We started early. Our plans were to climb up to the Doldenhornhütte and stay overnight. This would be our only serious hiking of the trip.
Clouds were hovering just above the mountains. I couldn't help but remember the line from Psalm 144: "Touch the mountains that they smoke." We talked of climbing Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in the fog.
T.J. said, "Maybe we can initiate Alane into the Cloudwalkers. We all then decided that we liked that for a nickname for our happy Crew: the Cloudwalkers. I can see a t-shirt with that on it.
We had a shakedown at the picnic table in camp, mostly to keep Alane from packing the kitchen sink. She's a fast learner, though, and the guys are great teachers. Soon we were ready to make our ascent.
I filled out a route card at the Chalet at 9:30. We left camp about 10:00. We walked down to the Waldhotel (the 4-Star place). The mountain trail began just behind there. I was really hurting with my legs on the asphalt, wondering how I would get through the day.
As it turned out, the trail began to climb steeply as soon as we got off the road. Within minutes, I called a halt and started us caterpillaring. This is a technique for a group on steep trails. The rearmost person starts forward. When he passes the third person in front of him, he calls out something, which starts the next person forward. Meanwhile, the person who just called out steps a few yards ahead of the line and steps off the trail until he is ultimately called by the person behind him who has gone to the head of the line. It means that each hiker is resting as much as he is climbing, but the group as a whole makes steady progress upward.
Soon, we were quite a ways above the valley floor. "We're eating this mountain up," I called out. Also, to my delight, I found that my legs didn't hurt. Hiking uphill meant my toes were pointed upward and my Achilles tendons were stretched out as well as if I'd had my personal PT working on them. I did fine this day and the next. O, blessed relief!
The upward trail
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground
Other side of the valley
Beauty all around us
We had hours of this
Kandersteg from above
We wuz down thar jest a bit ago
At 11:11, we took our first long break. T.J. got out some dark chocolate (72%!). Alane had been reading about how dark chocolate's oxygenating properties helped you in the mountains. We didn't complain. We started back up at 11:35. We broke for lunch at 12:45, just after turning the corner to peer into the Oeschital. We watched the free base jumpers floating over the Kander valley. at 1:36, we headed back on up the mountain.
It was a joy to hike in the mountains. I didn't notice that I was particularly happier than usual, but T.C. said I was more ecstatic than on any trip he's seen. I dunno. There was a special joy in getting this trip pulled off. It's my last one before retirement, the Last Hurrah with Crew 119, and my twentieth high adventure trip as an Advisor in twenty years. Maybe I was a little exalted.
Alane was attempting to get her phone in place to take a picture while walking on a bit of almost-level ground. Her feet got tangled and she went down in a heap. "Take the picture!" she said, referring, I guess, to whatever it was she was trying to photograph. All of us, upon hearing her say, "take the picture," of course turned our cameras upon her where she lay on the ground in pain. We're helpful that way.
Take the picture!
Can't cry for laughing
At 2:00 we found a sign, telling us that it was just 1 hour 15 minutes to the Doldenhornhütte. Hah! Like we believe that. I don't know who estimates these things, but he's got to be buffer than most, even among the Swiss.
Shelter of a sort
Thank goodness it wasn't raining
Frutigen in the distance
That's the next town down the valley from Kandersteg
Onward and upward
We managed to get a group photo at one of the benches placed here and there along the trail
We were getting tired of climbing, always climbing. We noticed that we were approaching the big cliff face, where surely the ground must flatten out. Eventually, we caught sight of the hut. It was a couple hundred yards ahead, past a rocky slope of scree. At the low end, there was a sheer drop to -- somewhere. By this time, we had been hiking about six hours -- on a trail rated at 2.5 hours.
"Lies! All lies!" I said. One of the guys said we should put Swiss hiking distances in the book, Lies my Scout leader told me, along with such classics as, "It's just around the corner" and "Oh, it won't hurt."
Under the mountain shoulder
A sight for sore feet
We hit the porch of the Doldendornhütte at 4:28 -- six and a half hours after leaving KISC. T.J. and T.C. joined me in the traditional five pushups in full pack -- Alane thought we were crazy -- after which we stood up and gave our Crew yell: Rougher! Tougher! Buffer! And the staff came out to offer us cold drinks. We made it.
The door is open
Welcome, weary travellers
A well-earned rest
Refreshments are served at 1915 meters
The hut was built all out of local stone -- quarried and shaped on site -- over a hundred years ago. We were invited in, but had to take our boots off and wear slippers inside. Everything was very cozy.
Home away from home
Switzerland is dotted with these mountain "huts." They're really more like a Bed & Breakfast that you can only reach by foot. You can hike from one to the next, all over. Supplies are hauled up the side of the mountain on a little private cable tram -- a sort of mountain dumb waiter. The plumbing is modern (though outside).
The hut is maintained by the same 4-Star hotel down in the valley. One staff member had very good English. The cook's English was limited. Another guy had very little. It gave me the opportunity to use my German more. We all got along together fine.
We were shown our sleeping quarters. One is required to bring along a sheet liner for a sleeping bag to stay in the hut, since they can't wash comforters and pillows every day. The hut officially sleeps forty-some, with the main upstairs room holding twenty-four. That's six bedplaces in four large enclosed spaces with mattresses on the floor. Like sleeping in a pile of puppies. There was no place to change clothes to prepare for bed. I was glad it was just us for the night. I gather we were the first overnight guests of the season.
There was a shelf or two of books and games downstairs. We played cards while waiting for dinner. Dinner, when it came, started with an amazing tomato basil soup. T.J. couldn't eat it, but he really, really wanted to. The main course was little meat balls in a green curry sauce and mashed potatoes. The meat balls weren't rolled; they looked like the meat had been ground fine and placed in a piping bag, then snipped as they were pressed out, like gnocchi. I asked what the meat was. They said, Kalbfleisch, but none of them knew what we called it in English. "Veal," I said. I was impressed. Veal is expensive here in the States, and I had never eaten it. It was good. Dessert was meringues with vanilla cream. Yummity yum yum.
View from the WC
The evening is drawing on
There was a copy of Luther’s Bible in the hut. I looked up Psalm 144:5, that had been on my mind all day. It read,
Herr, neige deine Himmel und fahre herab;
rühre die Berge an, daß sie rauchen (Ps. 144:5)
I also did some figuring. KISC is at 1188 meters. Doldendornhütte, 1915 m. That's a 727 m. vertical ascent = c. 800 yds = 2400'. The trail as a whole was about 4.5 km - 3.125 miles horizontal distance. The average slope of the trail is therefore almost 1:7. Wow. We made an overall speed of 1/2 mph for the day's work -- ugh. A tough but rewarding day. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.