Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Berner Oberland #1

An Introduction: In the spring of 2007, Alison Gannett, Lorenzo Worster and Zoe Hart traveled to Europe on the Global Cooling Tour. It was an appropriate season, one that saw a lack of snow cancel the famed Hahnenkamm downhill for the first time in its history, and it signalled the danger of a changing climate on Europe's $66 billion dollar ski industry. After seeing years of climate change in France - where ladders now link skiers with ground covered by glacial snow only 10 years ago - the group set out to document glacial recession while ski touring and ski mountaineering through Switzerland's Berner Oberland.

Over the next few weeks, we'll bring you dispatches from Alison, Lorenzo and Zoe with their impressions from Europe and the subsequent Chasing Glaciers trip to Pakistan in the summer of 2007. Without further ado though, Zoe's first dispatch:


We all piled our ski bags onto trains, planes and automobiles, everyone coming from different destinations – Susie Sutphin, Lorenzo Worster and Duane Kubischta from California, Alison Gannett and Jonathan Copp from Colorado, and me from Chamonix. The plan was to meet at a little hostel in Interlaken called the Happy Inn – how fitting – to start our trip.

I hopped off the train from France, happy to have a Patagonia wheeled bag finally, instead of wearing holes through my old dragging duffle. After a few minutes walking I spotted another person with a ski bag, a wheeled bag and a hood. Alison met eyes and laughed – we had been on the same train. Pulling headphones from our ears, we chatted excitedly the last two blocks to the hostel. Alison turned out to be the only one to lose bags in transit, but they had arrived on the next plane after a few hours of reading in the airport. All was set; we could leave the next day.

The crew was already at the hostel jet-lagged and trying to get some sleep. No luck doing that when I showed up full of coffee from the train ride and psyched to see friends from across the pond after a long winter. Full of energy, ready to go!!!

(Alison Gannett, Zoe Hart and Jonathan Copp feeling Happy in Interlaken. Photo courtesy of Zoe Hart.)

Rousting the boys out of their bunks in their boxers, Alison and I dumped out all of our crap to repack. The great thing about hut touring is that you don’t need a sleeping bag, stove, food or tent, so your bags are pretty light, even though you’re covering lots of ground. The lighter the pack, the better the skiing! However, the tour we were planning including the largest remaining glacier in the Alps, so we still needed rope, harness, emergency ski sled, crevasse rescue kit and crampons. It all adds up, so we did our best to leave extras behind. Alison went a little extreme and cut the handle off her toothbrush, so when she was in the bathroom, we couldn’t resist and hid the scrapped handle in the bottom of her pack for her to find later!!

Finally packed as light as possible into a 35L Osprey bag, we dozed off to sleep with a few lingering giggles like kids at summer camp. Early in the morning we strolled through the dark streets of Interlaken to the train. This was hopeless romance at it’s best… the skies were clear, the stars were out, the town was sleeping, and we were on our way to a week of ski touring – hopefully full of powder – and adventures along the way.

Train to train, we made our way with the rising sun and unfolding landscapes to the town of Grindlewald. From there another train took us through – yes, through – the North Face of the Eiger. Battling a horde of unruly tourists, we finally poked our noses out onto the enormous glacier!

(Glimpses of white from the train. Photo courtesy of Zoe Hart.)

What would the week bring? Whiteouts on enormous glaciers? Navigating avalanche hazard? I had heard rumors of people getting pinned in the Bernese Oberland, not able to move here or there because of avalanche hazard. How much glacial recession would we find? The rumors of the stranded huts on moraines? Much excitement while we wait to find out!

Zoe Hart

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