Bussalp, Grindelwald, Switzerland, December 2012

2 January 2013 -  

The air is cold and clear, the sky deep gentian blue. I climb steadily up the winter walking path from Grindelwald, the North Face of the Eiger a pyramid of deep shadow behind me on the opposite side of the valley.  The sun catches a window pane of the Mittellegi hut, high on the North-east Ridge, dazzling with its gleam. The snow is nearly kneedeep in places and it is easiest to follow the deeply impressed steps of previous walkers. The path is mostly bathed in brilliant sunlight, but when shaded by trees, the drop in temperature makes hat and scarf essential. The air is very still and calls of Blue, Great, Marsh, Coal and Crested Tits, Robins, Nuthatches and Chaffinches echo through the wooded sections of the path. A couple of Nutcrackers work noisily through the treetops then swoop off, stretching rounded wings and flashing white rumps like Jays. In places, the path is finely strewn with Sycamore seeds, the delicate, russet helicopters resting incongruously on the pristine snow.

Woodsmoke from a chalet halfway up rises vertically and spreads out where it meets a cushion of colder air. The view from Bussalp towards the pass at Kleine Scheidegg is stunning, with the slopes of the Eiger, crowding close to the village below and the cogwheel-railway clearly visible, creeping up to the pass with a cargo of skiers and tourists. Through the glasses, the slopes are alive with tiny figures swooping gracefully down on skis and boards.

I return along the road because the deep footprints in the snow are impassable going down and breaking a new path in the soft snow is exhausting. The road doubles as one of the longest sledge runs in the world. Four buses grind past in convoy, engines roaring, wheel chains rattling, three-tone horns blaring before each bend. Over the next hour the sledging enthusiasts on board whizz past, whooping with excitement and shouting in at least five languages. At a rest stop towards the bottom, the unmistakable chirrup of Alpine Choughs drifts up from below and as I approach, forty of them are being fed outside a restaurant. They bound and jostle excitedly, feeding fast, then take off together, flying high out of sight in a tight flock before reappearing again lower down. The energy and aerobatics of the choughs are wonderful and I watch them patrol the slopes for several minutes then head down to the village.

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