June 27, 2010

Primula in these Alps of the Bernese Oberland

A yellow Primula auricula, growing on the upper slopes of the Eiger, in a damp snow run-off with Ranunculus glacialis. This trip brought us many meadows of this early blooming primrose, and we were very lucky, both because of it being late this season, and because we simply found the populations.

 A light pink form of Primula hirsuta, or it may be a natural cross of P. hirsuta and P. daoensis . Photographed this in the high crocus meadows of First, Bearnese Oberland..

Primula elatior after a freak high elevation snow storm on June 21 - the summer solstice.

Some of the snowy Primula from last weekend's snow on the Eiger. In the back, you can see the famous North Face.

Without the snow a week later, they look much better.

A primula farinosa caught in an early summer snow in the alps.

P. hirsuta

Later in the day, Joe hiked back to our camp, while I decided to go higher - above the cloud line near 12,000 feet. I was rewarded with sunshine, and this amazing scree and alpine meadow full of many primula, gentiana and other plants.

Variations in a population of Primula farinosa on the slopes of the Eiger, near 9,000 ft , growing with many P. auricula and Ranunculus glacialis. Sorry for the irregular type, but I am posting this post live from my iPad.

An impressive yellow P. auricula, the parent of the many fancy auricula primroses we sometimes see in England. In the back, Dryas octopetala and a melting glacier. Nearing the top of the Eiger.

A rare find on a steep ravine - a white Primula auricula

Even more amazing ( it just keeps getting better!) an amazing grouping with at least three different forms of Primula auricula, and some Primula hirsuta natural crosses on the summit of the Piz Gloria. And check out those Saxifraga! If only our alpine troughs could look like this!

Appreciating Switzerland

Our funicular ride helps up reach the start of the trail head for today's hike across the Piz Glora. We take this funicular, then a single car train across the rim of the canyon to the town of Murren, and the another funicular up over the glaciers to 15,000 feet, where it is difficult to breath - all with the hopes of finding more high elevation Androsace in the highest scree's. We have our snow gear. crampons and yet we are the only hikers on the funicular rid - every one else is under 20 years old, and are all base jumpers from Chile.

Ahhh, fraises, so fresh. If only our strawberries tasted like these. My attempt at a calendar cliche.

The main street the village we are staying in for another week -  Mürren, a small car-free remote alpine village which one must reach only by a funicular, and then a rid along the edge of the gorge on a single car rail, which ends right here where this image was taken.

Today we made a big decision - one which is decidedly quite un-American, ( in reference to those who travel from the states and plan on visiting 8 cities and 12 destinations in Europe in 7 days). We just cant' bear to leave this solitude in Murren, so I am calling ahead to Zermatt and cancelling our second week there. We have decide to stay, and act as if we live here. We will do our laundry in the little launderett, eat more cheese, and be sure to do our grocery shopping at the single store before it closes for the day at 4:00 PM. For the rest of the time here? We shall enjoy the quiet, the fact that there are no cars, few people and basically, just the sound of a few goat bells to wake us in the morning.

Then, naturally, there is the scenery.

We love Mürren, perched high on a cliff above the post card lovely valley of Lauterbrunnen, which is pretty nice itself, but this? This is the most beautiful place I have ever been on our planet ( so far!). Last night, as we watched the full moon rise over these magnificent mountains ( not a single light in a home or on a street in sight), we were commenting on how many people we met, especially how few Americans, who are either on one or two week tours traveling through Europe with their families. One such family we met two days ago, but they rarely left their lodge - where they sat with focused on answering email and playing games on their  iPads.  They had just arrive, and I was surprised at how bored the children were, as well as the parents. All the talked about as they tapped a swiped away on their devices, was about what cities they had been to over the past week. Dad sais "a half day at Cologne, a half day in Amsterdam, a half day in Paris - then we can go home".  Sad. 

We are experienced enough, to have planned only two towns for our week and a half venture, but now, instead of moving on to the more commercial and touristy town of Zermatt, we decided to cancel our reservations ( at a price, I must admit!), and to remain here in Mürren until next week. Why not. We have everything we need. Wine, cheese and wildflowers.

 View from our balcony - really.

 A bough of spruce cones decorates a home.

The hotels are quite old in Murren, most are build before 1890 such as this one. I find it interesting that even at this out-of-the-way location, that the village was a destination, even a century ago. How did they ever get those trunks up here? I later learned that on these slopes in Murren, Skiing was popular even in the 1880's.

 The view across from Mürren is spectacular when viewed from a few thousand feet higher, as we hike down from the summit of the Piz Gloria.

 I was noticing a number of residences near the nicer edge of the gorge, near the end of the canyon. This remote village has such incredible views, yet it is still completely rural and unruined. Sure, we met some local kids smoking pot, they told us that their parents worked at the to summit house high on the Schiltorn, and that one boys father worked the funicular, but aside from the shock that he was dressed all hip hop style, I asked him if he felt fortunate to live here. He responded " Oh yes, we know there is not place like this on earth". But he later shared that he dreamed to move away and to work as a street repairman in Interlaken - where there is a nightlife.

Most of the homes on the outskirts of the Murren meadows that we passed through were four season homes. Fire wood was neatly stacked into beautiful arrays of patterned stacks, and the fields were cleared for grazing, most where scythed by hand, and the hay stacked on posts to dry. This is farmland for the local people, and most worked outdoors in their fields. Most notably, it is silent here. One could hear a nightingale across the valley, and just he sound of a distant waterfall a mile away. There are no sounds of cars, or jets, no campers, no distant highways or grumbling motorcycles such as one often hears in the Italian Dolomites. If this was America, forget about it. And if this was a National Park, we would be surrounded by campers and people.  Here, in this massive canyon in Switzerland, we were the only hikers on these paths, and all we could hear were cow bells. Sure, in the winter, it may be a crowded ski village, but for most of the summer, it is heaven on Earth.

 Wood, neatly cut and stored under the eaves of home. Each home has a different collection of wood.

 Even this elderly couple made a tasteful, homey display ( the papa was just off to the left, sitting enjoying his beer on this sunny Sunday).

As we wandered further back towards the village of Murren, we passed through many meadows with cow gates like this. One is expected to simply close the gate as one passed through.

Packed with skiers in the winter, the town of Mürren is quite in early summer. This was the busiest day. 

After the last funicular leaves for Lauterbrunen,  town of Mürren becomes silent.As there are no cars besides a local resident's old mini truck, and one stationwagon, all one hears are horses, goats and cows. In early summer, there are few tourists who spend the night. These cliffs below the town of Murren are very popular with base jumpers, ( I heard it was one of the top base jumping sites in the world) which also makes the tiny village of Mürren more 'young', in spirit. Mürren sits in a very scenic location -  facing the Monch and the Eiger's snowy glaciers and waterfalls. Botanically, the mountains around Murren are site zero for many high alpine plants, especially primula species, androsace and other alpine plants.  

June 24, 2010

Schilthorn Scree and Talus plants

Geum reptans
There are many environments in which alpine plants grow, and each has specialized species or species with distinct characteristics unique to each environment. Those plants at the highest elevations, often above the clouds form buns, and mats, whereas those that choose to grow in the scree and talus fields, those accumulations or deposits of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, cliffs or ridges, tend to form low mounds, more loose than those in crevices, but still tight enough to keep a low profile, and to take advantage of the added heat and protection from the rocks in the scree. One often needs to look carefully, for many scree plants at higher elevations are still dense and short, whereas the same species at a few thousand meters lower, will have a completely different profile, often growing looser and larger.

Linaria alpina, much more dense at higher elevations as seen here. It's a color that stands out in the snowy talus fields of rock and ice.

Summit of Piz Gloria, the Schilthorn

Androsace helvetica, a rare high elevation alpine plant related to the primula, growing near the summit of the Schilthorn, in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland.

We arrived at the summit via a funicular ( see it on the left), and quickly emerged above the clouds. The Mürren-Schilthorn area of Switzerland is a magnificent botanizing and hiking regions with a rich variety of alpine flora. The finest of which blooms just at snow melt in late May or early June. The highest alpine treasures live on the edge of glaciers, often above the clouds and above treeline. Catching such treasures on camera is one thing, since finding them requires some rock climbing skill for most live not on the trails, but on cliffs, in crevices and on steep, rocky peaks where their specialized botanic forms of mats and buns, can capture the cloud mist. Most are hard, dense domes which are actually formed from tiny rosettes of foliage which over time, form these buns which look like rocks most of the year when they are not covered by dry snow. capturing them in bloom, is another thing, and this time, on my third trip to the Alps, I was lucky enough to find some of the best specimens not only in form, but also in bloom. 

Anrdrosace helvetica, Primulaceae just below the summit of Pix Gloria

A detail of Switzerland's most precious of all high growing true alpines, Androsace helvetica, the holy grail for alpinist's since it is difficult to find in good condition. I think we were just lucky this time.  These specimens were growing on the edge of a vertical rock face, which you can see, descends for about a mile down, just below the Schilthorn cable car station, where we broke a snowy trail to see if we could find exactly these high alpines in protected rocky crevices. The highest part of the trail was closed due to snow last night, but since we had the proper gear, ( crampons and such)  authorities let us traverse the upper ridge walk between the Engetal and Birg funicular station, we could tell that we were the first hikers since there were no foot prints in the snow. These photos I took of specimens growing at 2700 meters just above the Engetal, below the Swarzgrat.

Androsace helvetica on the Engenthal, 11,000 ft. Maybe a mile drop, as you can see.

Another high elevation plant, Saxifraga . There are 26 species in Switzerland, so without a book to key this out, I am guessing that it is Saxifraga oppositifolia.
Saxifraga oppositifolia

I'm very happy, even though I can barely breath at 14,500 ft.  I'm happy not only because the weather has shifted for a few days, but because the plants we've been able to capture images of have been awesome. Not to mention the views of some of the best scenery in the world here in the Bernese Alps, dominated by the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau as our backdrop.

June 23, 2010

Many, Many, anemeones

At this elevation, near 9,000 feet, we rested in an alpine meadow in the village of Murren, Switzerland. 

As out trip through Switzerland continues, we are promised that sunshine will return tomorrow, and we feel hopeful since the cloud cover seems higher. Still, as we leave the alpine village of Wengen, and take the mountain trains and funicular over and up to the even more remote village of Murren, which is older, more quite if that is even possible, and exactly what I want. In the picture below, Murren is a village on the edge of the cliff on the right hand side, far back. Popular with cliff divers, parasailers and alpinists, we expect the town to be quiet since the snows are just melting and the tourist season has yet to pick up. I think that this valley in Switzerland is one of the most beautiful on earth.  As a protected UNESCO nature preserve, the area in and around Lauterbrunnen valley is rich with natural wonders, from long waterfalls, to glaciers. Mostly, I find it spiritualls energizing with its alpine meadows, flora and botanic treasures. And, oh yes, the vistas.

Rain, rain, rail, and this is the view from our cog train, as it takes us to our chalet in Wengen. Normally, I mean, in other years, this view is amazing, with glaciers, and mountains in the distance ( it was even the default screen saver that came with Apple Mac's a few years ago), but with two weeks of rain, all we can see is waterfalls.

June 22, 2010

Base of the North Face

We decided to continue to explore some of the higher trains leading to the glaciers, but with the heviy rains,  and risk if rock slides, we decided to keep todays  walks short. This image show how the clouds are thick and moist in the cold alpine air. Even in these conditions, we saw some treasures.
 A Paris species growing in a large colony under some spruce at 7,000 ft. If you are not familiar with Paris, they are a relative of the Trillium, but have four segments of everything, instead of three. What few species there are, all are highly collectable by plant enthusiasts who search for them at the nurseries who 'know'.
When ever I am traveling, I like to see what local florists are doing, This shop in Grindlewald displays Edlewiess in homemade baskets made from roots.
 This just might be the nicests green roof we've seen, on a pizza cafe in the center of Grindlewald, this planting has moss, spruce and stone pine growing along with many small shrubs. The constant moisture provided my mountain mist and the cool summer temperatures certainly add to its success.

Lastly, there are many ground orchids growing in the high alpine meadows, this one stood out from the rest of the pink and white species which are all too difficult to identify. Here, a 
  Neottia nidus-avis blooms under the spruce trees at the base of the Eiger's North Face where it risks getting crushed my the massive rockslides that keep occuring in this wet month of June. We saw many trails so covered with freshly tumbled rock and mud, that the rain had not even had time to wash the mud off of the rocks., as they crushed Stone PInes into tooth picks. SO, we decided to turn back!