Monday, July 30, 2007

Hiking the Aletsch Galcier, Switzerland

The Aletsch Glacier, Europe's largest, lies just over the ridge from our chalet. We took this photo on July 19, when we came to see the glacier and check out the area before committing to a chalet rental.
As that was a quick day trip, we rode the gondola up to Bettmerhorn, one of the ridge's peaks, then hiked back down. Below is the view over Bettmeralp from a resting spot on the return hike.
This hike was a downhill and in good weather, but another day, August 2, we decided to hike up to the ridge from our chalet in Riederalp. We didn't take the camera, as it was not a picture-taking kind of day. In fact, just as we reached the ridge top overlooking the Aletsch, it started raining. Not easily deterred from our rising ambitions (we'd only planned to crest the ridge), we continued up the ridgeline. Below us, the glacier faded in and out of view as the mist blew by. Around us, clouds poured past the surrounding peaks, bringing more rain. We hiked quickly and continuously, maintaining our body heat in the icy blasts sweeping up to us from the glacier. Our shorts and light jackets were pretty moist when we reached the Bettmerhorn an hour later. Feeling refreshed and maybe even a little fortunate -- after all, it's probably not the smartest idea to hike the Alps in poor weather without rain clothes -- we elected to take the warm, enclosed gondola back down to Bettmeralp, and thence home.
In addition to their wonderful hiking & mountain biking trails, the Alps serve as the summer pastures of Switzerland's dairy herds. Herds of cows dot the mountainsides, and each cow carries a bell around its neck. Sitting on the porch or returning from a hike on a still day, one hears the murmur of the breeze, the distant thunder of a mountain cataract, and the gentle ding-ding of the cowbells.

In the evening, the cows head for home. They don't seem in a big hurry, but the first time I saw 30 cows coming up the road straight at me, WITH HORNS, I was a bit concerned! Was there another way home? A cow-free trail, perhaps? (Case says: She was feeling cowed!) Case, highly amused, assured me these were friendly cows whose sole thought (if they had a thought at all) was to get their udders emptied, and whose greatest interest in me (if they had any interest at all) was that I would volunteer for the job. I stood nervous but motionless on the roadside as the cows plodded by......uneventfully.

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