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      July 2013 > Between a rock and a hard place

Between a rock and a hard place

Self-guided walking holidays in SwitzerlandIt might be approaching two decades since I was a keen geography student on a field trip to the Cairngorms to study glaciology, but over the course of a week in the Bernese Oberland in June this year the memories of what I learnt on that trip came flooding back.

And ‘flooding’ is perhaps a somewhat apt word to use; central Europe has experienced an extremely wet spring, following a cold and snowy winter, and the results have been major news that I don’t need to remind you of.

From my perspective, however, some of the raw scars on the landscape, coupled with the sheer scale of the scenery, served as a strong reminder of just how powerful nature can be.

This was never more evident than in the walk up Gasterntal, the signature glacial valley in the Bernese Oberland. Even in the relatively green and serene lower end of the valley, it is clear that an immense force created the classic U-shape between the jagged peaks and ridges rising high above you on both sides. Then as you start the rise toward the Kanderfirn glacier, the terrain becomes rocky and rugged, and there is evidence of fresh change to the landscape, on a large scale – perhaps not glacial, but still sufficient to raise the eyebrows.

Self-guided walking holidays in SwitzerlandThe most striking of these is an enormous boulder, easily 40 metres across, washed down to its current position in the floods of 2011. Trying to imagine the forces involved in moving it is mindboggling. The path passes right by the boulder, and on approaching it you see a rope dangling down from the top, with prussick loops – loops for putting your feet into – suggesting that it’s definitely there to be climbed. If you choose to do so, you’ll soon see why it’s there.

If however you carry on walking, climbing up towards the Kanderfirn glacier, and then (as I did) you turn around to admire the view back down the valley, you’ll spot something on top of this boulder. Initially confused as to what it might be, it looks out of place, but the longer you stare the more you have to admit that your eyes aren’t deceiving you – it really is a park bench!

And what a fabulous place for a bench, what a location and unique view. The bench was placed there by the Swiss Alpine Club – they own and maintain the mountain hut at the far end of the Kanderfirn glacier – and one can only marvel at the vision of the member that suggested they do so. Or perhaps marvel at their sense of humour!

Whichever direction you walk from Kandersteg on your walking holiday in Switzerland, and however demanding or gentle the route you take, you can’t escape the magnitude and majesty of the mountain landscape. You might not find outrageous park benches everywhere, and not every route is so raw, but I defy any frustrated glaciologist not to be awestruck. Whether you studied geography or not, do take a moment to stop, look up and around, and imagine the power of Mother Nature as she carved and moulded this classic Alpine landscape.

Posted: 08/07/2013 13:53:08 by Peter Hunt | with 1 comments
Filed under: nature, snow, Switzerland, walking

Andy Montgomery
WOW! How incredible! It isn't until you see that park bench atop it that you realise the scale of the boulder. How brilliant to put the bench up there - the world's most bizarre seat?
19/07/2013 14:23:32

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