— Photos by Derek Malou & words by Salome Malou
When my brother Derek – an outdoor photographer – asks me if I want to join for a trip in Switzerland, I immediately jump in. Since a long time now I want to write about one of his trip. His job means to walk often more than 20kms per day, to skip meals, to get up at 4 a.m. to catch the sunrise and then drive 200km further to capture the sunset. But most of all, his job is all about adventure. He gets to meet incredible people and discover breathtaking places.
Something very deep attach us both to the Swiss countryside and the same impression overwhelms our soul when we find ourselves surrounded by the mountains. Every time you see them, it feels like you had forgotten how tall and beautiful they were. Every mile of the road, is like discovering a new angle to a loved face.
There they are, immutable, impressive, gentle or dangerous. From the bottom of the earth, they reach for the sky.
— Sunday 19 July —
Our first stop in Switzerland is Zermatt where Derek has to meet a fisherman who is fishing on a high altitude lake. Everywhere along the road, farmers are busy making hay before bad weather arrives. I look admiringly at women with tanned and muscular arms, pulling togheter the hay with long rakes. 12-year-old children, as proud as peacocks, drive small Aebi vehicles specially designed for the mountains. In a village, we pass a parade of tractors, coquettishly displaying a sheaf of wheat and flowers at the front. From the canton of Uri we decide to drive trough Furka pass which rises to 2429 m. The road is a thin ribbon that climbs along a mountainous amphitheater. Windows open, the alpine atmosphere is upon us like a wave of intense sensations. The road is all hairpins and sometimes only one car can drive front. Going down on the Valais side, you pass the famous Belvédère hotel, which forms the end of a sharp bend facing the Rhône glacier. After the pass, we still have an hour and a half before reaching the parking lot of the Matterhon terminal in Täsch. Zermatt is only accessible by train and we have to leave the car there.
When we arrive in Zermatt, the village is already in the evening shadows. After taking the key to our room at Carina, a neat and dynamic little hotel run by two young people, we stroll through the old center. When we walk up the Balade des Anglais street, I am looking for a view painted by my great-grandmother, a sportive woman who loved Zermatt, at the beginning of the 1900’s. I find it as I have seen it so many times on her painting. The cabins have multiplied and the streets are now covered with cobblestones, but the whole picture does not seem to have changed a bit. Facing each other, the dark chalets with weather-beaten balconies form a narrow corridor at the end of which you can see shades of blue darkened by dusk. But what catches the eye, right between the balconies, is the undisputed lord of this place. Piercing the sky with its sharp edges, snow clinging to the steep rocks, it is the Matterhorn that looks down at us from its 4478 m high. A soft pink hue lightens the old center and a church imposes its quiet mass in front of charming restaurants. In this corner everything is intimately narrow. With its shopping street, its huge ski area and many hotels, Zermatt is no longer an isolated village frequented by a handful of mountaineers, but it retains a lot of authenticity. Derek tries to find out how to hike to Lake Stellisee from the village. We are ready to get up at 3 a.m. to reach it at sunrise. Unfortunately nobody can tell us how long the hike takes and we are not sure to arrive on time. We will have to take the funicular to Sunnegga and then a gondola lift up to Blauherd. From there we will only have 15 minutes of walking left to reach Stellisee.
— Monday 20 July —
The morning sun touches the Matterhorn’s snowy top while the village sleeps in the shade. Trucks in the same toy formats as Zermatt’s little taxis, slide noiselessly with loads of food and fresh fruit everywhere. They supply the surrounding hotels. At 8 am sharp, we take the first funicular that goes up to Sunnegga. The first steps at an altitude of 2571 m take your breath away. Literally! The trail soon descends onto a lovely lake nestled in the hollow of grassy slopes. Typical Valais black-nosed sheep wander far above us. When you turn around, the mood is almost unreal. The snow-capped Matterhorn stands very close at the end of the lake. Its silhouette and the deep blue of the sky are reflected in the water as in a mirror. Kirk Tinham, the founder of Fly Fish Zermatt and his client arrive a few minutes later. Kirk is a fishing guide and since 2010 he has the exclusive fishing rights to this high altitude lake. Born in England and passionate about fly fishing, he tells us he had to work long before he got his dream: To tease the rainbow trouts in the idyllic setting Lake Stellisee.
The fly Kirk uses is a piece of wool fixed to the hook. Pointing to the sheep grazing on the slopes he tells us he collected it the day before. It’s 100% local craftsmanship. The fisherman positions himself close to the bank. By a supple rotation of the wrist, the fishing line forms a graceful arc, whistling above the head before landing on the water. Fluid movements in an expert hand sounds easy, but it requires a lot of patience and precision. It doesn’t take long for Kirk and his client to bring back sparkling fishes in their net. Around eleven o’clock, the rising sun begins to be blazing hot. A prey bird screeches far away up in the intense blue of the sky. The rising breeze has long blurred the surface of the lake, but tourists flock after a good night’s sleep to take a picture of the mirror effect now long gone. Kirk laughingly explains that some people spend the day there hoping to take the photo they saw everywhere on social media. Unfortunately, the mirror effect is only visible very early in the morning or late at night when the wind has died down… At noon, it’s time to say goodbye and after lunching on the sandwiches the Carina hotel’s manager kindly gave us we slowly go back down the mountain constantly looking at the beautiful Matterhorn peak.
Taking back the car at Täsch, we now drive through the Berner Oberland. The valley opens up wide and charming on high mountains with farms scattered upon flowery meadows. As children, we used to come to this region every summer. It’s late afternoon when we reach the village still abundantly lit by the sun. Pretty chalets are spread on the two sides of the mountains. From the top of the balconies, an abundance of red geraniums tumble down. Grindelwald is neither posh nor pretentious. A few shops and restaurants with striped umbrellas give a jovial atmosphere. People don’t come here to show off or party, but just for the sake of the beauty of the mountains, for the sportive experience and to share good laughs on a flowery terrasse. The Hotel Schoenegg, located in the center of the village but slightly higher than the main road, offers a beautiful view on the Eiger’s north face. The bedroom is spacious and the balcony opens up on the mountains. We enjoy an early dinner and wander a bit around.
Still very rural, what I love most about this region of Switzerland, is the farms that climb up the mountain pastures. Every time you step outside, you can smell the fragrance of freshly cutted hay in the alpine air. Green grass and wild flowers wave gently on the slopes that go up to the pine trees. Crickets sing loudly amidst purple clovers and bell flowers. Here and there, a large tree extends its branches like a parasol. We hear a happy cyclist going down the mountain, yodeling at the top of his lungs in the mild evening. On our left we can see the polished scars of the high glacier of Grindelwald (Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher). Derek flies the drone to take a closer look at the curious gray rocks worn by ice. Suddenly, the device hits a fir branch it had not expected to find there and tumbles down. There’s no way we can make it start again… Looking in dismay at the steep rocks and the few trees clinging at the edge, we know the situation is pretty desperate. It’s part of the job of a videographer to take risks and lose drones, but this accident is a huge deception and makes us go back to the hotel in frustration. The loss of the drone means we will have to find quickly a replacement for the next days, but above all it means the loss of the Zermatt videos …
— Tuesday 21 July —
4:45 am, the alarm goes off. Between the open curtains, the night casts a milky ray on the bedroom floor. The confortable bedding can’t hold me back and I step out on the balcony before getting dressed. The dark mass of the Eiger stands out against the paler blue of the night. On its jagged edge, shadow puppets with tiny spotlights progress painfully towards the summit. A thrill runs through me… The Eiger with its 3900m is far from being in the ranking of the highest mountains. Yet it has a grim reputation, and more than one professional climber has died attempting its ascent by the terrible north face.
From inside a worn barn, a feminine voice with the soft round accent of German Swiss, greets its cows before milking. A muffled chiming indicates that the alpine beauties are wearing their heavy bells at the end of large collars. One step after another in a steady movement, our 15 kilos of photographic equipment on our backs, we climb among pine trees. After 2 hours and a stop to socialize with a marmot, we arrive at the restaurant which marks the arrival at Gross Scheidegg pass. The nearby Wetterhorn peak is on our right. In front of us, a grassy slope that gently descends onto a small black lake bordered by flowers and cotton grasses. Here and there, a cluster of tall firs. On the left, runs a path that leads to First and Backalpsee. Crowning the enchanted green setting, mountains range from darkest to lightest hues. Down there on the other side, is the Rosenlaui valley and the village of Meiringen. Derek takes out his camera as an inquiring cow sniffs his boots. We only have time to capture half of the magic of this place before rain forces us to cover the bags to protect the equipment. The storm announced for the afternoon will still give us time to reach First.
From Grosse Scheiddegg to First, it’s an easy path that grows wide and flat before climbing more steeply towards the station. The fauna of Grindelwald is very rich. We now have the pleasure to see a young chamois leaping among cows in front of a farm with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the background. Just before that, we saw two bluish black grouses flying at full speed over a wild torrent.
First is newly enhanced with a cliff walk. The view is breathtaking over the valley. The metal bridge stops above the abyss for a very “instagramable” pic and a few people wait their turn to have their photos taken. The restaurant perched there next to the gondola station smells of French fries and rösti. Our bellies unsatisfied with the cookies are crying out loud for food. French fries and a coke is not very healthy at 10.30 a.m. but when you already walked 10km in the mountain, you eat whatever you want.
Back down in Oberer Gletscher’s parking lot, Derek spots a path on the map that leads near the place where the drone crashed the day before. We will attempt a rescue expedition. After 30 minutes of steep climbing, we arrive at a restaurant. The whole place breathes sadness and abandonment. An old, discolored sign with painted letters peeling off, a terrace with a gaping hole and on the left a forbidden path, also abandoned. Carefully, we take the closed path. Invading bushes form an unwelcoming decor. Beyond a certain limit, it is a precipice where the trees stop, waveringly. The drone should be somewhere in this corner, but we might as well look for a needle in a haystack … There’s no way we should risk our life for a drone and after careful research on the safe area, we come down disappointed. All that’s left for us to do is to go down to the city of Thun to buy a new drone. In Därlingen, next to the lake we stop in front of a patch of lawn kept by a couple of retirees selling chips behind their barbecue. A sign says we can swim for two Swiss francs. Perfect! I can have my longed-for dip in the water. The water is about 23°c and white sailboats make a perfect contrast on the blue of the mountains and water. The swim lefts me sleepy and we’ll end the day with a quick dinner and 20kms in our legs.
— Wednesday 22 July —
We take the time to have a hearty breakfast at the hotel (Caotina hot chocolate is a sweet reminiscence of childhood holidays) before taking the train to the Jungfrau Joch. Built on a pass between the summit of the Jungfrau – highest point of the Bernese Alps (4158 m) – and that of Mönch (4107m) the station is perched at an altitude of 3463m. With pickaxes, man’s genius dug a long tunnel during the 1900’s through the faces of the Eiger and Mönch mountains to access it.
From the Grindelwald train station we will reach Kleine Scheidegg where we will have to change trains. The machine rises under a gray low sky but the view is more and more impressive. When the train stops at Alpiglen, Derek and I both look with nostalgia at the restaurant among cows. We used to take a break there when we returned from the ascent of the Kleine Scheidegg pass or from the summit of Männlichen. Authentic heavy Swiss sandwiches with a slightly alcoholic taste still linger in our memories. At Kleine Scheidegg station, we put on our jackets and take the train that goes up the Jungfrau Bahn. We will have two short stops. In Eigergletscher, just before the tunnel, workers who speak every languages, descend upon a tiny station under construction with big ambitions for expansion. A couple also stops there to take the Eiger trail that descends into the valley. The 2nd stop is in the middle of the tunnel. Everyone gets out of the train to admire the Ischmeer Glacier through large windows cut into the rock.
On Jungfrau Joch, the doors leading to the balconies are closed. The wind is too strong. No view, the landscape is opaque because of the fog. We take the elevator to the Sphinx Observatory at 3571m. On the terrace perched on a peak, the wind howls lugubriously in gusts. The air is cold but the temperature does not drop below 0 ° C. Already at only 3571m, the spectacle is frightening and makes me think of Frison-Roche novels. A jackdaw opens its wings and suddenly disappears vertically into the murky abyss. Black rocks, fluttering snow, the wind howling like a human moan… If we regret the view, we’re happy to enjoy these high mountain conditions. Back down, we take a few steps on the marked path that leads to the Mönchsjochhütte refuge. The wind pushes the clouds and suddenly the Aletsch Glacier is visible to our right. Half blue, half dirty, it is very beautiful and from here it looks almost flat between the steep black mountains. Despite the thunder rumbling over the top of the Jungfrau and the threatening clouds gathering everywhere, roped hikers descend onto the glacier. To complete the experience on the Jungfrau Joch, we still have to discover the ice gallery before taking the 12:45 train back to the valley.
796m above sea level, nestled in a long and narrow valley, Lauterbrunnen is the village of the 72 waterfalls. Crashing down vertiginous stone walls, they vaporize water dust into the alpine air. Staubach Fall forms the background of the village and is recognizable to the Swiss flag flying in its mist. The view on the church’s bell tower with mountains in the background is also quiet famous on social media. The dark chalets with pretty shutters painted in green or red look very stylish. We settle at the Hotel Silberhorn. The decor of the hotel is very authentic and the hosts are friendly. We haven’t eaten since 7.30 a.m. and it’s almost 4 p.m. Tessinerbrot and smoked sausages bought at Grindelwald’s Coop will make a king’s feast on our balcony with rain blurring the view on the mountains. The storm is now drowning everthing. We will have to take the car to explore the surroundings. Here the green meadows are flat and surrounded by high stone cliffs. A torrent is raging by a hiking trail. At Trümmelbach Falls, a large parking welcomes visitors who come to admire the underground waterfall. But the most beautiful sight to see is the surrounding buildings. Victorian architecture meets Swiss craftsmanship to create unique masterpieces.
Unfortunately the storm will not allow us to discover the beautiful village of Wengen just above Lauterbrunnen. We are able to take some great videos and shots during lulls and then nothing’s left for us to do but to enjoy dinner on the hotel’s veranda. The dark wooden dining room is packed with gourmets and we have the joy of hearing a chorus of Jodel, alternately, melancholic or joyful through the open windows. The clear and pure notes of Alpine art will accompany us in our dreams.
— Thursday 23 July —
The sun slowly rises over the mountains, leaving the village of Lauterbrunnen in the cool shade for now. Backpacks have to be filled to a minimum and we put on a swimsuit under light clothes. Derek has to meet with Pascal Zeller, a fisherman, in the village of Wilderswill. Pascal is a fishing guide as well as wedding photographer along with his wife and son. We join him at his chalet happily crowded with zucchinis and laundry hanging on a rope. He hails us joyously from his balcony and we help him strap an inflatable boat to the roof of his car. This boat will help us have a perspective when we take pictures of the fishing scenes. It’s in a small marina in Bönigen, at the tip of lake Brienz, that we meet Pascal’s boat. Black and mean, it’s a reformed army boat. With the equipment loaded, we sail over smooth water in the fresh morning air. Lake Brienz is the smaller twin of Lake Thun. With a few degrees less and rocky banks covered with pine trees, Brienz is less frequented and keeps a wilder vibe than Thun. Exactly the kind of place Derek loves to photograph. The first flight of the drone over the lake turns into a disaster. The engine stops responding to the commands, starts to land on the water a few feet away from the boat and sinks like a stone… Derek dives in fully dressed and comes back with a pale face, holding a dripping drone in his hand. It will take a while for the drone to dry before we can measure the damages done by the water. So much bad luck in week when Derek has been flying his drone for 3 years without a single accident…
The scenery on the lake is absolutely stunning. The right bank is covered with a wild and pristine forest still resting in the morning shade. A wonderful hiking trail runs from Bönigen via Iselwalt along the water. A waterfall, spanned by a high bridge, flows into the smooth lake and further on, the victorian Hotel Giessbach overhangs the blue surface. Eagles nest on top of the cliffs and we are almost the only humans on the great stretch of water. When Pascal takes out his fishing gear, he’s wearing a broad smile. After all these years fishing, his passion is still well alive. With the boat standing about thirty meters from the shore, the fisherman sends a colored lure at the end of a heavy fishing line gently whistling between dead wood falling into the lake. The coming and going of the line is looking much like a beautiful dance.
As the sun rises the inflatable boat where we sit to take pictures is turning into a pressure cooker and we enthusiastically accept Pascal’s offer to take a dip in the lake. To immerse ourselves delightfully into fresh and clear water, to let the contrast of the 19°c cool down our burning skin and to discover at eye level the wild panorama reflection’s on the lake is the most exhilarating experience of the week. At lunch break, the wildboar smoke-cured sausage Pascal gives us to taste is so good, we gracefully accept a second round. It’s under a blazing sun, in the early afternoon that the fisherman catches a small pike. He explains us that he got his biggest pike ever at this very place and just like today, at a very unlikely time where not a fisherman would ever bother to go out. After a last swim, we cross the lake again to reach the parking lot. The weather changes in a second and the wind turns the calm lake into ridges and troughs. At high speed, the flat bottom of the boat hits the waves and fresh water is sprayed on our faces. The race is exhilarating. We warmly thank Pascal for this incredible day and it’s with sunburns and incredible photos that we leave the lake and the mountains.
All the photos were taken with my Canon EOS R and 5D mkIII except for the aerial shots.