Saturday, July 10, 2010

Through the Zwischbergenpass

Another SAC tour, this time organized by Peter K.

On Saturday we took the early train (6:01, same one as last week) and ended up in Visp. From there we took the bus to Saas Fee and began the day with a bit of fun: the klettersteig through the gorge of the Feevispa down to Saas Grund. In the description of the tour Peter said this had plenty of moving parts; a very apt description. This was our first klettersteig (despite talking about it for more than a year), and it's not anything like typical, but it was still interesting to try out the equipment under the eyes of a bergführer. Plus the 'steig itself was tons of fun: three different zip lines, a rope swing, a couple nice suspension bridges, and a ladder bridge to nowhere that was just great. Good fun; probably even better in a smaller group (we were 13 in total).
After finishing our bit of fun we take the gondola from Saas Grund up to Kreuzboden (the normal hiking paths were closed due to rockslides) and then follow the panorama path around the corner and down to the Hotel Almagelleralp (2194m). Along the way we have a bit of rain, just enough to trick most of us into putting on our jackets before stopping again; still, you won't find us complaining about "too little rain". After a nice break at the beautifully situated hotel, we head up the valley side on a great path to the Almagellerhütte (2894m). After arriving and picking our places in the dorm (with 13 people we get our own room... woo hoo! at least I'll know the snorer's name!), we settle down for a nice cool beverage on the terrace in the evening sun. The hut is full (most everyone is heading up to the Weissmies... 4000er madness) and we eat in the second shift, so there's plenty of time to enjoy the last of the day before having a good meal and heading off to bed.

Sunday starts early since some of the groups doing the Weissmies leave around 3am. We head down for breakfast at 4 -- earlier than necessary for us but they do breakfast at either 4 or at 7 and 7 is definitely too late -- and are on our way shortly after 5. Some fun while waiting watching the line of headlamps heading up to the Zwischbergenpass and then along the ridge towards the Weissmies. By 5 it's light enough that we don't need headlamps as we make our own way up to the pass (3243m). Up top we have a break on a spot above the pass, soak up some of the morning sun, and enjoy the views out to the sunlit mountains to both the East and West. ahhhh, nice. We also get to enjoy the last watching the last of the lines of people working there way up the steep snow field at the beginning of the ascent to the ridge that leads up to the Weissmies... (man are there a lot of people heading up there!) From the pass it's steeply down the other side, across some snow/firn, bits of glacier, rocks, snow, etc. until we reach the next break (and second breakfast) at around 2700m. The weather is really fantastic: sunny and not too warm, nice cloud play in the mountains all around.
For the next stage we stay on the wall of the valley instead of taking the older path down along the moraine. Onwards and slightly down, over stones and streams with a bit of scrambling here and there, past some people camping (!, Dutch, of course), and further on until we get to grass (audible sighs as the feet applaud the soft grass), another break on the grass in the sun at around 2300m (we're in no hurry and Peter is generous with the breaks), past a herd of sheep and their people, and finally down to the valley floor. There we follow the river down the valley. Along the way we go through a herd of cows, a few of which decide we're interesting enough to follow (must have been lonely down there).

So we head on with an honor guard of three or four cows. After we're gone some of the rest of the herd decides we must be doing something interesting, so they follow too. Now we're 13 people, four cows, and another 20 or so cows about 100m back down the path. What a parade. :-) At the end of the valley we pass a gate, leave the cows behind, and stop for a lunch break beside the lake. Of course the cows aren't really keen on being left behind: they come down to the low stone barrier by the lake and look sadly over. Eventually curiosity and greed overcomes one and she scrambles over the wall. Peter prevents a repeat by the others, but the cow who crossed over hangs out with us while we're eating (occasionally investigating people's backpacks or lunches... as one would expect). Before leaving Greg tries to get the cow to climb back over the wall, that works about as well as one would expect, so we just leave her and head off down the dirt road.

Onward, onward, we go down the road; past the turnoff for Zwischbergen to the crossing just above the lake. Here the group splits up with some heading up to the restaurant at Zwischbergen for a second (!) lunch and the bus down, the rest of us continuing along the path through the valley to Gondo. This is a really nice path, mostly under trees, often through grass, beside the river. There are some fantastic looking pools for swimming but it's not exactly warm enough for that, ah well. After another hour or so we arrive in Gondo (839m). We've got half an hour before the bus back over the Simplon pass, which we enjoy outside the restaurant, under an umbrella (the rain starts 10 minutes after we arrive), with a cool beverage. The day ends with the bus back to Brig and then the train to Basel.

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