Even though it’s May, I’ve been skiing today. Or rather, walking uphill on skis, and making the occasional downhill slide. If you’ve read previous posts – such as this https://morethanskiing.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/23311-from-alagna-to-zinal-on-skins/ – you’ll know I love ski touring – an ever more popular activity in the Alps, both among locals and and the likes of Brits.
This time, I’m joining a Swiss group assembled by an old Anzere Ski School friend of mine, Caroline Ogi, who now runs the excellent Hotel Walliserhof in Zermatt. Among the group of 12 are a hairdresser, a railway station manager, a chef, a ski shop owner and several colleagues from Switzerland’s very well organised tourist board. Our mountain guides are Fred, a handsome Valaisan, whose fighting cows are headed for stardom in the upcoming Combats des Reines, and a kindly, bearded, Nendaz-based Belgian who goes by the reassuringly Alpine name of Helmuth. Our destination: the huge glaciers that spread out across the Bernese Oberland, behind the Eiger.
Last time I toured with Caroline & friends we were weathered off the Haute Route and spent three days stuck in Arolla. This weekend, by contrast, is forecast to be sweltering and sunny. I’ve packed as lightly as possible, leaving behind quite a few items compared to last time (https://morethanskiing.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/6411-packing-for-hut-to-hut-touring/). Last night I stayed in a dorm room at a backpackers’ hostel in Basel (32 Swiss francs) after flying in late from Gatwick. (Since I’m sleeping alongside a dozen people for the next three nights it didn’t seem worth booking my own room on the way.)
Hundreds of Asian tourists accompanied us to our starting point this morning at Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch (3,454m). While they made for the Bollywood curry house on the first floor, we skated off down the Jungfrau glacier to the Konkordiaplatz, where the ice beneath the Aletsch glacier is said to be up to 900m deep, then hung a left to climb to the Gruenhornluecke (a col on the way to tonight’s hut).
To my surprise, at our picnic break, chat revolved around the Royal Wedding. Most of all, the Swissies were interested in “Peeeepah”. Getting Suisse Romande and Schwyzerduetsch speakers to pronounce Pippa correctly – which was their chief preoccupation – is quite a challenge.
Talk was also of the acclaimed Swiss mountain guide Erhard Loretan, who died on his 52nd birthday a week ago. Loretan was one of only four climbers to have summited all the world’s 14 peaks that exceed 8,000m. This afternoon we passed the Gruenhorn (which is just over 4,000m), where he fell while leading a client a week ago (read his obituary here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/sport-obituaries/8484065/Erhard-Loretan.html).
The Finsteraarhornhuette, which we reached at 5pm, has large individual bunks, impressive indoor loos and sensational views from its terrace. No wonder 98 of its 106 beds are taken tonight. Loretan stayed here the night before his fall: I hope the last night of his amazing life was a peaceful and comfy one.
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