August 27, 2007

Where is the Haute Route?

Here's a map of the trip. You can zoom in and follow it from left to right. The little yellow houses are the places I'm staying, while the green hikers are points of interest.


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August 26, 2007

Haute Route: Getting Psyched

The last piece of advice Mark Jenkins has for those of us starting out in this adventure business is this:

Psych up your body and mind: "You will hate yourself if you’re out of shape. Besides, training for a big trip is a way to get psyched."

I took this one to heart. Besides all of the specific preparations (looking at maps, arranging transport and lodging, thinking about gear and how to stay in contact with friends and family), I spent some time making other kinds of mental preparation. I read a couple of books about the Alps, each useful in its own way. The first was The Alps: Europe’s Mountain Heart (Nicholas and Nina Shoumatoff), which was a useful and broad overview of the range, its geology, origins, climate, flora, fauna, and human history, including economics, literature, art, music, and the gradual discovery of the Alps as a special place, a place to visit – much as I’m doing. Very serviceable, if a little academic-feeling. The second was The Alps: A Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie. It’s written in a freer and more fluid style and was a fine second course. It covers the landscape and its history, but really hits its stride in the sections describing the place of mountains and the Alps in Europe’s imagination and the different waves and kinds of visitors who helped to define the place.

Along the way, I decided to revisit Thomas Wolfe, who wrote some interesting passages on Munich and the Oktoberfest, with which I will close my trip. As a young man, I’d read all of his novels and remember being transfixed by their power and poetry. A few years ago, I read a collection of short writings that reintroduced me to his writing. The problem is, he wrote essentially the same saga a couple of times, and I had to pick the novel that included the passages I remembered about Germany. As it turns out, I think I picked the wrong one. The Web and the Rock includes the story of the protagonist’s trip to Germany at the end of his stormy New York love affair, but it is perfunctory and not the one I remember. Along the way, I found myself alternatively transfixed by the power of his writing (the long series of scenes that tell the story of a black man – this is 1920’s North Carolina – erupting out of a seemingly normal and well-adjusted existence into a homicidal spree, ending in his lynching, were stunning), and annoyed by the careless, repetitive, and excessive over-writing of some of the passages. I may have to read them all again, but not before I leave for my own encounter with Oktoberfest.

I also worked on my body. This will be a strenuous hike, two weeks at a stretch with no rest days (unless enforced by the weather or abetted by public transportation) is a lot of walking. My base exercise is walking, so at the beginning of the year I resolved to average 100 miles a month leading up to the trip. This week, I topped 800 miles of walking the dog, walking the sidewalks at lunchtime, walking to and from work, walking errands around town, and hikes in the Olympics and Cascades. That part arranged, I began to notice that there’s quite a bit of up and down on this trip, while there is very little in my day-to-day walking practice. So, my concentration this summer has been to add conditioning hikes up some of the local steeps.

Here’s a summary:

April 14 – Mt Walker: 2000’ gain to 2800’. 2 mi up, 6 mi round trip. 2:25 overall. Totally socked in on top. Not sore at all.

June 16 – Mt Si: 3667’ gain to 4167’. 8 mi round trip. 3:05 walking, 3:30 overall. Totally socked in on top. Sore the next day.

July 1 – Mt Aix: ~4500’ gain to 7766’. ~11 mi round trip. ~6 hours walking, 7 overall. Views of Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Stuart, and the Goat Rocks. Not sore at all.

July 29 – Mt Rose: 3500’ gain to 4300’. 2.9 mi up, 6.4 mi round trip. 3:25 walking, 3:40 overall. Totally socked in on top. A little sore the next day.

August 5 – Wagonwheel Lk: 3250’ gain to 4150’. 5.8 mi round trip. 3:00 overall. Views (from the ridge above the lake) of Mt Washington, Mt Ellinor, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Cruiser. Sore the next day.

August 12 – Lake of the Angels via Putvin Trail: 3700’ gain to 5200’ on ridge above. 8 mi round trip. 5:25 overall. Socked in on top. Not sore at all.

August 19 – Mailbox Peak: 4000’ gain to 4841’. ~8 mi round trip. 4:10 overall. Totally socked in on top. A little sore the next day.

As I was coming down this last trail, I decided that I’d had enough of this kind of conditioning, especially the kind that provides no views and leaves a bag full of wet clothing at the end of the day. So, now my preparation is to rest for the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep walking, but I’m done “conditioning.”

I learned from this that much of the soreness I felt came from the intensity of the hike, which comes from either the steepness or the pace. Reducing the pace reduces the intensity and, with it, the soreness. With the work I’ve done and knowing that I can control the intensity, I should be able to hike without being bothered by sore muscles.

I’m psyched.

August 23, 2007

Haute Route: Going Where And Going Long

The next two points Mark Jenkins made about getting out into an adventure in the January issue of Outside magazine are these:

Go where you want to go, period: "If this is your big escape, don't be cheap. Do what you want."

Go Long: "Two weeks is the minimum. Any less and your head will never really disconnect from the office."

This isn’t so much an escape, but it is my trip. It’s possible that I could have found someone or ones to go with me if I’d changed the trip or the date. But, it’s only possible and I didn’t want to chance not going at all.

As soon as I read the description, I knew this was the trip for me. Miles of walking. Huge mountains with lots of high country. Starting at one of the premier centers for mountaineering in the world and ending at another, each with amazing history and drama. The huts and towns aren’t strictly necessary, but they do mean that I don’t have as much to carry, which is always a good thing.

I’ll be gone about three weeks, of which two weeks is walking, a few days in Munich, and the rest in travel overhead (though the train through Switzerland to Munich should, weather willing, be scenic).

August 16, 2007

Haute Route: Find the Right Partner

The first point Mark Jenkins makes about getting out into an adventure in the January issue of Outside magazine is this:

Find the right partner: "Everybody will say, 'Great, amazing, I want to go'; 90 percent won't. Line up a number of potential partners and hope that one will come through. If they don't, go anyway."

As thinking about this trip rattled around in my head through the several years between its germination and now, I collected names of people I thought would be interested and would make good companions. I talked to many of them about it, as well. By the start of this year, I had a group of over a dozen people whom I thought would make good companions for a trip like this.

Because I’m a member of the Mountaineers, I also thought about advertising within the club, but outside of the regular scheduled trip listings. In addition, others suggested that I list the trip as an international trip, of which there are several each year. In the end, I opted not to use either of those ideas.

It is important to me to have actually traveled with or hiked with the prospective participants. A phone conversation or a day hike aren’t really useful substitutes for spending this amount of time with someone, in knowing how committed they are to the trip or how they’ll act under the stresses of travel and trails.

Many of the people who sign up for my Mountaineers trips expect to be led more than I was willing to do for this trip. I don’t have the expertise in the region, nor in international travel, to serve as a typical leader. The international trips the Mountaineers list are planned and arranged by the leaders even more than a typical hike or backpack, with specific itineraries and a package price. I was looking for active, independent participants, willing to make their own arrangements to got to and from the hike, not tour members.

So, I contacted my collected group. They considered the invitation and, one by one, the eventually declined. For a time, I wondered if I had made a mistake by not casting the net wider. Perhaps I should have. But I spent no time thinking that this threatened my trip. After all, “if they don’t [come through], go anyway.” I’ll have to be my own “right partner.”

August 8, 2007

Test Post via mail-to-blogger

I've been trying to test the mail-to-blogger feature for months, now, but haven't been able to actually create the e-mail address needed for this. I read the support forums, but didn't see this problem. So, I sent a message to support and got a reply back (which I inadvertently deleted) which promised some action. Didn't hear for weeks and, as of last night, it still didn't work. So, I looked at the support group forums again. Still nothing useful, so I posted again and I sent another message to support. Still didn't hear anything, but now I can define that secret e-mail address. Don't know if my messages had any impact, which is not a good kind of support experience, but I'll take the functionality.

So, here goes...

An Internet Moment

I’d ordered an item from a local on-line retailer and had been following its progress using one of those handy package tracking sites. There was a gap in the record when it left Texas and headed out across the desert toward the green Northwest, so it slipped my mind for a day or two. When I next went to check it, I noticed that the last entry had the word “delivered” in it. Wait! It’s here? So, I opened the front door and, sure enough, that sneaky UPS guy had slipped past the canine alarm (she has a real thing for Brown) and dropped off the package in the last 30 minutes.


I had to check the Internet to find that out what had just happened on my front porch.

August 5, 2007

How to you say “Haute Route”?

Don’t know how to pronounce it, but in a month, I’ll be there, walking it. The route I’ll follow is the summer, hikers’ version of the famous ski mountaineering route between Mt. Blanc in France and the Matterhorn in Switzerland. I came across a description of the route years ago, in an Outside magazine article, and it’s been simmering in the back of my brain ever since. After missing a couple of earlier opportunities, I decided last year that this year was it.

The route begins in Chamonix, France and ends in Zermatt, Switzerland. It works its way into and out of valleys, over passes and alongside glaciers, skirting the northern side of the spine of the Alps between Italy and France-then-Switzerland, climbing up and down over the ribs bracing that backbone. The route is approximately 115 miles (187 km) long and amounts to over 37,000 feet (>11,000 m) of climbing, though none of it is technical. I plan to take two weeks, stopping each night in a town, village, or at a mountain hut.

I bought the recommended guide and read it through a couple of times. I loaned it out to friends I thought might be interested. I bought the maps recommended by the author and pored over them. (Beautiful maps, by the way.) I read every account of others who had made the trip that I could find. Along the way, I added the idea of taking in the start of the Oktoberfest in Munich, once the walking was over. And, as the year began, I started planning the trip.

This is quite a different kind of hiking than I’m used to, in some ways. The biggest difference is that most of my hiking and backpacking here in the Washington is in relative wilderness. If I’m to be out for several days, I won’t see anything approximating civilization for that whole time, unless I happen to catch a view of a distant town from some ridge top along the way. There is almost never a town or accommodation along the way. Nor is there ever anything like the public transportation that many of the towns along the Haute Route offer. These differences offer an increase in comfort and flexibility that, combined with the rich mountain history and the amazing scenery of the region, should make this a trip to remember.

Because of the relative availability of civilization, I won’t have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, stove, fuel, or cook set. At first, I thought that meant I’d be carrying essentially day gear, but with the travel to and from the end points of the walk and plans to spend a little extra time in Germany, I’ll have more. For instance, if I don’t want to wear my hiking boots every day of the three weeks I’m gone, I’ll need to carry another pair of shoes. Since I won’t be in the wilderness all of the time, I think I’ll need to observe higher standards of clothing cleanliness than a regular wilderness hike requires. That means more clothes.

And, since I intend to post dispatches to this blog along the way, as the availability of the requisite technology permits, I’ll be carrying a fair amount more in the way of electronics than I would bother with in the Cascades.

Over the next month, I’ll write about my preparations, starting with some advice I gleaned from another issue of Outside magazine, from Mark Jenkins, who was my favorite of their regular columnists, until they let him get away.