Thursday, September 3rd
A Hike to see the Limersee
On today's agenda was (hopefully) a hike into the high country uphill from Miriam's flat. I had no specific itinerary other than wanting to start from a point as reasonably close to the flat as possible. I'd spent the previous day poring over what maps I had, trying to determine what would be feasible for an introductory hike to the area.
In the end, I mentally mapped out a circular hiking route that departed from a cow pasture, high up on the northern slopes of the valley above the town of Briel, just a few kilometres up the road from the flat. From there, we would hike up to the crest of the main divide of the mountains just to the north. From there, according to my map observations, we should have a great view of even higher, glaciated alpine terrain to the northwest, and down to a large lake (the Limersee) just on the other side of the divide. The return route would describe a different path back down to our starting point, in order to make our outing a loop rather than a there-and-back.
Of some concern was the weather: we were in a period of unsettled weather and rainy periods. It did seem like this day was going to be mostly dry with some sunny breaks, although clouds would still be predominent, whereas the next day (tomorrow) was to be more rainy. Therefore, even though the weather forecast wasn't ideal, we decided to go for it (this day).
We got started somewhat later than I would have liked, and were on the road to our starting point after 9:30am. We drove a narrow gravel road to the small town of Briel, then up a narrow, switchbacking farming access road, gaining as much altitude as we could before reaching a closed gate. We pulled off onto grass and parked. The weather was sunnier and warmer than we were expecting, which was a nice surprise. Greeting us at the start of our hike was blue sky, some fluffy clouds, tinkling swiss cowbells, and even a pretty rainbow.
Although we had not made it all the way up to the trailhead I had identified on the map, we were fairly close. Since we were in an area which was predominantly open pastureland, I simply set my sights in the general direction of the trailhead and set off, climbing steeply up grassy slopes and avoiding cow-pies. There were many electrified fences to cross, which required some careful legwork to get around (sometimes over top, sometimes underneath).
We made good progress up the grassy slopes, passing the occasional farm building here and there, and eventually reached the paint blazes and footpath which marked our arrival on an official hiking path. Either from our increasing proximity to higher terrain or from a simple change in the weather over time, the clouds had begun to re-thicken, changing the tone of the day from warm sunny morning into a cold, foreboding and gloomy one. The clouds stayed high enough to not overly restrict the view, so we still had wonderful views of the evermore rugged alpine terrain.
At this point, we stopped gaining elevation. Up to this point, we had pretty much been climbing up a wide hillside, but now on the trail, we were led around on a traverse into a valley that came down out of the mountains to the north of us (the valley's name is the Val Frisal, btw). To our left, far down, was a narrow rushing mountain stream which Asmir surveyed with great interest. To our right were high grassy slopes which topped out on a smooth open ridge, and at it's highpoint was a the top lift of a ski-lift. Straight ahead, to the north, the path continued traversing on the level towards bare alpine terrain, with craggy peaks beginning to show.
We made good time on the horizontal traverse section, and soon reached a closed alpine hut, where we stopped (outside) for a snack and drink break. To the west, we could now see directly up the Val Frisal valley we had been following, which at this point made a left-hand turn and headed up a ways before stopping in a bowl surrounded by cloud-topped peaks that had hanging glaciers on their sides. At the head of the valley was the highest peak in the immediate vicinity, the Bifertenstock. It's elevation is 3419m (over 11,000 feet).
Now recharged, we continued north. The trail ended its traverse and now started to climb again, heading up into the high country of the main divide of the mountains in this area. We could see a broad rounded shoulder up and to our left, with a tiny dot on top of it: the Bifertenhutte, a high alpine hut with overnight accommodations. I suggested that we make the hut our next stopping point.
The amount of vegetation continued to thin out as we gained altitude, and we now mostly followed red-white-red blazes that marked the location of the trail. We passed a small group of hikers who had just come down from the hut, and who told us the hut was currently un-manned (but still open). They also apologized to us for dumping out the last of their beer, as they didn't think anyone else would be up today. If only we'd been a little earlier!