| In the footsteps of 007 on the Schilthorn
The old talk radio cliche, "Long time listener, First time caller" applies here. I never have posted a trip report before, primarily because I didn't think most people cared about hearing about another walk up Mt Sherman. But as this was a bit off the beaten path, I figured I would write this up and someone might enjoy it. I hope it passes all of LordHelmut's regulations for Trip Reports.
A long time friend of mine has lived in Zurich for the past few years and recently gotten into trail racing. He convinced me to fly to Switzerland to run the Jungfrau Marathon on Sept 14. Now the race itself is a whole other trip report that I won't post hear, but I will make a few quick comments.
1: Having raced at altitude here in Colorado (Imogene Pass and Pike's Ascent among others), I figured that the lower elevation would make the race "easier". Wrong! The Swiss don't really believe in switchbacks (and if they are forced to use them, they are very short switchbacks), so the climbs were steeper and longer stretches of steep than anything I have raced in Colorado. Thus this was one of the toughest races I have ever done.
2: But it also was one of the more amazing races I have ever done. The support in each village/town was phenomenal. Guys with huge cow bells. Oompah bands. A lot of encouragement. Fantastic scenery.
And alpine horns.
Alpine horns motivate you near the end of the Jungfrau Marathon
While the race does run on asphalt for a large portion of the time (probably 60%), it is a trail race that I would recommend everyone doing at least once. It starts in Interlocken, runs up the valley to Lauterbrunnen, then climbs up to Wengen than upwards to the finish at the base of the Eiger at the Kleine Scheidegg train station.
I was in survival mode the last 8 miles, but found away to finish strong.
Having survived that I spent the next few days staying in Gimmelwald on the other side of the Lauterbrunnen valley from Kleine Scheidegg. Stayed in the quaint but very friendly Mountain Hostel. The plan was to get in a few hikes and potentially also do the via ferrata route from Murren to Gimmelwald.
link to via ferrate description.
But the weather, which was perfect on race day, was potentially going to change my plans. On Day 2 (post race), I hiked from Lauterbrunnen (where I had been staying) up to Gimmelwald. It rained the entire day and got colder along the way. Thus by the time I got to Gimmelwald, it had begun to snow. So when I woke up on Day 3 (post race), thru the patches of fog and low clouds, I could see that the upper parts of the mountains had gotten quite a bit of snow.
Snow on the Schilthorn the day before I hiked it.
I was not going to attempt to climb the Schilthorn in these conditions, so instead did another hike out of Gimmelwald to Obersteinberg. As the day progressed, the sun came out, and the snow started to melt. This was a nice loop. Route finding had been a bit spotty in few parts due to the snow and cows obliterating any trace of the trail in the snow. In other sections it helped someone else had already been thru. With the sun out, the remaining snow on the trails was melting out quickly and I thought maybe I might be able to tackle the Schilthorn the next day.
When I awoke on Day 4 (post race), it was again foggy, drizzling and all together not very promising. But I decided to head out anyway. If the weather didn't cooperate, I would just bail on upper part of the climb and do a loop on the lower portion of the mountain. But if it was like yesterday, it might clear out and be a perfect day.
Early morning, hiking out of Gimmelwald. The weather did not look promising.
The initial hike out of Gimmelwald (4490 ft) drops down into a river valley, to a low point of 4160 ft. As with any trail in this region, you pass by numerous waterfalls. Shortly the trail began to ascend. It quickly broke tree line at which point you can see the Piz Gloria, the hideout of Ernst Blofeld. The drawback to the hike from this direction, is the summit, with the restaurant on top, is visible for the majority of the time. Damn you Blofeld. And it seems so close and yet so far the entire way. It's like running on a beach. But the day was turning out to be great. The clouds had mostly cleared out, the sun came out, and it was comfortable temp. The idea of reaching the summit now seemed reasonable.
Piz Gloria taunts you. And you can see how much snow melted out in a day.
The initial trail leading out of Gimmelwald and into the river valley is a wide single lane dirt road. But as it climbs above treeline, it becomes a single track trail. Route finding is quite easy when there is no snow on the ground as the Swiss readily mark all their trails.
Route finding is easy
The trail climbs thru cow pastures into a basin. At 6690 feet, in the bowl of the basin is the Rotstock-Hutte.
Up until this point I hadn't seen anyone besides a few dozen cows. Stepping inside the hut, I found a half-dozen people sitting around having lunch. I grabbed a quick snack and pondered my next move. The wind had picked up as I reached the hut. I was worried a bit that the weather might be turning nasty and I still had nearly 3000 ft to climb. Not wanting to waste a window of opportunity to reach the summit, I quickly bid farewell to those in the hut and continued on my way.
Signs point the way.
This is where the hike gets interesting. As stated before, I don't think the Swiss believe in switchbacks. The trail out of the basin up to the ridge, followed what I would guess was just a sheep/cattle trail. It went straight up. On the plus side, I was protected from the winds again and the clouds didn't look threatening.
Looking back down at Rotstock-Hutte and climb out of the basin.
As the picture shows, you gain a lot of vertical quickly. Near the ridge, the route finding became more difficult. The were no cairns. With snow covering more of the ground on the ridge, you couldn't see the painted rocks. I also was working with a poor map. It was one of those freebies that are not drawn to scale, but is more like a ski trail map. It shows the mountains and the trails but not completely. I was approaching the summit from the "backside" and once I reached the ridge, and the map didn't show the trail from this point on. I had looked for a decent trail map in Lauterbrunnen and Murren the days before, but nothing was all that great. No where near the quality of a Sky Terrain map. So I hadn't bought one. I was slightly worried that might be an issue. But I figured, having hiked a fair amount in the mountains, one generally gets the idea of where the trail should go. So I had to do a bit of bushwhacking (without the bushes), and soon found myself back on trail.
Route finding becomes a little difficult
Once on the ridge, around 8800ft, the trail became completely clear. But I was exposed to a vicious wind. I'm guessing consistent 20-30mph with gusts of 40-50. It was bad in sections. So bad I had to brace myself to stay standing. I was tiring quickly. This 45 mins of hiking really began to suck.
Once on ridge, route is easy to see.
As I got closer to the top, and into some rocks, I was once again protected from the wind. And the route got fun. Up until this point, this was purely a Class 2 climb. A hard Class 2 because of the vertical gain in spots and due to the wind, but no scrambling whatsoever. Now there was some scrambling. And more snow to deal with. For those who think the trail work has made some of the 14ers to easy, the Swiss once again set new standards.
Stairs make things too easy?
Even before the staircase, there were many spots with ropes anchored into the rock to hold onto. Then after the staircase, there was this.
But there also was some scrambling that didn't have any ropes or stairs to use. And there was a bit of exposure, nothing overly ridiculous, but enough to make it exciting.
At the top, looking back at the ridge.
As I neared the top, I began to feel the pull of just taking the cable car back down. I was 5 hours into the hike and with the wind, plus trudging thru snow and the fact I had raced a marathon just 4 days before, I was starting to really drag. Wouldn't a beer at the top be nice? And even though it would be pricey, wouldn't the cable car ride back down be cool? This was my thought process as I approached the summit and was I all I could think about that I didn't realize that I still hadn't seen anyone. Instead, I thought it odd that they hadn't shoveled and cleared the walkways and observation platform around the Piz Gloria. As I was taking pictures it dawned on me, the Piz Gloria was closed and I was the only one on top the mountain.
An empty Piz Gloria
I would imagine this is like climbing Pikes Peak and finding no one on the top. An extremely rare occurrence. As I understood I was all alone on top I had two thoughts, this was really cool, and now I need to hike back down. With it still being very windy and clouds seemingly to be rolling in, I figured I couldn't stay to long on top. But I did take a few minutes to enjoy the solitude and amazing views.
Looking back down into the basin I had climbed up. You can see the Rotstockhutte
Signs putting the way back down.
The Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau make for a spectacular pan aroma.
Self portrait on top.
Now it was time to tackle the descent. I was planning to descend down the Schilttal basin to Gimmela and then Murren. As this was the north facing slope, there was still a fair amount of snow to trudge thru. I didn't bother trying to find a trail, but just made the best way down the initial descent.
Making tracks on the descent.
The snow was about knee deep and actually made the descent easier than trying to go down the trail. Only wish I had an ice ax as it would have been a fun glissade. Shortly I got down the initial steep descent and out of the snow field.
Looking back up at the top part of the mountain and snow on the north facing slope.
Having gotten thru this section, my fear of potential weather issues dissipated and I could enjoy the views on the rest of the descent.
View of Birg and Eiger in background
More cows neer Schiltalp.
After a long descent thru the basin, I finally saw the first person on the trail. From a distance I just thought it was another hiker, but hadn't seen any tracks up top so didn't know where they came from. As I got closer, I realized they were carrying something. Then I got close enough to get this pic.
The only guy I saw on the trails all day.
Don't see that too often in Colorado. After nearly 7 hours, I finally came into Murren.
Cable car not needed.
Stopped in Murren to use the town rec center and take a long soak in hot tub then hot shower, before continuing down to the hostel in Gimmelwald for a well deserved beer and pizza.
Dinner with a view.
In the end it was nearly a 13 mile loop with 6024 feet vertical gain. Total time (with clock stopped for breaks at Rotstock-Hutte, on the top, and Murren) was 7 hours 20 minutes. A great day in the mountains in complete solitude with postcard views. Overall my 6 days in the Lauterbrunnen valley were fantastic. Due to the weather, I never got a chance to do the via ferrata route, but otherwise had an amazing race, some great hikes and enjoyed a likely rare moment of solitude on top of the Schilthorn.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):