Switzerland 2: Kleine Scheidegg

Kleine Scheidegg is a small cluster of hotels around a station that sits on top of a pass well above the Lauterbrunnen valley, at over 2000m above sea level.

Kleine Scheidegg is completely dominated by the north face of the Eiger, or in English, the Ogre. This vertical slab of rock rises right behind the town and extends vertically to a summit at nearly 4000m. It is from the hotels in Kleine Scheidegg that guests used to train their telescopes onto climbers as they attempted to climb the “Mordwand”, the murder wall. The north face of the Eiger was only climbed for the first time in 1938 and “The White Spider” by Heinrich Harrer is still an excellent account of this ascent.

Above: the north face of the Eiger rising through the clouds. I felt sick just looking at it, let alone imagining what it must be like to attempt to climb such an enormous vertical wall of rock and ice. It used to take up to three days to climb the north face. Climbers risked constant rockfalls and freezing to death where they slept, even in summer. Nowadays the current record for a North Face climb is under two and a half hours. Ueli Steck makes it look easy in this short video. Sadly Ueli died less than 3 months ago whilst training for a new route to the summit of Everest:

But I was not in Kleine Scheidegg for the Eiger. I was there for the Alpine Choughs. These fabulous high altitude corvids, with bright yellow bills and bright red legs are full of character. I have been to Kleine Scheidegg once before in summer and a few times in winter. This time I had a camera with me. We arrived in town after a 90 minute walk down from the Männlichen cable car. Whilst the family got together some lunch, I went to work on the Alpine Choughs.  They were not difficult to see. The first flock I located were perched up on a hotel roof:

But with an increase in diners at the outdoor restaurants, they soon moved much closer. First onto the roofs above the station:

Then down onto the posts by the railway, opposite tables full of feasting tourists. Some adult birds looked quite smart:

Some less so:

At even the slightest break in human activity, they would swoop down onto the tables and devour left-over food.

There is something rather ignominious in seeing these majestic high mountain birds fighting for scraps at restaurant tables. But it does make getting frame filling pictures easy. Once in a while the flock would rise and fly in front of the Eiger, the evocative call of these birds echoing around the mountains. Then they would return for more chips:

In mid-July most of the adult birds were in active moult, replacing their inner primaries and their central tail feathers. This was particularly obvious in flight:

There were also good numbers of juvenile Alpine Chough in town. These youngsters followed their parents everywhere, loudly begging for food. Immature Alpine Chough do not have the bright red legs of adults and the bill is pale yellow with a dark smudge on the upper mandible, near the tip:

But whether adult or young, Alpine Chough are charismatic birds and you won’t get much closer views than in Kleine Scheidegg:

Next: high mountain finches on Männlichen.

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