Wednesday, August 02, 2006

See just pictures of our hike to Oberberghorn.

After our long ride to the Jungfraujoch, we were ready to get around by foot for a few days. Near Interlaken and Untersee is an ancient cave called Beatus-Hohle. The natural cave is named for the Irish Saint Beatus, a missionary who came to Interlaken to convert the medieval Swiss to Christianity. Among his many adventures, Beatus slew the dragon that was living in the cave. According to the local myth, which they tell you once you reach the 1km turn-around mark, Beatus cast the dragon from the cave to the lakes below with his glowing staff. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted anywhere inside the caves, so there isn’t much to show. We do have one nifty tip though – because the walk into the cave is largely uphill (you hike up 80m to find yourself 400m below the surface), you can’t really see all the streams, stalagmites, and stalactites on your way into the cave. Most people seemed to nearly run on their way out. If you take your time, the downhill trajectory of the exit path with reveal much more of the streams and waterfalls that continue to carve out the cave.

There is bus service from the center of Interlaken to the caves, but we opted to walk the 5 or so miles through the Interlaken nature preserve. The walk runs along the canals that connect Thunersee and Brienzersee, and since the land is flat, every bit is used for grazing cattle . There was also an impressive medieval castle, which was once on an island before the gifted swiss engineers diverted the rivers to open more dry land. We took pitifully few pictures of the castle in fact, only one out of the first floor window . The hike up to the Beatushohle’s entrance is very steep and provides some great lookouts to the lakes below . Despite being a few hundred meters up from the road, the Swiss have managed to pave the path and build a lovely spelunkology museum . I wondered how they kept the three restaurants, the museum, and the facilities stocked – I guess this zip-line/dumbwaiter is the answer: .

Beatushohle, and the walk to it, were invigorating. So much so, that they inspired us to take a real hike in the Alps. Armed with water, camera, almond-filled croissant, completely inappropriate footwear, and train tickets to Schynige Platte (a small plateau that the Swiss immediately filled with a train depot, playground, and restaurant) we trekked up the hills to the mountains (by train of course). On the way to the train station, we stopped to snap some photos of our destination (the green mountain to the left) and took a quick video of the paragliders that were landing in front of our hotel all week .

The hike we chose was regarded as beginner level – mild ascents and descents that net to very little altitude changes. We were meant to walk from Schynige Platt to Oberberghorn (a small rocky peak) and from there on to Laucherhorn (a slightly bigger, rockier peak). The Schynige Platte hosts not only a train station, but also a high-altitude dairy farm . We took the Wandernweg (hiking path) on the way out, which wound mostly through grassy highland plains. We finally reached the Laucherhorn, where we tried to take some fake stunt pictures of me “climbing” the Alps . We also ran into an American family that were wrapping up a day long hike down from the town of First (about 5 hours). We nick-named them the Howells for their lock-jaw accents, casual yachtsman flair for hiking, and consistently absurd pronunciations of the names for the mountains that they appeared to know so well. The eldest Howell was celebrating his 50th birthday by leading his whole brood through the mountains of Switzerland, taking hundreds of photos of his brood in said vicinity (clearly in black and white, and certain to be developed by hand in his basement, by Elder Howell, himself), and ultimately climbing a few peaks (possibly even Jungfrau herself).

On the way home, we decided to take the Panaramenweg (sp? scenic route), which was a LOT more exciting , and included some sincerely panoramic lookouts . Alpine beauty was in abundance for flowers , big skies , jagged peaks , rolling valleys , and combinations of all the above . The whole way is marked off with tidy, swiss-made yellow signs that include the destinations and the estimated walking times . The paths are dirt trails that have been rutted into the landscape , so your feet are always a few inches below the grass, as demonstrated by Caitie: . The Swiss manage to make even the thin air of high altitude comfortable, and the trails are dotted with little family vacation homes . On the way home, we walked well above the trail we took on the way out, and were able to peak over the vertical edge of the Platte to see both lakes and the town of Interlaken as well as Moench and Jungfrau (fogged in for our trip) . The terrain continues to steepen the whole way back, which I tried in vain to capture on film . To come as close to the climbing experience as possible, short of going on belay, you can take the short but extremely steep trip to the top of Oberberghorn (that rocky peak for which the trail is named) . The hike around the base of the Oberberghorn is a tight switchback, with the turnaround corners apparently levitating over the mountain valleys. The final ascent is assisted by a ladder and then a gangway that ultimately provides a view from a small cave out onto the rest of the Alps . The small peak pokes through an altitude layer and you could feel a significant difference in the air -- which only adds to excitement and perception that you are really climbing a mountain.

For slightly less excitement (and probably equal safety), the end of the hike features a nifty slide (sorry, I took the video with a rotated camera) and a map (shouldn’t that be at the beginning of the hike, maybe we went around the loop backwards) .

After all that hiking, we took walked back to the hotel from the train station, and snapped a few last pictures of the gates on the canal , and the border between Interlaken and Untersee .

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