In early August, 2022 I found myself with Eric, Jodi and Michael in northern Italy where my grandson Josh was representing the USA in the World Rowing regatta in Varese (see other blog). After the end of the regatta, the family went home to St. Louis but I stayed a few additional days to hike in the Swiss Alps. In particular, I had always wanted to visit Gimmelwald in the Bernese Oberland area.
The Lauterbrunnen valley with the striking Lauterbrunnen wall cliff face at the far end of which is found Gimmelwald.
Gimmelwald is a RIDICULOUSLY scenic and photogenic village in the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland. It is a tiny (population 130) hamlet half-way up the mountain with no roads leading to it so it is only accessible by hiking or by cable car, either from below (Stechelberg) or from above (Mürren). Of the various hiking paths leading to Gimmelwald, one involves a demanding difficult cliff walk with zipline, tight rope walk and hanging bridge (see below). Most of the residents are farmers with dairy cattle making cheese. The town is so small that there are no stores, no place to buy anything. Instead they have several ‘selbstbedienung’ (self-service) stations where they place cheese or sausage along with a coin box in refrigerators along the path and trust the honesty of the patrons. I booked an Airbnb in town which turned out to be the well-known Pension Gimmelwald, one of a few places to stay and one of only two places to eat in town. Of course this isolation also means that it avoids the crowds of tourists present in all other Swiss towns.
Gimmelwald is a great base for hiking in this part of the Alps. The lifts that service Gimmelwald are in the Lauterbrunnen valley and are run by a different company than those that service Jungfrau and Grindlewald. This is a nuisance since it means that you need to buy two different passes to access the lifts, trains and buses in the area. And the passes are not cheap. But since I was going to be here for 4 days and visiting both valleys, I decided to go ahead and spring for both passes. It does provide an advantage that one doesn’t need to stand in line at each lift, some of which can be lengthy, to purchase tickets.
A disadvantage of staying in Gimmelwald which I had not anticipated was that the cable car lifts going either up or down did not start until 8 AM. This meant that it was difficult to get sunrise photos, unless you get up super early and hike quickly. It is also in a valley so that the early morning light only hits the distant mountain peaks. Likewise in the evening dinner in the pension was always at 7 PM so late afternoon photography was also difficult. So there were few chances for golden hour photography.
To get to Schilthorn from the valley floor, there are cable cars from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald to Mürren to Birg and finally to Schilthorn. The prominent Wasenegg ridge and Bryndli viewpoint are also visible.
Panorama of Gimmelwald
Panorama with a mountain view of Gimmelwald
A typical example of Swiss tidiness. All chalets seem to be fairy-tale clean and neat.
Most of the people raise dairy cattle
I watched this cat stalking something in the grass, which it succeeded in catching.
A self-service stations where one can buy cheese and sausage from refrigerators along the path by leaving money in the cash box.
First light over Gimmelwald
Ready for the winter
Shot from the cable car above Stechelberg
Gimmelwald can be reached by hiking, cable car, or by this hanging suspension bridge
The hiking path from Mürren to Grindlewald which includes this bridge is classified as ‘difficult’. Everyone has mountaineering gear and clips on with a caribiner for the whole hike. Much of the hike is along the cliff face using the U-shaped rebar rungs that are anchored into the rock face (lower left) along with a steel cable to clip onto, so-called via ferrata.
Each hiker has two short ropes with caribiners so that at points where you had to undo one to clip onto the next section of wire, there was still another clipped in for safety.
Jungfrau at first light
Jungfrau by moonlight
For the first extended day of hiking, I decided to do it in the other valley with good views of the three famous mountains: the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. I took the cable car/bus combination to Lauterbrunnen and then to Wengen and Männlichen. After visiting the Royal View just off the Männlichen lift with nice views of the Lauterbrunnen valley, I hiked on a busy trail to the Kleine Scheidegg. This hiking trail is in the shadow of the three giants and I was lucky that the weather was clear to afford clear views of the peaks. The trail intersects quite a few cow grazing areas and I observed some amusing cow-tourist interactions as documented below.
The royal view
Panorama from the Royal View. In the foreground right is Männlichen with the three giants (Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau) just behind it.
Sometimes a photographer just wants a mug shot and the cow is curious about what I’m doing and comes to inspect closely.
Other times both the cows and the tourists hanker for a more intimate interaction
But sometimes one party is not interested and expresses his/her displeasure forcefully. Here a woman reached out to pet the cow without first asking permission and the cow expressed its reply by bulling its way towards the woman. Her husband reached out to try to save her and was knocked unceremoniously to the ground. Cows may be very docile but they have a lot of weight.
The three giants: the Eiger, Mönch , and Jungfrau on the hike from Männlichen. By legend the monk (Mönch ) is protecting the maiden (Jungfrau) from the ogre (Eiger).
The famous north face of the Eiger
Top of the Aletsch glacier from Jungfraujoch.
At the top of the train to Jungfraujoch
Wasenegg Ridge hike
The next day I wanted to tackle a more challenging and less touristy hike. I caught the first cable car from Gimmelwald up to Mürren and then to Birg and finally to the Schilthorn peak where there is a famous revolving restaurant. After a quick breakfast in the restaurant and exploring the views from Schilthorn, I rode the cable back down to Birg. At the Birg cable car station there is a ‘thrill walk’ along the cliff face with glass bottomed, wire cable and wire mesh walkways to test your acrophobia.
The hike down to Mürren from Birg is a challenging one with numerous spots where one has to scramble over rocks. I was sorry that I had left my hiking poles at the Airbnb because they hindered holding a camera while hiking. A good portion of the hike is along the narrow ridge line known as Wasenegg which culminated in a nearly 360 deg viewpoint at Bryndli. For parts of the ridge there is a barbed wire fence on one side, but the trail switches from one side of the fence to the other in spots, necessitating hopping over the barbed wire. Where the trail is very narrow there were places with a fixed safety wire that you could hang onto. The day was perfect for hiking with clear skies and many parasailors decorating the already majestic Jungfrau cliff face.
I found the hike to be quite strenuous and was exhausted by the time I came off the ridge. As I was coming down from the viewpoint at Bryndli, I was ready for some liquid refreshment. According to the map I had, there were a couple of cafes in the tiny hamlets above Mürren but I had apparently wandered off the trail I thought I was on and could not find anything. One problem with these tiny, out-of-way hamlets is that they basically do not have any infrastructure for tourists. I finally had to hike all the way into Mürren before I could find an ice-cold Coke to drink.
The top of the Schilthorn lift with the revolving restaurant
The three giants with the cable car to the Schilthorn lift in the foreground. The Birg lift is just visible to the far left.
The Wasenegg ridge line walk (forground right) from Birg to Mürren with the three giants in the background
The iron cable walk at Birg
The glass bottom walk at Birg
At the top of the Birg lift with the thrill walk on the right
Another way to negotiate the cliff face.
Parasailing over the Jungfrau
Panorama view from the Bryndli viewpoint
Cable car over Mürren with the three giants across the valley. The Wasenegg ridge is in the right foreground
Wasenegg ridge and Mürren in the distance
On the bus ride from Stechelberg to Lauterbrunnen there is a stop for Trümmelbach Falls. These are one of the most unusual water falls in the world since the falls have carved a path through the bedrock of the mountain so they are largely hidden within the mountain. Despite this, the Swiss have managed to cut a set of stairs through the mountain to see parts of the falls. In addition there is also an elevator in case you don’t want to walk up the wet stairs.
On the last day I had a half day before I had to catch the train back to Italy so I made a visit to Schynige Platte in the Grindelwald side of the valley. There wasn’t enough time to take a proper hike but the train ride was scenic and the views of the three giants different. There is a very nice Alpen garden with displays of the alpine flowers with labels.
This mountain farm has been raising cows for over 1000 years.
My return flight was also from the Milan Malpensa airport so on the last night I came back to Italy from Gimmelwald and stayed in an Airbnb in the town of Busto Arsizio. I decided to stay here solely because it was convenient: it was on the train line back from Switzerland and close to the airport. My only expectations for this stay was a good night’s sleep. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Italian game night
After a mediocre pizza dinner I went strolling around town to look for something of interest. Of course the town square was the obvious place to explore. To my surprise, the town square was a bee hive of activity at 10 PM . It was crowded with people: kids, teenagers, adults, grandparents. There were about 40 or 50 different games set up, all of which were old-fashioned, non-electric, ones like Jenga, checkers, cooperative labyrinth, shoot the moon, bowling with carom, fishing for bottle tops, stilts, and many others I’ve never seen or don’t know their names. All of the games were hand-made. In many cases grandparents were playing with their grandkids. Several games were cooperative. Gangs of teenagers were having fun playing games against each other. The age range was from about 3 years old and up even though things didn’t close down until almost 11 PM. It was a remarkable and refreshing thing to see.
Busto Arsizio town square at 10 PM
Teenagers had fun with stilts
Town square on the next morning
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