The Bernese Alps
“I gotta get out of this flat and this town this weekend,” Astried said.
She handed me the map of Switzerland and said “we are going hiking in the mountains.”
“Perfect,” I responded, “Where?” It's a reasonable question given the country is full of mountains.
“Near Interlaken,” she answered, looking through a box of camping gear.
I unfolded the large, detailed map of Switzerland and quickly located Basel. When I found Interlaken, I couldn't help but notice it was half way down the map and, not surprisingly, half way across the country. Silently, I wondered why we would drive that far for one solid Saturday and possibly a short Sunday morning hike. But the map is deceptive; its scale is large (1:301000) and Switzerland is tiny.
“How long is the drive?” I asked.
“Only two hours. Switzerland is not so big Timbo” Astried noted.
In fact, the maximum east-west distance is 350km and north-south only 220 km. For a Canadian, this is nothing. At just over 41,000 km2, Switzerland is only slightly larger than Eastern Ontario. I pictured a map of Canada at the same scale and realized it would occupy a huge amount of space. I laughed at myself for the initial mis-perception of a long way that was only a short jaunt down (and up) the road.
Astried's friend was kind enough to lend her van. Kitted out for car camping with a fold-out bed (storage beneath) and air mattress, all we needed to do was fuel it up, add requisite ingredients and go. When you live in Basel, the first stop for supplies is always just across the border to Germany where prices on everything are much cheaper. It is permitted to bring up to 300 Swiss Francs value across the border tax free daily. Swiss residents can even fill out a form the shops happily provide, claim it at the border and receive a refund on German taxes next time they shop at the same store.
Loaded with food, we crossed back into Switzerland, over the Rhine River and headed SSE to Luzern. Driving through the countryside is like driving in a postcard. Everything is picture perfect and in its proper place. Trash on the streets, roads and in public places is almost unheard of (although I did notice some dog poop one day).
The hills rolled up to meet us and the Alps were visible in the distance. The glorious greens of spring dominated lower altitudes, while the white of winter held higher. There was a lot of snow this season and about 3m remained at altitude. Gorgeous panoramas prevailed, both looking up to the mountains and down into valleys from the passes. They streamed past like a Disney movie. I was expecting a von Trapp to leap over a fence and sing “Climb Ev'ry Mountain”.
Passing Luzern, we headed south toward Interlaken, driving along the shores of the lakes, known as "sees”. Alpnachersee, Sarnersee and Lungerersee on the right side, snow-capped peaks above on both sides. At the north end of Brienzersee we stopped at a park on the water's edge that Astried knew from a bicycle trip the year before. A snack in the powerful afternoon spring sun was followed by a short nap.
Astried is not capable of sitting still longer than it takes to eat a meal, enjoy a cup of tea or catch a 20 minute nap. That day, she managed to combine all three, but was soon up suggesting a walk, a drive ... anything. We decided to drive up the nearby mountain toward Axalp and take a look. The narrow road was full of 180 degree switchbacks as we snaked our way up. Stopping to admire the unique green-blue colour of Brienzersee we savoured the view over the valley we had just left below.
Waking up to a striking reflection of snow-capped mountains in a crystal clear lake could be one of the finest ways to start the day. Add fresh coffee and a healthy breakfast and everything else is a distant second.
Travelling the length of the lake to Interlaken, we turned eastward into toward Grindelwald, the heart of the Bernese Alps. Winding through the narrow valley, the massive peaks that rise to 4,000m on both sides were awesome.
Climbing to the town of Grindelwald, at an elevation of 1,000m, we parked and started walking. At first, the trails were almost boring. Paved, perfectly plowed and precisely planned, it felt more like an amusement park. The equalizer, however, were the stunning views in every direction.
Soon enough, the path was covered in snow and ice as we climbed to the Bort lift station. That was not enough exercise for Astried, so she asked if I wanted to carry on. Naturally, I was game and we continued uphill another hour, following the cat track to Shreckfeld, the next lift station.
Stopping to eat our lunch, we plunked our butts down in the nice folding chairs provided and enjoyed a breathtaking panorama. Schwarhorn (2928m), Mittelhorn (3704m), Shreckhorn (4078m) and the famous Eiger (3970m) are all visible from this vantage point.
Again unable to stop, Astried proposed we walk down instead of taking the gondola.
“Why not?” I replied.
She checked routes with a mountain employee and we decided to follow the ski run down. What a blast! The snow was firm and the pitch steep enough that I was able to boot-ski down the first section. Alone on the mountain, we marvelled at the views as we descended.
After 13.5 km and 1000m up (and down) we returned to the van sunburned and smiling. A perfect walk in the Bernese Alps.