Friday, January 12, 2007

Business & Pleasure

Business brought me to Europe; pleasure led to arrive on a Friday rather than a Sunday, in Zurich rather than Stuttgart, and to take a succession of (very punctual!) trains to the village of Lauterbrunnen, in which I arrived around 22:30 to find the valley moonlit and snowbound.

The next morning, I rode a cable car up to Grutschalp; our cable car was met by a tiny two-carriage train, and a gigantic luggage tray was lifted by robotic forklift from beneath the cable car on onto a kind of trailer on the train. After a minute or two, we moved off, gliding almost silently in the direction of the village of Murren; a short run, but one of the most beautiful train journeys that I have ever taken. The track traversed a very steep slope, about 2,000ft above the valley floor; all about us stood a pine forest, with snow thick on the boughs. Between the trees, I caught glimpses of an epic scene to the east - the great trio of the Eiger, Monsch, and Jungfrau, all over 13,000ft in height, the old green ice of the gravity-defying glaciers on their northward faces just visible beneath thick blankets of fresh snow; on their lower slopes, great pine forests grow on improbably steep slopes and at the very lip of tremendous cliffs; here and there, mysteriously treeless ground reveals the violence done by the avalanches from winters past.

Skiers rise past the infamous Eiger Nordwand

I last saw Murren on a misty day in late May; this time, I arrived in bright sunshine to find the narrow streets covered not, as I remembered, with wet tarmac, but with snow. Murren is a car-free village (except for a single 4 wheel drive taxi), and people with things to carry (such as luggage or small children) tow small wooden sleighs behind them (just like the ones in Victorian Christmas cards). Although there appear to have been one or two unfortunate lapses of planning in the ‘60s or ‘70s, much of the village is postcard-pretty. A short stroll took me to a cable car, which whisked me to a height of 2600M or so - which is where the trouble began!

The rest of Saturday, I remember as a blur of majestic, awe-inspiring landscapes, skies of a blue that verged on Indigo - and a regular series of spectacular wipeouts, in which practically every piece of equipment became liberated at one time or another. At one point, in fact, I was under the impression that a particularly violent fall had sundered the bones of one of my favourite legs; on another occasion, after a fumbled turn at the edge of a steep and unguarded drop, I departed the mountain altogether, my descent only arrested by the pliant but sturdy branches of a serendipitously placed bush. After 8 hours or so of such performances, it was a very sorry-looking figure indeed who steered gingerly past a piste-basher beginning its night shift, removed his skies, and trudged slowly, painfully, back to his lodgings.

To be continued...

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