Monday, October 25

Gornergrat

We caught the 8:00 AM cog railway train to Riffleberg. There was nothing there but an old hotel, closed to await the ski season, but a nice view of the Matterhorn, shrouded in clouds. We photographed it from many angles. The wind was powerful at first, probably 35 mph with gusts to 45 mph, so our photos will probably be blurred. No tripod could withstand the power of such a wind.

After a while, the clouds began to break up, and some beams of sunlight lit the Matterhorn. We also photographed glaciers in the adjoining valley and a small pretty chapel. We were well above the tree line, so the land was barren except for large rocks here and there, and of course, the largest rock of all, the Matterhorn.

Eventually the wind subsided substantially so we photographed everything all over again. I began to walk back up hill to the train station and met Josť, who was photographing a large cross. On the way down I had been so careful to watch my footing, that I had not even noticed it. I joined him and soon Joe VanOs came along and joined us, and gave us some pointers. I continued up to the train station. Soon I heard a train coming, as did everyone else. They threw their camera gear into their bags and staggered up the hill as fast as possible, because it was a 2 hour wait until the next train. They got to the station panting and gasping in time to see a work car pass with a load of cement for the top. It was a good 10 minutes until the train itself came in.

We rode the cog railway, also called the rack-railway, all the way to the end of the line at Gornergrat (10, 273 feet) quite a developed area on the top of a mountain across the valley from the Matterhorn. The Gornergrat is the highest open-air railway in Europe. In addition to the train station, there was a building containing the usual souvenir shop, cafeteria, and restrooms. There was a little patio where people could sit and eat and enjoy looking at the Matterhorn.

There was a flattened area about 40 feet higher than the patio from where one could see many glaciers. I very slowly climbed up there and admired the view. We could even see Dufourspitze, at 15,205 feet, the highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. It was named after Dufour, the Swiss founder of the Red Cross. To this day the International Headquarters of the Red Cross is in Geneva. Appalled by the suffering and death of soldiers in the wars, Dufour and a small group of friends went about trying to help them and treat their injuries, regardless of which side of the battle they were on. His idea caught on, and many more people joined their group. For their symbol, they selected the opposite of the colors of the Swiss flag, which is a white cross on a field of red. And so today, the Red Cross still uses a red cross as it goes about helping the injured.

A number of the glaciers showed a median moraine, a pile of rocks and silt right down the middle of the glacier. This occurs when 2 glaciers meet and push up their accumulated dirt and rocks. The line follows the contour of the glaciers themselves.

It was interesting to notice that there was an observatory on top of the main building. I can only imagine riding a train up here at sunset, and working all night in the cold at the observatory. It is well situated, however, for good observations.

Back down to the main level of the complex I trudged, and waited inside the cafeteria to rest a while. The train was due at 15:00, with the last train at 17:00. Europe runs on the 24 hour clock. It took a while to become adjusted to subtracting 12 hours from the afternoon time. Our military also runs on a 24 hour time clock. It avoids a lot of confusion when you get used to it. But a lot of people when told to be somewhere at 16 o'clock, ask "When is that?"

Evidently, a lot of people knew that this would be the next-to-last train down for the day, so there was quite a crowd waiting at the station. The people who run the train must have expected this because they sent a 5 car train instead of just 2 cars. A middle aged German woman was seated across from me. She spoke some English and said she had been to the United States several times. She was a pleasant person.

The train eventually filled up after several stops on its downhill run. The hiker seated beside me got up and offered his seat to the husband of the woman seated across from me. I admired that.

Everyone liked dinner at the Eden Hotel so much, we walked back there again for dinner.