September 21, 2007

Dispatch from Gasenried

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

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