Obergurgl Day Ten – The Tiefenbach Glacier

Dear Readers, the temperatures are in the low 80s here in the Oetz valley today, and so we decided to go somewhere a bit chillier – the Tiefenbach Glacier, which lies south-west of the village of Söelden. During the winter it’s a very popular skiing venue, but during the summer it looks a little bit sad and unloved compared to something like the Gaislach area that we visited last week, with its state-of-the-art lift infrastructure and mega-cool glass cube restaurant. To get here, you get the Gletscherbus, which is an experience in itself – (handy hint – if you don’t want to stand up for the full 25 minutes and multiple terrifying hairpin bends it’s best to get on fairly close to where the bus starts at the north end of Söelden). The bus careers around bend after bend, through pine forests, over various cattle grids (usually at breakneck speed) and then onwards and upwards. First stop is the Rettenbach glacier, which has a cable car, but which doen’t open until 7th August, a day after the Tieffenbach cable car closes. Such are the machinations of the local lift owners – I suspect there would be enough custom for both,  but clearly the profits are doled out in a very particular way.

Anyhow, when you eventually get to the car park for the Tiefenbach (with slightly sweaty palms if you’re anything like me), there are toilets, and a café (the aircraft-hangar sized restaurant used to be open in summer, but these days the lovely people in what looks like a yurt supply the caffeine.

The Tiefenbach cafe

The talk this year is all about the heat. The man serving the cappuccinos said that it was going to be 32 degrees back in Söelden, and nearly 40 degrees in Innsbruck. I always bring a fleece to the Tiefenbach but this is the first time that I haven’t needed it.

Then we attempt to get onto the cable car. This proves to be a problem as the turnstile can’t read our Oetzal cards (these give you free buses and lifts in the valley for the duration of your stay). The young man looking after the lift took the passes away, fiddled about but still the computer said ‘no’. The lift mechanic came out to help us but to no avail. Finally we were waved through.

The lift itself is the most elderly in the valley – it’s low enough that you have to stoop to get into it if you’re over six feet tall, and the glass is scratched, plus the lift makes a slightly worrying grinding sound. Still, I managed to take a few nervous photos, mostly to take my mind off the prospect of the lift stopping. Which it then did, twice on the way up and twice on the way down. Usually this is just because someone needs a hand getting on, or they’re loading up supplies to go up or down the cable, but this time there was no obvious reason at all. There’s something quite disconcerting about just swinging there, and it gives one (well me anyway) plenty of time to notice just how high up you are.

Not to worry though! They are putting blankets over certain parts of the glacier, I assume to try to preserve them from the worst of the sun/rain, and I’m sure that would cushion our fall. In fact, the main element seems to be that the white colour reflects the sunlight, preventing the glacier from warming up and inhibiting melting – when the snow starts to fall again in autumn, the blankets are removed so that the snow layer can continue to build up. Holy moly, though, what a state of affairs. Apparently the Swiss have covered an entire glacier in blankets for just this reason. 

The blanketed glacier

The rocks are very pretty – rusty-coloured in a way that makes me think that there’s a lot of iron about.

Some more blanketed glacier

Anyhow, we spring (carefully) out at the top. What an amazing view!

And there is this nerve-tester, which I like to admire from a distance. John sometimes wanders out, but the floor is glass, and it’s very narrow. Maybe one day….

And then it’s back to the lift…

…and back down to the car park, with a fine view of a snowplough ploughing some snow. I seem to remember that there’s sometimes summer skiing here, but not today.

Small red snowplough travelling at speed!

And so then it’s back on the bus, and down to the tropical (ish) temperatures of Soelden for an eiscaffee and an apfelsaft gespritzt (coffee with icecream and cream and a fizzy applejuice). Not much walking today (though we might go for a trot around the meadow after dinner), but fun nonetheless. 


7 thoughts on “Obergurgl Day Ten – The Tiefenbach Glacier

  1. gert loveday

    You deserve your coffee. That all sounds a bit nerve wracking. But quite disturbing to read of the effects of global warming from first hand report.

  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    What are the blankets made of? And how do they stay in place in times of wild weather? Fascinating.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      The ‘blankets’ are more like duvets actually – the outside seems to be nylon, goodness knows what’s inside. It’s partly about the reflectivity of the white surface, and partly about insulation. Apparently it can reduce melting by 50 – 80%

  3. Charlie Bowman

    As Obergurgl/Oetztal ‘regulars’, are you as thrilled to be there as you hoped, somewhat dismayed by changes both from Climate Change and because of the often ubiquitous yellow cranes in evidence, or somewhere in between? I want to return, but am concerned that positive memories from the past will be overshadowed by modern-day realities.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Charlie, that’s a very good question. There’s no large-scale building work going on here now (which is great), but the village still feels extremely quiet – all the hotels appear to be struggling (at least in this early part of the season) and of course the climate change impact is clear for all to see. I was first here in 1994 and there have been a lot of changes since then – that first year, I stayed in the Edelweiss and Gurgl and a pine marten visited our window box to feed on some crumbs we’d left out for the birds. I can’t see that happening now! But the hills are as beautiful as ever, there are still spring flowers and floppy-eared Italian sheep, and I think I will continue to visit for as long as I’m able because something about this place just seems to put everything else into perspective. I will seriously look at coming by train though – apparently if you travel from Zurich the train stops at the Imst Bahnhof so you can come straight into the village :-).


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