December 9, 2007
November 22, 2007
All of the buildings are nicely refurbished and maintained in a sound, but relaxed, even fanciful, way. Nothing too polished or slick, but quite nice. Adding to the charm of the place is the amazing effort put into its decoration. Surfaces everywhere, even on the sprinkler pipes, are decorated with murals, paintings, and historical photographs. The paintings and decoration are in many styles, reflecting the work of many artists, but it all shares a lightness and fanciful appreciation of life's delights and the history of this place, which finished its social service life as a nursing home in the middle 80's.
This picture is an example of one of the prominent artists, on a coaster advertising our home town McMenamins location, The Spar.
We spent the morning walking all over the grounds and poking into the buildings (there's a pub in every shed, it seems). The strong down-gorge winds made it a cold walk (and are still buffeting the trees and our room's window), but the sun and the interesting sites kept us going. The golf course looks fun, but only a committed and unserious golfer (Are there any of those? We did see a few later along the walk.) would think today's wind an enjoyable golfing partner.
October 27, 2007
My first impressions were disappointment. The titles on offer at several of the vendors were limited and decidedly third-rate, for the most part. Anything of any quality at all was relatively expensive -- what you'd pay for a trade paperback edition of the same work. This was discouraging, but I did select a couple of Hemingway titles that I hadn't read before: To Have and To Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls. In spite of having been written over fifty years ago (are they in the public domain?), they were $10 each.
The next barrier was selecting a reader. There were three formats available from the vendor I selected and you bought the e-book version for the reader you selected. The readers are free. Thinking this was the simplest route, I chose the Microsoft Reader.
I downloaded the MS Reader and installed it. Next, I had to "activate" it, which Microsoft is very big on and can be a significant barrier to getting their software to work. I'm not sure why one has to activate free software. In any case, I was unable to successfully activate the software and was, therefore, unable to use it with the e-books I'd just purchased.
My annoyance was great enough that I worked my way through the trackless swamp of Microsoft's support pages to find a link to a support function for the Reader. From what I could tell, the Reader is something of a deprecated product. There is no Reader support page, so I used the closest thing, a more general Mobile page. To their credit, I did get a rather stilted message advising me to do a couple of things that didn't work.
By that time, however, I'd downloaded another reader, "Mobipocket," and contacted the e-books vendor, who very quickly and kindly shifted my subscription to that reader. I should have gone with the Adobe reader in the beginning. It shouldn't be that expensive, nor that hard to get an e-book to work.
In the end, I found that it worked surprisingly well. The reader I used worked in portrait or landscape mode, offered excellent text clarity and zoom control, and was quick to turn a page with just a button click on the PDA. It opened each time from the spot that I'd stopped the time before. There were lots of other features for searching and moving about in the text, but I didn't use them much, once I started reading. I turned off the progress bar at the bottom, because it took screen space and displayed a discouragingly high page count.
The first one, To Have and To Have Not, was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, and Lauren Bacall and stands as one of my favorite movies. As a novel, though, it's something of a mess. Only the Bogart character, Harry Morgan, Brennan’s, Eddie, and a fragment of the plot where Morgan asserts that he won't carry human cargo, because that cargo can talk, made it into the movie. It's just as well, because William Faulkner made a fine screenplay out of those elements. Still, there is some wonderful writing in the book, especially when he's writing about the Gulf Stream and fishing upon it.
I found For Whom the Bell Tolls stunningly beautiful, a masterpiece. It is taut and focused. Its characters stand out, individuals. The language, aided by the transliteration of the formal address in Spanish to English, full of "thee" and "thou," is lyrical. And the action gathers relentless tension as the moment of the clash of armies arrives and breaks upon the characters. It must have been heartbreaking to write through the cruelty and waste of the Spanish Civil War, when it is so clear that the author loved the people and the country.
I found it easy to use an e-book in the same way I use a printed book. Once I got past the problem with buying and displaying the book on my PDA, the experience of reading was very similar. I'd use an e-book again, under similar circumstances, and more often if there were more, high-quality selections and they didn't cost so much.
October 26, 2007
My son was involved with Cub Scouts, but declined to continue with Boy Scouts when he turned eleven. I, on the other hand, was certain that I wanted to continue from Cub to Boy Scouts. I remember coming home from an early Boy Scout meeting and declaring that I was going to become an Eagle Scout.
I had a wonderful time as a Boy Scout. My troop had a scheduled outing each month and in that way went on my first backpack at age eleven. I learned how to build a fire, cook a meal over flames, carry my gear over miles of muddy trail, sleep in a tent in the rain, and generally have a good time in the out of doors. From that early experience, I was able to become a confident hiker and backpacker. I've carried that with me for over four decades. I also made friends that I've kept all these years.
And, although it took longer than my father believed that it should have, I did earn my Eagle Scout award. For this reason, my nephew asked me to participate in the ceremony, reading the Charge and the Pledge, just before he received the award.
I was proud to be asked and happy to agree to do this. I did so, however, with some ambivalence, as I have problems with the national leadership of the Boy Scouts. To my mind, the national program has been taken over by narrow-minded fanatics who have turned their backs on the inclusive and (dare I say it?) liberal tradition of the best of the Scouts. The program I grew up with emphasized diversity (before it earned that name and became a cliché and lightening rod). In those days, of course, it was race. It's been a sad degeneration from those idealistic days.
But, I understand that all of these kinds of experiences are local -- much depends on the leadership of the troop -- so I went and participated.
There aren't enough of these kinds of events. There are so few that mark a young person's entry into a wider sphere of his community. I think a longing for this kind of recognized rite of passage is behind the proliferation of school graduation ceremonies. It's too bad we can't do better than that.
I was pleased with the whole ceremony. The portion of the troop that attended was diverse and reminded me of the kids that I consorted with as a Scout. The leadership clearly cared for the boys and everyone seemed very comfortable with each other. I was also pleased with the words that my nephew selected for me to read. They were wise and true.
I was proud to stand on that stage with him, in front of his family, his friends, his mentors, his troop members, and his fellow Eagle Scouts, and charge him with living up to the potential of his achievement.
October 22, 2007
How to you say “Haute Route”? (Aug. 5): Text
Haute Route: Find the Right Partner (Aug. 16): Text
Haute Route: Going Where And Going Long (Aug. 23): Text
Haute Route: Getting Psyched (Aug. 26): Text
Where is the Haute Route? (Aug. 27): Text
The First Week
The Second Week
Munich and Home
Dispatch from Haar, Germany (Sep. 22): Text
Impressions (Oct. 3): Text
What Worked and What Didn’t (Oct. 9): Text
Updated with new links on 11/15.
October 9, 2007
The one thing that I didn’t have with me that I would have liked was a towel. I hadn’t expected that it would be so easy to have a shower each day and so difficult to get a towel to go with it. I recommend taking a light-weight, quick-drying towel with you, should you try this hike or something like it. I made do with my t-shirt, which also dried quickly, but a towel would have made the marvel of a shower after a day’s hiking just perfect.
I took more stuff than I needed, making my pack heavier than it needed to be. It ran about 30 lbs (almost 15 kg), which was fine on the downhills, but it slowed me on the climbs. I took three quick-dry t-shirts and used two, four sets of hiking socks and used two, and I probably had more town clothing than I absolutely needed, but I did wear it all.
Another thing that I had, but probably didn’t need was reservations for all of the places I stayed. Most of the people I traveled with didn’t have reservations and none of the places that we stayed were full. I was happy that I had reservations, if only because I knew exactly where I was going each afternoon. But there were other good reasons, too. I was traveling alone and having reservations provided a specific contact in each of the places that I expected to be, each day – it seemed a useful precaution. I was concerned about the fact that I didn’t really have either of the languages of the places I was traveling. I was able, because I could look at Web sites for information, to book with places taking their rates into account. I’m sure that, without the look ahead of time, I would have missed the Restaurant Waldesruh in Gruben, which was the best deal of any place I stayed. And, though I didn’t know it when I did, my booking with the hotel in Zermatt gave me a nice upgrade, at the same price, when the hotel had problems with its water.
On the other hand, having reservations beforehand meant that I was more locked into a schedule. That wasn’t a problem for me, but many of the people I met had an extra day or two that they could use anywhere they decided along the way. I fully intended to walk the route straight through, but tarrying a day in Zinal or Arolla would be a pretty good way to spend some time. I would think that doing this early in the season might increase the need for reservations, especially in the bigger towns.
The experiment with writing a complete post for the Web each day worked very well. I used an HP iPAQ hx2495, running Windows Mobile 5. For writing paragraphs, I used an iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth keyboard. Both devices worked fine, especially the keyboard. I was able to connect to a wi-fi network once (in the hotel in Zermatt, for free!), but I probably could have done so more often. Most of my posting was done at Internet cafés, using a Sandisk ImageMate 12 in 1 USB card reader to access the SD card from the iPAQ. That led to some interesting adventures with French keyboards, Open Office in French, and MS Word in French and German. On the whole, it worked quite well. What I wanted to do was to describe the events and impressions each day – to capture the immediacy. Writing each day, without the need to transcribe from my usual, handwritten journal, worked well.
My physical preparation was successful, as well. This is a strenuous hike and I experienced no soreness. I credit my regular walking, which averages 100 miles (160 km) per month, and the addition of the several trips up steep trails in my neighborhood, for preparing me for the effort. Because I was confident I could do it and didn’t suffer any consequences when I did do it, I was able to enjoy the experience more fully.
I had a German cell phone along, which I used a few times to check in with home. Were I more telecommunications-practiced, I could have done more with the pre-loaded dollar amount. I could have saved money by texting, instead of calling in messages. It would have been possible to use a cell phone to connect to the Web and post to my blog, though that was more technology than I wanted to deal with. Coverage wasn’t a problem. There was virtually nowhere where the phone couldn’t find a network. And, when it ran out of minutes, it was easy to find a pay phone that took my VISA card.
For more information about this trip, I recommend starting with the book that was in the hands of most everyone I met along the trail: Kev Reynolds’ Chamonix - Zermatt, The Walkers’ Haute Route (it’s now in a new, fatter, heavier, more colorful edition). I also found the following personal accounts of the trip useful, both for inspiration and information:
- Dawn DuPriest's report of a September 2002 trip is my favorite. She also has posted GPS waypoints, which I used to find Cabane du Mont-Fort. (Thanks, Dawn!)
- David Preston hiked the first half in July 2006 and finished in July 2007. He’s posted a lot of photos.
- Jo Collingwood describes a in September 2003 group trip.
- Alan White and Lesley Williams describe a September 2001 trip. No photos, but some good details.
October 3, 2007
The first and strongest impression I formed along the way is that there is nothing like this in the US. The combination of the stunning scenery, the quality and abundance of the trails, the many comfortable places to stay, the good places to eat, and the availability of public transportation make hiking in the Alps (and much of Europe, I imagine) unlike anything you can find in my part – or any part – of the United States. I know there are huts in Maine, and maybe a few elsewhere, but there’s nothing like the network of them as in Switzerland, nor is there the combination of factors that make this a world-class trekking location.
The next is amazement at what the Swiss can do in and with the mountains. They can build anything anywhere, as far as I’m concerned. There wasn’t a plot of useful land anywhere that I saw on my trip that hadn’t been put to use. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t see how a road or even a trail could be built to it, there was a hut or hovel in place, if not a small herd of sheep. It was very impressive.
I also was impressed at how many of the old timber buildings – barns and storage – were still in use. Black, checked, and gap-filled though the timbers might be, the buildings still stood and were still useful. The photo is proof, showing an old building being given a new foundation.
Everywhere I went, I saw evidence of a walking culture in Europe that doesn’t exist in the US. There were people on the trails, people on the roads, and people on excursions to the high points, even if they rode a chair lift to get there. I saw young people, middle-aged people, and old people on the trails. I saw families of three generations, individuals, small groups, and large groups, all with their rucksacks and trekking poles, walking up and down those steep trails. You see it in the low lands and valley bottoms, too, with people on bikes along bike trails and people walking along walking paths. Almost everywhere that my route followed a road, there was a footpath that paralleled it and, usually, was far enough from the road that you could forget it.
And, while this was a great trip, and a great way to see a small part of a great destination, there are alternatives to walking fourteen days straight and topping a new pass each day. Some people on the trip skipped sections that had less interest or too much climbing or bad weather and took transit around to the next point. Others, like the two retired, Swiss gentlemen I met on the Col de Riedmatten and in Arolla later that day, were driving from promising town to interesting village, taking day hikes from those places each day. There were some towns, Zinal prominent among them, where you could easily spend several days day-hiking. There’s a lot to be said for sampling more fully what a single valley can offer, though, for my part, I liked the broader survey and the long-distance approach.
September 24, 2007
For breakfast, Stefan and I visited the local bakery (which is right next door) where Stefan enthusiastically purchased a variety of fresh and fantastic-looking baked goods. I was struck by how many of the items there can also be purchased in my home-town German bakery, Wagner's. I have to say, though, that this bakery presents their goods more attractively. I could hang out there every day.
My wife's nephew, Aric, came over shortly after breakfast, and we headed to München for Oktoberfest. First, though, he took me on a car tour of the north and east of the town, then he showed me his new apartment, which is very nice, and then we walked through town to Oktoberfest. Along the way, we detoured through the Englisher Garten, which is München's answer to NY's Central Park. It was a sunny day and there were thousands of people out on the grass and along the streams and walks.
The Oktoberfest grounds are huge and the whole thing is built from the ground up each year, in preparation for the festival. In some ways, it reminded me of a big state fair -- the rides, the multitudes of people, the food booths, the smell of fried food in the air. In others, it is nothing like a state fair in the US -- the shot and cocktail booths, the lack of a thousand acres of parking, and the "tents."
Of course, a good number of the people there (and in the town otherwise) were in traditional Bavarian dress: dirndls or similar full and frilly dresses and lederhosen. In a lot of ways, the dress reminded me of the clothing at a country-western dance in the US. The dresses the women wear are quite similar. There were a lot of bandanas, western-cut shirts, and even cowboy boots.
There are about a dozen big (and I mean big) buildings they call tents, but the only tent-like features of them are the soft roofs. Otherwise, they are giant barns, holding thousands of people each inside, with more seating outside. This is the heart of the Oktoberfest experience.
Which is: the enjoyment of beer, food, music, and the massive, celebratory energy in the room. Beer is sold by the liter. (No wimpy pints for Oktoberfest.) Well, there might be other sizes, but I didn't see any. Food comes hot and simple. Aric and I had a half-chicken each, along with a couple of liters. But that was outside where we could get a seat.
After that, we tried another couple of tents and got into one. We worked our way in, to the back, and found a couple of seats. We were in.
The place was packed and electric. It's an experience like no other I've ever had. The closest thing to it was that Grateful Dead concert back in '73. I spent most of the evening standing on the bench, which is pretty much how it works for about half the people there. There was a big, well-equipped pop band (no oompah band in this tent) occupying the raised stage in the middle, and they played for all of the three or four hours I was there. Amazing. But I mentioned the energy?
People danced, they drank, they talked, they made out, they sang along with a surprising number of the songs. Everyone was friendly: I saw several instant friendships formed right around me.
We practically closed the place. Thankfully, Aric can hold his better than I (because we'd had another couple of liters, at least). That meant that he could put me on the train and I got back to Haar safely.
I could say that I've felt better upon awakening, but after a bit of Stefan's homemade mueslix, I felt pretty good. I headed into München for the afternoon. After bidding Aric goodbye, I headed through the center of town to see what I could see.
I had the choice of several art museums and exhibits, but the Deutsches Museum had the pull on me. It's a fantastic museum of science and technology that Judy and I had visited when we were last here, in 1999, and I was sure that there was an important section I'd missed on that visit.
I was right. I spent almost all afternoon in the "maritime navigation" hall, which comprises a wonderful collection of models (most 1:50) and actual boats (a couple are 20m long). Great exhibits and very good text in English. Another thing that we'd visited in '99, but didn't really impress because it was cloudy, was the sundial garden, so I climbed up to the top floor and tested them out on this (one more) sunny day.
I'm so grateful for the opportunity to take this trip, and for the marvelous and generous hospitality that Stefan and Nancy have provided me, and for the friendship that Aric showed me while I was here. I am a lucky man.
Sept. 24 from a sidewalk table at the Maxxwell Restaurant, München: map.
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/18.
Link to photo album
So, this was a travel day -- all day on three trains to München and another to Haar, nearby. I finished packing up and dragged my stuff downstairs, checked out, and got an early breakfast. They were still setting up, but didn't bat an eye when I showed up, they just found me a seat and set me up with coffee. Great service.
The train down the Mattertal is a slow ride. The track is often steep, several segments have the cog wheel rail in the middle, and there are many turns. Still, it's not a bad thing, as the scenery is great. Seeing the big slide at Randa up close was interesting. The train now crosses the river and rides up onto the bench on the other side to get around the slide. It used to stay on the slide side of the river, but was buried in the slide, along with the highway.
I changed trains at Brig, in the the Rhone river valley. This was a faster train, through more populous country, and it had completely filled by the time we arrived in Bern.
I changed again in Zürich and had a bit of a layover, so I bought a sandwich and watched the scene. And what a scene! The station in Zürich is big and it was bustling. After a short time, the noise level began rising, so I went to see what it was. There was a demonstration or march beginning there, with flags, matching t-shirts, flyers, and whistles. By the time the marchers trooped out of the station, about thirty minutes later, the whistles were deafening. There was definitely a trade union theme, but I won't know what issues were motivating them until I can decipher the leaflet (which is printed in German, French, Turkish, and Italian, of course).
The train to München was even faster and not quite full. The country was pretty: green, rolling, productive. At some point, I crossed the border, but I didn't see any marking. The signs changed somewhere, but I didn't see where. Upon arriving at the Hauptbahnhof in München, I made my way through the many layers of floors and halls to the S-Bahn and took the S4 to Haar, where Nancy and Stefan, another extension of my wife's family, live. They had offered me their hospitality.
After greetings and some time to get my self organized, we went out to a German Sunday dinner at a restaurant they like: beer, a big, tender piece of pork roast, and a potato dumpling, all swimming in brown, savory gravy.
Now, because I have landed somewhere familiar, it seems time to reflect on what I did on this trip. I'd thought that I'd have a sense of accomplishment, and I do. But accomplishment doesn't seem to be the main feeling I have, even after all of the planning for the effort of the trip.
The most valuable part of hiking those many kilometers is not having done it, but what it was like while I was doing it. It was seeing those places that I'd only read about. It was meeting the people -- even those I just passed on the trail with a "bon jour." It was topping a ridge at a pass and having a new world, a new set of sights available to me. And what comes with that is the knowledge that I only saw a tiny piece of this small part of the world.
Sept. 22 from Haar, Germany: map.
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/18.
The hotel had a sumptuous breakfast buffet and very attentive and energetic staff. I had only to poke my head in the door for the very model of a German-style host to greet me, except that he smiled and seemed genuinely warm. He got me a table and before I could get organized, there was real, hot coffee placed in front of me.
Of course, it was a clear morning, so right after breakfast, I grabbed my camera and took the Gornergrat Bahn up to the 3200m ridge between Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn for the views.
This train is a cogwheel train or funicular that climbs the steep walls of the valley and up onto the ridge, adding views as it ascends each dozen meters, until it's climbed right up onto a giant viewing platform for over two dozen 4000m (13,123') peaks and more than a dozen glaciers. It rides on rails, but has a third rail in the middle which is basically a flattened out gear, a line of cogs, which a gear wheel of the train presumably contacts. The train can, therefore, climb pretty steeply -- and it does. Other than that difference, it's a regular commuter style train car and very quiet, as the motors are electric.
I'd been given a map with a bunch of walking tours for the hills above town and the guide lists several good ones, too. But, after fourteen straight days of walking, I was due for a rest day. So, I opted to get my views without breaking a sweat today. Don't feel at all guilty, either.
The views were worth every penny of the fare. It was truly amazing. For the first thirty minutes or so I just wandered in circles taking it in. The big peaks of the Berner Oberland to the north, Weisshorn (4506m) and Ober Gablehorn (4063m) and their neighbors to the left of the Mattertal, Dom (4545m) and her neighbors to the right. Then, turning to the west, the Matterhorn (4477m), tall, iconic, and dusted with the recent snow. To the south, Theodule Pass (3300m) and the Breithorn (4159m), and to its left, the Monte Rosa massif, at 4634m. Below them are a collection of glaciers that all spill their melt into the Mattertal. Once I oriented, I spent the next hour or more snapping panoramas, portraits, and vignettes. See the photo album for the results.
Upon descending back into the valley, I had a nice lunch and visited the Matterhorn Museum, which is a pretty nice little museum. It's built under a central square and has exhibits about the famous first ascent of its namesake mountain, but also about the climbers and guides, both foreign and local, who climbed the other local peaks and the routes they took and, in some cases, the deaths they met. It also had exhibits about how, before the advent of mountain tourism, the people lived in that tough and steep land. I enjoyed it a great deal.
Soon, it was time to meet a couple of fellows who'd been recommended to me through family collections and who were arriving on the train this afternoon. I had heard about Paul, because he's a long-time friend of my wife's family, and he was traveling with another member of that extended family, Steve.
After collecting them at the station and getting their bags to their hotel, we found ourselves a place to get a beer and got to know each other. That soon turned into dinner (I had a nice venison dish) and before long, the evening was late. It was a great meeting.
I had to leave a little earlier than I might have otherwise, because I had to pack and, I thought, make a 6:08 train the next morning. Just to make sure, I used the hotel's free wireless to check the Swiss Rail site for the schedule. Sure enough, there was a 7:30 train that would get me my connection down the line in time, without getting up and out before breakfast. Still, I'd looked at that timetable at home several times, and I never saw that. It always looked like the 7:30 and 8:30 trains arrived at the same time -- too late for me. Now, it was different, so I went downstairs and checked with the front desk.
It was true! The 7:30 would work. Since the train station is about two blocks from the hotel, that meant I could get breakfast. Always important.
Sept. 21 from Zermatt, Switzerland: map, 1606m (5269').
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/18.
Link to photo album
I awoke feeling better, though still sick, and, for a while, I wondered if I'd have a voice. (Not that there's that much need for it on the trail.) I let everyone else get up early, so by the time I got going there were just a few people still at breakfast. It was good, with a choice of cereals, bread with ham and cheese and jam, and good instant coffee. (This hut keeper knew her stuff.)
It was again cold, but clear. (In fact, it never did get above freezing above 2000m that day, even though it was sunny. There was ice in the shaded puddles even at 3:00. But the sun was warm.) I was about the last one out of the cabin, so I only saw a few of the slower hikers during the day. I wasn't in a hurry to finish this, just yet.
The trail starts downhill for a good way. (That's the uphill approach! In knew there had to be one.) Then, of course, it climbs back up. It continues this for much of the first half, as it moves into and out of slide-prone areas. At one point, the trail uses a tunnel to get around one particularly big chunk of rock. As it curves, there is no light in the middle, but the keepers have wired it with lights and a switch.
Another interesting section crosses a big slide area with avalanche protection. For the trail, this means a long set of overhanging rockfall shelves, which you walk under. These are punctuated by culvert tunnels that bend into and then out of the debris slope, to another overhanging shelf. These allow stuff -- water for instance -- to flow down and around the shelves. There were also bridges and ropes on this segment, but the whole tenor of this day was mellower.
It could have been the views. Weisshorn, of course, now directly across the valley. As it fell behind, it revealed some of its neighbors: Schalihorn, Zinalrothorn, Trifthorn, Wellen Kuppe, and Ober Gabellhorn. And, of course, the Matterhorn, growing larger and more impressive with each rib of the route turned. And, its neighbor, the Breithorn, sitting, as does the Matterhorn, on the Italian border.
With each rib, the trail improved as the ridge mellowed. By the time I turned into the deep valley which contained the Täschalp, it was a nice, high-ridge traverse. By now, too, I was seeing dayhikers, more as the day progressed. It was easy greeting people in the French-speaking portion of the trip -- "bon jour" would always do. But I received a variety of greetings, some of which I couldn't really even get, to my standard "guten tag."
I stopped at the restaurant in the Täschalp for a hot chocolate and a chance to gaze at some new mountains, including Rimpfischhorn, and its big glacier.
Another couple of hours hiking around ridges, in a steady, slow descent brought me to the village of Findeln, which has a terrific view of the Matterhorn, and a steep -- and being actively maintained as I used it -- trail down to the valley bottom and Zermatt.
I walked through town, because, of course, I entered at the high end, to the train station and the Tourist Information. In the square, there, I met four of the Americans I'd spent the Europahütte night with. Later, I met the couple from Boston.
I went into the Tourist Information bureau to find our where my hotel was. This hadn't been a problem any place else, as the other places were small enough that you could see everything at a glance. When I asked where the Le Petit Hôtel was, the young woman behind the desk asked my name, and then told me that Le Petit had problems with its water and couldn't take me. Instead, they'd booked me into the Hotel Butterfly, a three-star, at the same rate. Not only did this amount to a free upgrade, but the hotel was right around the corner, as opposed to halfway back to the other end of town, through which I'd just walked; downhill, I might add.
I had just completed the Chamonix to Zermatt Walkers' High Route!
After setting my damp clothes out to dry, taking a shower, and stretching out on the bed for a while, luxuriating in the space -- and the end of the walking -- I set out to wander the town.
Zermatt is posh. It is bigger and busier -- more international -- than Chamonix, at least in this season. There are lots of Japanese in town, and a surprising number of Indian tourists.
Gradually, as my wanderings began to focus on the restaurants' posted menus, I realized I was hungry. By that time, the Whymper had filled up, so I tried the Burgener Hotel Restaurant, which was very nice and uncrowded. I had a very good green salad and a chicken dish similar to the one at the Hotel de La Sage, but better (roasted, with a peppery rub). It came with steamed vegetables and a saffron risotto.
Sept. 20 from Zermatt, Switzerland: map, 1606m; accum. 183 km, 10,844m gain, 10,807m loss (5269'; accum. 113.7 mi, 35,577', 35,456')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/17.
Link to photo album
September 21, 2007
The morning dawned cold and cloudy. Breakfast helped my mood a bit -- lots of cereal, juice, bread, ham, cheese, and good coffee. And, the clouds thinning to the north also helped. By the time I started out, it looked promising. It was still cold, though, and there was frost in the woods.
This time, I bid Glyn and Elena goodbye for real, as they opted to use one of their extra days exploring the many trails around Gasenried and Grächen.
The trail starts with a climb up through the woods to the top of a ridge. By that time, the clouds had lifted and views, views! To the north, the Berner Oberland in more detail than ever (I'll have to stop just writing that and find out what peaks I'm looking at). The Weisshorn is gorgeous! And the first glimpse to the Matterhorn. Wonderful. And a real lift after yesterday.
I passed another group of four Americans who had taken the bus up from St. Niklaus this morning. That made nine of us along the trail.
Once the climb was accomplished, the trial pretty much keeps a gentle climb or drop. It's an amazing accomplishment. This isn't the high meadow kind of traverse that I've become used to. This trail runs across the less steep sections of the high ridge, perched above the 500m cliffs that line the lower valley. In some places, there is no place that is less steep, which makes for an exciting trail.
Much of the day was in the shade and where there was shade, there was frost. That was good for the dirt, because it made it solid and provided good footing. Bad news for the rocks, and there were many, because they were frosty and slippery.
I took it easy: because I had time, because it was slippery, and because the scenery was wonderful.
The first part of the traverse is through very steep, but stable conditions. Some fixed ropes, some tricky sections, but not too bad. Then, came the section that crosses the Grosse Graben, a huge slide area, with lots of loose rocks, treacherous trail, overhanging rocks, and officially-designated "danger areas." At one point, a little bushed, I paused to eat something and take a break -- it looked pretty secure to me. While I was there, I heard rockfall every few minutes.
It was during this section, which lasted quite a while (every ridge I turned, I hoped for an end), that I wondered how anyone could conceive a trail through here. Only later, once things settled down, did I remember the solid trail -- and incredible views -- before and after this stretch. They conceived the trail from each end and then just solved the problem of the slides as they came to them. There were other sections of bad terrain, but none as nerve-wracking as this one.
Eventually, the slopes moderated -- a bit -- and the trail became somewhat gentler, so I could relax a little.
The Weisshorn (4505m) dominates this section of the trail. It is truly a beautiful mountain, with three sloping ridges, glaciers scraping each of the three faces, and a regular aspect that just draws your eyes. And, of course, the Matterhorn (4477m), at the end of the valley, grows larger each hour.
As I came around a corner early in the afternoon, I came across Greg (one of the Americans I'd seen the day before, and at breakfast), who bid me to stop and look. There were a small group of chamois on the slopes below us. We watched them (and they watched us) for a while. They were close enough that just maybe they'll show on the photos I took. Later on the trail, a pair of chamois ran down the slope ahead of us. Just ran down a 40 degree slope and then just stopped. In five or ten seconds they moved down a slope that would have taken me twenty minutes. Amazing -- alpine gazelles.
Greg and I leap-frogged each other for the rest of the trip to the Europahütte. The rest of the trail, though there were some interesting bridges and roped sections, was easier and easier. We even approached the Europahütte from above! (That's got to be a first.)
We were the first ones there, so we got our showers and I took a large beer to the sunny deck and just grooved on the Weisshorn, the Breithorn, the sun, and the relaxation.
By dinner time, there were about thirty people at the hut. A large group of Canadians were traveling the Europaweg the other way, from Zermatt. There were eight Americans (one from one of the groups of four turned back on the trail and would meet the group in Zermatt). Two of those Americans, from Boston, followed us over Augsbordpass, about an hour, and enough snow to cover the trail, later. And there were a number of Europeans, too: a couple of Danes, a couple of French, and others.
Dinner was good. (I don't know how these hut keepers do it. There have never been more than two of them, but they serve refreshments, prepare three or four courses for widely varying numbers of people, and keep the buildings spotless.) It started with a nice, thick, hot soup. (Again, I couldn't identify the kind of soup. It was just welcome.) The main dish was a big plate of rice topped with the now familiar style of pieces of meat, usually beef, in a tasty, brown sauce. Sort of Swiss soul food. Dessert was vanilla pudding.
It was a lively evening, but I wasn't up to it. It was either the two large beers that I drank, or the cold that started with a scratchy throat in Gruben (maybe it was the wood smoke?), moved up to my nose for the hike over Augsbordpass, and settled into my throat again during the day's walk. Probably both.
The evening closed with a visit from a couple of ibex, who came around for something (a salt lick?) and triggered a rash of camera flashes.
Sept. 19 from Europahütte, above Randa, Switzerland: map, 2220m; accum. 165 km, 10,840m gain, 10,189m loss (7283'; accum. 102.5 mi, 35,564', 33,428')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/17.
Link to photo album
Of course, the day started with breakfast, early, with me all packed, because I wanted an early start to get over the pass in time to make the hike up the hill to Gasenried or to take the bus. This was the best breakfast in a while, with ham, cheese, bread, jam, and the best coffee yet.
I like this little place. The big hotel up the way attracts most of the business, including everyone I know, but I like the Restaurant Waldesruh. A comfy bed, a good shower, excellent meals -- all for 42 Swiss franks. That makes it the best value of the trip.
I left about ten to eight under cloudy skies, but no rain, as yet. As I walked past the Hotel Schwartzhorn, I looked at the dining room and was tempted to wave, but didn't. It turns out that everyone in the dining room was waving at me!
The trail starts right up the hill, through the woods, and gradually leaves the trees behind to enter an extensive alp above treeline. After about an hour, the rain began and I stopped next to an alp building to put on my rain gear. There was a hunter sitting in the open door of the building with a pair of giant binoculars. He approved of my choice to improve my wardrobe.
A few minutes later, I paused to look around and, to my surprise, saw Glyn and Elena coming up the trail. Since they have several extra days to use, they don't have to push on each day, so gorgeous valleys or forecasts of bad weather inevitably bring the notion of staying for another day. They told me that seeing me walk by was what did it for them. They packed up and left, catching me pretty quickly.
I was glad to see them. We all headed up to the Augsbordpass together. The trail climbed gently, which is quite unusual for the trails around here. All told, including steepness, but also including grading and clarity and surface, today's stretch was the best trail of the trip. There was a long, gently climbing traverse through a rock pile on the other side of the pass that was the best rockpile trail I've ever seen.
Encouraged by Glyn's suggestion that we "crack on," we steadily climbed up to the pass. At about 2600m, the rain turned to snow. By the pass, at 2894m, it was sticking and blowing.
This hike, up to the pass and, especially, down the other side, is supposed to be the scenic highlight of the trip. The guidebook writer waxes lyrical at the views in store for the hiker. Even the usual rocky upper valley, which he often disdains, is granted "austere beauty," presumably under the influence of the "lavish show of grandeur" and a "rare site that is so overwhelmingly powerful that all else is forgotten," a "stunning vision," etc. Today, none of this was visible, only rocks, snow, cloud, and the occasional faint outline of the next ridge.
I paused at the pass to take in the irony of the situation and, cooling fast, plunged on to the other side, neglecting even to take GPS reading.
After a few minutes, we'd left the ridgetop wind below, and, for a time, the clouds lightened, the rain let up, and we pulled off our hoods. We'd done it! After a few minutes more, and as we approached the first of the ridges that we'd have to traverse to enter the next valley and gain our exit from the pass, the snow returned and brought the wind, too; an unwelcome, nasty wind. We were not out of it yet. In fact, the worst was yet to come.
Although the trail was excellent, the weather was terrible and the the traverse across the series of ridges, often with significant exposure, was a trial. I was so glad that I had company. And, that I had the gear to keep myself warm.
We eventually worked into the right valley and began our descent. By the time we arrived at Jungu, perched on a sheer bluff 800m almost directly above St. Niklaus below, the sun was coming out, the valley floor was visible, and some of the opposite slopes were revealed, as well. I stopped a few minutes below Jungu to shed my rain gear.
The trail down to St. Niklaus was a wonder of trail making. Looking back up from the bottom, I marveled at how anyone could even consider making a trail up that series of 500m cliffs. But, someone did, and the trail was excellent, a very smooth grade down to town.
We arrived at the train station at 2:30, seriously better than guidebook time, but our motivation was obvious. We went to the train station because, by the time all three of us had worked ourselves only part way down from the pass, we had all decided to take the bus up the final 500m to Gasenried. I don't feel bad about it at all. We'd done enough that day.
While we were lounging in the sunny wall of the station, waiting for the bus, Swen arrived, having left shortly after Glyn and Elena and hiked over the pass, too. A stirring end to his trip. Also, while we were waiting, an up-valley train stopped and delivered a small group of Americans who are also doing the Haute Route. They took the train around the pass and the bad weather. So, I'll have more company for the final two days across the Europaweg.
The weather has continued to improve and the forecast is for no more rain/snow for the next few days. There was considerable blue sky this evening and even some of the peaks showed themselves, freshly coated with snow. I'm looking forward to some views tomorrow.
The proprietor of the hotel was waiting for the bus (there are only four a day that come this high), so I'm supposing that few people make the trip up on their own two feet. The bus ride is spooky enough: one-lane roads, hairpin turns, steep-steep drop-offs right at the edge of the paving (Shoulder? Ha!), even places where one lane is stacked on another, because there isn't room for two on the slope.
I took a nice room and scattered all of my wet stuff around and showered. I called Judy from the phone booth, because it had been a few days and the cell phone was used up. I tried to post a few dispatches, but the wireless in the building is a little flaky, at least in any rooms I could get to. Dinner was at a restaurant across the square and was quite good: good beef soup with barley, a carrot, beet, and lettuce salad, pieces of beef in a brown sauce with hash browns (twice in a row!), and grapes for dessert.
Sept. 18 from Hotel Alpenrösli, Gasenried, Switzerland: map, 1659m; accum. 151 km, 9899m gain, 9809m loss (5443'; accum. 93.8 mi, 32,477', 32,182')
Updated for links and photos on 11/17.
Link to photo album
Breakfast at the Auberge Alpina was a good set up of mueslix, fresh bread, three homemade jams, and fresh coffee. The other person in the dormitory upstairs is named Swen and doing this segment of the Haute Route, so he, Glyn and Elena, and I set out shortly thereafter.
I was last, as usual, so I last saw Glyn and Elena just before they reached the pass, Forcletta. Swen and I made the pass at about the same time, but he headed up the ridge for the summit, rather than drop down to Gruben right away.
Swen's trip is an example of how hiking in this country, Europe, really, is different. He left his car in St. Niklaus and took transit to La Sage, where he started his hike. Where in the USA is using transit to get from one trailhead to another a viable option?
The first part of the hike was the usual climb up tracks and trails to gain the top of the cliffs forming the lower slopes of the valley (these are all glacial valleys, of course). Once that level was achieved, the trail was a wonderful walk through mixed alpine rock gardens and meadows. The views ahead, down the valley, extended all the way to the Berner Oberland. Views behind were the peaks and glaciers at the head of the Val d'Zinal. Above, a herd of twenty-five to thirty chamois ran through the rocks across the slope above me around the corner. Wonderful walking.
Along the way, I met a number of tourist-dressed people on a morning's walk from the Hotel Weisshorn. They were about an hour from the hotel, along a level path, near a ridge which would give them a stunning view of the peaks and glaciers up valley. It might be worth returning for a couple of nights at the Weisshorn and a couple of walks in the vicinity. It's supposed to be quite a place and it's certainly well-placed.
The climb up to the pass Forcletta (2874m) was not particularly steep and the trail was good (well-graded, smooth, and solid footing). It traveled through meadows below, past a large cow shed, with a road to it and a car parked there (all this walking to get to a car park), and then up into to rock field below the pass.
By this time, it was clear that the weather was changing. The peaks' backdrop was more cloud than blue, making photography more challenging. Rain was visible in the distance, over the peaks to the north. Clouds were blowing past as I made the pass. Still, it was pretty warm and not windy above a cool breeze.
At the pass, another valley and a new view of some of the snowy peaks I'd seen from the descent into Zinal. The valley, the Turtmanntal (note the German name -- we've entered German-speaking territory; at least I now know how to pronounce the names), is very steep and narrow, with a number of glaciers gathering at its head. According to the guide, it is essentially agricultural and I believe it, from what I could see.
Coming down from the pass, I walked through two groups of sheep, the first high in the valley. The lead ewe (what's the word for the boss ewe in a group of sheep?) was bold and walked right up to me and sniffed my pockets. She was wooly. Then, I scuffed my boot and spooked her, and consequently all of them. After the spook, she was behind me and the rest were ahead, so they all quickly scooted by and we parted.
There were a number of alp hamlets, with houses, barns, storage and other buildings. During the descent in the meadows, I met three hunters (two armed with guns and the third with the huge binoculars). I had thought I'd heard shooting earlier. No wonder the chamois were running earlier.
Gruben is a small place, and, according to the guide, empties at the end of summer. The Restaurant Waldesruh, where I'm staying, is probably the funkiest place yet, but is very cozy. The shower was great and the floor in the dormitory on the top floor squeaks in a very satisfying way. I was immediately attracted by the smoke coming out of the chimney.
So far, I'm the only one staying here. I walked up to the Hotel Schwartzhorn, the big place in town, to see if I could find someone. Sure enough, Glyn saw me walk up and came down to say hello/goodbye. Swen was there, too, so we had a beer and chatted. His trip ends tomorrow, in St. Niklaus. The Australians must have stayed in Zinal.
I'm at the Waldesruh because the Schwartzhorn Web form wouldn't give me a reservation -- groups only! -- and the site for Waldesruh was very nice. The proprietor speaks English easily, too.
Dinner was very good. First, there was a nice, thick vegetable soup, followed by a salad of lettuce, grated carrots, cabbage, and some good tomato slices. The main dish was a Swiss steak in a nice brown sauce with sautéed onions, peas and baby carrots, and a big slab of fresh hash browns. Dessert -- count them: four courses -- was pudding. Very nice, and quiet, too. Though there were people in and out during the afternoon, I was it for dinner.
The predicted rain began right on schedule, as I came out of the shower (which has a separate, outside door). It stopped a little later and became sunny up above, so if that's what rain is, it will be OK tomorrow. Even put a picturesque dusting of fresh snow on the peaks.
Tomorrow is a big day. The regular route has a 16 km length and a 1000 meter climb, with a long drop to follow. That would be enough, but there's a little hole in the regular route, which means another 4 km and 500 meters. At this point, I feel strong, but am also noticing signs of fatigue. The combination of the biggest day (20 km) and bad weather concerns me. We'll see what tomorrow brings, but I do have an option to take a bus up that last 4 km and 500m. If I'm beat, if the weather's been terrible, if it's late, I'll do that.
Fortunately, whatever the weather tomorrow brings, the prediction for the next day is for no rain. That will make the final two days, across the Europaweg to Zermatt, a better bet.
Sept. 17 from Restaurant Waldesruh, Gruben, Switzerland: map, 1822m; accum. 135 km, 8827m gain, 8042m loss (5978'; accum. 83.9 mi, 28,960', 26,385')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/17.
Link to photo album
September 20, 2007
Breakfast at the Cabane de Moiry was particularly sad: dry bread and jam, warm, instant coffee, and that's all. I headed down, getting fresh water at a stream nearby (no cows above me on the ice or the peaks) and made the dramatic descent to the moraine.
The morning's walk was in the shade (as has been the pattern), and traversed along the steep, meadowed slopes above the Lac de Moiry for a couple of hours. A most delightful couple of hours it was, too, with huge views back to the icefall, north as far as the Berner Oberland, and down to the Lac de Moiry, which is a wonderful shade of blue. The Australians reported chamois, too, though I didn't see them.
All five of us sort of leapfrogged our way up to the Col de Sorebois, from which we entered the Val d'Zinal. It was an interesting transition from the wildness of the Val d'Moiry (though there was a dam and parking lot) to the heavy tourist use of this side. Zinal has a cable car up to Sorebois, which is near the pass we had just topped, so there lots of people on the trail, including a couple of Americans, up for the day.
The trip down from the pass, into Zinal, started with a walk under the chairlifts (not operating) and more cows to Sorebois, the terminus of the cable car. There's a big restaurant there, with a sunny terrace and spectacular views, so it was teeming. I took advantage of the bathrooms, snapped a couple of photos, and headed down.
The trail down was a nice walk back into treeline and I was soon in Zinal, which is a hopping little place. There are a bunch of nice-looking hotels, the giant cable car facility, two sport shops, two groceries, and lots of old-style buildings, too. The town is crawling with walkers, hikers, climbers, and general vacationers. Not only that, it's jingling-jangling with cows.
It's the season for the cows to come down from the high meadows. As I walked into town, I passed a small herd penned in some grass on the river, just below the tennis courts. A little while later, they were herded up the river, in a procession, to a meadow up at the upper end of town (where my auberge is). Right now, I'm surrounded by clanking and clanging bells, as they have moved to a big field right next door.
I met Glyn and Elena here at the Auberge Alpina. They were here when I arrived, because they rode the cable car down from Sorebois. The Australians are in town, too, more toward the center. The talk is of the change in weather due tomorrow evening, with rain forecast for the next day (my day 12). We'll see.
This town is in a deep valley, so it's hard to see them all, but is surrounded by huge, glaciated peaks. That's one reason there are so many walkers around here. You can see the Zinalthorn from here at the auberge.
Dinner was good, starting with a thick carrot soup, followed by a large, creamy lasagne, and finished by an apple tart. And, of course, a couple of glasses of wine.
Sept. 16 from Auberge Alpina, Zinal, Switzerland: map, 1675m; accum. 121 km, 7628m gain, 6990m loss (5495'; accum. 75.2 mi, 25,026', 22,933')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/17.
Link to photo album
After a good breakfast at the Hotel de La Sage, with mueslix, fruit, bread, croissant, and coffee, I started up the hill. Today would be a climb up to a pass, then down into the valley -- not too far -- and then up to the Cabane de Moiry.
The weather was very good, clear skies all day, and the trail was good all the way. That means with a regular grade, a fairly smooth surface, and good footing. It does not mean flat, for these trails are often very steep.
The day started with a steady climb through woods, small meadows with classic timber sheds, and cows. For about an hour, I heard the bells -- all different pitches -- ringing through the trees, but I didn't see the cows until I came across a group of them in the trees, with two minders and a dog. The sound is very musical and practical, as I knew there were cows ahead long before I saw them.
Once the trail reached treeline, it stretched out directly of the pass, through huge alpine meadows (which are called "alps", which is why we have the work alpine), with views back toward Pigne d'Arolla and Mont Blanc de Cheilon.
About halfway up through the alp, now traveling with Glyn and Elena, we met a couple of goats; or as is more likely, the goats met us. They immediately charmed us with their friendliness and interest in our sweaty skin. As we turned to continue up, they followed us -- all the way to the pass! They were pretty cute, but I was concerned that we'd lure them away from their home.
I needed have worried. At the pass, they showed no signs of interest in leaving their valley, yet showed considerable signs of comfort with the pass. Another couple arrived behind us and got out their lunch, which attracted the goats' interest, especially the banana peels. At that point the goats became a real nuisance for the new people and I left them to it.
I now think that the goats hang out on that path, to follow people up to the pass, where they can help them eat their lunches. Then, they head back down. Neat scam, and I bet their owner knows nothing about it.
The Col de Tsaté offered views over the next ridge to the beautiful peaks of the Weisshorn and Zinalthorn. As we dropped into the Val d'Moiry, through meadows and more cows, the view changed. My attention was turned up this valley, toward the dramatic ice fall of the Glacier de Moiry and its surrounding peaks.
The valley's and the glacier's stream is dammed to form the Lac de Moiry and at the head of the lake is a parking lot. I crossed the lot and headed up to the night's accommodation, the Cabane De Moiry, the highest sleep of the trip.
The trail works along the huge lateral moraine of the glacier, which is much larger than the glacier now creates, so it is being eroded, in places, by the glacier's action. Near the base of a cliff, the trail leaves the moraine and begins a steep, switch-backing climb of the cliff to a truly dramatic location for a cabane, on top of a rock, looking right at the upper ice fall of the glacier. Whew!
Because the walk is only an hour-and-a-half from the parking lot, the cabin gets a lot of day use, but there were probably forty people there for the night, too.
This night's stay was a reminder of the challenges of running these kinds of places in the locations that they are situated. The other cabins had made it look easy, but this one had its difficulties, not the least because of its dramatic and relatively inaccessible location. There was no road possible and I didn't see a suitable place for a helicopter pad. How they got stuff up there, I don't know.
This question became important, because the bathroom facilities were the most primitive. The toilets were holes, with nice porcelain, but dropping down the cliff. There were shower stalls, but there hadn't been any water for two weeks. That meant they had water for cooking, but none for washing or drinking. First day without a shower.
The location was a significant compensation, however, and they did have beer, so I wasn't without hydration. I spent the afternoon leaning against the stone building in the sun, staring at the glacier and its many peaks: Couronne de Bréona, Pointe de Moiry, Tsa de l'Ano, Pointe de Mourti, Dent des Rousses, Pointe de Bricola, Pigne de la Le, and, way in the back, Grand Cornier.
Dinner was good, family style with all of the English-speakers at one table (and in the same room upstairs), so Glyn and Elena, the Australians, and I spent our time together. We had a warm, salty, and tasty soup that we couldn't quite identify, a main course of rice, peas and baby carrots, and stewed beef, in nice, big pieces. Dessert was a canned, half-peach.
Sept. 15 from Cabane de Moiry, Switzerland: map, 2825m; accum. 107 km, 7613m gain, 5825m loss (9268'; accum. 66.5 mi, 24,977', 19,111')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/10.
Link to photo album
The morning dawned partly cloudy, but showed no signs of trouble. The forecast is good. After breakfast of bread, jam, mueslix with yogurt, orange juice, and coffee, I used the Internet café to send a backlog of dispatches.
Arolla is a little town, but has pretty nice facilities. There were a lot of people out for walks in the meadows yesterday, as well as more ambitious folks, like the two Swiss gentlemen I met at the pass and in town. There's skiing in the winter and lots of climbing within view of the hotel rooms.
Wanting to make both of the kinds of guidebook mistakes there are, I under-believed the book this morning, and took the lower path to Lac Bleu. The upper path climbs a little at first and then traverses over to the lake. My path drops down nearly to the road in the valley bottom, meaning I had to climb an extra 150 meters to gain the lake.
It was worth it. Lac Bleu is a little thing, but it is an extraordinary blue color. Clearly, it is well-loved, over-much, really, as there are dozens of paths around it. No one path is without its versions and variations, so that the shores and many of the trees around it are nothing but path. There were quite a few people up there for the views and the trails to the mountains above.
After a lunch of dark, solid bread with nuts, local Swiss cheese, a slightly aged, but sweet yellow delicious, and a bite of Toblerone, I headed down the trail, back to the valley bottom.
The route down was nice, as there's a trail that follows the road, but at a nice distance, so you didn't know it was there, as it drops through the canyon to Les Haudères, at the junction with another valley. Through the afternoon's walk, first Mt Collon and then Pigne d'Arolla were in view behind me.
From Les Haudères, the route up works through town on paved road, then leaves town on a paved track, which becomes unpaved, and then reverts to trail for the rest of the way. It could have been a trail in Washington (except for the mountains behind me) -- the trees, though different, were familiar, the tread looked the same, and the undergrowth was very familiar. Along the way, I looked up to see the low-slung body and long, bushy, red tail with a white tip of a fox, as it plunged into the brush ahead.
The Hotel de La Sage is large and old, but is really quite nice, showing signs of active management, unlike the Hotel Gietroz (where I was locked out). The view from my window is tremendous, but the salon on the first floor has better than 180 degree views through tall windows. It's also equipped with a library, computer, and a pool table. My room isn't large, but it has four beds and I'm the only one in it, so it has lots of room.
The pattern of the walks has changed lately. For the first few days, it was climb up above treeline and then drop into the valley for the night. Day five started a different pattern: climb into the high country and stay, which we did between Mont-Fort and Arolla. Once to Cab. du Mont-Fort, I didn't see a tree for that afternoon, all the next day to Cab. De Prafleuri, and almost all the next to Arolla. Nothing but alpine plants and rocks and ice. As I dropped toward Arolla I remember noticing the junipers and was reminded that I'd been above treeline for days. Within a few minutes, pines and larches appeared and I was back below treeline.
Tomorrow, the pattern returns to climb out of the valley, over a pass and then into the next valley for the night. I'll be high in the valley, in a mountain hut, but will still have to climb up and out of the valley to the next stay.
At dinner, I sat at a table of English-speakers. Glyn and Elena are here. A retired couple from New Zealand, who spend a good deal of their time, from the sounds of it, walking in the Alps, using transit to get to a town and make interesting walks from there. They knew all of the trails and cabane that we were using. Also, there was another couple, from Australia, who are doing the Haute Route. I saw them in Arolla. They'd taken a rest day (which isn't a bad idea), so we caught them there.
Dinner was very good, with a rich mushroom sauce on a biscuit for a starter and chicken and noodles nicely done, with crème brûlée for dessert.
Sept. 14 from Hotel de la Sage, La Sage, Switzerland: map, 1667m; accum. 97 km, 5996m gain, 5366m loss (5469'; accum. 60.3 mi, 19,672', 17,605')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/6.
Link to photo album
September 14, 2007
We had an early breakfast, though it was late for the hut. Because so many people stay there to climb, breakfast only runs from 5 to 7. So, I had mueslix, bread and jam, and coffee at 6:30 and made a start at 7:30.
The first stop was the Col des Roux, which it right above the cabin and only needed a thirty minute climb, though frosty -- and a little slippery -- rocks. From the top, you leave the quarries of the dam construction behind and see the result, the five-kilometer Lac des Dix, elevation 2364m. And, at the head, the huge north wall of Mont Blanc de Cheilon. That view would be the rest of the morning.
The trail drops down from the pass, passes two open but untended cabins (you just leave your money behind) in the broad meadows flanking the west slopes of Lac des Dix, and continues along a level track for the length of the lake. There's nothing on the lake -- no hotels or marinas or jet skis -- just huge meadows teaming with marmots, reaching up to snowy peaks and cliffs. What a marvelous route!
At the end of the lake, where I re-entered the frosty shade, the trail continues up the valley, first crossing the Pas du Chat on a suspension bridge. Cool.
For much of the rest of the morning, I worked up the valley, closer and closer the Mont Blanc de Cheilon, with the massive Glacier de Cheilon showing more and more of itself. Near the top of the route up the valley, the glacier was revealed, streaming down its huge lateral moraines and carrying a large medial moraine, too. And across the glacier, on a big rock on the other side of the valley, sits the Cabane des Dix.
From there, the task was uphill and out of this valley, into the Val d'Arolla. That meant another steep and tricky climb up to the Col de Riedmatten. At the top, the footing was poor, the gully was narrow, and the climb was spooky steep. I was glad to see that the other side was much nicer.
At the top were a couple of tri-lingual Swiss, up for the day from Arolla, and two sisters from Canada, who were headed down what I'd just come up. I later ran into the Swiss gentlemen in town, as they were staying in the hotel. They'd been to school together and then went off to different jobs (petroleum engineer and economics professor at the Technical University at Bern). Now, they were on a vacation to various mountain towns and seeing what hiking there was in each. Similar to my trip, without the walking between the towns. I hope that in my retirement I can be so active.
On the other side, I met many people up from Arolla for a climb or a hike or just to sit in the sun in an alpine meadow. It was a great descent on a good trail through beautiful meadows. And, there were mountains. Arolla has its own version of de Cheilon, the Pigne d'Arolla, with its own glaciers streaming down below its icy north wall. To the left, is Mt. Collon, which looks like an island of peak, surrounded by glaciers.
So far, I haven't had any trouble finding the places I'm staying, and this was no exception. Arolla is really just one street, about four blocks long, and the Hotel du Glacier straddles both sides of the street in what would be the third block, if there were any side streets.
The dormitory is very nice, it seems new, and has six bunks, a bathroom, and a shower. Strangely, the shower is in the room, so there's no way to get into and out of the shower in privacy. That wasn't a problem for me, because I'm the only one here.
Dinner was very nice. I showed up at the restaurant and they had a place all set for me. Glyn and Elena were there, too, having taken a room. We had a nice dinner of a baked shrimp and cheese dish, green beans, rice with mushrooms, and a light, curried chicken, with a panna cotta for dessert.
Sept. 13 from Hotel du Glacier, Arolla, Switzerland: map, 2006m; accum. 86 km, 5697m gain, 4728m loss (6581'; accum. 54.1 mi, 18,691', 15,512')
Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/6.