In the ultra's footsteps

Posted on: 16 Aug 2015

Apologies for the long delay in finishing this post - other things got in the way.

Sunday 19th July: Not off to the earliest of starts today (being a spectator is more tiring than you would think, especially if it involves being in 5 different places over the course of the day - I worked out that we walked/ran about 17 kms in the process), but after a leisurely breakfast, we set off to cover some of the race route. We left the car at the hotel this time, walked to Burglauenen, and got the train to Grindelwald. We called by the race HQ (the marquee was still there! - neither blown away nor dismantled) to try to find out more details of the previous night's events, but could only gather that everyone had eventually finished safely (including Georg). I read later that the race had been stopped for 2 1/2 hours; among the race photos are some of the runners crowded together in some wooden building, wrapped in blankets, and some of them waiting around in the station at Kleine Scheidegg. (There are two race reports in, should any German speakers fancy a read, or just a look at the photos.)

By now, late morning, it was already hot, (no inkling of last night's storm, except a certain steaminess in the atmosphere,) so we decided to give the first part of the route - the long climb up to Grosse Scheidegg - a miss, and got the bus up there. We were sitting behind a German couple who had done the E51, and it was interesting talking to them until they got off - they still had a few days' holiday here, and were off to do some more gentle exploration. Grosse Scheidegg was familiar to us - we walked up from the Rosenlaui side a couple of years ago - and I remembered seeing the Eiger Ultra signposts pointing along a tempting-looking path, but not having time to check it out. We went that way now, the route intermittently marked with Dayglo-yellow arrows and blobs painted on the ground. The path was walkers' heaven, across flowery alpine meadows with wide views of mountains all around, and the omnipresent jangling of cowbells.

Still more heavenly, we passed a trough with wonderful icy-cold water, and on a whim, took our shoes and socks off and dipped our feet knee deep in it .......... aaaaaaah, bliss. I bet more than a few runners were happy to see it yesterday (to drink, if not to paddle.)

The path climbed up towards First, and here the ways divided, the E51 route going right, while the E101 took a rather cruel diversion down to Bort and all the way back up again to First on a parallel path - presumably to make up the distance (E93 would not have sounded the same.) We took neither way but continued up the main path to the restaurant and treated ourselves to a bottle of Moscht - the Swiss equivalent of cider. (Shades of Libby!) A short way further on, we and both routes were reunited, and on the way to Bachalpsee. This is probably the most populous section of the whole trail: because of its proximity to First, with its easy cablecar access, it was teeming with tourists (some in highly unsuitable footwear.) Most of them don't go further than the lake, though, and after the turn-off towards Bussalp, it was miraculously peaceful again.

Up to now, it had been pretty easy walking, but here that changed. The way climbed, on rocky little single-trails, to the top of a ridge, then descended the other side across an enormous boulder field. It looked like a giant's playground, with rocks of all shapes and sizes lying in a chaotic jumble, the path picking its tortuous way through them. It made for tricky walking, and I couldn't imagine running here.

It had also clouded over, and began to spot with rain. I ignored it for a while, until it suddenly came down much heavier. Frantic digging in rucksack for rain jackets.......... but too late, we were soaked. Not that the jackets helped much - they were not proof against this onslaught, and we were drenched through within minutes. From being uncomfortably hot, it was now uncomfortably chilly - how quickly it can change in the mountains. It gave me an inkling of what it must have been like for the runners the previous night.

The restaurant at Bussalp was now visible below, but still so far away! Ah well, nothing for it, just keep plodding on........... At one point we had to negotiate a narrow ravine which still had snow in it: a long tongue of snow becoming hollow underneath. I wondered uneasily if it was safe to walk on; might it collapse underneath us..........? - then reflected that if it had withstood hundreds of runners the previous day, it could probably support a couple of walkers! (It did.) I was interested to see a photo of this snow in one of the race report photos - nice to be able to say 'I was there!'

Reaching Oberläger at last, we recognized the place where the feed station had been; nothing there now except lots of cowsh*t (which wasn't there yesterday - this must be the yard where they let the cows out of their cowshed.) Originally on the plan had been the possibility of exploring some of the way to Faulhorn, within the limits imposed by the need to get the last bus back from Bussalp to Grindelwald. But in the pouring rain, this idea now had limited appeal; the idea of a hot drink and the remote possibility of our spare tee shirts still being dry-ish had rather more! So we set off down the road, and for a while, it seemed as though things were looking up: the rain stopped; the trousers at least began to dry out a bit. We saw a bus drive off from the restaurant, but that's all right, it's the previous one, there's still another. Then literally just a couple of minutes away from our goal, the heavens opened again, soaking us for a second time. We didn't have the patience for any more irritatingly curvy road and risked our ankles on the sloping, tussocky grass, finally arriving at the restaurant like two drowned rats. Ah, the joys of mountain walking..........! With our dripping jackets festooned over spare chairs, and soggy shoes discreetly parked under the table, we enjoyed our reward: J. went for the quiche again; I had apple strudel and custard. The bus, right on time, spirited us back down to Grindelwald (from the window, I spotted a marmot, just feet away), and our train back to Burglauenen, dry clothes, dinner, and an early(ish) night, with another 17 kms under our belt.

Monday 20th July: Original plan for today was to start where we left off yesterday and see how much further we got......... hopefully back to Burglauenen. But somehow we had had enough of Bussalp, and decided to tackle some of the other side of the valley instead. It was shaping up to be another hot day too, and a return visit to Männlichen sounded an appealing prospect. We could have got the train, but decided to walk the final few kms of the E51 as far as Grund. The first part of this was flat and mostly shady, alongside the river, then an undulating stretch along relentlessly sunny roads. The cablecar flew us up to cooler sunshine atop Männlichen, and we set off on another trail I had spotted there: the promisingly-named 'Romantik Weg' to Alpiglen. This has to be one of the loveliest walks ever, gently downhill all the way, with phenomenal views, and alpine flowers everywhere.


We didn't hurry, just enjoyed it, stopping halfway along for one of our picnic lunches of assorted leftovers.

Dining room with a view! (Over Grindelwald and across to Grosse Scheidegg)



This was not part of the ultra - that was higher up, on the Panorama Weg - but we re-encountered the dayglo-yellow painted blobs as we neared Alpiglen. We were not expecting to see them here, and deduced these must be hastily-added markers on the shortened route. A bottle of Moscht and some carrot cake at the restaurant there, then the train back down to Grund. The same walk back to Burglauenen? - why not! (though it was now so hot, a change of clothes was necessary back at the car before rejoining polite society!) So that was an 18 km day. We had a bit of time to spare before having to get the car back to Interlaken West at 7, so called in at the Waldhotel again for a drink on the terrace. Mis-timed it a bit with the train, and had an hour to pass on before the next; but no problem, it was a lovely evening, so we just sat on a wall near the lake and relaxed. An easy change at Interlaken Ost, then over the Brünig pass, and home. I don't think we could have packed much more into 4 days!

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