Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 19 July 2012

Another day, another gondola

Not bad for a view from one's hotel room, is it? This was what greeted me on arrival in the Tirol: a view all the way up the Stubaital to the glacier up at 3000m, the steep slopes showing how the glacier carved the valley out millennia ago.

Nowadays one might even wonder whether there'll be a glacier there for much longer. On the tops, the snow has melted far further back than in previous summers, leaving large parts of the ice exposed to the sun; summer ski-ing has stopped, and large areas of snow are covered by canvas. Where snow and ice have melted, all that is left is a daunting, even depressing, moonscape of rocks and scree; but on the walk down through what feels like a succession of seasons or climate zones, into increasing greenery, spotting gentians and waiting for sheep to pose artistically (some hopes), the views are stunning:

Walk down, you'll notice I said, following a ride up in the cable gondola. There are several in the valley, accessing different starting points for winter ski-runs and summer walking (and tobogganing and paragliding for the intrepid).
Down the valley a little way, another route starts with equally stunning views inside a bowl of jagged peaks, but from somewhat lower, so that from the start a smooth path leads down through wooded slopes, and alpine meadows where the cattle have plenty of buttercups to graze on, to an "alm" (presumably meaning a refuge, but in practice usually a comfortable lodge-cum-restaurant) with a dog snoozing in the afternoon heat.

For a really dramatic view, one (but not me) could see what the paragliders see - as from this launch ramp at one of the top stations.

Personally, I prefer a more sedate way down to the valley floor. I'm happy to keep my feet safely on the ground while I admire their skill as they circle in to land.

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