Yesterday, I finally got to undertake an excursion I had hoped to be able to do for several months, that is walk along the Panoramaweg from Belalp to Oberaletschhütte. In fact, I had been wanting to go on this trail to be able to see the glacier of Oberaletsch ever since I first spotted it while walking on a path running along its sister, the more famous glacier of Aletsch, just before the vantage point of Alte Stafel, on our way to the lake of Märjelen, slightly over a year ago. To the extent that reaching the Swiss Alpine Club’s shelter (hütte in German) above the glacier of Oberaletsch was one of my main excursion goals for the summer.

(Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge them)

For various reasons (June/July holidays in Singapore, four weekends at home to provide moral support for the wife during her month-long fasting, bad weather, etc.), I did not manage to do so. Very disappointed that I had not seen the glacier this summer, I was counting on this weekend as one of the last opportunities to do so because the days are really getting shorter now and as I wanted to be able to do it on a day trip from Lausanne, which would entail catching the 6:20 am train from the railway station some seven métro stops away from our place. However, as we had done some late night shopping on Friday and had thus reached home quite late, I decided not to pack my rucksack before going to bed in case I would end up oversleeping the next morning. In fact, I felt so tired that I did not even set any alarms (I tend to set at least three to be on the safe side) on my Nokia Lumina.

Just to show how motivated I was, I woke up without the help of a clock slightly after 4 am and was thus able to prepare my rucksack with almost everything needed to cope with any situation (admittedly, I forgot the survival blanket and we still do not own a first aid pack), remembering that little over a year ago we got lost in the forest of Aletsch without any warm clothing on in my case. Knowing that the walk to and fro was supposed to take about 9 hours, my wife had declined to come with me as she feared that she would not be able to walk sufficiently fast and as she knew how keen I was to do the walk until its endpoint, the shelter above the glacier of Oberaletsch.

I felt a little guilty about my wife having sacrificed the opportunity to go again to the region of Aletsch because I knew that she likes the landscape so much. However, I knew that nine hours of walking would be too much for her given that we had not been on many excursions this summer and that I had realised during our last mountain trip (La Berneuse to Tour d’Aï and then down to Leysin Feydey) that she was not in her best shape. Nevertheless, I felt quite sad on the train taking me to Brig that my wife was not with me and that we would not be able to experience the walk to the shelter together.

9.3 km long, the panorama trail to the shelter was supposed to take between four to five hours (as stated on the section of the board not shown on this picture); it took me about 45 minutes longer … I suppose that the 10 kilo rucksack I was carrying on my back, the lack of sleep and the 391 photos I took during the journey (most of which on my way to the shelter) should account for the difference in duration [The path to follow is the one that runs below Aletschbord 2130 down to the gorge (near the ‘m’ at the end of this blog’s address), then up to the blue and white sign (indicating a glacier walk), up again to 142 and finally to Oberaletschhütten – they have used the plural form because there is a second, much smaller shelter].

Almost so as to mark the roller-coaster nature of Panoramaweg, a very steep path (click to enlarge the picture) greets the hiker not long after having left the belvedere near Hotel Belalp. This stretch and the many other steep ones along the way call for proper mountain shoes and a pair of walking sticks. Although substantial work was carried out to make Panoramaweg reasonably safe (some 5,000 man hours at the expense of over CHF400,000, thanks to a very significant unpaid contribution from volunteers — source: Oberaletschhütte), one would suffer some nasty bruises if one were to fall on any of the sharp, almost flint-like stones that jut out of the ground on many parts of this mountain trail. So be careful – and unlike me – do not go on your own.

A few minutes’ walk after having left Spitzflüeh (2,019m), from which it is possible to walk downhill towards the gorges of the Massa, at the bottom of the mighty glacier of Aletsch. The crenellated mountain slightly to the left from the middle is the Fusshörner.

Some mountain sheep, probably wondering how come there were still people foolish enough to go on the trail on their own as late in the season. Note the lateral moraine (green curving mound) in the background, which proves that a glacier once covered this area, too.

After a steep climb, I found myself on a hill above the gorge the glacier of Oberaletsch had excavated with the passing of the centuries. From this point, I had to go down to cross the river and then go up again, following the path seen on the picture on the bottom right.

The sight of this gorge was really impressive as the wear and rub caused by the movements of the glacier over probably several hundreds of years were conspicuous.

The bridge over the gorge at the end of the glacier and the path leading uphill. Although not as long/high up above the water as the one over the Trift we had recently crossed, it was still fun to walk on.

After a long climb, I found myself on a ridge (not long after a point called Lochegga, 2,228m) leading to the tongue of the glacier. The massive Sparrhorn (3,020m) on the left seemed to have been placed there somehow to deter intruders from approaching the glacier.

Undeterred, I continued walking several minutes and was finally rewarded with my first sight of the glacier (the tongue) — this time from near (unlike the very first photo posted on this entry, which was shot last year from a ridge above the glacier of Aletsch).

Mostly because of the numerous photos I took while walking along the glacier, I reached the shelter approximately 2 hours and thirty minutes from this point. Unfortunately, you will have to wait until I post the next entry on my trip to Oberaletschhütte to be able to see them (including the best pictures of the glacier I took by far) as it is getting a little late (it is almost midnight).

For the time being, suffice is to know that my return journey was much, much faster.

Although I really hurried back from the hut and managed to do the walk back in 3 hours and 30 minutes, it was only to see the cable car leave the station and make its way down to Blatten. What a disappointment, I had rushed back to catch the 6:20 pm cable car but to no avail. I would have to wait 50 minutes for the next one. As I was sweating heavily and did not want to catch cold, I went to the restaurant adjacent to the cable station to change into a jumper and have a well-deserved drink (I had not even bothered to rehydrate for more than two hours so ‘desperate’ that I was to catch the cable car).

A small token for my wife who had prepared hot tea and two sandwiches for me early in the morning: a bottle dumped on the trail by some moron, which I rinsed thoroughly and filled up with water (probably flowing from the glacier of Driest) on my way to the shelter. As a precaution, I boiled it the next morning (even though, of course, I did not do so for the water I drank the day before); my wife, just like me, likes the water!

Afterword (Monday morning, 8 October 2012)

It is difficult to explain how elated I was from the point where I could see the tongue of the glacier until I reached the shelter. The surroundings were impressive, having been carved out from the mountains thousands of years ago. As I only came across one person on the stretch running from the tongue of the glacier to Oberaletschhütte, I walked along the most mountainous course of Panoramaweg all on my own, with hardly any distraction from the noises of civilisation (I heard an helicopter once, that was all). As a result, I felt very humbled by the experience and I could say that it somehow roused my spirituality. As the poor weather prevented us from going to Derborence (one of Switzerland’s three virgin forests) on Sunday, my spirits were rather down during most of the day (especially since I was trying to write this entry and this entailed going through the pictures, thereby calling back to my memory the whole experience very vividly).  How well could I understand this nineteenth century Anglo-Irish professor, mountain climber and glaciologist (who over a period of 25 years or so would spend the months of July to October at Belalp — New Fragments, page 307), John Tyndall, who wrote [my emphasis]:

Both as regards the past and the future, — as objects of memory and of hope, — the Alps are of interest to me. Among them I annually renew my lease of life, and restore the balance between mind and body which the purely intellectual discipline of London is calculated to destroy. I can wish my reader no better possession than a full measure of that health and strength which his summer exercises confer upon the mountaineer.

Preface (pages v and vi) to Mountaineering in 1861. A vacation tour (online version available here)

Other entries on the Aletsch region published on this blog [added 27 July & 4 August 2013]

Entries on  Swiss mountains published on this blog [added 19 July 2013]

Entries on  the Aletsch region published on my wife’s blog