Our group traveling from Ersigen and Aefligen, consists myself, my wife, my cousin Kurt Stegmüller and his wife and daughter (Regina and Annika) also his mother Vreni (my dads older sister). Leo Stalder and his wife Jose travelled by train from Eschenbach Luzern.
Our time in Switzerland starts with many visits. In the morning we visit Ernst Spahr, this is where the Spahr family first moved into the Ersigen area. It is a typical looking Swiss farm house, however behind it we find old cave dwellings. Several caves used to store tools, animals and there was a community oven cave to bake bread. We then visited the Spahr farm in Ersigen where my dad grew up and had lunch at The Rudswilbad Hotel with all my Aunts and Uncles. After lunch we walked past the Spahr farmhouse, built in 1804. A walk through the wheat fields leads to the viewpoint overlooking the Jura Mountains to the west, some 40km away. However, looking south 60km, beyond the Switzerland and Bern flags, you can see the glacier covered Alps. I could imagine my father working in the fields staring towards the Eiger and dreaming of skiing and climbing someday.
A day to remember begins as we arrived at the Lauterbrunnen train station. My wife and Regina are very excited to meet Leo and they know he will be on the same train up to Wengen as we are, so when the see someone fitting the description of Leo they are both calling out, Leo, Leo! But no one answers. Leo was actually sitting on the seats behind us on the train and tells his wife “this poor Leo must be lost somewhere”.
We arrived in Wengen and Trudi met us at the train station and we went for coffee in a little cafe and we pulled out some photo albums as to our lives since 1956. Leo had been to Wengen a few times but not back to the hotel as he thought Trudi and Arnold were no longer there. This was their first reunion in 55 years and his first return to the old workshop. So after a short meeting we walked to the hotel to do a tour of the workshop. Since Arnold Steiner’s death in 1981, Ruedi Finkbeiner, a foreman took over the cabinet shop until 2003 and the cabinet workshop had been quiet for the last eight years. Most of the tools were still there, all with AS burned into the wooden handles. This I remember because I have my father’s hand saw with RS burned into the handle. They explained that downstairs is where Leo worked cutting and planning the lumber before sending it upstairs to my father to assemble the furniture. I walked around the shop and I saw two nails in the wall holding up a very old ice axe, a wooden shaft with a stainless steel pick and tip. Trudi explained that it had been there for decades and she uses it to chip the ice off the steps. I pick up the ice axe and underneath are the initials RS. I thought to myself that there is no way it could be his, but maybe. We then went downstairs to the room where Leo and Rudy stayed. On the way Trudi says, in the winter, Rudy and Leo would go skiing on their lunch break and if the skiing was good they would ski longer and make up the time at work in the evening. I had to laugh. How many jobs do you know where you can ski on your lunch break? I am a Brewster driver guide in the Canadian Rockies, I too get a long lunch break and go skiing.
After the tour we all sat down to a nice lunch and talked to Leo about the climbs. Leo explained that they climbed the Lobhorner, the Jungfrau, the Schreckhorn, and the Eiger, just to name a few. I was stunned, I asked the northface of the Eiger? Leo explained nothing extreme just the classic ridge route on the West Flank of the Eiger. Trudi says “Mama would not let them, she was the boss”. Mama was Arnold’s wife, she controlled the boys. If they wanted to climb they needed permission from Mama. She would make sure the weather was good, pack their food, and make sure they had all their proper equipment for the climb.
It was hard for them to remember a lot about my father, but with every step we uncovered more. As the weather was not good for hiking up in the mountains, we took a little walk around Wengen. The clouds lifted enough so we could see the Lobhorner across the valley. Leo jumped with excitement pointing to the mountain. I asked about the train to get there, he said “no train we walked, we got up early in the morning and walked from Wengen to Lobhorner then did the climb then walked back to Wengen in the evening”.
Saying goodbye to our new friends, we headed out to Saanen to meet a friend of the family that visited us in Canmore ten years earlier. The next day she showed us the sights of the area, then later my wife and I decided to do our first ever climb in Switzerland. The Rüblihorn was quite easy but entertaining as gliders sailed passed us on the cliffs edge. The most magical point of the climb was I found one little Edelweiss flower in the middle of the route. Nobody stepped on it and nobody picked it as most climbers are respectful of the mountains… A trait that seems to be getting lost.
2013 The Return
Following My Fathers Footsteps
The reunion with Leo and Trudi is something I will never forget. The workshop, the ice axe, the scenery, and the stories. To make such a connection and just by chance was incredible.
Never knowing my father, because of that tragic accident when I was just an infant, I believe he would have taught me how to climb and we would have done many climbs together. So as a tribute to Rudy, I would like to do the next best thing, retrace his steps and climb something Rudy and Leo have done more than fifty years ago. It will be like climbing with my dad. The Lobhörner, I think would be an honour to climb.
So we start the planning. The return trip to Switzerland has become clear that this adventure keeps opening new doors and unexpected surprises. Our main goal is to retrace Rudys steps and summit some of the climbs that Rudy and Leo have accomplished. The initial goal is the Lobhörner, where Rudy did a rescue of four Austrians, known only as “The Mountain Eagles”. The hike to arrive at the Lobhörner hut takes 2 to 3 hours from either the Gondolas at Isenfluh or Grutschalp. We will stay there for a couple of nights. Then ascend the route that Rudy and Leo climbed up the Lobhörner is the classic route summiting all five peaks. It is straight forward from an East to West direction on the south face. This is rated an easy 5.6 or IV that should take about 3 or 4 hours to complete this 130 meter outcrop of limestone very similar to what we have at home in Canmore in the Canadian Rockies. The views will be spectacular overlooking Wengen, the Eiger and the Jungfrau.
My climbing partner is Alex Früh, the 21 year old son of my cousin Franzi. He has been climbing for many years. I think we are about the same skill level, okay he is a little better than me, 27 years younger and 30 pounds lighter. I have my work cut out for my training this winter.
While I was on the road in Vancouver, I told my daughter Becky about the plans for this summer and the story producing the video documentary. She seemed very interested in learning about her grandfather. Then I had my proud Papa moment as I received a few texts from her as she was away from home and is enrolled at Trent University.
“Can I try a little? If it’s not too hard”
I replied that it I’d be a proud Dad if she climbed the Lobhörner with me.
“I want to try” she replied, how could I say no. Now we all get ready for the big climb.
On my return home from Vancouver, my brother has given me a mountain of photos to sort through. Several boxes of family photos my mother kept in stoage. After a few hours of sorting only one box and coming across many photos of my Dad. I happened upon an old binder containing the journals of my father in 1955. This will help retrace some of his steps in Wengen. The journal tells stories of hiking and climbing many trails and routes in the shadow of the Eiger. Intertwined with friendship and romance. Finally leaving for Canada saying goodbye to all, wondering when he will see the Alps or the Ersigen farm again, if ever.
After our adventures up the Lobhörner and Jungfrau, I will revisit the Rainhus workshop. I have kept my original ice axe I purchased when I was 19, I will have engraved and leave it on the wall beside what may be Rudy’s ice axe.
So we have the climbing party set, the route and soon we will know the final details of dates in August 2013. We must acquire new climbing equipment and replace old ropes.
I hope you enjoy following this true story as it continues today….