Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Tschingellochtighorn from Engstligenalp

Panoramic aerial photograph of the Tschingellochtighorn in Switzerland

One of the greatest blessings I’ve been given in my life is obstinacy. The ability to put myself to something which I enjoy and to follow it through to the point at which I feel it’s finished.

This obstinacy has carried over into the love I have for hiking. Because I’m not sporty and not insane, I know when to stop, though. I know that I need to get back to the cable car station before the last departure, or it’ll be a cripplingly long walk down to the valley. I know that the oncoming storms need to be heeded and I know to pay proper attention to any kind of oncoming weather front. It’s not a good idea to be out in the mountains with a false sense of complacency, because the rain and wind and snow don’t care that you’ve been there many times before. Easy access to mountain territory can make it easy to forget that you’re at the mercy of the landscape and the weather, if you don’t have the experience to be aware.

Last weekend’s hike at Engstligenalp, above Adelboden, was particularly opportune. The weather was forecast to be sunny and warm, with some high cloud on the mountains. I’m thankful for accurate Swiss radar apps, which tell me well in advance of any rain – experience has taught me that I can trust them pretty well. When, an hour and a half into the hike, I reached the level of the clouds, my obstinacy and experience led me to carry on. I was already a good way into my walk and I was enjoying myself, albeit struggling a little with the steepness of some sections because of my lack of exercise this year. Even though I wasn’t 100% sure that the cloud would lift enough for me to get the photo I was hoping for, I decided to continue to the base of the tooth-like promontory which I’d spotted from the mountain restaurant back in 2013.

Tschingellochtighorn, photographed from Engstligenalp in 2013
Tschingellochtighorn, photographed in 2013

As it turned out, the view I’d envisaged is perfect for a dramatic photograph: a vertical-format landscape with rippling green and grey screes below a dramatic peak in the top third of the image. I found the spot for the photograph an hour and a half into the walk, but the weather wasn’t with me. Clouds swirled and drifted with no inclination towards dissipating completely. This is the best shot I got while waiting; more as a reminder to go back than anything else.

Schedelsgratli screes and Tschingellochtighorn (nearly)

The ridge leading so tantalisingly towards the peak, in the upper right of the photo above – dragged me on. More for the sense of achievement than any hope of a more successful photograph of the distinctive peak. The clouds between me and the view back down to the valley came and went, offering some highly photogenic scenes, which I promptly captured with my drone before carrying on.

Wildstrubel and Engstligenalp

Three hours after leaving the cable car, I reached the division of the hiking path, within a few hundred metres of the cliffs, and decided that this would be the top of the walk. From here, the going is tough, with a steep path across scree: either towards Kandersteg or to the Chindbetti Pass. The idea was tempting, but I decided that my legs had had enough of ascending for one day, and put plans to continue to the far side of the mountain for another day.

After a sandwich, I noticed the clouds lifting gradually and it was with great excitement that I realised the sun was coming through the clouds to illuminate the very rock I’d come to photograph. A quick scrabble to get my drone into the air and I was rewarded with around five minutes of perfect light for the main photo at the top of the page, as well as a short aerial video sequence. Proof, if any is needed, that obstinacy is often made worthwhile.

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