June 24, 2010

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.

Looking down through the clouds, into valley shows how high we were today.

Another Androsace helvetica, growing under a rock in a tight crevice. These plants know exactly where to grow, where the rocks protect them from moisture and Ibex hooves.
A detail of a Saxifraga oppositifolia
The trail near the summit is still snow covered and icy, with rock falls a common event.
A white Saxifrage,  Saxifraga exerata  growing within another S. oppositifolia, but the petals seem longer, perhaps it is a sub species.

Joe, left, traversing into a scree.
Joe shooting a Saxifrage in a scree. Next post, the amazing scree above the Schilthorn Hutte.

At this elevation, the Ranunculus glacialis is just beginning to bloom, whereas a few hundred feet below us, we can see large clumps in full bloom.

1 comment :

  1. Matt,
    Your Botanizing the Alps series has been excellent. Would love to hear your favorite peaks in the White Mts. for alpine plants.


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