The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sanctioned by the Eiger

[journal entry, 15 Aug]
Somewhere in the Austrian Alps

It rained hard all day. Not so hard in the morning--I woke early and went about my business quietly , so as not to wake the Australian backpacker couple [with whom I was sharing a hostel dorm in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland], and by the time I was out the door, the rain was merely misting [photo, Lauterbrunnen from the hostel balcony].

By the time I'd taken the train up to Wengen, the rain was steady, though, and by the time I'd bought fresh bread and local cheese from the Coop supermarket and caught the cable car up to Mannlichen, it was pissing down, which meant heavy wet snow at the top [photo, looking back at Wengen]. The only other two people on the cable car took one look around at the Mannlichen summit then chickened and went right back down on the cable car.

I pulled my hood up and buttoned up my parka and set out doggedly, despite the visibility of maybe 150 yards and the snow blowing sideways and thwacking audibly onto my parka and hat like wads of freezing sodden toilet paper. Except for the parts covered by my boots and parka, I was thoroughly soaked within 10 minutes. Every so often I shook off the slush like a wet Labrador, but it piled up on my hat brim and my backpack. I passed through a herd of cows, who regarded me dumbly (the only way cows can regard)[photo, cows sheltering from the wind under Grindelwald lift station]. We had the mountain to ourselves, the cows and me, and I decided to leave it to them.

Apart from a short break at a trailside shelter [photo, soggy backpack with graffiti], I walked fast and hard, head down to the trail, fists balled inside my jacket sleeves (way to forget your gloves, dumbass). Thirty more minutes to Kleine Scheidegg... sodden, icy pants glued to my thighs like at a particularly sadistic wet T-shirt contest... keep moving, stay warm.

The irony? I was on the Panoramaweg, which offers hikers the finest possible views of Switzerland's most famous mountains, the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau. I couldn't see any of them. A grey-black cloud mass completely socked in the entire valley. I saw little more than the trail itself and some of the lower slopes below me [photo, the magnificent North Face of the Eiger...behind snow clouds].

Cutting my losses, I hopped a downbound train at Kleine Schiedegg [where Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction was filmed, photo] and made tracks for Austria. In Austria, I reasoned, at least the weather should be better. In the car I switched out of my freezing rags into some dry clothes, heater on full blast, and paused to write a postcard to Boog and Tater after my hands depruned enough to write.

Three and a half hours later I arrived at the campsite near Brand, Austria, having not turned the windshield wipers below "fast" for the entire trip. The woman who greeted me at the campsite, clutching a raincoat around her and peering out from a caravan awning, didn't speak a word of Englische, never mind French. But she was able to grasp what I was on about, and pointed me to the last remaining tent pitch. A stream of water fanned out across the middle of it.

Redemption will have to come tomorrow, when I will attempt to climb the 10,000-foot Schesaplana, landmark on the Swiss-Austrian border and highest peak in the Ratikon range.

Weather permitting, of course.
[To be continued.]

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