The Story Behind The Image: Oeschinensee, Switzerland

This is a new series where we talk about how we came to make some of our favourite images. We’ll concentrate less on the equipment and technique used and more on the how and why the image came to be. This time, we’re looking at an image that people often remark on as a favourite: Oeschinensee, in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland.

We have both spent most of our lives in relatively flat places, and high mountains have always had a certain magical quality for us – they are something that has always existed in our imagination rather than our experience. From our first visit, the Alps were a revelation for us, and whilst we’ve now been there more times that we can easily count and visited spectacular high mountains in other parts of the world, they have not lost an ounce of their appeal.

This image came from our first visit to Switzerland. We’d taken a bit of a gamble – booking the trip late in the Summer season, knowing well that we might get rained out. However, on this occasion, we got lucky: For the entire trip we had clear skies and beautiful autumn light playing on golden and red foliage.

We’d read about the hike to Oeschinensee – which literally translates as Oeschinen Lake – but only had sparse photos for reference. We’ve come to take other people’s hiking images with a grain of salt: they are seldom indicative of what you’ll see and the images you can make yourself on the route.

We drove to the resort town of Kandersteg and took the cable car up the mountain. These are a great resource in the Alps: you can cut out hours of hiking ascent allowing you to focus your time and energy on the higher sections of the hike. At the top station, we passed the Rodelbahn Oeschinensee -a Summer toboggan run that appeared to be aimed at children… Though as an old man walked past us, happily singing to himself (’Rodel-baa-ahhn! Rodel-baa-ahhn!’), with a disinterested looking grandchild in tow, you would perhaps question how true this is!

The first section of the hike proper took us through forests. The mountains were there, but there were no clear views through the trees. We did note, though, that we were already higher than the summit of Mount Snowdon – our previous reference for a ‘high mountain’ – and there were still plenty of far taller things around us.

Without much warning, the path turned sharply and revealed the lake. You can anticipate how a landscape will look based on map contours and we knew the lake would be below us, but even with this foreknowledge, the reality of the landscape can still surprise you.

The air that day was perfectly clear and the lake, shaded by the surrounding mountains was completely still and reflected the shore beautifully.Fed by glacial streams, the lake takes on a beautiful turquoise colour. Towering above, we could see summits well over 3000m including the fantastically named Wildi Frau (the ‘Wild Woman’) and Blüemlisalphorn (roughly, the ‘Floral Alpine Peak’).

Often, an image like this is ruined or made impossible by deep shadows cast by surrounding mountains, but that day, we were in exactly the right spot at the right time. Beyond that, though, it’s the small details that make this image for us: look on the left and you’ll see two tiny mountain huts (probably quite sizable buildings in reality): one half way up the slope above the shore and the second on the ridge line. That white wisp on the lake shore on the right was smoke from a camp fire in a permitted area, and we can still clearly recall the smell of the burning wood. Above all else, though, it‘s the snow-capped peaks that make this image for us: still a relatively novel sight for us when we visited, they have not lost any of their magic with familiarity.