In pursuit of the weather

The night train to Zürich is 72 min late. I’m used to trains being late, for the last five years I rode on trains from my hometown to Ljubljana at least once a month, and the trains were never on time. “These are the Balkan trains, late as usual. Don’t you worry, you’ll be in Zürich on time and catch the connecting train,” a lady next to us comforts her son and his friend. I know that the Swiss are masters in watchmaking, however, I did not know that the Swiss can also make time and thus make up for the Balkan delay… After comfortable ride through the night, the train arrived on time! Boys from Ljubljana train station ran towards the connecting train to Paris and us towards the train to Bern. In midst of fast walking through somehow organized morning commute, we remembered that we forgot a pen to write on our passes and travel diaries. Lucky for us, we stumbled upon our savior: some guy in the kiosk gave us his pen and then drove off on his electric scooter. Thank you, kind stranger, someday I hope I’ll be able to forward the favor!

Fast forward to next morning: tinkling of cow bells and above them the majestic trio of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Our first hike of the trip: from Schynige Platte to Grindelwald via Faulhorn and First (~20km, 5h 30min). We walked in awe, enjoying the scenery, fresh alpine air and zero people until the Bachalpsee. Shockingly beautiful lake with Schreckhorn’s reflection; at first it looked peaceful and deserted. But when we we’re descending, we were becoming a minority: sweaty, smelly, wearing the sturdy mountains shoes in the sea tourists, dressed in silky, expensive blouses, the smell of cologne replaced the scent of the high altitude. I was surprised how many people take the cable cars to the 2000m and above and walk around like in the middle of the busiest shopping street. In hope of leaving the touristy crowds behind, we planned another hike in the same area: from Harderkulm to Augstmatthorn, returning to Interlaken via Riggenberg village. One of the objectives was the picturesque green ridge of Hardergrat (and the pretty pictures we could take there), but we obviously underestimated the descent back to the Brienzersee. Nobody told us, that the ridge, seen on the Internet, begins just after the Augstmatthorn (hence it would be better to begin hiking on the other side of the ridge, in Brienz) and nobody mentioned that descending for 1000m on a very steep slope will feel like Tantalum’s torment. Each minute was longer and longer. But after the hike, I gather my thoughts around that descent, and I see the value of it: I can hike that kind of terrain in a fast and safe manner.

Spending the night listening to a raging thunderstorm, I was grateful that I was going to spend the following day travelling from Interlaken to St. Moritz via the Oberalppass. After 8h and 5 transfers, riding on the UNESCO world heritage Rhätische bahn through the Albula tunnel and viaducts, I was tired, but full of impressions and ideas for future holidays. We set our tent in the rain, which made us suspicious about next morning, but the weather app held its promise. The good weather window allowed us to hike to Diavolezza Bergstation. Since the wish for a 3000m high peak without any artificial help (cable cars) was stronger than cold and rain, we also ascended a 3065m high peak Sass Queder. Slovenes have a proverb about the mountains and their magical powers: “Gora ni nora, nor je tisti, ki gre gor.” (The mountain is not crazy, but the hiker who ascends it). At the exact moment we sat on the bench of Bernina Diavolezza train station, it started to rain, as if the mountain let us to ascend and descent safely, nothing more, nothing less.

Rain (again!) cancelled some of our hiking plans, but we were getting used to our tent being a little wet and to eating at the reception instead of in front of the tent. The following day was defined with the Rhätische bahn and good food. We went for a pizza in the Italian city of Tirano (thus riding the overall of the heritage railway) and in the evening we joined camping’s Risotto Abend. Obviously, we couldn’t resist a good meal! Two Slovenes in their twenties and approximately 30 “Penzionisten” indulged in a mushroom risotto, which is a great way to deal with the rainy weather. A not-so-spontaneous (yes, rain thank you!) decision on how to spend the last day of our holiday were the boundless forests of the Swiss National Park. Hiking towards the Val Cluozza under impression of an exhibition in the National Park Centre in Zernez, we confused all the footmarks and noise for wolves or a bear, lurking near us in the bushes. It was probably just a fox or a deer, but the adrenaline made us faster and we marched from Camping Zernez to the mountain hut in Val Cluozza for 2 hours straight, without stopping. Reaching the hut, we relaxed a little, but did not slow the tempo and soon the two of us, other people and around 30 marmots basked in the sun on the Murter pass. A family of hikers lent us their binoculars and for the first time I’ve seen a real stag in the wild. What an absolutely fantastic being, sitting proudly on 2500m and watching above the valley below. And yet the impressions from the National park weren’t over – a bearded vulture flew over us as we descended to Val dal Spöl…

Would we visit the National park, if the weather was perfect? Probably not, our eyes were set at goals at higher altitudes. But that way we wouldn’t ride the train that much and see the wonders of human railway engineering. We wouldn’t care for the sleepy villages; we wouldn’t see all the flora and fauna of the Alps we have seen, and we wouldn’t take time to stop and think about human’s effect on the nature. Most of the Swiss National Park was covered with glaciers – none of them exists today. The train station Morteratsch used to be situated at the ice front of the Morteratsch glacier, which is now further away, ending in the valley just beneath Piz Bernina. Can protesting and angry voices help with preservation of nature? Crowds of climate-concerned-youth seem to fade with the blank faces of people. People, who are oriented into the big city lives and social media likes, where hiking is only a tool to be appreciated or, in a weird way, worshipped by others. The smallest efforts– using public transport, recycling waste, eating local produce – will soon not be enough and I am afraid that the magical views of mountains and glaciers above the sleepy villages will become the dreams of the past.

Špela Malenšek