We’re heading to Oberhornsee this morning. “See” (pronounced ‘say’) means lake, so we’re going to ‘see the See’. It’s about an hour or so up to the lake, and then the plan is to backtrack and head for Mürren. I’m still not a perfect fit for this hiking thing. I’d really rather head straight for our next village. Not knowing how long it will take, or how hard it will be… It’s still something to get checked off the list.
By 9-ish we’re coffeed-up and ready to go. The rain has abated, leaving a thick mist in its place. (That’s right: no mountains again this morning and my love affair with my raincoat is growing stronger.) The Tschingelhorn’s herd of pet pygmy goats meet us outside. Like dogs with hooves, these guys are super friendly and we pet them up and snap a bunch of selfies before moving further up the trail.
The next farm is Obersteinberg, another mountain inn we use a lot for our tours. Vicki, an American, and her Swiss husband Hans make cheese there in the traditional style. They’re receiving a mule load of supplies as we arrive — another perspective on just how different life on these alps really is.
It’s steamy in the cheesebarn. We all stand around for a few minutes watching Hans sling a dripping bag of curds away from the heat source and over to a table near the window where the mold and press are waiting to receive it. The worn wood table, rough muslin, and finely crafted equipment are a study in complimentary textures. The curing cheese wheels resting on rough shelves in the next room add yet another.
On our way out, Matt points to some plastic crates sitting near the trail and explains how helicopter rentals work; how they switch one sling of supplies for another of trash and recycleables as quickly as possible to limit the hover time. The rest of the necessities not made right there come in by the aforementioned mule.
Even though it’s almost July, the cold wet spring lasted so long there’s still winter clean up happening on the trails. We come upon a couple of guys working to rebuild where the snow load took out a section of trail. Cables lying nearby will be put back in place as handrails. Meantime, they direct us up and around in their calm, gruff way. I note both their late middle-age and obvious good health as we skirt the work-site and traverse our first little patch of snow.
Though we’re traversing gently and the trails aren’t feeling like much of a challenge compared with yesterday, ‘very steep’ describes this new terrain we’re moving through, close as we are to the peaks all around us. Un-scalable would be another way to put it. Our agility is soon bested by a herd of Chamois (or Gemse) the mountain sheep that hop around these vertical crags. If they weren’t jumping so actively I’d be hard pressed to even pick them out of the salt and pepper slopes above us; but there they go, leaping from point to point, as if for their own amusement, like so many fleas on a Warner Brothers dog.
The lake comes up sooner than I’d imagined. It’s teeny. And beautiful. We nestle into a grassy little crook of the surrounding hillside and Matt hands out the sandwiches. It dawns on me he’s been hauling the supplies for our lunches all this time. I’m already feeling a wave of happy gratitude when I’m hit with the flavors and textures of brie and arugula on a crusty bread with slices of fresh pear. Thank you. Yum. Thank you. Ahhhhh.
The ‘boys’ review the map. Ann journeys to the top of a nearby hill. I explore some of the plants in more detail and keep an eye out for Marmots. Before long we’re on our way again, fueled with a little extra chocolate for good measure.
Moments later we come to a fork in the trail and Bryan asks Matt, “What’s that way?” This question seems innocent enough, but I know better. Granted, I didn’t participate in the map overview at lunch, but I’m still pretty confident hanging a right is going to take us further away from our destination.
Sure enough, after a short discussion, we’re off to the right — and a wonderland unfolds. Matt has never guided this trail before. A new magic has found us, one fueled by the unknown and new possibilities. We crest a small hill and find a huge herd of Ibex resting and grazing on the other side. They’re stout, muscular creatures, calm and regal, silhouetted against the bright grey sky, large ridged horns arching over their heads.
The hill is actually the lateral moraine of a retreating glacier and we take another detour to venture all the way up to its snout. (That’s the technical term. I checked). The scale of the terrain is deceptive and the glacier is further away than it appears. It’s also waaaay bigger up close. I let my fingers grow cold touching that ancient snow and then walk back to the trail slowly, pocketing a few heart-shaped stones for my 5 year old son along the way.
Because we’re walking the long way around the top of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the rest of our hike lets us see both where we’ve come from and where we’re going in one long, grand vista. Wengen and Mürren sit like birds’ nests atop the valley walls. The red roofs of Obersteinberg and Tschingelhorn stand out from all the green just to our left. It feels so accessible and achievable to be threading our way along these slopes on well-groomed trails, past little waterfalls, around boulders, through knee deep meadows, and over avalanche debris. What I assume are azalea not yet in bloom hug the hillsides and give way to purple carpets of something I can’t identify. Gnome-like shoots poke up from the mud and the miniature world of the Moss Campion is clearly home to elves and fair-folk.
The last remote alp we come to before making the long descent to the comparative bustle of Stechelberg has a herd of milk goats so personable I want to make friends like we did with the Pygmies. Nothin’ doin’. The one on the left is the guard goat. I have to content myself with a picture. (I think #16 was disappointed, too.)
A quick pit stop at the Alpenhof gains me a new addition to my vocabulary, as Di pokes her head out of the kitchen, takes one look at my pink cheeks and muddy clothes and declares, “You look knackered!” Thoroughly worn out. Indeed.
It’s 9pm. I am happy and proud but beyond ready for the smooth ascent of the cable car that takes us from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren. Matt called ahead, so we’re met at the station with a rock-star moment as Othmar from the Hotel Bellevue chucks our packs on his truck and zips us up the steep street straight to his warm hotel and our dinner.