Saturday, 12 September 2009

Hiking Glacier 3000 to Gsteig

After a long summer at work, and a difficult few weeks managing the move to Nyon, I took the day off on Friday to take myself away from the stress and spend some time outside before the season turns to Winter.

I made my mind up about where to go quite last-minute simply because things had been too busy to do much planning, but I decided to try a walk from Glacier 3000 to Gsteig, which seemed long and varied enough to make a good day out.

So on Thursday evening after work I took the car from work to Gsteig, where I had found a campsite by doing a search on my phone en route. I only got there at 8:30pm just as the campsite managers were leaving, but they were nice enough let me register. I hadn't had any dinner but they were nice enough to give me a bottle of water at least (which they filled up from the tap - good mountain water they said). Water would be a bit of a recurring theme through this trip.

After a somewhat unsatisfying dinner of dried fruit and nuts, I packed in for the night and discovered I had again underestimated the temperature drop at night. By the time I had my beanie pulled over my head, along tracksuit pants, t-shirt and warm socks, I was almost warm enough inside the sleeping bag.

I woke early the next morning since I wanted to catch the first lift up the mountain to start the hike, but my tent was covered in heavy dew and I didn't like the idea of packing it up wet. Fortunately a nice lady camper offered me a cloth to dry it with - something we managed to convey in a mix of German, French and English (Gsteig is in Bern which is German-speaking).

I drove to the Col du Pillon lift station for Glacier 3000 in time for the first lift up the mountain, and had a hearty hiking breakfast of croisants, ovomaltine, and espresso, bought some extra food for later in the hike, and headed out!

In fact Glacier 3000 is a bit of a disappointment. The name comes from the fact that, unsurprisingly, it is a glacier at 3000m altitude. But it is set up somewhat resort-like, and the end of summer could hardly be the time to visit it at it's best. There seemed to be some sort of social event being set up, and a ski-fashion shoot further on, but the glacier itself seemed quite tired this late in the season.

Regardless, I hiked across the glacier to Quille du Diable from where there is a view of the upper portion of the glacier and into the valley 2000m below.

From Quille du Diable I headed downhill over some very rocky terrain where the glacier had retreated. It was quite moon-like, with very little vegetation or even soil, and the ground was covered with rocks soccer-ball size or smaller; very difficult to walk on.

It was very interesting for me though, since the limestone rock errodes or disolves to create crevasses and sinkholes, and there were clear striations where the glacier had carved grooves in the rocks. Lower down the mountain the sinkholes were filled with water, making some interesting photos.

This part of the walk was really difficult, so it was good to finally reach a point where it was greener and flatter.

Just as I began to think I was going to be following a paved road all the way back Gsteig, the path lead back off the road and I found myself following a small creek which suddenly turned into a gushing spring.

I was really excited about this spring, partly because I had just discovered it by chance, and also because it was obviously so clean. I filled up my now-empty water bottle, checked it using the scientific method of peering into the bottle, and then took some big gulps of the beautifully fresh and cold water. To bring a long story short, I drank about a litre of it with no side effects.

I kept following this creek, which kept growing larger thanks to additional springs, and ended up at an amazing lake. The lake is man-made, but it was surrounded by mountains, was filled with the clear, cool, water, and looked incredible.

I hiked around the lake and stopped at the Auberge at the other end for a pick-me-up espresso, before heading off for the final leg of the hike; down the valley to Gsteig.

The walk down the valley was quite hard, being steep and winding, and by the time I got to the bottom I was completely exhausted. The highlight of the trip was a point where the creek had erroded the limestone rock to form smooth, circular pools of clear water.

Once I reached Gsteig I looked back to where I had walked from, but by this time the top of the mountain was covered with cloud. I couldn't walk any further and waited by the post office for the postbus to take me back to Col du Pillon station to pick up the car and drive slowly home.

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