Although I am writing these words in Thailand, with an outdoor temperature of 30 degrees centigrade, I am fortunate enough to have spent most of the time from early September 2021 to February 2022 in the mountain village of Mürren in Switzerland, as described here.
My intention was to complete, describe and record as many walks as I could for the hiking guides that I am writing, but for the last 3 months, from early November onwards, there was continuous and heavy snow cover which ruled out mountain walking. As well as the trails being under up to a metre of snow, the local authorities usually remove signage during the winter and put it back in place during the Spring.
Nevertheless, in an effort to maintain my general fitness I tried wherever possible (which was most days) to walk 8km/5 miles along some of the lower paths.
I am not someone with a natural empathy with or attraction to snow. I am not and never have been a skier and I do not so much as even own a pair of snowshoes. Other than that fact, walking was a lot slower than normal and required more effort when trudging through a foot or two of new snow or taking care not to slip on hard and frozen snow. Daily walks when the temperatures were several degrees below freezing also required a significantly warmer hiking wardrobe.
Nevertheless, I have to say that repeatedly I was impressed at how landscapes that I have become intimately familiar with over the last 30 years, were radically transformed and repeatedly provided new photo opportunities.
And indeed, everything around me was transformed into a Winter Wonderland and I hope you enjoy looking at this selection of the images as much as I did taking them!
Panoramas and Views from our Balcony and Apartment
For the last 25 years I have repeatedly said, I consider the view from our apartment to be as fine a view as I have ever experienced from a residential dwelling, with an almost 270 degree view of some of the most famous mountains in the Alps. I have never taken it for granted and, like most of our guests, still start most days by just standing on the balcony and immersing myself the view, which impresses me every bit as much today as it did when I first stood on our balcony in 1997.
Mürren enjoys a spectacular location on a shelf high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
There are so many spectacular viewpoints within easy walking distance of Mürren that I do not normally stop to take landscape pictures in the village. However with the snow transforming the landscape I frequently found myself stopping to take images when I was walking around the village.
The Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau
It is impossible to walk anywhere near Mürren without the views being dominated by, and one’s eyes drawn towards, these three glacier clad giant mountains on the far side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Boring? Not for a moment as the vistas and colours are forever changing depending on one’s location, the light conditions and the time of day. It is not without reason that these three famous mountains, each with their own history and stories to tell, are recognized worldwide as the symbol of the Bernese Oberland. And according to Swiss lore it is all very simple as the Mönch (Monk) is protecting the Jungfrau (young woman) from the evil Eiger (Ogre).
Of the three Oberland giants, it is the Eiger which is famous worldwide and together with Mt Blanc and the Matterhorn is one of the most famous mountains in the Alps. This is because of the dramatic and tragic race to be the first to conquest it’s famed North Face (Nordwand), which forms the distinctive profile when viewed from Mürren. The North Face of the Eiger was considered to be the last unsolved climbing problem in the Alps, and was first climbed by an Austrian – German expedition in 1938 and remains a formidable challenge today.
Mittelberg and Oberberg
When the snow was not too deep, I was able to hike up to Mittelberg and, before the heavy snowfalls, as far as Oberberg.
Once the snow had arrived to stay with no possibility of melting, my staple walk was normally to walk 4km/2.5 miles towards Grütschalp via Winteregg and then return. This path is very benign and largely follows the route of the Grütschalp to Mürren mountain railway that dates from the late 19th century. I usually had the path to myself but would occasionally meet Mürren residents exercising or taking their dogs for a walk, as well as enterprising visitors opting for some exercise and foregoing the rail link that connects the Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp cable car with Mürren.
The other hike that was usually possible, but with the time normally dependent on the depth of snow, was from Mürren to Gimmeln at the mouth of the Schilttal Valley and then if possible to continue to the Dairy at Schiltalp.
The Schilttal Valley
The Schilttal is dominated by the Schilthorn (2970m) at the head of the valley, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year by cable car to admire the spectacular views from the summit, which featured in the 1967 James Bond film ‘On her Majesty’s Secret Service’.
The Co-operative Dairy at Schiltalp is one of the highest in the Bernese Oberland and sits below the Schiltgrat chairlift, the first to be built in the Mürren area. When the snow is deep it can be a slow slog up the Schiltall Valley, and one occasionally meets toboggans descending from the Schiltgrat.
Mürren is world famous because of its claims to be the birthplace of modern downhill skiing and for its reputation as the ‘British village’ in the Alps. Indeed between the wars Mürren was the place to be seen in the Alps; the St Moritz or Davos of its day!
To this day, every January Mürren still hosts the ‘Inferno’ which was established in 1928 and is the largest and longest downhill ski race in the world. With only 10 hotels Mürren is not a crowded and bustling winter resort and less so at the time of a global pandemic which restricts travel.
However, when walking out of the village, around Winteregg and up to Gimmeln and beyond I was always likely to meet a few skiers or toboggans during the week, and more so at the busier weekends when the Swiss flock to their mountain resorts to enjoy their vigorous alpine pastimes.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley
Immediately after any snowfall, when the snow on the ground was fresh and deep, it was more difficult to attempt one of my usual walks to either Grütschalp or Schiltalp, and I was left with two options if I wanted to maintain my regime of daily exercise walks.
I could either walk from end to end of the village 8 times, or take the cable car 700m lower to the floor of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, where the snow was unlikely to be so deep and/or freshly trodden and easier due to a higher footfall.
With its sheer walls and flat valley floor, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the best examples of a glacial valley to be found anywhere in the Alps and the snowclad trees in the Lauterbrunnen Valley are surely the very definition of a Winter Wonderland!