Friday, December 07, 2007

Last Day... much, much later

Friday December 7th, 2007

Well, I think I'm almost ready to start the post-H2H work -- correcting / completing the website, transmuting the base material of blog into an elegant and entertaining narrative, deciding what to do about the photos and the GPS logs, and so on... -- but first some unfinished business:  the short tale of the last day of the H2H.

After one of the best breakfasts we had had on the entire trip, at the charming B&B La Demeure, we started from Eyguieres around 10AM... in the rain.  This was both unusual, since it had hardly rained in Provence since Spring, and appropriate, since it had also rained on us during our first day of hiking so many months ago.  But we didn't care much... it was, after all, the last day.

We walked for the most part along fairly quiet backroads on the south side of the Alpilles until Aureille. There the showers stopped and we turned north to climb over the hills... although since our maximum altitude was barely 200m higher than Aureille, it is perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration to call it a climb.  Around midday we stopped for a picnic lunch by the side of the road, and soon, after one last look backwards, we started our descent towards the lovely village of Eygalieres.

Some time later, a couple of hundred yards before we got to our house, we were met by a procession led by Lidia (aka Penelope), who was unable to withstand temptation any longer.  Richard was there, and Bea and Arnulf, and various other friends and relatives, and after many greetings and hugs and photos we finally walked through our gate at around 3:30PM.. four months and four days after we started... exactly as planned.

It was quite a feeling.

And then came the Neverest Fest, which although not totally Dionysiac, ran for near on a week instead of the three days that were planned.  Ah well, nobody's perfect. :-)

And that's about it for now.  I'll post intermittently over the next couple of months as there are new things to see on the site, or as (and if) the narratative takes shape.  I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the H2H as much as I enjoyed hiking and writing about it.  Many thanks to you all!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Last Day Quick Update


More later.

Neverest Fest calls.


Stage 91 -- Merindol to Eyguieres

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Oct 25th, 2007

I can't quite believe it myself: the penultimate day. Tonight we have our last dinner on the hike, and spend our last night sleeping in strange beds. Tomorrow evening at this time we'll be home.


Fittingly, it was a long hike. We left Merindol and crossed the Durance, bypassing Mallemort on our way to Alleins, mostly along roads. There we temporarily lost Russell, Sally, and Dave, who had fallen behind far enough to not see the rest of us turning onto another road. But cellphones saved the day and we were soon reunited. This was only the second time on the entire trip that something like this happened... and Dave was involved both times. Hmmmmm.

From there we climbed for a while then discovered a discrepancy between our map and reality, which led to us standing in front of a locked gate with a sign on it saying, in French, "No Trespassing". What made it more interesting was that the sign was on the other side of the fence and facing the way we wanted to go. We managed to outflank the fencing on either side of the gate and continued, now legally, along the path to come out exactly where we wanted to be, and more efficiently than had we taken the planned route. :-)

After a picnic lunch next to a ruined 12th Century chapel we walked through woods and between vineyards for a long time until a descent to cross the Marseilles / Paris axis (Autobahn, railway, canal). Then through a flatter land of orchards to Lamanon where we stopped for hot chocolate in a seedy cafe.

And still we weren't done.

From Lamanon we climbed up through Neolithic dwellings carved out of soft sandstone, then via an ancient wain road along the top of a low ridge that was the beginning of the Alpilles -- the last barrier to be crossed on the H2H.

But the crossing was to be left until tomorrow, and we descended in light rain (after a cloudy day) into the village of Eyguieres for one last night.

One day more.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stage 90 -- Oppede-le-Vieux to Merindol

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Oct 24th, 2007

Simply a lovely hike today. It started with a fairly steep climb up to the top of the Luberon (about 500m above Oppede), which had our guests huffing and puffing. Ok, we were huffing and puffing too, but I think we would have been able to keep going for four times the distance, whereas I suspect that our guests would not :-).

We stopped for lunch on a rocky outcrop with dramatic views over the southern Luberon, which was much more rugged and jumbled than I would have expected (having only seen it up until now from below), and across the Durance. Dad and Stefan, who both suffer from a little vertigo, sat well back, while Russ and Dave, who do not, hopped and stumbled around on the edge of the precipice in a way that bothered even me!

After a steep initial descent, we walked out of the mountain along a wonderful slot canyon called les Gorges de Regalon, with walls up to 50m high and no more than a couple of meters apart... all the way up. It was like going through a cave at times. Most impressive. Fortunately Dad decided to come down it instead of taking the alternate route along the road. He had no difficulty with the scrambling necessary in places, and he would have missed something spectacular otherwise.

Our B&B in Merindol was also very nice, with comfortable beds and sumptuous bathrooms. They weren't serving dinner themselves that night, so they took us in their minibus to a local restaurant. Nice people.

Around 5.5 hours, so not too tiring.

Two more days!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stage 89b -- Cabrieres d'Avignon to Oppede-le-Vieux

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, Oct 23rd, 2007

Today's hike was a bit of a crusher for Sally, I'm afraid, at least that is my impression based on her miming being stabbed in the heart. You see, we arrived at Robion, at the western end of the Luberon range, from which you can almost see Eygalieres... and turned back east to hike to Oppede.

Worse, tomorrow we are going to climb up and over the Luberon, so that we can the day after cross the Durance south of the Alpilles, in order to climb up and over the Alpilles to come down into Eygalieres from the south.

And it was when she realized that instead of the straight hike across flat ground we were going to hike in the opposite direction and then cross two ranges of hills that she got out her make-believe dagger.

Of course, I could hardly have planned these last few days otherwise. After all, in a way this recapitulates the entire H2H. As I put it to Dad, for a start, I chose to walk rather than driving or flying or taking a train. Then I chose to walk over passes through the mountains, rather than along valleys. And lastly, there is the small diversion to Montreux, and the much larger one to Monaco, both of which make the hike much longer than it needs to be. Clearly the H2H was not conceived of as an efficient hike from House to House!

Nevertheless, despite Sally's heartache, it was another lovely hike today. A little warmer than the last few days, and a little hazy, but the views were still superb. We had lunch in Robion, which has a beautiful old village center, and then followed an up and down trail along the Luberon to Oppede-le-Vieux, which is even more beautiful than Robion. In fact, I think it is more spectacular and atmospheric than Gordes, and I will certainly be coming back here to explore the vast ruins of the upper village and the castle.

Our B&B, La Belle de Nuit, is very nice, and Stephan Goessl arrives this evening to join us for the last three days.

Tick, tick....

Stage 89a -- Roussillon to Cabrieres d'Avignon

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, Oct 22nd, 2007

Apologies for the mistaken number yesterday, in fact it is today which is the first half of a stage. Rather than do a long hike and a rushed lunch in Cabrieres with Nicole, I decided to sacrifice a rest day and split the stage over two days. We thus had a short hike today -- around 4hrs -- and will do about the same tomorrow on our way to Oppede-le-Vieux. And this way we can have a leisurely dinner with Nicole... whose cooking merits no less!

The hike was easy, although Dad did complain somewhat about the steepness of the climb to Gordes, where we had lunch. The whole village has been declared a national historical monument, and one understands why, particularly when you climb up to it from the valley: most impressive.

Nicole met us shortly after Gordes to show us the local Mesa Verde equivalent: an olive mill built into a cliff at half-height where there was an overhang. Apparently it was in use until well into the 18th Century, and you can still see the various grinding surfaces, cisterns, troughs, etc. that they carved into the rock to handle the olives and the oil. Tres interessant!

The rooms in the Vieux Bistrot in Cabrieres were excellent, as was dinner at Nicole's place. We were nine around the table -- the six of us, Nicole, and her two sons -- and conversation was good, there was much laughter, and we ate and drank way too much. In particular Dave let himself be goaded into eating two plums that had been steeped for ages in near 100% alcohol (% not proof!) -- most amusing (except perhaps for Dave the following morning :-).

Oh, one more thing: we had our first view of the Alpilles the day before, and the first clear view today. The excitement is mounting! Only four more days of hiking....

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stage 88a -- Rustrel to Roussillon

<reminder: photos now available at:

Sunday, Oct 21st, 2007

Dave and his brother arrived Saturday evening, not exactly as planned -- due to a railway strike in France -- but in time for dinner nevertheless. Sunday morning we set off bright and, well, late, after 10, much to the disgust of Dave who demanded to know what had happened to the Spartan days of leaving before 8AM that he had experienced at the beginning of the H2H.

But these are the gravy days, we told him. The hikes are short, the weather is perfect, we aren't in the mountains so if something goes wrong we don't need the extra daylight time to recover... there just isn't any reason to get up early. He was, I think, only partially mollified. Having not suffered through the entirety of the H2H, he has the typical guest-hiker's eager initial desire for exercise and effort. Whereas we grizzled and experienced hikers value every short and flat stage as a gift.

Lots of road walking today, as expected and as typical for these last days: the Luberon and the Alpilles are densely populated, at least in comparison with where we have been, and so there are fewer trails. As compensation there are many beautiful villages -- we had a two hour lunch in one, Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt -- and spent the night in another -- Roussillon.

The newer parts of Saint-Saturnin didn't seem to be particularly special, but it is overlooked by remarkable ruins that cry out for exploration, both physical and online (i.e., I don't know their history). Roussillon, perched on its ochre cliffs, is one of the most beautiful villages in France, for which we forgive it its tourists, of whom there were still many around when we arrived shortly before 5PM.

Our hotel, the Clos de la Glycine, is excellent, and after watching Hamilton choke his way out of the Formula One drivers championship, and then some Sumo, the meal last night in the Bistrot was also very good. Unusually, for me, I ate relatively little -- it seems as if the couple of hours hiking in the afternoon were not enough to rebuild hunger after eating an entire pizza, a fair-sized salad, and a dessert at lunch. Grin.

Another short day today, with lunch in Gordes and dinner promised tonight at Nicole's in Cabrieres-d'Avignon. Sigh. It's a rough life :-).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Urs finishes his report

I'm not sure what happened to his theory about aliens... but Urs seems to have reached a state of peaceful acceptance as regards that strange trio of Alpine wanderers. I wish him well....

Strange Things in the Alps
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

AAA: Today, we have set up a phone conference with various participants who might help us to understand the events in the Alps in the past months. First, I would like to introduce one of the leading long term experts on Alpine expeditions. Mr. Ötzi, what is the attraction of doing such exhausting projects?

Mr. Ötzi: Well, in my experience, there is nothing that compares with arriving at a mountain hut after a demanding 7-hour march, and sitting in the evening sun and watching the ice melting from ones bones. Such a peaceful feeling can subjectively last for centuries.

AAA: So, you feel that it is a kind of "Carpe Diem" philosophy that is motivating this extraordinary group?

Mr. Ötzi: I can only speak for myself, but at the top of a mountain, a split-second and a millennium are almost the same. You arrive with pained muscles, with a hungry stomach, and maybe completely wet to the skin. But then you start to relax, you celebrate a simple meal as if it were a royal dinner, and you enjoy some pleasant conversation with your fellow travellers. Suddenly, all the pain is forgotten. You look down at your trim body and you don't see a gram of fat. It is so gratifying to be a mountain traveller.

AAA: Thanks, Mr. Ötzi. Let me include our next guest in this conversation Mrs. Paris Hilton, what is your personal view on such challenging projects? Have you ever been to the High Alps?

Paris: First, I'd like to say how much I admire this group. Always out in the fresh air and every step is a step towards fame and mystery. I wished I could join them.

AAA: If you join them, what would you tell them?

Paris: I would encourage them to always move on. We famous people are the beacon of the ordinary people. Without us, they are lost in their small daily lives, without hope and without future. This expedition shows especially to young people that there is more to life than just playing computer games and wasting their nights in discos. Instead, they can walk up and down the mountains and see real stars at night.

AAA: It sounds like you are really excited about this expedition. Is there any person in the group that you would like to greet especially.

Paris: Yes, absolutely. All the media are talking about this big giant, who is taking all this pain to follow his fearless leader. I'm sure he deserves all this admiration. In fact, if he ever comes to Santa Barbara, he should definitely stop by for a drink. But, there is also this woman in the group. In my view, she is the real hero. She is walking for months with these two men. It would be so much easier for her if I would be with her and could cheer her up. But she is basically alone, I mean as a female. But she never complains and she always walks up and down each mountain. This is so amazing. I hope that at the end of each day, she gets at least some Caipirinha from these men. I mean, that is the least she can expect.

AAA: Thank you, Paris. I'm impressed how emphatically you are. Finally, I'd like to introduce Mr. Dalai Lama to this conference. You have heard Mr Ötzi's comments about his High Alpin experiences, as well as Paris' thoughts about the importance of a little bit of alcoholic encouragement every while. What are your thoughts?

Dalai Lama: This expedition is a symbol for the diversity of life. For some of us, every day is just getting us one day closer to the end. For some of us, every day gets us up at some high mountain. For some of us, every day is filled with pain and hunger. For some of us, every day is a step forward on our dream path. All of us share the same days and the same paths, but our perception is so completely different. And suddenly we realise, that we are suddenly getting close to the last day of our journey. We turn around and look back, where all the tall mountains of the past stand up high into the sky. And we recognize that all the pain and all the hunger disappeared. What is left is what we make out of it. Was it good? Was it bad? It is all up to us. We recognize that we will never take the same journey again. We are happy that we did. Life is short and there are not so many opportunities to experience all these sentiments.

AAA: Long-distance projects, like the Way of St. James (Jakobsweg) are becoming more and more popular. Are you suggesting that all of us should start such as expedition?

Dalai Lama: I'm suggesting that all of us are already in such expeditions, although not all are so physically demanding. Not all have clear objectives, not all show daily progress. But in the end, we will all be united at the final destination and will share what we have experienced. It is up to us, what we can tell.

AAA: Thank you. Let's conclude this report by wishing our fine travellers that they will reach their destination soon and that they can enjoy looking back to every single day of the journey, every mountain top, and every piece of pork.

"Rest" day in Rustrel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Oct 20th, 2007

Well, that was impressive. Just got back from a hike through the former ochre quarries and you can count me among the converted: they are truly spectacular.

Dad and I struck off from one of the main north/south paths and took a meandering and poorly maintained trail through a fairies' playground of bluffs and dells and micro-canyons and hills and grottos and spires and hoodoos, heavily eroded and displaying the most remarkable variety of colours -- from white to yellow to orange to red to dark umber and all offset by the bright green of vegetation.

It was a challenging path for Dad, continually going up and down, at times next to drop-offs, often steep, and with many roots and branches to clamber over and under, but he soldiered on until we came to a steep and eroded section down a dark red ochre wash that he declared to be his limit as far as difficulty went.

I'll definitely be coming back: there must be 10 times as much to explore as we saw, and judging by the state of the trail there aren't many who do so At any rate, we saw not a soul along the side trail, despite it being a Saturday and there being a fair number of other walkers around.

Dave DeRose and his brother are going to be joining us this afternoon for the rest of the hike. Since Dave was our first guest-hiker, with us from when we walked out of our front door in Bavaira until he left us at Hohenschwangau, there is a pleasing symmetry in his return for the final week.

The. Final. Week. Wow. A week from today we will wake up in our house in Provence after our first post-H2H night. To paraphrase Vizzini from the lovely movie, The Princess Bride: it's inconthievabubble!

Stage 87 -- Viens to Rustrel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Oct 19th, 2007

Sort of a mini-stage today: only 2.75h and most of that downhill. The original idea was to then go out in the afternoon and walk for a few hours without packs through the abandoned ochre quarries of the Colorado Provencal.

However, since we are going to take a rest day tomorrow, and since Dad is disinclined to sit around for the whole day "doing nothing" (it may be that to truly appreciate the beauty of "doing nothing" one has to have done the whole of the H2H :-), we agreed that we would take the afternoon off and go hiking among the ochre hills tomorrow.

"We" being in this case Dad and I, since Russ and Sally refuse to thus profane a rest day.

We therefore allowed ourselves a couple of bottles of wine at lunch, which led to the expected proliferation of afternoon naps. Also as expected we weren't terribly hungry come dinnertime. Not that some of us let ourselves be distracted from the serious business of dining by such unimportant matters :-).

Rustrel, by the way, is not a particularly impressive village. The center is practically non-existent and without charm; there isn't much in the way of commerce; and the surrounding houses and streets, although neat, seem as if they were extracted from somewhere around Poole or Bournemouth in southern England and then plumped down here. Not that there is anything wrong with those areas, but houses that belong there just don't seem to fit in here.

The ochre quarries, however, are supposed to be spectacular, so perhaps redemption is waiting in the wings.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stage 86 -- Montfuron to Viens

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Oct 18th, 2007

Somewhat shorter than expected, today's hike was again about 5.5 hours. After an hour along a semi-busy road we were pleased to spend the rest of the day on farm roads and quiet country lanes. Another cloudless, warm day, enlivened by a moderate Mistral wind especially in the afternoon: perfect hiking weather.

We crossed into the Luberon and spent the morning walking along the top of a slowly descending ridge parallel to the Luberon hills themselves. Beautiful countryside, at times with little villages, at times almost deserted with just the odd farmhouse.

We reached the village of Cereste around 1PM and stopped for lunch in an excellent little restaurant called La Pastorale, run by a young Dutch couple. For my money (and it was not expensive), it is at least as good as the much better known restaurant run by a Dutch couple in Eygalieres: Chez Bru (which has two Michelin stars). And the owner and her boyfriend are charming and love cats: what more could one want? Definitely worth going back to!!!

Well-fed and quite contented with ourselves and life in general we ambled off around 3PM, past fields of lavender and an ancient ruined priory, and arrived in the dramatically located village of Viens at 5:30.

Sigh. Almost makes one wish that the H2H will not soon be over....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stage 85 -- Greoux-les-Bains to Montfuron

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Oct 17th, 2007

Ditto. As in: nice weather, easy hike, 5.5 hours, good conversation, excellent lunch, nice place to stay for the night. One significant difference was that we spent most of the day walking along roads, including about 45 minutes on a very busy main road, which was quite unpleasant. In addition we aren't staying in a hotel this evening, but rather at a B&B which doesn't offer dinner; so we'll be eating some quiche that we purchased in Manosque at lunchtime.

I was a little tired this morning, having stayed up until around 1AM talking with Oliver with whom I shared a room last night. He left this morning, much to our regret: with his humour and conversational skills he is an excellent hiking partner!

Manosque is the biggest place we have been in since Monaco, and the traffic was the worst we have seen since then too. At other times, however, I suspect that I would regard Manosque as being a small and somewhat sleepy town -- which shows how much time we have spent in the wilds recently.

Dad is holding up well. This was his third day, and apart for some intermittent ankle pain and sore shoulders in the evening, he seems to be handling the hikes. He is more sensible about walking at a reasonable pace than he was last year: i.e., he doesn't charge up the hills and get tired out and have to stop after five minutes, as he did on the C2C.

He is still pretty beat at the end of the day, though, as witnessed by his falling asleep next to me as I was writing this (pre-dinner). And snoring. Which if he does tonight might result in a radically shortened life expectancy. Grrrr.

Tomorrow will be slightly longer hike (although it will be shorter than planned -- we'll cut out the walk around the Gorge d'Oppedette, so it will be about 6.5 hours, an hour longer than we have done so far). We'll be watching him carefully.

Otherwise everyone is in pretty good shape. Russ's knee continues to give him some problems, but ice, drugs, and a support bandage seem to be keeping it under control. Sally's feet hurt at the end of the day, but not so much as to impact her overall sunny mood. And I'm much as ever, fully recovered from the post-Monaco low.

The days are rushing by now....

Stage 84 -- Riez to Greoux-les-Bains

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, Oct 16th, 2007

Another easy and relaxing hike. Another very good lunch in a restaurant in a tiny village. Another sunny day. Another picturesque town in which to spend the night. Another nice hotel and another excellent dinner. Hiking through this part of Provence may be a little monotonous, but we have decided that monotony is good :-).

About 5.5 hours of hiking, as yesterday. Interesting conversations. No hunters seen or heard. Forest and farm roads for the most part, with about a km along a larger road into Greoux-les-Bains at the end of the day.

A little touristy, but otherwise a nice place, Greoux. Dominated by the ruins of a Templar castle (which, as usual, we did not have the energy to go and visit), it has a charming old center. Another place to go back to.

Gravy days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Urs Ruefli calms down

Not a word about aliens... must have changed his meds ;-)

Strange Things in the Alps
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

I met again with Prof. Dr. Bruno Kirchgraber, the expert on stochastic and probability theory.
You might remember his earlier interview. Since then, Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber has spent a lot of time with additional research.

AAA: Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber, it has been almost three weeks since out last interview. What new insights can you report about?

PDK: Well, there is so much wrong information in the media about this group There are more reports about their appearances than for Elvis. But there is a strong indication that they left Bavaria a long time ago and have now moved deeply into France.

AAA: Are they still in the Alps?

PDK: That is my assumption. There is a consistent pattern in their travel path. They always move up and down. For some unclear reason, they seem to like to take difficult routes, even if shorter and easier ones would be available to them.

AAA: Do you have an explanation for that? Do they try to hide?

PDK: If they would look for protection they could also take other paths. There must be some other motivation.

AAA: Is it related to pork, as all media assume?

PDK: This pork thing is hugely overvalued. As a matter of fact, it seems the group didn't eat any pork for many days. The main ingredient of their nutrition seems to have changed towards cheese, which is no surprise as they seem to be in France now.

AAA: Are you saying that Porkie abandoned pork?

PDK: The name Porkie and all these stories were initially made up by the tabloid press, like Bildzeitung. Both the name and the stories are misleading The person referred to as Porkie is an unusually tall and strong individual. But he is not 8 feet tall, as some reports suggest. He is quite strong, and certainly has a quite low fat percentage. Otherwise, he could never move so quickly through all these mountains. And all these stories about pigs and pork were extremely exaggerated.

AAA: These are surprising news. So what is the name of this giant if it is not Porkie?

PDK: Hard to say. French press starts to refer to him as Monsieur Le Fromage. But that is a simplistic attempt to promote their cheese industry. From a purely statistical perspective, it is most likely that his first name is Mohammed and his last name Chang. But statistics is not always so helpful.

AAA: Do you have any new information regarding their destination?

PDK: Obviously, they entered the Alps in Bavaria. From there, they crossed the whole of Switzerland and then entered France. Since then, they walked constantly towards South. It seems they want to get to the sea. From there, their next plans are not clear. They might turn towards Italy, towards Spain, or even get on a ship.

AAA: Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber, what would you do in their place?

PDK: I don't think that my preference is a good indication. Whenever I have to go from Bavaria to France, I take a plane. Obviously, this group has a different taste. You can not predict their behaviour by asking ordinary people like me.

AAA: Whom could we ask?

PDK: I don't know. Maybe the Dalai Lama? Maybe Paris Hilton? Maybe Ötzi the Iceman?

AAA: I'll think about it.

Stage 83 -- Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to Riez

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, Oct 15th, 2007

After two much appreciated rest days in Moustiers, during which Dad and Oliver arrived, we set off around 10AM on our way to Riez. Another perfect hiking day, sunny but not too warm. The hike started with a climb of about 220m up out of the Moustiers valley and onto the Plateau de Valensoie. Peanuts to those who strove with the Alps, but quite significant for the Florida-adapted (Dad) and the unprepared (Ollie).

From the top we could see back to mountains, which stretch without a break all the way from here to the Po plain in Italy. They looked beautiful, impressive, even hyperbolically adjectival, but I felt absolutely no urge to go back into them. Maybe in a month or so, but not now.

The Plateau is flat agricultural land with many fields of lavender, which although not in flower were still fragrant in the hand. We walked across it at a comfortable pace, talking of this and that. Lunch at the village of Roumoules was in an unprepossessing roadside restaurant that, however, served excellent food (it's in France, after all), and there remained under two hours until we reached the Chateau de Pontfrac, where we were to spend the night.

A day, when all was said and done, like the landscape: easy, pleasant, congenial.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Second try... Stage 82 -- Chalet de la Maline to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

(posting problems rear their ugly heads again)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Oct 12th, 2007

It took us 2 days to get to the mountains, and 80 to hike through them. Today we finally came down out of them for good. Oh, there are still some hills to be crossed ahead of us -- the Luberon and the Alpilles -- but both are separate from the Alps through which we have been hiking for so long.

The feeling when we came up to the top of that last ridge and saw ahead of us the flat Plateau de Valensoie stretching out into the hazy distance of an autumn afternoon was for me much more satisfying than seeing the sea from the heights above Monaco. Then I knew that we still had a significant amount of tough hiking to do. Now all we have ahead of us are gravy days, or at least that's the way it seems.

Today is also significant for two other reasons: we only have 10 stages left until the end of the hike, and today is the last day the three of us will hike alone, since our father will join us tomorrow for the remainder of the H2H.

But seeing the flat plain was the most remarkable thing: I can't get over it. The mountains had come to seem endless and it ws if I had forgotten what the world could look like away from them. The sea didn't count somehow -- perhaps because it is always that way and there is no difference between near and far. But the plains -- it felt like you could see for ever....

And it was another great hike. The first hour was along the road on the northern edge of the Gorge du Verdon, with continual spectacular views across and down into it, then came a couple of hours along a trail about 2/3 of the way up the canyon walls. After that a steep climb to a ridgeline to the north, then after a couple more hours through the endless emptiness of eastern Provence we came to the final descent into the valley of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.

The village itself is lovely, almost picture-perfect set into a cleft of the mountain with a river tumbling down a ravine through its center. We'll stay here for the next couple of days, meet Dad and our cousin Oliver, and then walk to the west over flat farmland to the Luberon.

We are out of the mountains!

Stage 82 -- Chalet de la Maline to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Oct 12th, 2007

It took us 2 days to get to the mountains, and 80 to hike through them. Today we finally came down out of them for good. Oh, there are still some hills to be crossed ahead of us -- the Luberon and the Alpilles -- but both are separate from the Alps through which we have been hiking for so long.

The feeling when we came up to the top of that last ridge and saw ahead of us the flat Plateau de Valensoie stretching out into the hazy distance of an autumn afternoon was for me much more satisfying than seeing the sea from the heights above Monaco. Then I knew that we still had a significant amount of tough hiking to do. Now all we have ahead of us are gravy days, or at least that's the way it seems.

Today is also significant for two other reasons: we only have 10 stages left until the end of the hike, and today is the last day the three of us will hike alone, since our father will join us tomorrow for the rest of the way

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Rest" day at the Chalet de la Maline

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Oct 11th, 2007

For, I believe, the first time so far on the H2H, we hiked on a day that wasn't a hiking stage day. Around 11 we went down into the gorge once more, crossed a graceful arching bridge over the pitiful trickle of water that in other years and seasons is the mighty Verdon, and hiked downstream along the Sentier de l'Imbut.

Whoa! The Sentier Martel was impressive, but this was even better. The gorge became ever narrower and the path ever more rugged. At times we hiked in a gallery cut into the rock walls, holding on to cables, a hundred feet above the stream. Neither Dad nor Mel would have enjoyed it :-).

At the end of the trail the river disappeared under a jumbled mess of huge boulders, which I would have been tempted to explore further if I had not been alone: the other two had refused to hike any further after lunch, apparently remembering what rest days have been traditionally used for on the H2H.

So, the hike took about four hours in total for me: an easy day. For dinner we (Russ and I) had raclette -- and Brigite assured me that despite appearances she had not given us what would usually be given to four or maybe six people. I'm feeling rather rotund.

Tomorrow we hike to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where I should have cellphone contact once more. This will be good for three things: I can upload these last couple of posts to the blog, I can check and see if the acquisition of a company on whose board I sit went through as planned, and lastly I can let Lidia know that we were once again not shot by hunters.

Assuming, of course, that we aren't shot tomorrow.

Stage 81 -- Rougon to Chalet de la Maline

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Oct 10th, 2007

Well, les Gorges du Verdon and the Sentier Martel lived up to their reputation: a wonderful hike. We started late because the baker in Rougon overslept and bread wasn't ready until 9:40. Then Russell couldn't find his camera (eventually he went back to the Gite and retrieved it from his bedside table). So we didn't really set off until around 10... which was just as well since the fog didn't dissipate until around 10:15.

We went down past Point Sublime into the gorge -- a mere 10m or so wide at the point of entry. From there the trail went up and down stairs and ladders, through tunnels (the longest of which was over 1km), at times right next to the river, at times far above it, for about 12km until the climb out to the Chalet de la Maline where we were to spend the night.

Unlike the past several days, we saw, as expected, many other hikers -- the trail is one of the more famous in Europe -- but it didn't feel crowded. The terrain is extremely rugged: after seeing it one understands why the gorge was first explored in the 20th century.

The Chalet de la Maline is one of the least well sound-insulated buildings I have ever come across: sitting in our bunkroom I can hear every word being said in the dining room below, or the rooms on either side for that matter. Furthermore, both the building and its gardienne are somewhat quirky, the former having, for example, 6 showers, 14 wash-basins (plus a wash-basin in each 8 person bunkroom), but just 2 toilets... for 80 beds... while the latter gave Russell his first "Doreen Whitehead" moment on this trip.

Those who have read my account of our hike across England on the Coast-to-Coast trail (see will recognize the name Doreen Whitehead as belonging to one of the true dragons of our times. Brigite, the gardienne, does not come close to attaining Doreen's terrifying rigidity, but she has her moments.

Such as when we arrived and she asked if we would like some split-pea soup (which we did), and then when Sally requested hot chocolate along with the soup (the day had ended a little cool) Brigite made a pained face and explained that, since soup and hot chocolate so didn't go together, Sally could have either one or the other now, then the other or the one in an hour or so if she still wished, but not both at the same time. Sally, perhaps because of her years in the military, quickly recognized the futility of protest and opted for soup :-).

At dinner, which was quite nice and all home-made, she forbade Russell to salt his meat before cooking it on the mini-barbecue on our table -- no, no, she said, afterwards -- the salt afterwards. Russell, having not been in the military, restrained himself only with difficulty, and was heard to mutter after she left that if she was going to make him cook his own dinner she ought to let him cook it as he wished!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Stage 80 -- Castellane to Rougon

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, Oct 9th, 2007

After a satisfyingly immobile rest day in Castellane we started late today because I had to handle some business. After buying lunch (I have become very fond of having a piece of Quiche Lorraine) we set off around 10:15 through mist down the deepening Gorge du Verdon. However the sun soon burned its way through and we were able to see the landscape in all its glory: VERY IMPRESSIVE. Already. And it only really gets spectacular tomorrow.

It was a short hike, about 4.5 hours, and it seems as if one of the consequences of this is to leave Russell with too much creative energy. As we were walking down to Rougon towards the end of the hike he suddenly motors by me following, apparently, a stick he was holding in an outstretched hand. "Follow the stick", he kept intoning, "Follow the stick."

For those who know Russell well enough, which for the purposes of this reminiscence is a group that is probably limited to his immediate family, there was no practical or conceptual difference to the invisible dog he used to have dragging him around when he was 12. Looks like he has had more than just a metabolic reset....

Rougon, the village where we are staying for the night is tiny, charming, medieval, and superbly positioned high over the Verdon River with a view into the narrow part of the gorge to the West. Very nice. Even better: their restaurant is open for the night so we will get dinner!

Oh, and for those who have let me know that they are concerned by my accounts of a countryside teeming with hunters: we saw and heard none today. Apparently they are much more active on the weekend, so we should be ok for another few days at least.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Another poetic contribution -- Dreamers of the Alps

Once more our aunt Rosalind has put pen to paper, at least metaphorically, and crafted an H2H-themed poem. Enjoy!


Dreamers of the Alps

They are the Talk of the Alps, that plodding line of three
Together where'ere they go, in stalwart unity,
Almost, indeed, a trinity!
The locals speak in solemn tone
Of gallant feats with not a groan!
Such steely brows, such earnest souls
Speak volumes of their lofty goals!
The first in red, the giant last, the valorous girl between
Surge onwards, at one, through the Alpine scene.

But cows have this gift, it is said,
To hear what is in the human head.
Our thoughts, our feelings fly to them
That buzzing tide they cannot stem!
And those fed on the mountain streams
Hear each and every of the dreams.
Of the trinity of three.

"I long for a taxi in the valley"
Surely that's Sally?
"Pray God there's no Porkie in the shower
With a snout both leering and dour"
We're betting that's Russell, so prone to cower!
"If only Mont Blanc had glaciers of cream
Whipped and with nuts and soft jelly beans"
Such visions must come from the guy in red,
Who thinks with his stomach more than his head!
"I just wish it were over, I'll then lie in clover
And paint my toe-nails pink"
That's Sally, we think!
"I have to report to the Alpine Alien Agency
Re a matter of porcine urgency,
Our meaty limbs are under threat!"
That's Russell, whom we just now met
(Is he crazed or just dazed?)
"I hear there's a wonderful bar in Nice
Where glorious fare will put me at peace"
Their leader, of course, that avid feeder!!

Knowing nought of airborne revelation
Our glorious team greet hikers from every nation
Who gaze in jelly-legged admiration
At the trinity of three,
So wonderful to see!

But, lo! There booms a choir of bovine bells
Across the peaks and vales
They're telling frightful tales
About our doughty males …………(and damsel)

"Their dreams are like candy floss
And that includes the boss!
We hear their airy-fairy thoughts
Laced with desires of every sort!
Leisure and pleasure abound in their dreams
A bed lined with silk, a pillow rich in down,
A sumptuous restaurant in the best street in town
Cakes topped with cheese, they're not hard to please!
Ignore those lofty brows, just listen to us cows!

But the folk of the Alps and the weary walkers
Don't have a clue about bovine talkers.
Transfixed, they watch that noble line of three.
"Just watch them go and go!" They cry,
"The first in red, the giant last, the valorous girl between
Surge onwards, at one, through the Alpine scene!"

Stage 79 -- Brianconnet to Castellane

<reminder: photos now available at:

Sunday, Oct 7th, 2007

A mixed bag, the hotel in Brianconnet: on the one hand they served the largest, most heavily laden pizzas that I have ever seen (and charged a pittance for them), but on the other the beds were like bananas, and the owner was incapable of providing us with a packed lunch. It seems as if Sally had the best of it: her chambre d'hotes (B&B that also does dinner) was very nice, the food good and plentiful, the bed comfortable, and the company congenial. Worth the walk, she felt.

Dinner table conversation apparently turned to hunting and her hosts told her a couple of things. A little disturbingly, they said that the hunters shoot one another all the time. And amusingly they said that the wild boar appear to be way smarter than the hunters: when the hunt is on the south side of the valley, they regularly see boar trotting by their place on the north side heading upslope into the forests. I wonder what the kill ratio is of hunters vs. boar? And vs. hikers?

The hike was very like the day before: beautiful countryside, no other hikers, frequent sounds of hunters, and lots of whistling. We went over the watershed between the Var and the Rhone (well, actually the Verdon, but it ultimately flows into the Rhone) at a village called Soleilhas around midday. All downhill from here! We wish....

We got lucky with lunch: there was a restaurant in Soleilhas, and it was open, and it served plentiful and hearty food, so we were not forced to eat the slowly defrosting loaf of bread which was all that our host in Brianconnet had given us. That cast a completely different light on the afternoon than I had feared, and it was with a significantly improved attitude that we walked off after lunch over the highest remaining point on the H2H: the 1365m Col de Saint-Barnabe. Quite a change from the Pas de Cavale!

On the way down along a forest road we stepped aside to allow a convoy of eight vehicles to pass, one of which was a pickup truck transporting two dead wild boar. Apparently the hunters do win from time to time. On a related note, I saw no dead hunters or hikers.

After a long downhill, shortly before we got to Castellane, we stopped for a few minutes to rest our tired feet. It was another fairly long day -- almost 7 hours -- and since it was the fifth in a row our feet and legs were starting to feel severely compromised. Russell being Russell expressed his feelings at this state of affairs in a series of loud incoherent cries, prompting the lady of the house behind which we were sitting to come and see what was wrong.

One thing led to another and we spent a pleasant hour chatting with her and her husband over coffee and orange juice in their garden. We talked about the usual subjects -- our hike, the drought, hunting, and wild boar. He works in Nice and he said that it has only rained twice there in the last 12 months and that the trees are starting to die. They said that they detest the hunters, and also whistle whenever they go out into the woods at this time of the year, usually when looking for mushrooms, but that there haven't been any this year on accont of the drought.

On the subject of wild boar, he pointed to his rooted up lawn and said that if he had a gun he would have been able to shoot a couple from his living room window the night before. Apparently there are tons of the destructuve little beasties around, and, one assumes, would be even more if the hunters didn't kill a bunch each year, so maybe the hunters are something of a necessary evil.

Castellane is a slightly larger village than those we have seen over the last few days, and with a spectacular setting on the Verdon River just next to a huge rock monolith (200m high) on the very top of which is perched a church. Another time I'd be interested in climbing up there. But not today. Today, our rest day, I'm going to do as little as possible!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Stage 78 -- Aiglun to Brianconnet

<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Oct 6th, 2007

A very nice hike today. Tiring, but very nice. Beautiful countryside with cliffs and gorges, autumn colors, the trails led over several shoulders and up and down some scenic valleys... just a very nice hike. Took around 6.5 hours, so another fairly long day.

As expected, we saw no other hikers. On the other hand, we did see several hunters, and heard but did not see several more. They are hunting wild boar, of which there appear to be many around, judging by the number of patches of rooted-up ground I have seen.

It is a little unnerving at times to be walking through a hunt, hearing shots, and rounding corners to see orange-hatted men standing around cradling guns, but they have all been very friendly.

Of course, their pleasant characters won't help us much if they shoot us accidentally, but we whistle non-stop (which they recommend) and they do seem quite professional. If we make it through tomorrow unscathed, then we should be OK for a while: they mostly hunt on the weekends.

We haven't seen much in the way of wild animals since leaving Monaco (although this is perhaps not surprising given my whistling :-), but Sally did almost have a head-on collision with a Mouflon today -- a powerfully built type of wild mountain sheep with impressive curling horns. She says it came charging down the trail, screeched to a halt when it saw her, and after a few seconds in which they eyed one another, turned around and bounded off.

From which you may deduce both that Sally is way scarier than a mountain ram, and also that she has been hiking out front again.

Today was another day for which rain had been predicted but failed to materialize: blue skies and almost uninterrupted sunshine. The locals tell us that the weather forecasters have been predicting rain every three or four days since June, but that they have had nothing yet. However, although the forests are clearly quite dry, they don't seem to be parched and we have seen no smoke or signs of recent fires.

So I suspect that despite the complaints of the locals there has been some rainfall, just not a soaking rain. In consequence, the fire risk has been manageable but the rivers are extremely low.

We arrive at the hotel this afternoon and Russ takes one look at his and Sally's bed and says, we won't fit in that. I'm not quite sure why: it is a normal double bed and I'd feel quite comfortable sharing it with Lidia. On the other hand, they are both quite broad-shouldered, and Sally says that Russell is like a Thresher Shark when he sleeps, prone to lay waste to anything and anyone around him when he "turns over", if such a violent motion can be so described.

So since there is nothing else free in the hotel, the owner of the hotel gets on the phone and arranges another room with a local B&B. In fact, there are several rooms free in the B&B, and the hotel owner initially assumes that we will all move over there.


I have already unpacked and anyway the B&B is several hundred meters away, so there is no way I'm moving. Amusingly Russell decides he also doesn't want to walk any more, so he is staying too. And most amusing of all, Sally is thrilled to be on her own for the first time in months, and is more than happy to walk some more for the privilege! So off she goes and we'll see her tomorrow morning.

Tough hike, the H2H.

Stage 77 -- Bezaudun-des-Alpes (Coursegoules) to Aiglun

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Oct 5th, 2007

I just realized that my stage numbering for the blog entries has been one off from the numbering on the website since Chamonix. Oops. I'll try to remain consistent from now on.

So, I felt better than the last couple of days, it didn't rain, and the hike was "only" 6.5 hours. Jackpot!

Little or no connectivity here, or yesterday in Bezaudun, so you might not see this post, or the previous one, for a day or two. This is wild country: deep-cut valleys, towering cliffs and mountains (over 1000m difference at times between the tops of the mountains and the rivers between them), just the occasional road and village, and nigh on nobody on the trails.

The first day out of Monaco we saw two hikers, the next day one, and today none at all. It perhaps plays something of a role that we have spent much of the last couple of days on secondary, i.e., non-GR (Grande Randonnee) trails, but I suspect that we wouldn't have seen many more on the GRs: this is France's empty quarter.

Aiglun is another of these tiny medieval perched villages, and is among the most isolated that we have seen on the whole trip. We were apparently fortunate to find accommodations here: the only place to stay reopened under new ownership (after a prolonged hiatus) just yesterday. On the positive side, I assume that this means that the ingredients used to cook dinner will be fresh :-).

There is little or no farming here -- the terrain is just too rugged for that -- and neither is there much animal husbandry it seems, probably due to the perennial lack of water. Basically the local economic activities seem to be forestry and a little tourism. So it is perhaps not surprising that it is so thinly settled.

We have two more days of this country until we get to Castellane: I'll bet we won't see a single other hiker on the trails.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stage 75 -- Colomars (Aspremont) to Bezaudun-des-Alpes (Coursegoules)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Oct 4th, 2007

Our accommodation challenges continue. Unable to contact the only place I had found to stay in Coursegoules (nobody ever answered the phone!), we instead came to a B&B in the little village of Bezaudun-les-Alpes, about 7km east of Coursegoules. And for various reasons this has turned out to be a good thing.

The first reason is a direct result of yesterday's heroic hike: I was still tired when I woke up this morning. My heels and knees hadn't recovered and I felt even slower than I had felt the previous day. Memo to self: don't take breaks longer than a couple of days when on a long hike -- when you start again it is almost like starting anew!

And so it was with some pleasure that I realized that today's hike would be much shorter than the planned 9.5h -- in fact it took us under 6 -- in part because we had done some of the hike the day before, in part because Bezaudun was closer than Coursegoules, and we took different trails in order to get there which turned out to involve less up and down.

The second reason is that the B&B here is just charming, as is the owner. Ruth McIntyre is an American from Missouri who has lived in Europe for 40 years, most of that in Barcelona. She and her then husband, a French painter, bought this place several years ago -- it is a classic medieval village house, with many doors and steps and courtyards and thick walls -- and renovated and redecorated it with excellent taste.

She has also offered to take us to the nearest restaurant for dinner (there is none in Bezaudun, nor, for that matter, is there any other shop that sells food -- there are only 80 inhabitants and that is much more than there were 30 years ago). And it turns out that the nearest restaurant is in Coursegoules, so we'll get to see it as well.

Tomorrow, however, will almost certainly again be a long day, since our goal -- the village of Aiglun -- is far to the west of Coursegoules, and we are 7km east. We'll take a different route, which will save us some up and down, but I'm still expecting at least 7 hours of hiking. On top of that, it is supposed to rain and there may be thunderstorms. Hope I feel better tomorrow morning than I did today or else it is going to be one of the worse days on the H2H!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Urs Ruefli reappears

Perhaps he/she/it was also in Monaco?


Strange Things in the Alps – Porkie, the new hero
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

During the past week, Porkie has become the center of the global media attention. There are now dozens of helicopters over the Alps that look out for the group. While initially the public opinion considered Porkie as dangerous pork killer, he is now usually seen as a victim of the red guy. Let me summarize some noteworthy publications.

The Union of Meatworkers suggests that Porkie should be treated like one of their members. They claim that the red guy is violating various rights of Porkie. Meatworkers must not work longer than 6 hours without a break. They are entitled to 2 rest days per week. Their work place has to be dry and clean. Overall, they list 12 worker rights of Porkie that are constantly violated by the red guy. As a result, they plan a big strike of the Meatworkers across Germany.

The Catholic Church states that Porkie is not just a giant, but also a human like all of us. Nobody knows what he did to receive all that torture, but, like anyone of us he deserves a chance for rest and peace. The Church organizes special events where people around the world can gather and pray for Porkie.

George Bush announced that he would send rescue teams to Porkie. He stated that the Alps are now on the axis of evil. Would they be in Texas, he would tear them down and pave them like a huge parking lot. But since he was told that they are in the middle of the plots of Angela, this Australian guy, and the chocolate country of which the name he can never remember, he feels that a more subtle approach is required. He asked Arnold to head the rescue team. Arnold told him that he knows the Alps better than anyone else. He is now putting together his team, consisting of 600 armed actors, led by Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, and Charles Bronson.

Amnesty International teamed up with Greenpeace and also sent out their combined troops. Included are 16 helicopters that throw down encouraging letters in 34 different languages, as well as pork packages in 34 different wrappings. They applaud Porkie for not eating whale flesh and for being outside so much, but without consuming any natural resources besides pork. They also provided some statistics that show that pork is the one natural resource that can be renewed without any problem. Thus they also demand that nuclear power plants have to be converted into pig farms. Porkie has become their figure head for this global campaign.

Stage 74 -- Monaco to Colomars (Aspremont)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Oct 3rd, 2007

We were unable to find rooms at either Aspremont, where we originally planned to spend the night, or at Tourrette-Levens, which would have made the day shorter, so we had to lengthen an already long day by another 45 minutes or so. My hiking time was therefore around 8.5 hours... not really what I needed after several days off!

Russell and Sally, the former to spare his knee and the latter because the former wasn't doing it :-), chose to skip the climb from Monaco that retraced the route we had come down last Friday. Instead they took a taxi up and met me at the Col de Guerre where we first saw the Mediterranean. It took me about an hour and three quarters by foot, and it took them about 25 minutes by taxi -- testifying both to the density of traffic in Monaco, and to the inefficiency of the street plan.

It became a long day. Perhaps it was our heavy hearts at leaving Monaco, perhaps it was our heavy stomachs after several days of gastronomic excess, or maybe it was something else, but what is certain is that both Russell and I felt very slow and listless today. On the other hand, Sally seemed unaffected and strode ahead for much of the day.

We considered ourselves fortunate to find a place to eat around 2PM in Cantaron, after having failed in Drap, even if it did not exactly inspire confidence as to quality or even cleanliness. But the food turned out to be copious and solid, even if not quite what one would call haute cuisine (meatloaf at Alan Ducasse? Unlikely...).

We arrived at our hotel around 6:30PM, and after a shower and a light dinner (lunch was still squatting in our stomachs) we retired to our rooms at 9. Tomorrow looks like it will be another long day....

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Stage 73 -- Peillon to Monaco

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Sept 28th, 2007

Sorry about the lack of posts for the last few days: we're in Monaco and the H2H has seemed far away. But tomorrow we go back on the road again, and so my thoughts have returned to the blog.

The hike from Peillon was exhilarating. The first view of the sea from about 620m as we came up to the crest of the last ridge was deeply satisfying. As we came down into Monaco, we passed La Trophee des Alpes, a victory monolith erected to celebrate Rome's subjugation of the Alpine tribes almost 2,000 years ago. I understand sort of how they must have felt. After more than three months hiking along the great southwestern arc of the Alps, we had finally won. Very, very satisfying.

And Monaco. Well, what can one say? Monaco is never disappointing, and when one reaches it after a journey such as ours, well, it seems like a little bit of paradise on earth.

We were met in front of the Casino by Lidia and Madeleine, both dressed to the nines and looking immensely chic and sophisticated, and then, after several photos, we walked through the revolving doors of the Hotel de Paris and stood in the vast and elegant entrance hall savouring the moment.

Lidia had done an excellent pre-arrival PR job and so the doormen knew who we were and thus did not try to evict us out of hand. We checked in, went up to our rooms, and since then have been enjoying a truly sybaritic interlude. Dinners in some of the finest restaurants in Europe, cabaret and gambling in the Casino, walks along the ranks of the mega-yachts in the port, and through the alleys of the old town, visits to the superb acquarium and exotic gardens, lounging by or in the salt-water pool, massages... it goes on and on.

In addition to Lidia and Madi, Christine rejoined us for four days, and our friend Francois -- a true gourmet if I have ever met one -- came to town for a memorable meal at Alain Ducasse's Louis XV and pronounced the meal and service and ambience -- the whole experience in fact -- flawless and quite possibly the best meal he had had in his life.

It has been that kind of a stay here in Monaco.

But all things have their time, and some must come to an end, at least for a while. Lidia and Madi left yesterday, we leave tomorrow. We have several long and tough days of hiking ahead of us before we meet Dad and Oliver in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and the easier, shorter, flatter days of the end of the H2H are upon us.

On the injury front, Russell had his knee injected with steroids and was told to not hike for 15 days if he knew what was good for him. Apparently he does not know this. However, we will try to find some ways to shorten some of the longer hikes for him.

The weather here on the Cote-d'Azur has been hot the last few days, but I hear rumours that it is supposed to get colder and rainier later on in the week.

Although there are "only" 19 stages left, we clearly still have some challenges to overcome. And so I'll be blogging again more regularly until the Neverest Fest begins on the 26th.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stage 72 -- Sospel to Peillon

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Sept 27th, 2007

It rained all day yesterday; lucky it was a free day :-). Today dawned clear and sunny, but clouds quickly gathered and it became a game of dodge the rain. For most of about 5 hours there were either thunderstorms or showers visible somewhere ahead, but the only time it rained more than a couple of drops on us was when we were standing chatting with a couple of English tourists outside our hotel in Peillon. So we went in.

Some tricky trails today. For a change we didn't hike along the path of a Grande Randonnee (long distance hiking trail), but instead took secondary trails. They were marked on my map as hiking trails, and there were in fact signposts and trail-marks from time to time, but the overall quality of the navigational aids was pretty poor. Despite this we went astray only once, however, and were fortunate to immediately be caught trespassing and thus sent straight back to the right path!

The vegetation is getting more aggressive as we get closer to the Mediterranean: it seems as if every plant or bush we pass has thorns or spikes. This is the first day I have arrived with bloody scratches on my legs.

We passed through Peille -- a lovely medieval perched village -- around 2PM and stopped for cups of hot chocolate at a cafe: even though we didn't get wet from the rain, it was still quite cold, around 4-8C, I'd guess. Unusual for this area at this time of the year: we are only a few km from the coast, and the highest point on the hike was only around 1000m. There was snow visible on the some of the higher peaks around us: good thing we aren't crossing high passes now!

Our hotel, l'Auberge de la Madone in Peillon, another beautiful medieval perched village, seems exceptionally nice: an old inn with large rooms, and, at least according to the Michelin Guide, which gave it a star, an excellent kitchen. The only problem: dinner is at 8PM. I ate my last Snickers bar about two hours ago and am by now (7:20) starving, as is typical by this time of the day when we hike.

If you hear reports of earthquakes on the Cote-d'Azur, don't worry: it's only my stomach.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The reports keep coming... Urs Ruefli remains hot on the trail of those mysterious sightings in the Alps!


Strange Things in the Alps (for Dummies)
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

Today I interviewed Prof. Dr. Bruno Kirchgraber, an expert on stochastic and probability theory. I gave him all the known facts about Porkie and asked for his explanations. He put all the information into his computer network and ran a number of simulations and what-if-analysis scenarios. Here is the interview.

AAA: Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber, you have studied all the data about Porkie. Where is he, who is he, and what is his intention?

PDK: Let me answer your questions one by one. There are now 100s of people looking out for Porkie. But he seems to behave like a quantum particle. Either his location or his time are always hidden.

AAA: I'm sure you are right, but what do you mean by that?

PDK: Well, when someone can tell about his location, then he is already gone, when the location gets checked. It seems he is moving incredibly fast. If someone knows when he is, then he cannot specify the location. This is the typical behaviour of a quantum particle.

AAA: Right, I guess. Do you want to suggest that he is not human?

PDK: That is already the 2nd question. I cannot exclude that he is human, but if he is human, than of a completely inhuman kind. You have to remember that he must have walked through the mountains now for more than 40 days. That is no typical human behaviour.

AAA: Agreed. But what is his intention?

PDK: This is the most difficult question to answer. What motivates Porkie besides pork? Why is he taking all this pain and effort on him? To understand this, we have to look at the group as a whole.

AAA: Right, I guess you refer to this red guy and the other person that walks in between, right? What is your take on them?

PDK: The red guy is obviously their fearless leader. It is reported that he never looks back. I believe he is the one with the mission. So, I focused more on him in my simulations. And I found out surprising things.

AAA: Like what?

PDK: One of our simulations told us that this group constantly followed the route with the most terrible weather in a 300 km radius. That sounds interesting, but there is much more behind it. It is extremely difficult to predict the weather in the mountains even for short period of time. Our best computers can do this only for about 3 hours. It would take all the computers in the world, to make such accurate predictions.

AAA: What does that mean? What could a person with such capabilities do? Is he dangerous?

PDK: Well, he could predict anything. He could make a fortune with the stock market. He would know what people are thinking. He would know whether Porkie walks behind him or not. That's why he never has to turn around.

AAA: Amazing. But why would he seek the most terrible weather? Sounds like an inhuman idea, doesn't it?

PDK: There are various options. He might energize himself from lightning. He might want to make sure that all their trails are washed away. Or, for whatever strange reason, he might want to punish his followers.

AAA: Could he be a kind of vampire?

PDK: Not in the classical sense. This is all a mystery. We have still too little data about his strange group. But I will start my own explorations now…

Stage 71 -- Col de Turini to Sospel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, Sept 25th, 2007

Whereas the previous stage was mostly uphill, this one had over 2100m of descent. Knowing this, Sally tried to book a taxi to take her from the village of Moulinet, at about the halfway point, to Sospel, but without success. It turns out that although there are in theory taxi services in Moulinet and Sospel, in practice you have to book them a few days ahead of time if you want to have a chance of actually using them.

So instead she opted to walk along the road after Moulinet -- a distance of about 12km that took her 2.25 hours, but which saved her a good 750 meters of additional ascent and descent, including some very steep downhills which would have done a number on her shin-splints.

Russell, however, was feeling his oats, and decided to accompany me on the (exceedingly scenic) trails. Interestingly, although he said at one point that he thought it would be a day to ice his injured knee, at the end of the day I think that I was significantly more tired than he was. I'm not quite sure why -- one possibility is that I stress my legs more because I descend faster than he does, but maybe I just had an off-day.

I'll tell you one thing, though: even though I am still enjoying every day we hike, I'm sure looking forward to those four or five days off in Monaco.

Stage 70 -- Belvedere to Col de Turini

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, Sept 24th, 2007

We spent a nice relaxed rest-day with Mum. She got to see how we spend our time when we are not hiking (which largely consists of doing nothing, interspersed with a few chores and errands), as well as to see how we spend our nights (in the company of strangers, as two other hikers showed up during the rest day, checked in, and in the wee hours proceeded to snore, not loudly, but annoyingly creatively). She very much enjoyed the day, but I think the night left her unenthused about any such future experiences!

The following morning, after saying our goodbyes, we hiked off via La Bollene-Vesubie, another charming perched village, to the hamlet of Col de Turini. It was another beautiful day, warm, but not overly so, and we all found the hike fairly easy, in spite of the 1450m of climbing that it entailed. In the meantime, I think, we are in such good condition that we take pretty much any amount of uphill in stride. Downhill is, however, another matter, as the counterpart to condition seems to be wear and tear, and there is much more of the latter when descending.

Both Belvedere and La Bollene appeared to be prosperous and bustling, which is good to see given how close they came to being depopulated during the first half of the last century. However, the madcap antics of the local children leave one a little less optimistic about the future: in Belvedere we saw one pair, a boy of about 7 and a girl of maybe 5, zip by on their little bikes down a steep road, then turn sharply onto an upslope (the girl in particular wobbling scarily as she fought to keep control) directly into the path of an oncoming car. Which stopped, thankfully, just in time.

On the other hand, thinking back to my own experiences on bikes as a child, and later, maybe it is a wonder that any of us reaches adulthood!

Col de Turini is a funny little place -- a group of a half-dozen or so hotels at a low pass in the middle of nowhere. There is obe one rusting tow lift, but it is not skiing that provides the place with its raison-d'etre. As far as I can tell, the only reason people go there is because it is the end-point of one of the most famous rallies in the world: the Monaco to Col de Turini race, which is held each year in winter.

The race is both historic and extremely challenging, not least because the spectators like to dump snow and ice on the curves to make things a bit more interesting. After reading about this in our very pleasant hotel, which was filled with rally memorabilia (in addition to the main race itself, there are apparently many other events held along the same course throughout the year), I think I understand those kids in Belvedere a little better: they are just continuing the local tradition in their own way!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stage 69 -- Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore to Belvedere
<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Sept 22nd, 2007

A big day in a couple of ways. To begin with, this is the three month anniversary of the start of the H2H. Three months... that means we have been hiking for a quarter of a year! And the longest break I have taken has been two and a half days in Montreux: no wonder I sometimes feel tired!

Second there was a fair amount of "hidden" altitude in today's hike: i.e., ups and downs that weren't visible on the map. As a result despite the fact that we by now walk much faster than the estimates assume, the hiking time was almost 7 hours, and by the end of it everyone was flagging. Russ's knee was acting up again. Sally's shin-splints ditto, and her feet were aching My partially ingrown toenail was a significant irritation, and having run out of water about an hour and a half before the end of the hike didn't help things either.

It was a hot day and when this parched trio arrived at Belvedere we headed straight for a cafe and ordered a total of seven drinks plus a large bottle of mineral water, much to the amusement of the owner.

A nice little village, Belvedere, but with way too many cars parked on its few navigable streets and an astoundingly loud church bell tolling the hours. The French habit of ringing the bell for a second time two minutes after the hour (perhaps in case you lost count the first time?) was not appreciated.

After rehydrating we set off to try to find our Gite. The fellow I spoke with when making the reservation had said that he would be away and that he'd leave the door open, so when we arrived at a place named "Gite Communal" and with the reception closed we thought we had arrived. It was only after entering the building and wandering through an appartment whose door happened to be open that it sunk in that this couldn't be the place. Luckily the owners weren't around.

One phone call, and a follow up question and answer session with a couple of women on the street, later and we arrived at the correct Gite... to find our mother there waiting for us. She, apparently, had had less trouble finding the place than us. So much for my supposed French language competence :-).

The Gite leaves me, thus far, with contradictory impressions. On the one hand I have to duck to go through most of the doors as well as in the bunkroom, and it smells a little of mildew, breakfast is not offered, and the toilets are outside and have no seats.

On the other hand there is outdoor seating, a couple of additional rooms for us to use, cooking facilities, and very pleasant and welcoming owners. On balance I guess that it is a good way of showing our mother how we have been living for much of the past three months.

This is, by the way (I worked it out during my middle of the night wakeful period) the 28th Gite / Refuge that we have stayed so far on the H2H. I believe that I am not misrepresenting Sally's sentiments when I say that for her this is around 27 too many.

Dinner was in a charming little pizza restaurant perched on the edge of a cliff in the fortunately thoroughly sanitized, premises of a former abattoir Unfortunately it will be closed Sunday night, and there is nowhere else to eat in Belvedere, so we are lucky that with Mum's car we are mobile and can go down to the valley town of Roquebilliere to have dinner.

Four days more hiking to Monaco!!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stage 68 -- Roure (Refuge de Longon) to Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Sept 21st, 2007

A very pleasant hike today, with, once more, very pleasant weather. Perhaps a little too pleasant at times, especially after the roast leg of lamb at lunch... but I am getting ahead of myself.

The hotel in Roure I have decided, upon reflection, to downgrade from "little gem" to "very nice". The reasons? Little things, mostly attributable to a poor choice of interior decorator, such as showers that were too shallow and lacking a curtain (so the floor got flooded), sink taps that were too close to the edge of the sink, doors that closed automatically with a bang (and couldn't be closed manually softly unless you waited for several seconds), and so on. Nevertheless, it was definitely very nice.

The descent from Roure to Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinee was also very nice, winding down the hillside through fields and woods (including lots of sweet chestnut trees -- it reminded me of Tuscany). The main street of Saint-Sauveur was nothing special, but then the climb to the village of Rimplas was spectacular, ending with a lengthy stretch cut into fairly sheer cliffs.

Rimplas is a beautiful little village, spectacularly located, and with an excellent little restaurant ("Le Pous-Cafe" or some such), where I had the aforementioned leg of lamb. By the time we were done, and after also consuming a liter of red wine, it was 1PM, quite hot, and we were quite full. The initial descent was bearable, but the prolonged ascent afterwards was not.

We were thus more than glad to find our hotel in Saint-Dalmas, complete with a fat cat, friendly owners, showers and cool drinks. And dinner? Gigot d'agneau. Can't wait.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More from Urs Ruefli...

Strange Things in the Alps: Many theories

by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

Things are escalating. All major papers started with report series about Porkie. Some describe him as a danger. Some describe him as an evil force. Some have pity with him. Most were wrong. They assumed that he is a bear, killing all the pigs. But now they are coming around and recognize that this is not an animal. The behaviour is too consistent.

Some experts analyzed the path based on the casualties. The general opinion is that it is pointing towards Portugal. They have identified a huge pig farm in the North Portugal as the most probable target of Porkie. A Portuguese army general was quoted with the words: "We will protect our national pigs at any cost. This Porkie might be able to kill hundreds of Austrian pigs. But he will not get a single one from us." Of course he is wrong. At least in that the pigs were mostly Bavarian and not Austrian. But who can stop Porkie and his fearless leader in red?

But I am not convinced that Portugal is really the target. If aliens want to attack Portugal, they have better options than to start in Bavaria. For instance, they could start in Spain. Logical, isn't it? Logic is the base of all outstanding journalism. There has to be some meaning to all of this. And I will find out. I will speak to the experts.

Stage 67 -- Roya to Roure (Refuge de Longon)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Sept 20th, 2007

Hard to get very sozzled when you go to bed before 9PM. Dinner at the Gite in Roya was acceptable, breakfast quite good, but the mattresses were very thin. Overall, a B.

A loooooong hike today, longer than planned because the Refuge de Longon was full and so we had to walk a couple of hours further down to Roure. The day was as a result one of the longest hikes we have done: +1390m, -1740m, 25k, and a total of 8.5 hours hiking time even for such fit hikers as we currently are. I don't think I have felt this tired since the day I met Mel after racing through what should have been a 10 hour day. My feet feel as if they have been pounded flat. Poor Russ: it was his birthday today and I'm not sure he appreciated the present :-).

Roure, by the way, is a charming little perched village, and our hotel, whose name escapes me, but there is only one in the village, is a little gem. Definitely a place to come back to.

No doubt lots more to write and report, but I'm knackered. G'night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stage 66 -- Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee to Roya

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Sept 19th, 2007

Sitting at dinner last night, in the second very good restaurant in Saint-Etienne, I asked our waiter why it was that there were at least two good restaurants in the town, and, as far as I could tell, not hotels of equivalent quality. He laughed and said that he didn't have an answer (but that he basically agreed). On balance, though, I think I'd rather have good restaurants than hotels :-).

Lidia has in the meantime informed me that I misunderstood her request for more detailed information about cuisine: she actually wants me to say nothing more about food. Unfortunately, for her, she has only limited enforcement capabilities at the present time....

So, last night I had a very nice Confit de Canard, with pommes sarladaises that were not quite how I prefer them (which would be super-thin and heavily caramelized), but which had lots of garlic as partial compensation. Mmmmmm. The previous night the highpoint was the salad, or more precisely the salad dressing. I'm not quite sure what they added to the basic vinaigrette (and they refused to tell me, citing the official secrets act), but it was intoxicatingly good. And the dessert (nougat ice-cream, laced with caramel sauce, in a bed of whipped cream on a crepe) came in a close second.

And that's probably enough of that, at least if I want to keep using this keyboard: too much saliva dripping on the keys will have negative long-term effects, I'm sure.

Just a short hike today (maybe 3.5h, I'm not sure, it went so quickly), up to the Plateau d'Auron, whose purpose-built ski-resort was actually much nicer than expected, and then over the Col de Blainon (2013m) before a short descent to Roya (1500m). Californian landscapes -- everything golden due to the long drought -- plus picturesque European ruins (the valley has clearly known better times). Very nice.

We arrived around 2:30 to find the refuge shut and a message from our host announcing that he'd be back around 5PM. Luckily the weather was near-perfect, there was a nearby fountain for rehydration, and I had had the unusual foresight to buy a paper in the morning, so the enforced lounging about on the patio in the sun was more than tolerable.

I felt unfit and bloated at the beginning of the walk today -- a result in part of the two days of inactivity and twice a day restaurant visits, and in part (it turned out) because I really was bloated (too much garlic last night). As a result, I tried to maintain a decent distance to my fellow hikers :-).

The Refuge here in the tiny hamlet of Roya seems very nice: newly renovated, run by a young couple (he is from the area, she is from Montreal), and with a cat and a wine cellar. The cat just brought in a lizard, and I'm going to start drinking the highly barrique (oaked) Corsican red wine the owner recommended. Given my choice of subjects above while sober, I feel that I should perhaps stop now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rest days in Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday / Tuesday, Sept 17th / 18th, 2007

So, I'm sitting on my bed after hiking Sunday night and think to check my resting pulse rate as an alternative way of assessing whether or not all this hiking is making me fitter. My preferred method would be to look in the mirror and see someone whose belly and BMI (Body Mass Index -- a measure of the amount of fat versus lean muscle and bone that one is carrying around) are like Kristof's... but since that doesn't look like it is going to happen by the end of the H2H (although Russell keeps assuring me that I look much thinner, as I do him), I am forced to resort to secondary measurements.

So, I take my resting pulse: 46 beats per minute. Astounding. I haven't been that low in my life, as far as I can remember. Perhaps there has been something of a cardio-vascular reset after all.

It is now midway through a second day of enforced laziness in Saint-Etienne Frankly I would have preferred to hike today, and even Russell said yesterday evening -- unprompted -- that he felt like he could easily hike today, but I think that for Sally these days remain psychologically essential (quote from dinner yesterday evening: "I just wish it were over.").

It doesn't help that the weather forecast has been proved wrong once again, and both yesterday and today were sunny. Which makes me a little worried, since they are currently predicting sun for tomorrow as well.

Fortunately I have a number of things that I need to or want to or can do on such days. I typically pick up an English paper or two, blog, handle email, make reservations for upcoming days, make a few phone calls, and, as is the case today, have the odd conference call. In fact, today's conference call starts in one minute, so toodle-oo.

A fifth anonymous post

I'm starting to get an inkling about what this might be about...


Strange Things in the Alps: Getting closer
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

Today I spoke to another witness. Actually to two of them. A father with a young son at the age of 11. Two days ago, they were hiking in the mountains That is noteworthy, because it was raining all day. When asked why they went out at such a terrible day, the father only pointed to the poor boy. I assume he referred to his weight. At a height of only about 150 centimeters, the boy had a weight of at least 88 kilos. Not a nice picture, I can tell you. I found out that the father had threatened his son that he would hike with him every day, if he ever crossed the 90 kg line. That was the case 3 days ago. That's why they went out at that terrible day. They walked for three hours and didn't see a single soul. The rain became stronger and stronger. The father finally decided to seek shelter under some big tree. Suddenly the man noticed that his son had stopped crying. He looked at him and saw him staring into the distance. When he turned around, he noticed three figures walking towards them. The first one was wearing a bright red something. The next one was close behind. The last one was a giant who seemed to walk under great pain. As they came nearer, they could hear the giant moan at every step. Both father and son were stunned. The group came slowly nearer and nearer. When the red guy was about 5 meters away, they could see his more clearly. He had a happy grin on his face for no obvious reason. The father greeted them loudly. The red guy did not even seem to notice him. He passed by in less than one meter distance with this happy grin on his face and an aura of energy and purpose. The father told me that he was so glad that he was not exactly in his way. "He would have run straight over me", he said. "He knows where he wants to go and nothing can stop this guy." The next figure seemed to be a woman, although difficult to say with all the rain and heavy raincoats. She also passed by without a word, simply staring at the back of the fearless leader. Then the giant came up. First they thought he would also simply pass by. But when he was a few steps away, he stopped and looked at the boy. "I grew quickly uncomfortable by his stare at my boy. First I was not sure, what it reminded me of. But then I realized that it was the stare of a predator, looking at his bounty. Slowly, he lifted his enormous arm and pointed at my boy. I could not really hear him, but read his lips. P_O_R_K." The father still shuddered when he talked about it. "I shouted to him that this was my boy and that he should leave him alone. I could see that he was not listening. His tongue was licking over his lips. My boy didn't make any sound. Then the giant started to move. In that moment, I knew what I had to do. After all, I am a good father, even if I'm unable to control the appetite of my son. I quickly dropped my backpack and threw it towards the giant. I shouted "PORK, PORK, PORK" and pointed to the pack. Then I grasped my boy and we both started to run. The giant looked after us and then turned to the backpack. We ran for 10 minutes until we both fell down exhausted. Since then, my son has not eaten a bite. We will never forget this day."

Shocking, isn't it? And do you know what? Porkie is not a bear, he is a giant. But he is not from this world. And I will find out why he is here and what he wants.

Stage 65 -- Bousieyas to Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee

<reminder: photos now available at:

Sunday, Sept 16th, 2007

Our host at the Gite in Bouseiyas was as good as her word: she was back at 7 and dinner was at 7:30. Next to us sat a very nice couple from Holland, who we were to see a few times over the next couple of days because they were also hiking along the GR5 (Grande Randonnee #5, a French long-distance hiking trail that the H2H is identical with at this point).

The following day we opted for the shorter option to get to Saint-Etienne (although this still took around 5.5 hours); after four straight days on the trails there wasn't much appetite among my fellow-H2H-ers for hiking further than necessary :-). As a result we had lunch in a nice little restaurant in the charming village of Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, nestled in its wild valley.

Afterwards we walked on to Saint-Etienne, passing various hikers, picnickers, and even five kids on off-road motorbikes: clearly we are returning to civilization.

Saint-Etienne is a pleasant little backwater, for the most part overlooked by tourists who in the summer go further into the mountains, and in the winter stay at the purpose-built ski-resort of Auron a few km to the south. In consequence it is not exactly chock-a-block with good places to stay. Our hotel, le Stephanois, is probably the best in town, but even so has no en-suite bathrooms. Not quite what I was hoping for when we decided to spend two consecutive rest-days here. But at least the toilet (one for all the guests, as far as I can tell!) is of the western type and the place is clean and the owner friendly.

And since tomorrow and the day after are supposed to stormy, it looks like we have timed things right for a break anyway.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stage 64 -- Larche to Bousieyas
<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Sept 15th, 2007

My birthday today, and what better way to spend it than by hiking? Expecially when the hike is the last great hurdle on the H2H: the 2671m Pas de la Cavale.

During all the bad weather early in the expedition, this was the pass I most worried about, because it is high, steep, and faces north, and so is often one of the earliest to be blocked by the autumn snows. If it had been blocked by we would have had few other options; we might well have had to take transportation to the other side.

But it was, as forecast, a perfect day. Sunny, warm, hardly a cloud in the sky, not even much wind at the pass. And of course, no snow. The hike up from Larche was quite lovely, leading past a beautiful lake to the dramatic pass.

On the way we passed several large flocks of sheep being driven, I suppose, over the pass to descend to their winter pastures in the south. If I remember aright, there is a big Fete de Transhumance in one of the towns or villages we'll be going through in the next few days -- perhaps we'll see those sheep again.

Bousieyas is perhaps even smaller than Maljasset -- just a couple of houses Our lodging for the night is a Gite (like a refuge, but not high enough to be called a refuge) that closes for the winter tomorrow... so we have been exceptionally fortunate both with the weather and with our timing. Or maybe it was planned that way?

The owner of the Gite was off somewhere this afternoon, so she left the door to the bunkroom and shower open and put three cold beers under a bed for us. She told me, when I called her to reserve, that she'd be back at 7PM and that dinner would be at 7:30. I hope she is true to her word: we have nothing else to eat!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stage 63 -- Chiappera to Larche

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Sept 14th, 2007

A long climb today up to the 2683m Col de Sautron, followed by an equally long descent back into France to the village of Larche. It was foggy in the morning, windy and somewhat chilly at midday (at the pass), but sunny and warm as we went down. Christine's blistered heels gave her problems again, unfortunately, but everyone else seemed to be fine (or, in Russell's case, as fine as his knee gets).

The landscape in the meantime has become very dry and dusty, unusually so, according to our host in Larche, who said that there has been no rain here for three months. Good for us, since it means that these last few high passes are snow-free, but bad for the environment, agriculture and forestry. We haven't seen any signs of fire, however.

It has been a strange summer in Europe: exceptionally cool and wet in the north and west (with floods from time to time throughout the summer), and exceptionally hot and dry in the south and east (with horrendous fires, particularly in Greece and Italy). Not an optimal one for the H2H, to be sure, but also not tragic. I suspect that when I go back to tot up the bad weather days for the hike as a whole, I'll find that they were about what I had estimated they would be while planning.

Sort of an end-of-of-the-world place, Larche: almost 100k from the nearest train station (at least in France), it nevertheless has a fair amount of visitors due to the fact that nearby is one of the lowest non-tunnel roads into Italy -- under 2000m.

Our hotel rooms were basic, but once again the people were very nice and kind. Russell spoke to them once we arrived to arrange a birthday cake for me, and in just a couple of hours they put together a very good meringue and ice-cream concoction. I was not expecting it, so it was a nice surprise and we had a merry dinner.

This was also Christine's last day on the hike. She was with us for 8 stages -- one of the largest number done by a guest hiker -- and she held up much better than I had feared after seeing her struggle (knees / blisters) for the first few days. Her humour and good humour were also very welcome, and we will be sorry to see her go tomorrow morning. However, we'll see her again for a couple of days in Monaco, so it wasn't a final goodbye.

Tomorrow is the last big pass of the H2H -- and the weather is supposed to be perfect. Excellent....

Another "anonymous" post...

They just keep on coming...


Strange Things in the Alps: You heard it first here!
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

I knew that it would not stay unnoticed for long. Today, some major newspapers were reporting about the strange things in the Alps. Let me summarize.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported in a long article about the significant number of pig-related incidents. They listed even a few more that I was not aware of. But they had a wrong theory. They suspect that this is another wild bear. You might remember last year's drama related to Bruno the bear. Due to a lack of imagination and diligence, they simply assume that this is another bear. But I know better.

Then there was a report in the Abendzeitung. Obviously, they picked up the Sueddeutsche story, because they also assigned the events to a wild bear. They even quoted a person who stated that he thought he had seen a bear with a pig under his arm. What poor journalism is that?

And I just know got today's copy of BILD Zeitung. It is the headline: SAVE PORKIE!
It is depressing, isn't it? But I will reveal the truth.

Stage 62 -- Maljasset to Chiappera

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Sept 13th, 2007

Dinner at the Refuge in Maljasset was OK, not great, but acceptable. The guardian, however, saved our impression of the place by being extremely helpful the following morning when Christine realized that she had probably left her wallet (and passport, and credit cards, and...) in Ceillac (shades of Sally on the first day).

The guardian called the Matefaim, explained where the wallet might be, then when it had been found, called a taxi service and arranged for him to pick it up and bring it (the hour and a quarter drive) to Maljasset. It meant that we didn't start hiking until after 11AM, but since it was a short day it didn't really matter. And of course Christine was mightily relieved :-).

The hike was a simple up and over the Col de Mary / Colle Maurin and down the Valle Maira to the village of Chiappera. It was special, however, since this was our first and only time in Italy on the H2H. Sally was particularly pleased since she was able to try out her Italian, both with the guardian of the refuge and with one of our dinner companions. As far as I could tell, she had no problems making herself understood, as well as understanding what they said to her. And for my part it was a pleasure to, for a change, not be the only person who could speak to our hosts.

The Valle Maira is quite spectacular -- towering cliffs, rock spires, huge boulders... quite different, it seemed to me, from the French side. In addition, the refuge served an excellent meal, and a couple of Germans seated next to us told me that they were a little disappointed because they had had a six course meal at another Italian refuge the night before. Hmmm. Maybe I should have planned to spend more time in the Italian Alps? There is apparently a multi-stage hike that has been laid out recently in the Valle Maira... perhaps this is yet another place to come back to....