Kaspar von Almen tends the Trümmelbach Falls as one would a garden.This content was published on July 1, 2002 - 09:33
He removes a piece of chewing gum from the path leading to the waterfall with the blade of his Swiss Army Knife. A few steps later, he clears a clogged drainage hole with the tip of his umbrella.
Von Almen has spent most of his 76 years living next to the falls. For him, the sound is a melody, which he never grows tired of.
"In spring, it's like they have been born again," he says. "Acoustically it is like a voice - one which varies with the seasons and becomes more joyful as the weather warms."
The Trümmelbach Falls are fed by the melting snow and ice from the glaciers hugging the flanks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. The melt water does not cascade over the cliffs as the other waterfalls in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, but are funnelled into the mountainside.
Change with season
The falls were first made accessible by a series of walkways and bridges built by von Almen's grandfather in 1877. Since then, millions of visitors have come to marvel at the natural wonder, which changes its character with the season.
"The summer is high water time because the glaciers are melting. The water turns more greyish, or white. It becomes 'glacial milk'," von Almen explains.
"Then slowly autumn comes and the voices diminish. It's less of a concert in the valley. You hear the individual waterfalls more clearly and winter is at the doorstep once again."
In his younger days, von Almen discovered a series of caverns which had never been seen before. It was winter and he and a friend stumbled across the hidden caves while climbing beside the frozen falls.
Their discovery prompted von Almen's father to drill deeper into the mountain. His son continued the excavations, digging a final tunnel and gallery about 15 years ago. Visitors can now ascend about 600 metres inside the Trümmelbach Gorge to experience up close the power and force of the water, as it thunders, leaps and spirals its way through the rock.
Between April and June, about 20 cubic metres of water roars through the gorge every second. And it is estimated that the Trümmelbach carries about 20,000 tons of debris - mostly sand and loam - into and out of the valley, and down to the bottom of Lake Brienz.
The Michelin travel guide has awarded the site a coveted three-star rating, thanks in part to von Almen's successful efforts to integrate the walkways, bridges and steps so they don't look out of place with the natural surroundings.
Electrical lighting is used sparingly inside the gorge. There is just enough so visitors can see the path and to accentuate the surge of water in places where there is no natural light.
"The stretches between are dark which heightens the impression made by the whole gorge with the falls," von Almen says.
"It makes you more attentive because subconsciously you are a little afraid because of the dark."
After 76 years of living near the Trümmelbach Falls, von Almen is still fascinated by water. "Water is number two after air. What we need most is water.
"The water flowing through these meadows is a sight to warm your heart," he says.
by Dale Bechtel
Visiting the falls
The Trümmelbach Falls can be reached in about half an hour by train or car from Interlaken, the tourist hub of the Bernese Oberland. The falls are open from April to November and about 100,000 people visit them each year. Entrance costs SFr10 and the walk through the gorge and back can be done in about 20 minutes. But why rush? It is worth spending at least an hour to appreciate fully the natural spectacle. And the falls are an ideal alternative on cloudy days when views of the mountains and their glaciers that are the source of the Trümmelbach are obscured.End of insertion
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