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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Hooters Interlaken
21st May 2006 - 22nd May 2006
Hooters, walking up Kleine Scheidegg, Zermatt and some Matterhorn history

All this for free. And you still complain.

First things first. To demonstrate that we truly are modern, switched-on sorts of people, we immediately seized upon the advice of "Michael", who wrote on our message board: "If you make it to Interlaken, don't forget to visit the Hooters bar there - it's THE spot to be seen in that fashionable Swiss town". I'm assuming Michael is Mixalis Masouras. If not, we took the advice of a complete stranger. Perhaps that makes us even more modern and switched-on.

I've never had the pleasure of going to a Hooters bar before, and especially not with my future wife. They have an interesting selection of signs with appropriate sorority humour (the toilets are labelled "used beer disposal") and the waitresses wear shorts that would best be described as underpants. Also rather a lot, though not all, of the other customers were men. The food was actually jolly nice, and not too badly priced either.

After polishing off our Hooters Burgers and bidding good day to our waitress, we wandered outside into the rain and peered into the windows of the Rolex dealer right next door, who is probably anxiously seeking a new commercial property. All over Switzerland people are very keen to sell you preposterously expensive mechanical watches, and to explain to you just the fiendish amount of work that goes into making something that is dashed nearly as accurate as the quartz clock in your microwave. Some of these are really quite pricey. It wouldn't take you long looking in shop windows in the average Swiss town to find a watch made by a company you've never heard of on offer for more than thirty thousand pounds. Why do people want mechanical watches? It's a comparatively little-known fact that Rolex make quartz watches - they restrict the proportion of them to less than 5% of their total output, and they claim that demand doesn't really exceed that. They're no cheaper than the mechanical ones. Obviously there's a huge amount more art involved in making a decent mechanical watch than there is in making a quartz one, but it's almost refreshing to see people buying watches more because of the challenge involved in making them rather than their timekeeping qualities.

On Sunday we eventually climbed Kleine Scheidegg. It's a 1000m climb covering only around 7.5km of ground, so it's fairly a relentless uphill plod. As you reach the top there are splendid views of the North face of the Eiger, and across to Wetterhorn and up to the Jungfraujoch. I can't verify the splendid views, because there was a fair amount of cloud around the place when we did it. I didn't like this hike very much - not because of the poor views, which are never a great motivator for me, but for a number of other reasons. First off, for about two thirds of the way you follow a very similar route to a nearby tarmac road - there's something somewhat depressing about sweating away plodding up a slope only to find that the view from the top of this particular section is of a man driving past you in his rusty Nissan Sunny. Secondly, like many of the tourist peaks in Switzerland, it has a bloody great funicular train driving up it twice an hour. The hiking path pretty much follows the train line, and as you come into view of the Eiger Nordwand you see at least four chairlifts going in various directions for the ski runs. Once you finally reach the top, after some four hours of quite invigorating hike, you find a large railway station which serves as a junction between the Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen valleys for the Jungfraujoch railway, amongst others. And four restaurants, a few hotels and the obligatory shop selling you Toblerone and Rolexes. We took the train back down again, but I'm now a bit fed up of this. The next mountain we climb up is going to be served so poorly by public transport that everyone at the top will be wearing hiking boots.

On the way back down, Kiki took a rather good photo of Manlichen, the next-door mountain that she wanted to continue up to but I couldn't much be bothered. No doubt the shop on top had some extra-special new Rolexes in stock, or perhaps the cable car was the longest brown-coloured eighty-two person cablecar in southern Switzerland, but we sadly missed it. If anyone wants a higher-resolution version of this photo (or any others), drop me a line as the GetJealous pictures are rather small. You're likely to have to wait until we have broadband again to get it but I'll stockpile emails.

The next morning we headed over to Zermatt without the caravan for a spot of tourism. We have a Rough Guide book which seems geared somewhat towards backpackers, so when it said "the only way to reach Zermatt is on the spectacular narrow-gauge MGB trainline", I didn't realise that Zermatt was in fact a car-free town. We ended up getting the train from wherever the road ran out. It was the second train of the day, because earlier we'd loaded the car onto a rather neat train not unlike an open-topped Eurotunnel to circumvent the Grimsel Pass. It's a bit odd sitting in the car zooming along in pitch darkness.

Zermatt is very attractive, though entirely geared towards the tourist industry. Instead of cars it has legions of small electric vans, most of which appear to belong to hotels. To contribute to the general air of motor-vehicle free peace and quiet, the only other things that are allowed to drive around are bloody great diesel-engined trucks. So instead of a general hum of traffic you have silence for periods of a few minutes, interspersed with what seem to be the loudest trucks known to man.

I was keen to go to Zermatt not just to peer at the Matterhorn, but because I've been reading "Scrambles Amongst The Alps In The Years 1860-1869", by Edward Whymper. He was an artist sent on a commission to the alps who turned professional climber, and actually went on to explore a great deal of Greenland and claim many first ascents in the Andes. If you're looking for a book about the alps and have already read Killing Dragons (Fergus Fleming) then I can't recommend Scrambles enough. Whymper takes a great interest not only in the climbs themselves but in local diseases, how glaciers are formed, the digging of railway tunnels and anything else that crosses his mind. It's a fascinating glance back into an era when a single person could invent a new sort of tent, and then the next week come up with a controversial proposal about how glacial moraines are the result of rockfall onto the glacier, and not the excavated glacial detritus at all.

The book is full of Whymper's own drawings, and I'd been looking through it to see if I could recreate any of these as photographs. I'd earmarked a couple that looked possible during our Zermatt trip, but in actual fact the weather procluded either of his two Matterhorn views (one from the Riffelberg hotel, which still exists, and the other from the Thedule Pass - now serviced by ski lifts of various sorts). The one photograph I thought I might manage was one entitled "The English Church at Zermatt". My sat-nav device from the car had a "point of interest" that was optimistically titled "Anglische Kirche" or somesuch, and I was sure I was onto a winner. Kiki heaved a familiar sigh as I whipped our my TomTom (umm... that's the sat-nav device) and chased it around town enthusiastically. We found the church and I took a couple of photographs - the whole area appears to have been built up substantially but I think I got a reasonable shot, despite leaving out some of the foreground. Both Whymper's and mine are below. If anyone else has a copy of this book and is interested in trying to seek out any others then please let me know - I think the side-by-side shots would make a great coffee-table book. No that I have a coffee table right now.

The Matterhorn was a great preoccupation for Whymper, who eventually climbed it in July 1865. Well, I say "climbed". There was always a lot of idle speculation as to whether George Mallory, who died whilst attempting to climb Everest in 1924 but whose body has yet to be found, actually summited and died on the way back down. Although the logical evidence points somewhat against it as what most view as the crux of the Everest climb was still some way above him when he was last sighted, the idea is at least supported by the statistical fact that 80% of Everest deaths occur during the descent. When Edmund Hillary was asked how he'd feel if photos on Mallory's camera revealed that he had indeed summited, Hillary said that he'd regard it as a magnificent achievement, but to say that you'd climbed a mountain you really had to come back down again too.

Edward Whymper and his whole team were certainly at the summit of the Matterhorn on July 14th 1865, but unfortunately four of them got to the bottom a lot quicker than the others. One of the more inexperienced members of his party slipped and fell, dragging off French guide Michael Croz and another two British climbers. Whymper and Peter Taugwalder braced themselves to take the strain on the rope, but it snapped as it drew taut and the four fell to their deaths. The rope, it transpired, was a flimsy one they hadn't been intending climbing on and there was much speculation at the time as to whether Taugwalder had deliberately put this rope between himself and the inexperienced Brits, or perhaps even cut it intentionally. Both of these theories are now regarded as pretty unlikely, and the whole incident has just served to intensify the Matterhorn legend. You can climb the Matterhorn more easily these days, but rather than being a fantastically tricky climb (though it's by no means easy) it's rather a lottery as the primary danger is from rockfall, which is heavy and constant.

All of those who died are buried in the main church at Zermatt - I must say it was really quite a sombre moment for me standing by the graves. I couldn't help recalling the last lines of Whymper's chilling chapter "The Descent of the Matterhorn":

"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are not without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destro the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."

Next: Arrival in Austria - campsite with WiFi
Previous: Book Review: A Man Without A Country (Kurt Vonnegut)

Diary Photos

Hooters Interlaken

Out in the rugged outdoors

Halfway up Kleine Scheidegg

View towards Grindelwald from Alpiglen

Splendid view of the North Face of the Eiger

The Eiger

The summit of Kleine Scheidegg



Sunset at Manor Farm

Train you can put cars on

Hunting down Whymper drawings

The graves of those killed during the first descent of the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn

Funny Foreign Place Name

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