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An account of walks in the Swiss Alps, with accompanying photographs. The walks were predominantly in the Bernese Oberland, with sporadic excursions further afield when time and conditions allowed.

The Gear

Most of the pictures were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, but a few (those with "Cas" in the file name) with a Casio EX-Z750. Some of them may give a hint of the each camera's capabilities, but not much, as they've all been reduced to web-friendly sizes and qualities. I'm happy enough with the new Lumix, though I'm not sure it generates such vibrant colours as the little Casio. The latter acquits itself pretty well, considering that the model is four years older than the Lumix.

The Preparation

It must be remarked that summer weather is often hazy in Switzerland and even getting up to 3000 M. doesn't always cure that. Such changes as were made to the camera originals (most commonly haze reduction and brightening of dark areas; less often, rotating to level the horizon and cropping) were done with two software packages. The first, IrfanView, is a piece of free (for home use) software I can't recommend too highly. All you need for the simpler kinds of image modification, its ease of use is top-notch. It is only available for Windows, unfortunately. You can run it on Linux, but only through an emulator or a virtual machine, not really worth your time if you don't use these for other things.

Whenever I want to do more complex improvements, I use The GIMP on Linux. A free counterpart to Photoshop, you can do almost anything with this program, but its learning curve is steep. You can even program it to add new functions or to process your images in batch mode, but that is getting into serious geek territory. One shortcoming shared by both of the above packages, however, is that they work internally only in 8-bit colour, not 16-bit. This is harmless enough for many operations, but brightening a sky made too dark by overzealous use of a polarising filter, for example, can easily leave visible banding where the area being worked on has only a small set of discrete colour values to begin with.

In contrast to the improvements mentioned, outright fakery such as replacing the sky is not allowed. To that extent, the images are authentic representations of what I saw on my trips.

A Note on Image Quality

Most of the images presented have been reduced from the original camera sizes to 1024 x 768 pixels. Written out "longhand", so to speak, images even of this modest size occupy more than two megabytes each, so they need to be compressed to avoid wasting bandwidth and running up data charges. Of the two common file formats PNG and JPEG, the former can be disregarded here; as a "lossless" format, it must preserve every detail of the picture and so can hardly halve the file size of an image, even with maximum compression selected. JPEG is another matter. You can shrink the image by as much as you like; 95% is perfectly possible, but there is a price to be paid in the resulting quality. The complex mathematical algorithms used to preserve visual detail in JPEG images will reduce the raw image size by about 95% if you store with a quality parameter of 60 in the GIMP or ImageMagick, but this leaves artefacts. These mostly blend in with the image detail, but they stand out worst along hard edges between strong, uniform colour areas, like mountain crests against a dark blue sky, where they manifest themselves as bubbly wave patterns. Here is an example, and here is the same image blown up to twice the size to make it more obvious. When I first encountered this problem, I thought my image was faulty and tried to edit the waves out, only to find them magically back again after I saved my work. After a while the penny dropped. Increasing the quality parameter slowly diminishes the artefacts, but they only really disappear at about 95, when the image file is typically three times as big as it was at 60. What was to be done? I decided in the end to generate each image with three different quality levels, low medium and high, and then to choose the lowest quality level for that image such that the compression artefacts didn't annoy me on a passable Philips 170S4 monitor. The verdict still isn't that great on a fifteen-inch MacBook Pro, however.

Walk Ratings

None of the walks described herein needed mountaineering equipment. Beyond stout walking shoes and proper rain gear, all I take is a pair of carbide-tipped walking poles (...if they're good enough for Reinhold Messner, they're good enough for me!) This walker does not use mechanical aids to reach summits or get back down. They diminish the sense of achievement at day's end. That's not dogma; if lightning threatens and there is a cable car handy, I'll take it, but that hardly ever happens.

The dif ficulty rating for each walk is given according to the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) T scale, known as the "SAC-Wanderskala". A search for this on the Web will result in German text, but a good English translation is available here. Briefly, the scale runs from T1 to T6. A T2 walk is already quite steep enough to require modest fitness and to get you to plenty of delightful huts and summits around the 2000 M. mark. You could spend a perfectly good walking season without ever exceeding T2. Towards the other end, a T5 walk could be exhausting or terrifying for a beginner, with a high risk of death in some cases for the unsure of foot. The rating given is taken from SAC publications if I have seen them; otherwise it's my own opinion.

The highest point reached on each walk is given in the header in metres; move the mouse over it to see the corresponding altitude in feet instead.

Go to the walks via the index on the right.