Approach Creux du Van from behind and it’ll surprise you. Walk over Le Soliat from the south and it looks like the rest of the Jura – a pretty landscape of rounded mountains covered in woods and meadows with the odd bit of limestone sticking out of them. But as you walk towards the northern side of the mountain, a crescent moon of rock appears, dropping roughly 150 metres deep and stretching around 1,400 metres wide in-front of you.
The Creux du Van is a limestone cirque formed by erosion and landslides caused by the water from a long-gone glacier. It sits in the mountains a short drive from Neuchatel in Switzerland. It’s probably because it isn’t in the Alps, that Creux du Van is not particularly well known. Which is a shame because it is as dramatic as its bigger cousins further east and is in wonderful walking country. On the other hand, this lack of wider recognition makes it a quieter place to visit than a lot of the tourist areas of the Alps. Read more
Murren is a pretty village of wooden chalets and hotels perching on slopes covered in woods and meadows. In the summer, men farm the meadows for hay accompanied by the clanking of cowbells. Tourists sit in cafes or wander streets kept quiet by a ban on all but electric vehicles. The Eiger, Monch and outlying peaks of the Jungfrau across the valley provide a dramatic horizon of dark rock and bright snow. Standing in its centre it’s easy to not realise that this quiet Swiss village comes to an abrupt halt at sheer limestone cliffs that drop hundreds of metres to the bottom of the narrow Lauterbrunnen Valley. It’s this drop that makes Murren a favourite place for base-jumpers and paragliders. It’s also along the top of these cliffs that a brilliant via ferrata descends from Murren to the village of Gimmelwald by a route that seems designed to test your nerves. Read more
“All the Grindelwald via ferrata are closed.” The woman at the tourist information office said these words in a firm, brisk tone that indicated that she didn’t realise that I would find them disappointing. I knew that there was a risk that the long, cold winter might mean that some mountain routes would still be impassable with snow that the hot July sun had not yet melted. I had started to accept that this might be quite a high risk when I had seen snow clinging to slopes and hiding in gullies as I looked out of the train window on the way in to Grindelwald. My trip to the tourist information office in Grindelwald had been done in the hope that I would be told my concerns were unfounded because there was one via ferrata around Grindelwald that I particularly wanted to climb. Not only had the tourist information woman confirmed that I wasn’t wrong, but added that there was also a risk of rock fall. I could have not let this news stop me from trying to climb, as you can’t, strictly speaking, close a cable and a series of ladders running up a mountain. However, I know the importance of listening to local advice about mountain conditions if you want to stay safe and so thanked the woman before walking out dejectedly. Read more