Letter From Switzerland

Round up of 94

Stephen Senn


Skiing in February

"Fasnacht," or carnival, is the most important festival in the Basler's calendar. For three days in Lent normal life stops as the "cliques" parade through the streets to the sound of fife and drum or, increasingly, "gugge-musik" (brass), dressed in traditional or not so traditional costumes, satirising this year's "sujet". At two o'clock on the Monday morning they gather in the streets leading to the market square. There is a brief moment of silence as all the lights are put out. Then they are switched on again to greet the "Morgestreich", and at this moment, in the words of a local guide-book, "a peculiar, happy feeling comes over the Basler". This feeling causes normally sober citizens to behave strangely, make all sorts of undignified noises and gather in the cafes at five o'clock in the morning to eat burnt-flour soup, cheese and onion pie and drink white wine.

Like many another sensible Basler, we left the city during Fasnacht in search of, "a peculiar, happy feeling," of our own. Sitting in the sunshine with Victoria at Taveyanne, a good few kilometers of loipe behind us and some challenging ones ahead, I had definitely found it. Taveyanne is a little summer alp with charming old chalets in dark wood and is stuck right in the mountain's lap. In the winter the chalets are up to their eaves in snow. In some such place, I always think, some ancestor of mine made his living making cheese and thus earned for himself the name "senn" (a herdsman of the alps).

The following day, starting where Victoria and I finished off, at the Alpe des Chaux, I accompanied Senn senior on a rather wilder tour. My father and I traversed across steep slopes and through dense forest to Solalex. In the summer this is a broad flower-strewn meadow, in winter, a bowl of dazzling white. Winter or summer, the eye is drawn to the row of pinnacles to the north which lead to the summit of the Diablerets but also, and especially, to the "Mirroir d'Argentine" on the south: one of the finest and largest slabs in the Alps. I left my father in Solalex and climbed up past Anzeindaz and its wide and rolling plateau to the Pas de Cheville. (See Letter from Switzerland, December 1990 for an account of an expedition at Anzeindaz with Graham Smith.) The whole tour is a delight but what makes it really memorable is if the view is clear enough to let you see the great Valaisan peaks: the Weisshorn, Zinal Rothorn, Obergabelhorn, Dent Blanche and, of course, the Matterhorn. I was lucky. The return allows you no time to savour the memory of the view, however. Once you have whizzed across the plateau, the descent proper begins. There is something about the angle down to Solalex which makes the whole extremely difficult: it is neither a downhill run nor a traverse but a combination of the two with the mountain generally towering above your right shoulder but the angle of the slope forcing you into some frightening turns to the left as well. The sting in the tail is a steep, narrow and rutted path through the forest before you emerge not only shaken but profoundly stirred. Reading the notes in my outdoor diary I see that I not only fell on the way down but also split my trousers.

Graham Smith Touring above Anzeindaz: approaching the Col des Chamois


Norway in April

This topic has been extensively dealt with in a previous newsletter. The only thing to add here is that I still haven't made any arrangements to tour in Norway in April 95..... but this doesn't mean that I won't!


Scotland in April

I was given the task of organising the 5th European Statistical Workshop of the Drug Information Association. I chose Edinburgh as the location and also took my wife. On the Friday before the meeting, Victoria and I visited Strirling Castle and stopped by at Dollar Glen on the way back. We nipped up the Burn of Sorrow and down the Burn of Care. Or was it the other way round? Either way round it was, as always, neither care nor sorrow but a pure delight which revived many memories of similar expeditions.

The day after, we had arranged to meet Graham Smith and two pairs of skis at my other club's old trysting point, Ancrum Road. Graham had arranged a most pleasant surprise for us and in the company of Richard Roberts and Nick Part we set off for Glenshee and the white hell of Carn an Tuirc. If you read your Newsletters attentively, you will already know that Victoria fell in while crossing a burn and, soaked to the skin but otherwise unharmed, had to return over a mile to the car. (Richard gallantly accompanied her and soon proved his fitness by rapidly catching us up.)

Conditions on Carn an Tuirc were awful: the snow was soggy and visibility on top was about 10 yards. I had a wonderful time and wouldn't have missed it for all the tea-shops in Edinburgh. Which is not to say that we didn't enjoy stopping off at Mary Conacher's teashop in Meigle on the way back.


Switzerland Coast to Coast?

is a long-standing project of mine.

At the end of July, Helen and Mark travelled as UMS (unaccompanied minors) to stay in England with my sister, Rosemary. Victoria and I took the opportunity to take a long walk through Switzerland. We had ten days available. A week more, and we should have done the whole coast to coast (Lake of Constance to Lake of Geneva). As it was we walked 250 km and climbed 10,000m beginning in Rorschach on the Lake of Constance and ending at Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland.

We started in more gentle and hilly country, and finished amongst the mountains and glaciers but everywhere we went the heat was phenomenal. Drink became an obsession but was prized for its aqueous rather than its alcoholic content and on a couple of occasions I was even reduced to drinking milk which I usually abhor. We discovered many interesting things en route: for instance. 1) Appenzeller's are short, do walk barefoot in the mountains and do wear a single earring. 2) Grindelwald is, indeed, crawling with Japanese but some of the Asians you see are Koreans and they don't like it if you confuse one with the other. 3) In 1910 Swiss railways banned the sale of novels of crime and sensation at their stations because of the horrific copy-cat crimes to which they had incited the youth of Switzerland. (This from the Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen.) This is not the place, however, to give a sweat drop by sweat drop account of our labours. Perhaps next summer, if I find the time and energy to join Lauterbrunnen to Montreux, the whole story can be told.


Anzeindaz in October

Anzeindaz has featured frequently in these columns but nearly always in the snow. It is a fine place to visit at any time of the year, however, and Victoria and I were back in October to climb the Tour d'Anzeinde, a short trip which can easily be done from Solalex in an afternoon.

To get to the top of the Tour is just a steep walk, although you have to be rather careful as to how you attempt to get off it as we discovered later. Despite the fact that I have been up to Anzeindaz dozens of times (on my first visit at the age of thirteen I even camped right below the Tour) this was my first trip up the Tour. As I huffed and puffed my way up the Tour struggling to keep up with my slim partner I reflected sadly that there was a time when I used to have to wait for Victoria when out walking.

From the top we had an excellent view in cool autumn sunlight of the Anzeindaz plateau including, in the distance the Pas de Cheville. The angle did not permit us to glimpse the Matterhorn beyond but we could see what I took to be the Dom/Mischabel group in the distance. After several false starts and retracing of our steps we eventually found an alternative way to scramble off the hill and so raced the setting sun down to Solalex.

At just about the point where the descent through the woods is trickiest in the winter, we passed a family leading two strange beasts of burden. They turned out to be llamas (the beasts, that is and of the South American rather than the Tibetan variety).


Today

Today the children were out and Victoria and I walked to the neighbouring village of Neuwiler. You get there on well marked paths through the woods and over the fields, crossing the border with France without really noticing it (there are old moss-grown boundary stones but nothing more to mark your crossing). In Neuwiler the notices on the pub are in German, although the sentiment is French: "this is a smokers' pub but non-smokers are allowed". If you greet anyone with "bonjour" you only get "gruetzi" in return. This is a part of France but very much in the orbit of Basle.


Tomorrow

or very soon anyway, I hope to start the skiing season. I wish you plenty of snow for yours and will let you know how I got on when I have something to report.

Happy skiing in 95 everybody.

Stephen, Allschwil 13 November 1994


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