October 9, 2007

What Worked and What Didn’t

This will be the last of my Haute Route posts, in which I’ll sum up my experience and offer some advice to those who might be considering this, or similar, trips. I’m not done with the posts I have, however. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll make some editorial corrections and additions, especially photos, other images, and links.

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.

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