First glimpses of Eiger in 1968 and of Matterhorn in 1969

My first trip to the Alps in my own car in 1965 had been something of a fiasco. With my driver's license less than a week old, I had bought my uncle's car, a Ford Anglia, for about $ 100 and set off alone to discover Europe. Already in Denmark, there was a suspicious knocking sound from the engine. In northern Germany in a village called Pansdorf, I went to a small repair shop and asked for advice. They claimed that the engine had to be replaced, and told me that they just happened to have a spare engine available. I was highly suspicious and continued my trip at reduced speed all the way to Hamburg, where I visited what I judged to be a more trustworthy establishment. However, I got the same advice. The engine might stall at any moment. - A new engine would take a long time to arrive, so I returned to Pansdorf and told them to replace the engine with the spare they had available. I sent a laconic telegram to Sweden: "Motor kaputt, sendet DM 1000."
Eiger and Grindelwald.
Eiger and Grindelwald. I mailed this postcard in 1968.
Copyright Gygerphoto Adelboden. Reproduced by permission.
My plan was to cross the Alps and continue to the Mediterranean. However, once I reached the Alps and started to go up the serpentine road to an alpine pass, after a while the new engine, which was still in a raw, "running-in", condition, seemed to become progressively weaker. I was going slower and slower. Finally, I had to give up.

With heavy traffic going in both directions on the narrow two-lane road, it was impossible to make a U-turn. Instead I had to back up for a hundred meters down the serpentine road, with lots of irate drivers behind me honking their horns, to find a spot where I could turn around. All of this with a brand new driver's license, and an impressive drop just off the shoulder of the road! - Once I got down, I changed my plans and drove via Geneva to France and on to Barcelona, but that is another story.

During 1966-67 I visited Stanford University, but once back in Sweden, I decided to make another trip to the Alps and Italy in the summer of 1968, this time with my new car, a red Volkswagen 1500. My main target was Grindelwald in the Bernese Alps, then a small village made famous by the dramatic scenery with peaks such as Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Wetterhorn and Schreckhorn. Especially the Eiger is famous among mountaineers. Although it does not reach 4000 m, its 1800 m high north face remains a challenge to intrepid climbers. It has a dramatic history. I had read "The White Spider" by Heinrich Harrer (a member of the quartet who first climbed the Eiger north face, and also known for his adventures in Tibet, now made into a movie), and I wanted to see the mountain.

I stayed in Grindelwald for just a few days, for the weather was mostly cloudy and rainy. I made some excursions, to a "Gletscherschlucht" (glacier gorge; the Swiss seem to be fond of consonants), with a chairlift to First, and on foot to Männlichen on the Kleine Scheidegg ridge that separates Grindelwald from the Lauterbrunnen valley with Wengen.

Grindelwald Gletscherschlucht.
Eiger, Mönch.
Eiger (in clouds) and Mönch (the Monk).
View from Männlichen toward Grindelwald.
The view from Männlichen toward Grindelwald.

I then crossed the Alps, spent some time in Alassio (Italy), returned via Martigny and travelled some more in Switzerland (this was 4 years before my brother moved to Switzerland, providing me with a permanent "base camp" in Zürich), before returning home via Strasbourg and the Mosel valley.

In 1969, I started my vacation trip early, for I wanted to be home in time for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. My first target was Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, where I wanted to climb the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, which I had already "conquered" by cogwheel train and cable car in 1952.

I optimistically started from my hotel in Garmisch as late as 10 a. m., passed the olympic stadium and walked through the Partnach Klamm gorge. A little later I took the wrong path and walked up a 300 m high hill before I discovered my mistake. This got me rather demoralized, although the walk up the Reintal (not the Rhine!) was beautiful. I reached a small lake of an unusual color and started to ascend a steeper slope filled with scree. - It was now 3 p. m., my pre-determined go/no-go decision point. It was already late, with at least another three hours to go, and I was quite tired. It was doubtful if I would be able catch the last cogwheel train back to Garmisch. I considered what my grandmother's advice would have been and decided to turn back.

Blaue Gumpe.
An enchanted lake?
Reintal valley.
A look back into the Reintal valley.
Reintal cliffs.
The Reintal is surrounded by vertical cliffs.
Reintal scree.
The high point where I reluctantly turned back.

Six years later I finally settled my account with the Zugspitze. This time I started from the hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen very early in the morning. As I was leaving the hotel, some merry guests in tuxedoes and long dresses were just returning from the night's festivities. We stared at each other and laughed. I passed the Olympic stadium, but the Partnach Klamm gorge was closed during the night, so I had to make a detour to reach the Reintal. The early morning mist gave a special character to the landscape, and some deer crossed the path. A little later I had to overtake a shepherd with his sheep, scattering them along the path. But it must have been easy to assemble the sheep, for they could not deviate far from the path. After a couple of hours I had already reached the point where I had had to return in 1969. I paused briefly at a mountain hut(Knorrhütte) and started to climb the long snowy slopes leading up to the Zugspitze. When I reached the Schneefern railway station, I felt slightly foolish to have to ask directions to continue on foot rather than take the cable car up to the summit. I reached the summit late in the morning.

During the descent, I was almost hit by some stones dislodged by a French-speaking tourist. He apologised, but I pointed out somewhat heatedly, that it is a mortal sin to cause a stonefall in the mountains. (My French being what it is, I actually told him that he had committed "a mortal peach".) On the way down, a lady with a girl heard me approach from behind and said: "Hier kommt was ganz Schnelles!" ("Here something quite fast is coming.") - "Ja, ich bin der Zugspitze - Garmisch Express!" I told them as I passed. - The last miles through the Reintal were painful, as I was tiring and my feet were aching. I reached Garmisch around 5 p.m. The trip had taken me some 13 hours. The distance from the Olympic stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Zugspitze along the Reintal route is about 25 km and the altitude gain more than 2.2 km (more than the height of Sweden's highest mountain Kebnekaise). - As I was enjoying a hearty meal in the hotel restaurant in the evening, I overheard some beer guzzlers in the bar complaining about modern youth. In their day, young men still ascended the Zugspitze by foot :-)

I proceeded from Garmisch on June 23rd via Innsbruck, Chur in Graubünden, Andermatt and the Furka pass into the Rhône valley, where I left the car in a garage in Visp. I then took the train for the one-hour ride up the side valley to Zermatt. This valley is very narrow in some spots, and the vertical cliffs contributed to a closed-in, oppressive feeling. When I arrived in Zermatt it was cloudy and I had to wait for a full day before I got my first view of the Matterhorn. In the meantime, I got a hotel room and started exploring the village.

On June 25th, I walked up to Schwarzsee, passing the picturesque Zmutt hamlet - really just a collection of small barns at the time. From Schwarzsee I followed the path to the Hörnli ridge in the direction of the Hörnli hut, stopping at the small chapel "Maria zum Schnee" on the way. Once on the Hörnli ridge, there was a lot of snow. I followed the tracks that led in the direction of the Hörnli hut, but they petered out just as the ridge became steeper below the hut. I had to turn back.

Zmutt hamlet.
The Zmutt hamlet.
Maria zum Schnee at Schwarzsee. Altar in Schwarzsee chapel.
The "Maria zum Schnee" chapel at Schwarzsee.
The altar in the Schwarzsee chapel.
Hörnli ridge track in snow.

The track up the Hörnli ridge toward the Hörnli hut (on the snowy cone, hidden in cloud).

Matterhorn from Riffelberg.

The Matterhorn from Riffelberg.

The next day, I walked up on the Gornergrat, following the railway track on the higher slopes. Some nice views among a lot of cloud. I had blisters on my feet that hurt more when I descended than when I went uphill, so I took the train back to Zermatt, but once there, the weather started clearing, so I walked back up to the Riffelberg at 2500 m to snap some pictures. Then I took the train down to Zermatt a second time. - In all, I gained 2500 m of altitude that day. On a postcard, I remarked on the puzzling fact that it could be so uncomfortable to carry a few bags from the grocery store, and what a relief it was to take the elevator in the hotel rather than have to climb the stairs a few meters.

I did not realize how strong the ultraviolet radiation is at altitude even when the weather is not clear, so I did not put on any sun lotion. I suffered the consequences during the following week, when the skin started to peel off my face.

Matterhorn from Zermatt.

After a few days, it was time to leave and continue to southern Italy. I had booked a week at a Club Méditerrannée village in Palinuro south of Naples, where I intended to polish my French among the vacationing demoiselles! But I was determined to return the following year.

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  Last edited or checked June 23, 2006. Broken link replaced February 17, 2024.

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