Saturday, July 14, 2007

CH - Fiescheralp

I got my passport stamped in Liechtenstein (2 SFr… what a genius tourist trap) and gave in & took the bus from my hostel to Buchs SG. By this point I had already been walking for three hours nonstop, anyway (on top of a night of lousy sleep because I knew I ‘d have to wake up early; and my internal clock had gone haywire due to the latitude and mountains – the sun sets early but the horizon only goes dark at about 10pm!), and had little desire for another hour of walking with 17 kg on my back.

At the station, I got my Swiss Youth Pass – it is the way to travel through CH (acronym for Switzerland – and opted for a ride on the Glacial Express. It is a train which only stops at a few select cities and has bigger windows both on the side and along the roof. I didn’t think it all that spectacular until I later hopped onto a local train to get to Fiesch, then I realized how lovely those windows had been. The Anderalp Pass was amazing to travel through – the scenery was just phenomenal.

In Fiesch, I right-away made my way for the cable car up to my hotel, which is perched on the mountain. …And what a view it has. The family and staff whom operate the Hotel Eggishorn were very friendly and the wife, in particular, was quite informative. The best part really is the location: it just can’t be beat. If you roll out of bed one way, you have about a kilometer to fall. If you roll out the other way, you’re on the lift to head up the remaining 500 meters or so. All around are hiking paths.

Just a week prior, in Zell am See, was the first time I can recall where, from the ground, I espied mountains with snow in the summertime. One milestone completed, I needed to top it with another geographical achievement: see my first glacier. No… not see it… I wanted to touch it. I wanted to sit on it. I wanted to lick it. Seriously. I left for my four-hour hike at 18:00, though at this altitude and latitude it was light the whole way through. There was a long tunnel in route which was kind of freaky (especially the altar halfway through … and that almost all the lights had gone out by the time I hiked back through) but made for a convenient shortcut.

My first view of the glacier – just before entering the tunnel – took my breath away and resulted in me standing in the same place for about ten minutes till my breath came back (and also until I had thoroughly photographed anything and everything) – and that was only a glimpse. When I saw it full-view… wow… just wow. I spotted a sign pointing toward the glacier and bearing its name, so I naturally took this as indicative that I was welcome to continue – despite a path being apparent in only the scantest resemblance of a path.

I arrived at the glacier after a climb down a mass of rocks – most of which moved quite readily (thank you Barnegat Light and Rt. 322 rocks for the training!). By this point it wasn’t’ just this stream of winter off in the distance; it was a huge mass of ice towering before me. The glacier had the cleanest and most pure ice, but was topped with a thick dirt which stuck to you the moment you came near. I was filthy in seconds, mostly a result of when I gave the glacier a hug.

The ice was flaky, almost as if it was pieced together like the carbon which forms graphite (nerdy analogy, I know, but it was the first thing that popped into my head out there). As per my trial climbs on nearby ice blocks about my height, the instability of these flaky sheets of ice made me rethink my hope of actually walking about on its surface (there’s my gift to Mom). However, I still made sure to sit on a stable-ish portion more-or-less above solid rock. “More” to family members so they think I’m sensible; and “less” to friends so they think I’m brave and daring.

It is worth noting that the temperature up here was hot during the day and comfy at night. No wonder the glaciers are melting… As large as this one is, it is expected to be gone by 2050 at the earliest or by the end of the century at the latest. After another thirty minutes of taking a mass of photos and video, I scaled my way out of there.

At the top of the rocks and back at the trail, I spent about twenty minutes chatting with a very friendly Swedish guy about my age whom was studying to be a doctor (after having been a combat medic during his compulsory service). He was setting off to hike over Jungfrau – the mountain in the distance which spawned the glacier – with his buddy and a less-familiar friend from the northern reaches of Sweden, whom was a professional climber and was serving as their guide. The topic came up about avalanches: they’d been a real threat the past few days due to the mix of rain and hot weather. Every time I turned on the news I’d hear another story of climbers getting killed in the Alps: Poles near Mont Blanc and just the day before meeting these Swedes: several Swedes were killed right on Jungfrau. I gave them some directions about the area, wished them good luck, and bid them farewell.

Departing, I crossed the Forbidden Tunnel, said “bye” to the cute cows (which reminded me of the transformation in Childhood’s End: they were almost zombie-like and scattered about on a mountain, except they had clangy bells), and skipped much of the remaining way. Yes, skipped… well, more like galloped – it works extremely well when going downhill.

After dinner at my hotel, I wandered a bit off from base camp and for about an hour (midnight to 1 am), I stared at the Milky Way. You know – that fuzzy band in the sky that most people don’t even known exists. I guess I was facing away from the core, because it wasn’t nearly as colorful and majestic as I remembered it from about two years ago when I last looked at it from just outside of State College, PA; but it was still amazing just as I saw it this night. Just as I was about to turn away, a shooting star lit up a streak across the heavens. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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