In and Out of Big Views in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland
Fellow Run the Alps guide Emily Geldard and I hop off the Swiss Postbus at Schwarzwaldalp, a silent hamlet tucked under the towering face of the Wetterhorn, in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland region. This evening, the peaks are hidden in a thick fog, which amplifies the silence. The quiet is a stark contrast from our journey; the clattering of trains and the outrageous multi-note melodies of the honking horns of the Postbus. The cozy inn at which we are staying is perfect for the first evening. No phone reception, fog swirling outside, good food and a few glasses of local Pinot Noir; the perfect setting to get to know our group for the week and make plans for our first run the following day.
The forecast has promised us sun, but the next morning, as we take the trail up towards the Grosse Scheidegg pass, last night’s fog still swirls around us. There’s plenty of beautiful flora to see lining the trail, though, and we all manage to supplement our breakfast with wild blueberries and strawberries found along the way.
Our group of 11 spreads out along the climb with Emily leading the way and me playing tail guide, so everybody can find their own pace between us. Some scamper-off up the first hill, while others take a little longer to get warmed up. We all meet at the pass and follow the traverse round to First, a complex of lifts for the Grindelwald ski area and our first rest stop for the day, where we can stock up on food. Some opt for soup or a sandwich, while Anja enjoys her first amazing piece of cake.
The beauty of trail running in the Bernese Oberland trip is the access to lifts, trams and trains. Drew decides to take advantage of the lift here and zips down to town to relax. The rest of us venture out into the fog towards lake Bachsee, before running down into Grindelwald and the beautiful Hotel Gletschergarten, where we spend two nights.
The next day the fog clears, and the summits of the famous Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau each come into sight we take the rack and pinion cog railway up to Schynige Platte; the start of our run for the day. The route weaves around spectacular limestone towers to the Berghaus Männdlenen, where more cake needs to be sampled by Anja, this time joined by others.
Suitably cake-fueled, the group heads towards one of the high summits along this ridge, the Faulhorn. Some head directly for the summit, while others traverse underneath. Laura has a problem with her calf muscle, but hobbles on like a hero with a smile on her face, with her husband Owen pacing her. (Gold star for spouse skills, Owen!)
Those who want an easier route back to Grindelwald now head to the First lift with Emily, saving their legs from the long descent. I lead a group of those keen for more, first over a beautiful ridge and then down a long, technical traverse to the hamlet of Bussalp and then, finally, into Grindelwald.
The route ends up longer than anticipated due to some confusion with the local bus which meant it was easier to continue running down to Grindelwald. Thankfully Julie, Sue, Johnny and Norma take the unanticipated extension in stride. We arrive back at the hotel with a few stiff legs but the evening’s cheese fondue seems to have healing powers, and the next morning everybody is raring to go again.
Time to move onto the next village! This time we’re heading for Wengen; the famous car-free town perched high above the Lauterbrunnen valley. The weather has changed again today and we dismount the train in Alpiglen in a swirling fog. Once again we have options. One group heads for the Eiger Trail, another for a lower more tranquil option. We all reconvene at the high pass of Kleine Scheidegg. Once we’re there, we eat (yet more) cake and have coffee, but we have had to earn it with a little running, first. Despite the fog we enjoy some great trails under the North face of the Eiger (it’s right there, I promise!) At our cafe stop, we all regroup and jog the easy “panoramaweg” trail together to catch the tram down to Wengen.
We arrive in Wengen early afternoon, and the clouds part in perfect time to enjoy a beer outside on the terrace. We all relax before dinner, but a large weissbier affects some people’s judgement, and the guides decide to take on the Chamois Challenge; a Vertical Kilometer run straight up the tramway we just came down. Get to the top station in under 75 minutes and you win a prize: a free ride down! Thankfully we both make the cut off – even better as neither of us thought to bring our wallets…
Sunshine the next day, and we all set off together for a long descent into the deep valley of Lauterbrunnen, below towering cliffs and tumbling waterfalls. Once in the valley we have a fast, flat 5k along the valley floor where we spot some BASE jumpers leaping from the cliffs above. At the head of the valley we start the long climb up to another car-free village, Mürren. It is the longest climb of the trip but we have an option to bail out halfway at the tiny hamlet of Gimmelwald, to split the climb. Everybody is determined to finish the climb and there are no takers for the easy option. The views are too good to stop now! As we power up the final section I chat to Emily and Rachael about what we’ve achieved, highlighted by the tiny buildings a full kilometre below us. The group arrives together in Mürren, and we celebrate our arrival with a few drinks on the stunning terrace of the aptly named Bellevue Hotel.
Last day! The alternating weather is true to form and after yesterday’s sun, we’re back to fog and drizzle. Thankfully nothing can dampen this group’s spirits and everybody is keen to get out for one last run above Mürren. An easy, speedy run alongside the railway gets us warmed up for a soggy yet beautiful stomp up and across the pasture land of Murren. Thankfully, there is a cozy cafe halfway at a spot called Allmendhubel, where we can rewarm ourselves with the Swiss specialty drink called Ovomaltine, soup, and of course a fine piece of cake or two. As we finish the route, miraculously the clouds part, just in time for Wrenae to take the paragliding flight she’s been dreaming of since the start of the trip. The Hotel Bellevue puts on an amazing farewell dinner for us and we enjoy a final evening together. It’s a great way to end the week. Everybody has gotten a real taste for the trails and lifestyle of this wonderful region and no doubt we’ll all be heading back for more in the future.