During the Summer Holidays of 2018, I spent roughly 5 weeks in a tent.
One week of which was in a little village called Kandersteg in the
Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps.
Based about 30 miles south of Bern, Kandersteg is surrounded by panoramic peaks, and is home to KISC (Kandersteg international Scout Centre), where I was staying.
My visit to Kandersteg formed part of my Queens Scout Award to “Take part in a project at a campsite abroad”. My project was to find out about what the scouts staying at Kandersteg thought about the camp and area. I did this via a questionnaire that I had pre-made and printed with me, walking around the campsite asking both scouts and leaders to fill it in.
I spent a total of eight nights and seven full days in Switzerland. These were split over six nights at KISC, one night in camping Rendez-Vous, and one night in an alpine hut
I set off late on the 24th of August taking the National Express Bus to Luton airport, from where I flew to Basel-Mullhouse airport on the French-Swiss border, about 70 km north of Bern. From here I used the Swiss rail network and a special ‘Scout Rail Ticket’ (Bought in England from the STC – Swiss Travel Centre ) to go to Kandersteg, arriving late on Saturday. As I had arrived later in the evening, the KISC reception was closed so I opted to stay in the public campsite closer to the centre of the village, close to the Oeschinensee cable car. In the local shop I bought a bottle of petrol for my MSR stove, but the petrol wasn’t very good quality, meaning cooking was much more difficult, requiring extra pre-heating and more fiddle pressure regulation with the bottle. All my pans got covered in a sooty mess!
Day 1 – Sunday 26th
I spent the morning organising my gear, including re-locating to the scout campsite. The Kandersteg policy is that each independent group are allocated their own campsite field. Due to me being a group of size one, I had an entire field to myself! For the rest of the day I was gathering responses for my questionnaire.
Day 2 – Monday 27th
Just a 10 minute walk from the entrance to KISC is one of the most scenic Via-Ferrata routes in the alps. Via-Ferrata is Italian for ‘Iron Path’ and is a way of traversing up rock, but still being protected in case you fall by clipping yourself onto cables or staples that have been fixed into the rock. With Via-Ferrata’s being graded from K1 (the easiest) to K5 (the most difficult), the K4 grade route was quite difficult as well. To take advantage of the good weather, I set off early in the morning and reached the bottom of the route just as the sun rose over the Blüemlisalphorn. The route winds it’s way up the path of a waterfall, crossing long Tyrolean bridges, overhanging traverses and arête edges gaining a total of 350 m to the ‘Allemenalp’.
From here I descended south by foot to drop straight back to the campsite, where I dropped my harness and helmet back at the tent, and picked up the walking gear to have a quick wander up to the famous ‘Oeschinensee’ alpine lake.
Day 3 – Tuesday 28th
Today in brilliant weather I decided it was time to climb a proper mountain. On the West side of the Kandersteg valley is an impressive ridge line. To get halfway up the mountain side I took the Allmenalm cable car to the alm
I had visited before at the top of the Via-Ferrata. From here I walked higher up the mountain until I hit the top of the ridge. From here there were beautiful panoramic views covering the entire Kandersteg valley
and even further beyond, just 18 miles away I could see the tops of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau!
From here I then followed the knife edge ridge summiting First (2549m) and Stand (2320m), and then descended back into the valley on the Golitschepass.
Day 4 – Wednesday 29th
The brilliant weather began to break today, but I thought I might just be able to squeeze out a route on the Oeschinensee. On my map it showed an ‘Alpine Route’ traversing round the far side of the lake. I took the cable car up to the top of the lake in high winds and low cloud, when the weather turned even worse. There were thunderstorms down the end of the valley but they shifted up to the lake, dropping heavy rain, strong wind and lightening. I made the wise decision that clinging onto a metal cable covered in metalwork was not the best place to be in a thunderstorm, so decided it would be a day to continue with my questionnaire.
Day 5 – Thursday 30th
It was still raining today so I took into action my wet weather plan. In the village of Kandesteg just next to the tourist information was the scouting museum which was in an old bunker. It was mostly a room full of scouting memorabilia from previous Jamborees and history about how scouting came to Kandersteg with Baden-Powell’s permanent mini-jamboree. Next door was another museum with the history of Kandersteg as a whole including the creation and significance of the alpine passes.
Day 5 – Friday 31st
One of the things that I really wanted to do while in Switzerland was a multi-day hut tour. With only a couple of days left I found a short route that left from Kandersteg to the Lotschenpass hut. The weather had improved slightly: there was only light rain and the thunderstorms had stopped.
Having packed the night before I was able to set off early, and in the dark for the long day ahead. The route started by following the river Kander south, then heading east and up to the Lotschenpass glacier. Crossing this was technically easy, however with the low visibility I heavily relied on the wands to traverse the glacier. This was my first time on a glacier, and I was alone. The map classed the route as a ‘Berg weg’ – meaning mountain path, so I was confident in my ability to cross it without a guide or previous experience. For most of the route it was on the glacial moraine covering the ice, so crampons weren’t needed. From the top of the glacier it was only a short walk to the hut.
Day 6 – Saturday 1st
Eager to set off early and get back to camp, I woke up at 430 and was ready to leave as soon as they opened the door. For breakfast I brought with me a dehydrated porridge and muesli packet, which I filled up with hot water from the kitchen. It was cold and had snowed overnight, meaning the ground was covered in a thin layer of snow and a bit of ice. Without an axe or crampons with me it was pushing the limits of what I was comfortable of doing. Luckily the weather just remained cold and not much more snow fell. From the hut there is a peak about 2 hrs away called the Hockenhorn.
At 3293 m, it was taller than any mountain I had climbed before.
The approach was quite simple, following the ridge and cairns. This was classed as an Alpine route, meaning that there was no defined paths, and even if there was I wouldn’t have been able to see them! Luckily the most difficult part of the climb was a scramble at the end to reach the top of the peak. With it being covered in snow I spent a lot of the time falling over as I slipped on un-seen rocks and drops, but I managed to get to the top in one piece. I only spent a little bit of time at the top, due to there being no view whatsoever, and the cold temperature meant my water was starting to freeze. The drinking tube from my water bladder had already frozen solid!
On the way back I followed the same route back to the hut, where I warmed up and dried off by the stove. From here I continued along the lotschenpass to drop into Ferden, where I caught the bus to Goppstein train station, and took the train back to Kandersteg.
Day 8 – Sunday 2nd
I packed all my gear up the night before and left it in the drying room, meaning I could leave early morning on the 8 am train. To get back I just reversed the route, taking the train up to Basel-Mullhouse, flew to Luton, and then on the national express bus back home. Having being used to the Swiss rail and bus network, it would only by typical that the bus from Luton was 30 mins late!