Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Schilthorn and Murren Klettersteig

Eiger  - north face (in shade) and west flank. We descended the skyline, clear to the far right

Today we took the train over to Lauterbrunnen and hiked 7000+ feet up to the summit of the Schilthorn (2970 meters) - to the Piz Gloria, which is a rotating restaurant on the very summit and, in fact, sit above the summit. This is where they filmed a lot of the James Bond movie titled "In Her Majesty's Secret Service." This was the only movie starring George Lazenby, an Aussie, and he made a fatal career mistake in not signing a five-movie deal to stay the new James Bond (after Sean Connery). He didn't think the series had any legs... The Piz Gloria has a Bond museum/exhibit up there. The movie saved the cable car project being built to the summit, as funds had run out. The town of Murren (and maybe Lauterbrunnen) was building this to prevent the dying of their towns as everyone was moving to the cities. This was supposed to bring in skiing tourists and provide local jobs. It worked.

We hiked up the usual incredibly steep Swiss trails, first to Grutshalp, where there is a train that runs from there to Murren...and no where else. There is no rail line leading up here. How they got the train up there, I do not know. We continued above Murren, not going to the down on the way up, to the Schilthorn Hut and then on to the summit, where we spent nearly two hours being tourons. On the way up, we were following the markings for a half marathon that ran from Lauterbrunnen to the summit. Most of our route followed this race course, but we did the 7000 vertical feet in just 13 kilometers, which makes it much, much steeper than the Pikes Peak Ascent. Just before the summit we saw a couple of ibex, with huge horns.
Piz Gloria on the summit of the Schilthorn
We had a 40% discount card for the cable card and I was excited to save my knees getting a ride down, but the card was only good for the roundtrip! Dang... What was the price just to ride down to Murren (1635 meters), which is perched above a 2000-foot limestone wall high above Lauterbrunnen? 47 CHF! That's about $60 with the horrible exchange rate you get here. We couldn't stomach that and walked down. On the way down a couple of interesting things happened. First, at 2300 meters, I saw a black salamander. I've never seen a salamander that high on a mountain before.
The other thing? I slipped in a fresh cow pie and got cow shit all over my shoes and socks. I tried washing some of it off in a stream, but it was with me the rest of the day. I threw the socks away.

In Murren we were getting worried about missing the last train back to Grindelwald, but after confirming we had until at least 9 p.m. we decided to head down the Murren to Gimmelwald klettersteig. This via ferrata is 2.2 kilometers long and supposedly takes three hours, so we were going to have to hustle. Oh, and yes, that's right, down is the way this via ferrata goes. We found the start, just below the clay tennis court - a tunnel that leads to the edge of the cliff. The sign at the start said that is klettersteig was rated F3. We had no idea what that meant, but figured we could handle any via ferrata. We handled this one, but, as it turns out, there are ones we probably couldn't handle. On the other side of the tunnel starts the steel cable that will continue until the very end, even on easy, though exposed terrain.

We headed down mostly easy terrain and just before the most exposed part, there was a wooden platform and a guy standing there in a wingsuit with a parachute on this back and a Hero Cam on his helmet. Homie moved by, but I stepped up onto the platform, holding onto a tree for security. I asked the guy if it was okay if I stood there to watch him jump and he said I was fine. In a moment, he jumped. Now wingsuit or no wingsuit, the first 500 feet or more, you drop like a stone and he sure did, but then he started flying and fly clear to the other side of the valley before popping his chute. This proved how steep the terrain was below. Soon, we'd be hanging out over 2000 feet of overhanging air! That is some serious exposure, equivalent to a via ferrata along the Thank God Lege on Half Dome. Homie wasn't sure he wanted to continue, but he did. I thought the exposure was exhilarating. When one of the iron steps was a bit loose it did cause some sphincter tightening...

We later traversed more steep ground, descending overhanging ladders, did two Burma bridges, and finished with an 80-meter Nepal bridge across a 1500-foot drop! This last bridge was quite wobbly and took some time to traverse. This ended right at the cable car from Gimmelwald down to Stechelberg, down in the valley. We got to ride this for free and then paid 4 CHF to ride the bus back to the Lauterbrunnen train station. We didn't get back to our hostel until 9:30 p.m., having to walk down the hill from Grindelwald as the cog train had stopped running and so had the buses.
This bridge is 80 meters across and the drop to the valley is more than 1500 feet - dead vertical!
This got me interested in via ferrata ratings. I did a simple google search and found this video of an "extreme" via ferrata where it is recommended that you are a solid 10c climber or you better have a top rope.

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