starts with a climb up through the woods to the top of a ridge. By that time, the clouds had lifted and views, views! To the north, the Berner Oberland in more detail than ever (I'll have to stop just writing that and find out what peaks I'm looking at). The Weisshorn is gorgeous! And the first glimpse to the Matterhorn. Wonderful. And a real lift after yesterday.

I passed another group of four Americans who had taken the bus up from St. Niklaus this morning. That made nine of us along the trail.

Once the climb was accomplished, the trial pretty much keeps a gentle climb or drop. It's an amazing accomplishment. This isn't the high meadow kind of traverse that I've become used to. This trail runs across the less steep sections of the high ridge, perched above the 500m cliffs that line the lower valley. In some places, there is no place that is less steep, which makes for an exciting trail.

Much of the day was in the shade and where there was shade, there was frost. That was good for the dirt, because it made it solid and provided good footing. Bad news for the rocks, and there were many, because they were frosty and slippery.

I took it easy: because I had time, because it was slippery, and because the scenery was wonderful.

The first part of the traverse is through very steep, but stable conditions. Some fixed ropes, some tricky sections, but not too bad. Then, came the section that crosses the Grosse Graben, a huge slide area, with lots of loose rocks, treacherous trail, overhanging rocks, and officially-designated "danger areas." At one point, a little bushed, I paused to eat something and take a break -- it looked pretty secure to me. While I was there, I heard rockfall every few minutes.

It was during this section, which lasted quite a while (every ridge I turned, I hoped for an end), that I wondered how anyone could conceive a trail through here. Only later, once things settled down, did I remember the solid trail -- and incredible views -- before and after this stretch. They conceived the trail from each end and then just solved the problem of the slides as they came to them. There were other sections of bad terrain, but none as nerve-wracking as this one.
Eventually, the slopes moderated -- a bit -- and the trail became somewhat gentler, so I could relax a little.

The Weisshorn (4505m) dominates this section of the trail. It is truly a beautiful mountain, with three sloping ridges, glaciers scraping each of the three faces, and a regular aspect that just draws your eyes. And, of course, the Matterhorn (4477m), at the end of the valley, grows larger each hour.

As I came around a corner early in the afternoon, I came across Greg (one of the Americans I'd seen the day before, and at breakfast), who bid me to stop and look. There were a small group of chamois on the slopes below us. We watched them (and they watched us) for a while. They were close enough that just maybe they'll show on the photos I took. Later on the trail, a pair of chamois ran down the slope ahead of us. Just ran down a 40 degree slope and then just stopped. In five or ten seconds they moved down a slope that would have taken me twenty minutes. Amazing -- alpine gazelles.

Greg and I leap-frogged each other for the rest of the trip to the Europahütte. The rest of the trail, though there were some interesting bridges and roped sections, was easier and easier. We even approached the Europahütte from above! (That's got to be a first.)

We were the first ones there, so we got our showers and I took a large beer to the sunny deck and just grooved on the Weisshorn, the Breithorn, the sun, and the relaxation.

By dinner time, there were about thirty people at the hut. A large group of Canadians were traveling the Europaweg the other way, from Zermatt. There were eight Americans (one from one of the groups of four turned back on the trail and would meet the group in Zermatt). Two of those Americans, from Boston, followed us over Augsbordpass, about an hour, and enough snow to cover the trail, later. And there were a number of Europeans, too: a couple of Danes, a couple of French, and others.

Dinner was good. (I don't know how these hut keepers do it. There have never been more than two of them, but they serve refreshments, prepare three or four courses for widely varying numbers of people, and keep the buildings spotless.) It started with a nice, thick, hot soup. (Again, I couldn't identify the kind of soup. It was just welcome.) The main dish was a big plate of rice topped with the now familiar style of pieces of meat, usually beef, in a tasty, brown sauce. Sort of Swiss soul food. Dessert was vanilla pudding.

It was a lively evening, but I wasn't up to it. It was either the two large beers that I drank, or the cold that started with a scratchy throat in Gruben (maybe it was the wood smoke?), moved up to my nose for the hike over Augsbordpass, and settled into my throat again during the day's walk. Probably both.

The evening closed with a visit from a couple of ibex, who came around for something (a salt lick?) and triggered a rash of camera flashes.

Sept. 19 from Europahütte, above Randa, Switzerland: map, 2220m; accum. 165 km, 10,840m gain, 10,189m loss (7283'; accum. 102.5 mi, 35,564', 33,428')

Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/17.

Link to photo album

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Lotta said...

I found you blog 'cause I was looking information about Europahütte for my sister. It was good to hear that you liked that place since I used to work there (2001 and 2002 summers). I'm still in contact with the hut keepers so I must tell about your comment.
Regards from Finland!

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