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