Took a wrong turn, stuck in a winter storm….what to do? how to go on? ……..
It has taken quite a while to write this but that adventure while in Beatenburg is still fresh on my mind. It is a long write-up but there are many lessons to be learnt. Three years ago, we (me, my brother and sister-in-law) had such a good time in Niederhorn, Beatenburg while in Switzerland that a re-visit sounded wonderful when we were back in town.
Lesson 1 – The weather forecast is always subject to change!
The weather forecast was partly cloudy on that day. It was snowing heavily by the time we reached Beatenburg Station. On past occasions, while it snowed on the lower valleys where we stayed, high up at the mountains, it would be clear blur sky. That was our hope for that day. True enough, there was no blowing snow when we arrived at Niederhorn and the sky was partially blue. But it was still so so cold. Time for some food and drinks at the restaurant while we contemplated our options.
Lesson 2 – Where’s your Map?
After eating, decision was to go on sledging. This picture showed that we started walking at 12.42pm.
While it was snowing lightly, there was still plenty of blue sky and there were people walking or sledging before us. Don’t seem like a bad idea at that time. We only intended to sledge to Vorsass. The map showed that walking distance was about 1 1/4 hours from Niederhorn station.
I wondered if this was the point where we missed the signboard showing the direction to Vorsass. There was supposed to be a right turn heading to Vorsass but we did not see it. Instead we kept on walking straight. Ignorantly towards the direction of Waldegg – 10 km from Niederhorn, about 3 1/2 hours walking distance. Had we known, we would have turned back. But no, we kept on sledging looking for the signboard heading to Vorsass.
At this point, all of us had fallen down hard multiple times sledging. It was not as easy as it looked. Ack! There was no brakes. A sharp turn ahead! Brace your legs to stop! Crash! Ouch! Well….you get the picture.
We came to a fork in the road and we turned right. Since it was heading downhill and turning right, we thought this was the direction to Vorsass. Afterall, two guys and a gal who came behind us went this way with two dogs pulling their sledge. Still no tingling of trouble just yet.
We had sleighed down several steep hilltops by then and the idea of climbing up was not welcomed. By now, the wind had gotten stronger and the snow was blowing much harder. On long exposed terrain, the gust of wind blowing snow in every direction led to poor visibility. Toes, fingers and nose were turning numb. Just how far was the restaurant? A warm drink had never sounded so good!
I couldn’t feel my lips anymore. By now, all of us had stopped sledging and were walking instead. There weren’t anybody else in front or behind us anymore. Bad vibes all around. Were we heading for trouble? Around the next bend in the track, looked like more uphill climbing. Oh no!
Wind and snow assaulting our eyes. Ok, let’s try another strategy. Walked backwards while climbing up the hill. Wasn’t panting as much and the wind was not blowing directly in my face. Made it this far. My brother and sister-in-law were several metres behind. Chimney top ahead so I walked forward to investigate.
Yes, there was a hut there but where was everybody? The hut was buried about three quarters in snow and there was no sign of entry. Crap! Another round of walking and there was a WC at one corner. WC = toilet. Walked back and checked out the signboard outside. To the right : 2hrs to Waldegg/Beatenburg. To the left : 1hr 50mins to Niederhorn. Huh? Where were we?
Where was the map? Yes, we had one and had not looked at it since we set out. As it was, we were now at Unterburgfeld – midway between Niederhorn and Waldegg.
Decisions, decisions…Turn Back or Move Forward?
Three chilled human figures took shelter from the fierce wind in the WC. Yes, there was space! Consulted the map and called the Interlaken Tourism telephone number and was directed to call the Cable Car Station number but there was no answer. It was about 2.30pm then. It would get dark soon. Hmm… what to do?
Option 1 – Turn back to Niederhorn – shorter distance but uphill climbing OR
Option 2 – Move forward to Waldegg where we could catch a Postbus to Interlaken – longer way but downhill for the most part.
We opted for Option 2. It was the most logical decision. No way were we able to climb uphill to Niederhorn without any hiking sticks or snowshoes. Too slippery and risking more injuries.
Lesson 3 – Walk briskly or jog, Walk Backwards
Despite covering our noses with scarves and pulling our caps down, snow covered our eyebrows, eyelids and got into our eyes. My stomach was ice cold and it felt like breathing fire ice. Couldn’t drink because the water in the plastic bottle had turned to icicles. It was that cold. Drinking it or snow would have lowered our body temperatures even further. I couldn’t warm up at a slow pace so went on ahead to walk faster and jogged alternately. Stick those gloved fingers into the jacket pockets, wiggle the toes at all times, cover as much skin as possible and the body did its magical job of warming up even in freezing temperature. All of us were dressed in several layers with fleece jackets underneath our waterproof/water resistant jackets and pants. Caps to cover our heads, scarves to cover our noses and necks, two layers of socks and gloves and winter boots. All dressed for the cold weather. All we had to do now was to keep on going forward.
Stepping forward with the back of the boots first, digging hard into the snow to build some traction – this method worked when going downhill. For uphill, digging hard into the snow with the front of the boots kept the momentum going. When the wind was too strong and I was getting breathless, walking backwards with the back of the boots digging into the snow somehow helped when climbing uphill. Should I fall, I could see where I was stumbling and use both my feet and hands to stop the slide.
To Waldegg – Are We There Yet?
After Unterburgfeld, there was some steep sections to climb before we reached Chuematte. Another hut with no label and no shelter. Step by step, that was the mantra. We had to keep going, our very lives were at stake. The relentless snow was blowing continuously. Next goal was to reach Hohwald. There was a ski lift there. How to get down with no skies? Huffing and puffing, I was the first to reach Hohwald. Whew! Not saved yet but there was a guy there and people skiing downhill. No English but from sign gestures, he pointed the track to Waldegg. Alright, we were almost there.
From Hohwald to Waldegg
The track here was mostly downhill, some with gentle slopes, others at steep inclines. At one section, it was too risky to walk downhill. I had left the sledge with my brother so the alternative was to slide downhill. So I did – on my butt. The result – a numb butt for a few minutes but no further injuries.
In the distance, more huts could be seen. Hope rekindled, I walked faster. No sign of people yet. Forging ahead towards the trees when instinct made me glanced backwards. A couple walking hand in hand in the blowing snow. Turning back, I asked them if up ahead was the correct direction to Waldegg. Yes it was! Looking back, no signs of my brother and sister-in-law. A U-turn and I headed to a small wooden structure with a ledge. Should I climbed uphill to look for them? Wait – use the telephone! While pressing the button to call, I saw two figures on the upper ridge. Waving madly, jumping up and down, I signalled my location and pointed to the slope to get down.
It was here I took out the camera from my backpack, remove my right glove and took that picture with the signboard showing 30 minutes to Waldegg. Time stamp was 4.18pm. Sunset was around 5.24pm. Just in time before it got dark.
Reached the car park, turned left and followed the zig-zag road downhill to the main road where there was a bus stop. Another 20 minutes before the bus arrived that would take us to Interlaken West. Time for some reflections.
Carelessness plus bad decisions could lead to disastrous results. We discovered later that night that temperatures were hovering between minus 8 to minus 20 degree celsius that day. We did not know it then, but all of us had bruised knees, our legs black and blue and worst, my brother could not lift his right shoulder. Minor injuries but we were so so glad to be alive! We were lucky that day, learnt many lessons, never to be forgotten.
Hiking Track from Niederhorn to Waldegg
Despite our experience, don’t be turned off from hiking this trail. The hiking track from Niederhorn to Waldegg had been voted as one of the most scenic places in Switzerland. Best done during sunny weather. For more information on Niederhorn, click here.
Hiking Links from Niederhorn to Waldegg