Followers of this blog will recall my affinity for the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the mountains of the Bernese Oberland region, including the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains. I’ve taken virtually every visitor we’ve had to Lauterbrunnen, usually incorporationg the hike between Grutschalp and Murren, then down to Stechelberg and back to Lauterbrunnen through the valley.
But every time I’ve been there, when the weather was clear, I’d glance up the valley to the highest peak, called Schilthorn and say to myself, “Some day I will hike all the way up there.” I mentioned this to one of my favorite hiking companions, Patrick, who was in town for a visit, and the two of us decided it would be a great adventure and a lot of fun to hike it together.
I took this photo of the map of the hike. Maybe if you click on it, it’ll get bigger. We started down on the valley floor in Stechelberg, on the left side of the map. Our destination: Piz Gloria atop Schilthorn, that peak at the top of the map. The hike is supposed to take 6 hours, and the vertical climb is 2,100 meters, or about a mile and a quarter.
Because you are climbing over a mile from the valley floor up to a mountaintop, the hiker experiences several transitions – topographical, geological, and meteorological – along the way. I found that the hike might best be described by three distinct phases: Green, Black, and White.
We arrived at the trailhead in Stechelberg at about 10:30 AM and started up the trail to a gentle sprinkle. We had been warned that we might encounter some snow at the higher altitudes but at the beginning, it was lush and green, as well as a little damp. This part of the hike was along a mostly forested trail that climbed the valley wall, from Stechelberg up to Murren. An hour or so into the hike, we passed the tree line and walked along a gravel road through grassy green pastures.
Here’s the video I took as we approached Murren.
We stopped for water and a snack in Murren then made our way back to the trail, headed upward to a gondola station named Birg. This portion of the hike was mostly on a rocky roadway, although to call it a “roadway” is a little misleading. It’s incredibly steep, I don’t think any ordinary vehicle could make it up there, even under ideal conditions. We thought maybe its a skier’s trail, but not one I’d ever want to ski down.
We did encounter some slushy snow on our way up to Birg, but the feature that really stands out at this altitude is the blackness of the stones, those underfoot as well as the big rocks that make up the mountain. I took a photo of this giant rock along the road.
Here’s another short video I shot. This one does feature some snow and some mostly white woolen friends we encountered, but note the blackness of the road we’re walking.
The final phase of the hike was white. At this point, there wasn’t just snowfall from the night before. The snow was actively falling. The good news was we were still on a very secure, wide road so we decided to push on beyond Birg.
Here is a photo I took from a brochure which shows our destination, Piz Gloria, which is the name of the building at the summit of Schilthorn. It’s claim to fame, and the way they aggressively market it, is that it was the setting of the Bad Guy’s lair in the otherwise forgettable James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring Timothy Dalton as James Bond, Telly Savalas as the bad guy. In any event, as we would soon discover firsthand, the whole building is a shrine to the flick, including a James Bond gift shop, a James Bond “museum” featuring props from the movie, video screens everywhere that roll scenes from the movie, and images that appear on the bathroom mirror that recite dialogue from the film as you wash your hands. It’s all a little annoying, to be perfectly honest.
So that’s where we were headed, and before long, we could see the gondola through the fog coming and going from Piz Gloria! Our destination was in sight, six hours and 2,100 vertical meters after heading out that morning. Here’s the final video I took as we approached the Schilthorn mountaintop. Yes, it’s snowy but we can see it!
We’re almost there!
As we made our way up through the snow toward the summit and the warmth of Piz Gloria, it wasn’t hard to imagine what real mountain climbers must experience. We could very easily imagine that we were carefully considering the best route, or that we were using ropes to secure ourselves along some of the steeper slopes, or crossing narrow land bridges on the final approach. It felt just like we were real mountaineers, climbing a snowy Swiss peak!
The last 45 minutes or so were a real challenge, but we made it! We entered the warmth of the Piz Gloria, and were heartily welcomed by this woman who manages the James Bond-themed restaurant. She said they were preparing to close and offered us free sandwiches that she was getting ready to toss out. Patrick and I sat and ate our sandwiches and reminisced about an adventure that we’ll both remember for a very long time.