Glaciers and butterflies

31 Aug

1 September 2021.

So many tiny jewels in the high alpine area! Iridescent purple, bright orange, shiny black, brilliant white, delicate yellow, too small to capture with a point-and-shoot camera. Wildflowers persist even in late August above 6000 feet and the butterflies are playing amongst them doing their pollination magic. Even where there is little more than lichen clinging to rocks, minuscule blossoms persist at temps that makes us think October has arrived. 

The view from Spielboden, above Saas-Fee, altitude 8031 feet above sea level.

We took a hike we would not have taken had we known the reality. The online info said “Good for families! Tame marmots! Easy!” We queried the woman at the TI. “No, it’s not hard.” Maybe not for her but for a couple of flatlanders of a certain age group it was way beyond the usual easy-hiker style. In our book we rate hikes 1 to 3 and a “3” is not terribly difficult, just a little rocky, perhaps, longer with some extended uphill segments. Given our usual rating system, the hike we took to Spielboden was a 6!

We would have turned around part way up — where we had a delightful stop for coffee at a mountain restaurant — but we dreaded the impact a descent would have on our knees and hips so we persevered to reach the comfort of a ride down in a gondola. 

Below, scenes from our rest stop at Gletschergrotte.

We climbed 2200 feet according to Ric’s altimeter, encountered uncountable switchbacks, rocky footing, steep drop offs from narrow paths, and the supposed two-hour hike took us three. Boy were we proud of ourselves! And the marmots? They are in the last five minutes at the top of the trail. 

Fat marmot by the side of the trail. We didn’t bring any carrots or nuts.

Luckily, in typical European tradition, there was a restaurant at the top with great food and a perfect view to glaciers and many of the 4000 meter peaks that surround the Saas Valley. The butterflies, glaciers, and a fat marmot made up for the strenuous climb. 

Eye-level with the glacier.

We had hoped to find some easy hiker options in the Saas Valley, perhaps expand our Berner Oberland hiking book, but we only found one option in the past few days. It’s a lovely valley but it doesn’t offer the myriad options of the greater Jungfrau Region in the Berner Oberland. But the research  is fun!

A few more photos from our time in the Saas Valley.

Pizza Italia!
Sunday lunch starts with a beer.
Swiss restaurants have a check-in system to facilitate contact tracing.
Flower bedecked entrance, Saas-Almagell.
Swiss fixer-upper.

15 Responses to “Glaciers and butterflies”

  1. Grier September 4, 2021 at 13:04 #

    It’s always satisfying to finish a challenging hike. I sure like the tradition of a restaurant at the end of the trail! And the flowers are gorgeous!


    • Laurel September 4, 2021 at 21:46 #

      The flowers are overwhelmingly lovely! We’ve never been here this early in September so the floral displays, both wild and cultivate, are a treat. We are back to hiking at our usual level and enjoying it greatly, still with restaurants on most. 😁


  2. Kim September 1, 2021 at 14:53 #

    Always love reading about your journeys. Food looks fantastic as does both of you. Wish I was there.


    • Laurel September 1, 2021 at 23:06 #

      You should come with us next year! Better to experience it yourselves!


  3. Marcia Lynn Kakiuchi September 1, 2021 at 10:14 #

    Those flowers are just spectacular! And the foodie pictures – so hard to believe this is on a hike ANYWHERE. That hike does sound quite challenging but oh what a beautiful day and scenery. Good for you both.


    • Laurel September 1, 2021 at 23:05 #

      They really know how to live here! Great transportation, wonderful food and service even on a mountain top, and such healthy forests! We are doing hikes more our speed for the rest of the trip, though.


  4. chloe erkenbrecher September 1, 2021 at 09:19 #

    Those flowers are incredible. It’s amazing what beautiful gardens you can have in Europe because of their cooler temperatures. I would imagine that you will be able to get into France, since you are already there. I think that the EU is only keeping out those who haven’t been vaccinated.


    • Laurel September 2, 2021 at 22:57 #

      Hi Chloe. I think you are right about going to France. I am hopeful we can just use our Swiss-issued QR code proof of vaccination to enter restaurants.


  5. Claudia September 1, 2021 at 04:38 #

    You climbing up 2200 feet (670 m) is crazy hard. I hope it wasn’t in a short distance that you had to do most of that uphill climb. How many km was the whole hike? It is GREAT that you are both able to do that kind of hike.

    My level of fitness has suffered from a summer of not walking because it was too hot. This first week I’m concentrating on “flatish” walks before I take on the ones with more ascent/descent. Yesterday I still managed 20K+ steps, walking from Selva to Ortisei (taking the bus back to Selva), and then going on a lighter walk with Gary after I got home. Could kick myself for not getting up at the break of dawn all summer to stay in shape …


    • Laurel September 1, 2021 at 07:51 #

      Hi Claudia. It was less than 3 miles but seemed a LOT longer. We were really worn out! We did pretty well walking this summer but not enough hills as we now live in flat farmland and have to drive about 25 minutes to get to some decent hills, though far from mountains. We are getting accustomed to altitude having started so high (5100 feet in Saas-Grund) and now at about 2600. We won’t do anything like that again, though. My legs were like rubber! Easy-hiking is the mantra, but up to 8km for a good route as long as there is a rifugio along the way! We are getting lots of steps in!


  6. jantabbal August 31, 2021 at 22:35 #

    Category 6!? WOW! Looks like you’re enjoying yourselves!


    • Laurel August 31, 2021 at 23:02 #

      Anything else we attempt will seem tame. We are having a blast! So happy to be back!


  7. m k paris August 31, 2021 at 22:21 #

    Hi Laurel and Ric! So fun to think of you “next door” in Switzerland! Love seeing your pictures. We are heading to Oregon in October to take care of some business that’s been on the back burner since last year. Maybe we will cross paths there in late October, early November. In the meantime enjoy yourselves! By the way, that pizza looks just scrumptious. Maarja


    • Laurel August 31, 2021 at 23:02 #

      Lovely to hear from you, “neighbor!” We wondered if you were still (again?) in France. Would LOVE to catch up in November (we return on the 30th of October). We hope to pass through France in mid-October, assuming we can enter and no new restrictions. Looking forward to more pizza soon! Baci ed un’abbraccio motto forte!



  1. Swiss Wrap-up | Girovaga - September 28, 2021

    […] Five weeks ago we flew out of Portland. Condor Airlines whisked us from Seattle to Frankfurt and I have to say we quite enjoyed the flight. It wasn’t a full plane and we were propelled by the excitement of goign abroad after two years. We were able to fly in Business Class thanks to Alaska Airlines’ extraordinary Mileage Plus Program and the miles we hoarded. Condor has some of the best in-flight food we’ve had plus we got some sleep. After a night in Frankfurt, we spent most of a day getting to Saas-Grund and finally, on the fourth day of our travels, our trip began with the infamous hike at Spielboden (See Glaciers and Butterflies). […]


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