#1102. Backyard Gems : Hoarfrost at the Schnebelhorn

By Werner Mäder | Travel Photography

Mar 25

Where the hell is the Schnebelhorn?


I live on the shores of Lake Zurich in Switzerland. The landscape here is hilly and suburban. Some visitors to our area say that the city of Zurich is built around the lake.

However, close by – a few minutes by car from where I live in the so-called Pre-Alps – there are already a few mountains worthy of the name. These include the Schnebelhorn, the highest mountain in our canton at 1,293 metres above sea level and a popular excursion destination, especially in summer.

The view from here is usually brilliant: towards the east the striking Säntis, to the southwest the steep Mythen and on a very clear day to the west an overwhelming view as far as the Bernese Alps with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.


I recently visited this mountain. I left home in wonderful sunshine, but the closer I got to my destination, the cloudier the sky became. And although thick fog already hung over the summit of the Schnebelhorn, I marched off from a little village called Steg, steeply upwards and with little visibility ahead of me. And with the altitude came the cold. This – together with the high humidity during the night – had packed nature in a photogenic dress, which we know as hoarfrost.


This phenomenon completely captivated me and I took countless pictures. I was fascinated by the shapes formed by the hoarfrost, which structured fauna and landscape in their own way. And already when I was taking the photos it was clear to me that these pictures had to be worked out in black and white.


And here and there I thought I recognised one of the legendary “Venetians” who, according to a local legend, came from Venice to search for gold, silver and minerals in this area. One of them was said to be particularly handsome with his dark eyes and black fuzzy head. It is said that the girls from the region immediately succumbed to his charms, and in no time at all he had one on his hand. But the local boys did not tolerate this, beat him up and chased him over the mountains.


To avoid this experience and at the same time to escape the further falling temperatures, I then descended in haste; I did not reach the summit of the Schnebelhorn, but I did find some wonderful photo motifs, which I am happy to share here.


​Never miss a post

​Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    The king is dead. Long live the king!

    Black & white is a powerful medium. Provided you pick your subject, because absent “colour”, you must find all the pictorial interest in “contrast”.

    And clearly you have, Werner. It was a delight to follow in your footsteps and see the images you have created with it.

    PS – I grew up in a town at the bottom of Australia, in the middle – a coastal city called “Adelaide”. ANd we had hour frosts practically every night/morning, from late July through early September (equivalent to late January/early March in the northern hemisphere). Nowhere near as theatrical as yours – neither was the scenery there, anyway, because the site chose to build the city was a large, flat plain.

    And throughout that period, if you were foolish enough to leave the garden hose on the back lawn, you daren’t touch it till the frost thawed out. If you tried to pick it up in the middle of the hose, all you’d get would be about 30-40cm of hose in your hand, and the other two sections of it still lying on the ground!

    So I can relate to your description of a much heavier hoar frost as something to escape from!

  • Michelle says:

    Really beautiful. I particularly like those three trees standing there like sentries. I recently woke to fog and wispy mist draping everything outside my window and thought, what a morning for photography – and then made a cup of tea and did the crossword. You have inspired me to do better!

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      They look a little bit like infra red photos, don’t they, Michelle?

      • Werner says:

        At fitst sight maybe, especially some of the trees. But I can assure you it is rather ultrawhite than infrared.
        I am happy that you like my pictures taken in this very special moment.

    • Werner says:

      Hello Michelle This is the best thing that can happen to a photographer: to inspire a dear colleague to go out. So next time tea only and no crosswords – or after the pictures only. I am looking forward to see them soon.

  • Dan says:

    Interesting low key pictures. I live in Canada and I do not remember every seeing frost – we have either a lot of snow or we do not.

  • JohnW says:

    Werner – A delightful excursion into your backyard freezer. I live on a river floodplain next to the ocean and parallel to a mountain range with lots of forests, waterfalls, lakes and rivers. Unfortunately this winter has produces very little snow and no real frost. You’ve done an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere in a well curated series that shows off not just the subject but you vision and style … and you did it in B&W; so near and dear to my heart.

    Well Done Sir!

    • Werner says:

      Hi John
      Thank you very much for this very positive comment. It was really a very special moment for me and I am glad one can feel it in the pictures.

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Werner, Welcome to Dear Susan! And what a wonderful set of images with which to introduce yourself! I agree B&W is required for hoarfrost, or sleet or freezing rain or Virginia’s famous “mixed precipitation” (which I call “sneet”–short for snow and sleet). I think (and hope) that we are past that time by now, and can enjoy burgeoning spring, but these do bring memories of similar (though in softer terrain) conditions not long ago in my area, the Valley of Virginia. Thanks for these gifts. Lad

    • Werner says:

      Hello Lad
      Thank you for this very positive comment. And yes: at the moment spring started here, but I am just leaving for some days in the mountains for skiing. So we can enjoy both scenarios here in Switzerland at the moment.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Lovely images, Werner! B&W was definitely the right decision which allowed the white of the hoarfrost to provide accents to the charming landscape. Winter may be over, but we have a reminder of its stark beauty in your images. Welcome to DearSusan!

    • Werner says:

      Thank you for the lovely compliment. Sometimes the decision whether color or black and white is the right choice is not so easy. But in this case it was immediately clear to me.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Welcome to the DS tribe, lieber Werner!
    Lovely set of pictures, I like black and white so much and you make such good “use” of it. I look forward to many more contributions.

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    I enjoyed this set so much, Werner. If I were forced to pick a favorite, it might be the first one. You have contrasted black and white to entice a sense of the cold, a sense of the mood of the place, and even of the time of day. Your photo, as well as the others, invokes other forests and times alone in them. One can almost hear, as well as see and feel winter, in your photos. Thanks for posting this fine set.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Claude, that’s exactly how those make me feel too. That sense of hearing the gentle sounds of winter and feeling the cold but enveloping atmosphere. So lovely! Cheers

  • Frank Field says:

    Werner – A wonderful set of images. And I, too, much appreciate your use of monochrome. In North America, we frequently use a synonym “rime ice” to describe hoarfrost. I first encountered this effect when hiking in the autumn in New Hampshire’s White Mountains many years ago. Owing to latitude and climate, tree line in those mountains is at about 4,000 ft / 1200 m. When one encounters a cold cloud above treeline, this phenomenon deposits ice on everything including hikers. I still have some of the images I made with my Kodak Instamatic all those many years ago. Thanks for sharing your images and jogging my memory. Frank

  • philberphoto says:

    Werner, I find your post most interesting. I tend to think of fog as some kind of visual blanket, dulling the edges and the shapes. But you show exactly the opposite. Normally, when one says that “the images left me cold”, it is hardly a compliment. But, in this case, it shows how well you captured and recreated the mood, to the point that it is almost palpable. Great job! If I had to pick favorites, they would be the last 3. Please give us more!

    • Werner says:

      I hope, you did not get a cold while watching my pictures. I like your comment and will certainly post again should I have pictures in similar quality. But it is hard to get enough inspiration in these days when you turn around in the same circles every day. Let’s hope for better days to come.

  • >