A Return to the Rhone Glacier in the Rain – Closer to the Crevasse

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Tuesday 9 September 2014

A Return to the Rhone Glacier in the Rain – Closer to the Crevasse

Although the sun had unexpectedly returned to the Grimselpass the previous afternoon, treating us to warm afternoon sunshine during our descent from theSidelhorn, we could not hold out such hopes when we woke up on Tuesday morning. The initially clear morning air soon started to form wispy clouds and by the time we had finished breakfast and started to slip on our hiking gear many of the peaks to the west, including the Sidelhorn, were already hidden from our view and we were fairly certain that rain wouldn't be far behind. However, it's not everyday you get a chance to hike to within touching distance of the Rhone Glacier, which was our plan for the day, and so resolved to give it a try and turn around if it got too bad.

Setting off east from the Grimselpass we passed the Hotel Alpenrosli and the small chapel to join a waymarked path that threaded it's way up a rocky hillside, on the lower slopes of the ridge that hid the Rhone Glacier from our view. The way was steep but having had 2 days enjoying a shorter bike ride and a shorter hike we were feeling surprisingly fresh and raced up the 600m ascent. Weaving our way through rocks, the path underfoot slowly changed from loose, sandy gravel to bare stone and rockfall from the cliffs to our left. As we crested the ridge to get our first look at the tongue of the glacier, we glanced back over our to motorhome at the Grimselpass and the cloudy Bernese Alps beyond and could see the mist was heading our way quickly.

Traversing the rocky mountainside as quickly as we could we managed to enjoy another 10 minutes of relatively clear skies before the mist swiftly engulfed us, just as the Rhone Glacier was coming into sight. Oh well, we thought, at least we tried, it's just not our day this time. Luckily however, it soon started to rain! Not usually a welcome arrival but this time it cleared the low hanging mist and reopened our view down to the Rhone Glacier a few hundred metres below our cliff side path. We slowly picked our way for around a kilometre over the enormous boulders which the 'path' was marked across, each few steps revealing another piece of the glacier, until we finally reached a shoulder where the entire glacier was in view, all 9km of it. Sweeping down from snow covered cliffs in the far distance, the glacier then made a massive arc into the shelter of our cliff face before levelling off and running down to the end of the hanging value where it finished in a bright blue pool. It was magnificent, despite the persistent drizzle.

Wanting a closer view Esther left her pack with me and dashed further along the path which descended right down to the glaciers edge. Stopping at a handy weather station just a hundred metres or so above the ice, close enough to get a sense of the huge crevasses and massive undulations, she returned full of adrenalin. The size and power of the ice, trapped in frozen flow is awesome and being so close gives a feel for how it was possible for the vast European ice sheets to carve these enormous valleys despite the fact that only a tiny remnant is left today.

With mist starting to return we decided to head back to the motorhome before we lost sight of the waymarkers completely and carefully recrossed the now slippy rocks and boulders to reach the start of the descent. About halfway down the mist lifted and we were treated to a relatively clear view over the Bernese Alps for a moment, before the clouds closed again in front of us. We were also lucky enough to get chatting to an elderly couple who had been visiting these hills for 50 years and had been up above the glacier looking for crystals and rock samples, which they were kind enough to share with us, using a mixture of our GCSE German and their conversational English.

Arriving back at the motorhome we couldn't help noticing that for the third day in a row since arriving at Grimselpass that we felt incredibly happy and peaceful, more so than on most of our trip so far. Perhaps it was the complete lack of any hustle and bustle, no grocery store, no internet, no TV and hardly any people, but the feeling of isolation bought a deep sense of calm. As the sun set and the clouds enveloped our motorhome completely we felt sad that we would have to move on the next morning (as we had run out of food!), but also grateful to have discovered such a quiet spot to have spent the past few days.

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