Saturday, July 07, 2007

Housekeeping -- stage numbering and comments

It has been pointed out to me that the stage numbering is inconsistent between the blog and the website. Mea culpa. Since the three of us did not do (and never planned to do) the first stage together, I got into the habit of referring to Stage 2 (website) as Stage 1. I'll try to give consistent numbering henceforth, so the next stage to the Fidererpasshuetter will be blogged as Stage 13, and not Stage 12.

I have also been asked about turning on the ability for readers to leave comments on the blog. The trouble with this is that there are automated programs out there that are similar to email spammers: they leave spam comments on blogs (I say this from experience). One can set comments up to be moderated, but this would require me to be able to use the moderator interface to accept or decline each comment, and for some reason I cannot do that from this phone. So, no comments. Sorry!

Russell's Fifth Post

Russell's enjoyment at being on the H2H continues to shine through in his latest post....

Stardate 1.13 Frigate third class Cook Schmolensky potatoe peeling specialist reporting :

I have graduated from pork to veal. If one is to add meat to this bag of bones, one must maximize protein intake. Since tofu is currently on interpol's top ten list of high criminals sought for crimes against humanity, I have had to find another medium, as my pork indicators have risen to toxic levels. In addition, the trend in Germany is to make a tofu substitute composed of pork, leaving me no choice, but to switch to the other light brown meat Sadly, even the most vicious of carnivores' must think twice about consuming veal as even carnivores bear (egg) young; however, ever the intrepid explorer, I embark upon the consumption of veal with zeal.

Today as I hiked I dreamt of beaches. I dreamt of beaches, sand, sun, pina colada, coconut aromas, palm trees and a specific Mexican waiter by the name of Manuel. I dreamt of this as water poured out of the heavens upon us, as if God himself had developed diabetes insipidus. Eskimoes have over twenty words for snow. I have over twenty curses for rain. As we left the Prinz Luitpold Haus, the rain was blowing horizontally, and it was like diving into a swimming pool. I had not ever considered bringing skiing goggles on this trip, which would have been useful yesterday, let alone an umbrella which might have been of some use today. I had surmised during trip equipment planning that an umbrella would most likely result in a MaryPoppin's equivalent maiden voyage after a brief gust of wind, breaking both the umbrella and myself upon landing. Yet even this most drastic of devices might have lent some utility to today's efforts. My mouth functioned as the filter in a pool, cleansing the ra
in water that entered my body, of all manner of weeds, twigs, bird parts, newts, dirt, and other nasty things. It rained all day, all night, and will continue to do so ad infinitum, if the weatherman is to be believed.

We had heard that the day was to improve somewhat therefore had a leisurely breakfast prior to departure a couple of hours after when we normally would. I noticed that the hiking group from the table next to us had hastened to an early departure. They were led by of all things a Nepalese gentleman, apparently slumming it in the Alps. He must have surmised something about today's weather that the weatherman had not, as the only time of the day with any clearing of the rain, was as we ate our leisurely breakfast. The hut's occupants also included a rowdy bunch of Belgian youths with whom I tried to pick a fight, but my inadequate flemish left me always the butt of the joke. They had apparently camped out the night before in tents, which proves to me that I am not the most stupid person in the mountains by a long shot.They awoke to dig themselves out of the snow, and thus had very wet gear. They had filled the drying room of the hut with this wet morass of materials, overwhelming the
capacity of the room, and so in the morning none of our stuff was dry either. There is no worse way to start a day of hiking than in wet clothes, other than perhaps naked or frostbitten. I hide my disappointment with a breakfast of pork, and plan to order veal at the next rendered opportunity.

Was it a dream? Had the 4 male owners/employees of the Prinz Luitpold Haus given certain metrosexual signals as they dutifully served the hut's customers? There were certainly no female employees visible. Did I have a Borat experience of wrestling with four young men upon wet Belgian tents in the middle of the night? Was it a dream....

Tomorrow I am promised another rest day. I will braid an escape rope from my own leg hair, and lower myself down off this Alp if the rain continues.

Stage 12

The wind had been howling during the night so I got up without great expectations as to the weather... correctly, as it turned out. Light rain/sleet when we woke turned to heavier rain while we were having breakfast and the wind continued to blow. It was clear that we were not going to be taking the high-level route to Oberstdorf, via Laufbacher Eck and the Edmund Probst Haus, today. Instead we would walk over the lower pass of Himmeleck (2007m) and descend via the long Oytal valley.

The hike would therefore be considerably shorter than the planned high-level route, and the weather was forecast to improve during the day, so there was no hurry to leave.

After a leisurely breakfast and some time sitting around in wet clothes near the Kachelofen (wood stove), hoping vainly for them to dry (the drying room we had left them in over night did nothing of the sort, possibly because it was already more than overfilled with the clothes and sleeping bags and rucksacks and who knows what else of a group of about 8 Nordic youths who after spending one night camping outside decided to retreat to the hut), we set off around 9:15 when the heavy rain slackened.

My boots had become sodden during the hike the day before, and a night in the "drying" room hadn't helped things: I was shortly squelching along merrily, as were Kristof and Sally (Russell's remained dry). At fault, at least in my case, was the fact that although I was wearing long pants, they were not waterproof, and water leached through onto my legs and socks and found its way into my boots that way. Today, our restday in Oberstdorf, I'm going to go to the sports store and see about buying a light-weight pair of gaiters (Gamaschen).

After a short descent in intermittently light and heavy rain, we started the climb (of about 450m) to the Himmeleck Sattel. The wind picked up as we approached the top, and when we went over the pass the windspeed was comparable to what it had been while crossing the Bockscharte the day before. At that moment, however, it was not raining, and the pass was low enough to have only a few traces of snow, so the experience was exhilarating rather than the painful terror of the previous day.

The rest of the hike was uneventful and we arrived in Oberstdorf (after a stop for Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cakes) in the Oytal Haus) at around 4PM. We said goodbye to Kristof (who was heading back to Munich on the train) and agreed with him that with luck he would hold until the end of the trip the distinction of being the guest-hiker who accompanied us during the worst weather on the H2H.

I notice that it has become a habit in this blog to thank the guest-hikers, but it really seems as if they have provided exactly what we needed when we needed it; be it cheering up, photography services, moral and tactical support, or as in this case with Kristof, expert Alpine guidance. Kristof: thanks immensely for hiking with us... and we hope we won't need you again as we did this time!

As I write this, it is mid-morning in Oberstdorf. Outside light rain is falling, but because we aren't hiking today, who cares? Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be fine for our ridge walk to the Fidererpasshuette, so all is well with the world.

Well, almost all. We had our first serious disagreement today. The issue, on the surface, was whether or not to take two consecutive rest days at this point. I think, however, that underlying this were a number of other issues for which the restday policy was a convenient channel to the surface.

The underlying issues include the grinding effect on morale of chronic pain, a philosophical difference as to the proper balance between risk and reward, and, most fundamentally, a growing awareness that our goals and interests in doing this hike are not as identical as we perhaps thought that they were.

I'll describe the surface issue first. Sally would like for us to take two rest days in a row now. She argues, undoubtably correctly, that many studies have shown that for optimal performance increase the body needs more than one day of rest to recover, and that by not taking more than one day off at a time we are slowing or stopping our own progress towards greater hiking fitness.

Moreover, she points out, it is better to try to heal a minor injury by taking a couple of days off consecutively rather than to run the risk of it becoming a chronic problem. Sally's feet have been hurting her since the first few days and she thinks that having a second rest day might help them to recover.

While arguing her case, Sally also made the following points:

o After all, we have lots of free days in the schedule: why hoard them? Why not use an extra one now?
o In fact and more generally, why not spend extra time at places we like? Why be slaves to the plan?
o Lastly, does it really matter if we are unable to complete the Alpine portion of the H2H before winter sets in? We can always take a train or taxi to the next stage that is snow-free and continue from there.

And here we come to the underlying issues. On the face of it, if you just look at the surface issue, I agree with Sally and we should take two days off now. But if you look at the big picture, then we disagree because we have different views as to the underlying issues.

My primary goal for the H2H is to walk the entire way from one house to the other. It is not my primary goal to be on vacation or to spend time getting to know great places we discover while hiking.

This primary goal is subordinate to safety (if it is clearly unsafe to hike, then we won't hike, even if it means that we run the risk of not being able to achieve the primary goal). And it is also somewhat subordinate to enjoyment: if we are all not having fun for a longer period of time, then we should abandon the primary goal and do whatever will make us happier. Life is too short to spend several unhappy months in pursuit of an abstract goal that is of no value to the wider world.

However, I am having fun and the surface issue is not one of safety, so I look at the primary goal: will taking an extra day off at this point increase the risk of our not being able to complete the hike on foot? And it seems to me that it will.

This is not a case of the schedule being arbitrary, or of me "hoarding" rest days. This is the "easy" part of the H2H: we are in the mountains, but they are relatively low for the most part and there are feasible alternative paths. This will not be the case between Sargans (at the beginning of Switzerland) and Bousieyas (about 10 days before Monaco).

We have seen in the last few days how bad the weather can be in the Alps in the summer. The Bockscharte was only 2164m: in Switzerland and in France we will be going over many passes that are much higher. 150m up and down in the snow in a storm (which is what we did) is plenty unsafe for me: if we encounter similar conditions where we would have to do twice or even four times as much climbing and descent to go over a pass, well, that's too risky and I will turn back or (preferably) not start that day's hike at all.

Furthermore, we have also seen that when weather like this sets in, it can continue for several days. That is why we opted to go via the Landsberger Huette and skip the initial dangerous part of the Jubilaeumssteig. Had we not done so, then only today would we be heading up to the Prinz-Luitpold-Haus, because only today have the winds died down and the temperatures gone up In this case, there was an option. Later there may not be... or if there is an option, it will be one which adds a couple of extra hiking days -- or more -- to our route.

And all of this matters because the great risk of the H2H is not getting out of the Southern Alps near Monaco before the winter sets in. As it is, we cross our last high pass around the same date as the huts in that area close for the season. Anything non-safety-related that increases the possibility that we will be too late is therefore unacceptable -- at least to me. And taking an extra rest day now when we do not absolutely have to would increase that risk. I would rather "save" rest days now (i.e., take proportionately fewer than we will on average over the whole H2H), rather than "spend" them and then not have them when I need them later.

But, and here we come to the root of the affair: doing the H2H on foot the whole way seems not to be as important to Sally as it is to me. Or possibly it is as important, but her chronic foot pain is making it unpleasant enough for her so as to supplant the primary goal (as, by the way, might very well be the case for me if I was suffering the same pain).

And here is the key: that's OK. There is no reason why it should be as important to her as it is to me to do the whole thing on foot, nor why she should accept intolerable pain. She can take a free day (or any number of free days, or even stop altogether) any time she wants: she is under no obligation to do the H2H. Of course I'd much prefer for her to come along, but she needs to do what is right for her.

Just as I should do what is right for me. I am still having fun. I feel as if I am getting fitter from day to day (for example, the initial weakness I felt in my right knee has almost disappeared, probably as a result of the supporting musculature getting stronger). I have no chronic pain (or rather, the pain I have -- the Morton's Neuroma -- is minor enough so that I can handle it), nor do I have any minor injuries which would benefit greatly from two days rest in a row. So why should I put my primary goal at risk?

The bottom line is that if Sally needs to take a rest day, then she should do so; but I will not because I do not need to do so. I think that the situation is analogous to what happened on the C2C: where various people took days off for excellent reasons while the rest of us hiked on. The issues are just clearer when there are six other hikers who would have to wait around until one felt better rather than where there are just two others.

I should emphasize that this was a good talk. I think that this sort of discussion is normal in any group endeavour -- particularly on an extreme expedition such as the H2H -- and I believe that we ended up in an amicable place with, I hope, Sally understanding better where I am coming from.

At any rate, when I asked if I should also reserve the next five days accommodation for her as well, she said that I should, so it looks like, at least for now, the team is going to continue on together!

Interesting times....

I have just checked this post with Sally, before putting it on the blog, and she would like me to add the following points:

o She doesn't feel as if the disagreement merited the word "serious".
o The important thing to her is not to have a two days rest in a row right at this moment, but instead every 15-20 days during the trip.
o It isn't just the foot pain; she also feels as if two days rest in a row is qualitatively different from one day because she can relax more and enjoy the stillness and feel less of a nomad when she knows she doesn't have to pack for departure the next day.

Since it would be unfair to use my privileged position as the writer of this blog to have the last word, I'll leave it there. I hope the issues involved are sufficiently generic to be of general interest....

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Russell's Fourth (?) Post

The crazed blogger known (intermittently) as Russell strikes again. I hope you enjoy his latest missive....


Day#11\92 Prisoner 0928 reporting:
Time has become irrelevant. My captor has hired another ruffian to aid him in my abduction. This new fellow is whip thin, has a curiously pleasant demeanor, but sadly, with his addition, my escape becomes less and less likely During today's hike, I "Hearst-like" became afflicted with the Stockholm syndrome. I begin to follow eagerly as my brother and his henchman have maps and perhaps I might make it through today's hike alive after all....
My thoughts become fractured, telegraphic, splintered. I feel thinned, like the race of man, like the brass man, the golem, Mr.Crane, Neil Asher's creation. My vision tunnels. One speaks of beautiful views while hiking, but I have found that sadly my vision becomes limited to the one or two feet directly in front of my feet. To look up is to change the precarious delicate balance achieved by falling forwards head first and letting the feet catch up with the body. Thus, I inspect the path.
There are three sets of footprints - sheep, human, and a single bird whose tracks double back so many times I am convinced they must belong to that, long thought of as dead, strain, the dodo. Sadly, sheep are the perhaps the stupidest of herbivores, according to my gentleman farmer friends, and humans are reportedly at the top of the food chain, yet curiously I am out here in the mountains with only sheep for companions. Curious indeed.
Today I am forced to scale a veritable mountain through driving snow. Blizzard like conditions burn sleet into my left eye creating the inflammation known as keratitis, and the surrounding face is blasted as though the snow is sand. No one has ocular anesthetic drops with them, naturally, so I must suffer. I laugh to myself as I hear/see my brother's poncho develop a deafening whipping kite-like appearance in the gale force winds. If he is blown off the mountain I might have a chance to make a break for it. The downhill after the pass has snow up to the hip. I would have caught this on digital imaging had such a thought been able to develop in my hypoxic hypothermic mind. In the last throes of this state, I decide to remove all my clothes as I am suffused with a delicious warmth. They drag me on naked to the hut where I am chained in the basement and fed gruel.

Stage 11b

Wow. Today was extreme. I've seen weather like this while skiing, but not while hiking, and when while skiing my reaction was to get off the slopes... not an option available when you are an hour's hike away from a hut.

I'll begin at the beginning. We were up for breakfast at 7AM. Talking with the hut manager about our route he suggested that we should do the remainder of the Jubilaeumssteig since the section to the Prinz-Luitpold-Haus (PLH) was not particularly difficult or exposed and the other route would take 3h longer.

We set off at 7:45 with the temp at 2C and into driving sleet. There was slush on the ground from the hut onwards; not enough to make hiking difficult, but enough to make it unpleasant. We went over a first saddle into a howling gale that almost knocked us over. However, the wind dropped off quickly as we dropped down the other side, and for the next few hours as we traversed around mountainsides the weather remained pretty constantly crappy but not catastrophic.

Finally, after seeing various herds of chamois deer (Gemse), and a herd of sheep that insisted on walking ahead of us along the path for several minutes, we arrived at the Bockscharte, the final pass we needed to cross before reaching the PLH.

Problem: the pass was a couple of hundred meters above where we had been hiking, and above the snowfall line. As we hiked up the pass the slush changed to snow, and then the snow got deeper and the path got more difficult to discern. Soon we were struggling up vaguely intuited trails in 20cm of snow

Stage 11

I woke at 6:15 to check the latest weather forecast: horrible. Hurricane force gusts, rain and hail showers, at times heavy, and the snowfall line sinking to 2000m in the course of the day. Clearly we were not going to be doing the Jubilaeumssteig today. And given that the weather forecast for the following day (and perhaps also for the day after that) didn't sound much better, a rethink of the schedule seemed in order.

So, we changed our plans and decided to walk to the Landsberger Huette, with the option of either doing the rest of Jubilaeumssteig the following day if the weather improved, or alternatively taking a valley and two saddles route to the Prinz-Luitpold-Haus that we expected would be safe even if the weather was bad.

Since the Landsberger Hut was not far away (some 3h or so), there was no hurry and I went back to bed. After breakfast at 8 we played a round of Carcassonne, said goodbye to Richard and Lidia (who headed back via taxi and then car to Munich), played another game of Carcassonne, and then headed out around midday.

In the meantime we had seen at least a dozen heavy showers pass through, so we were not surprised when it started raining shortly after we got outside, and continued on and off (intermixed with hail) until we reached the Hut in the mid afternoon. Surprisingly our spirits were not dampened by the weather: I can't speak for the others, but in my case I was thinking that it might be raining, but at least we were outside and hiking, and that was more than could be said of, well, of anyone else, actually, since we didn't see a soul on the trails!

After a shower and yet another game of Carcassonne (have I mentioned that we really like the game?), we had just sat down to dinner when Kristof appeared. He had taken a series of trains and busses from Munich to the Vilsalpsee and then had done in 1h 15m what took us about 2h to do. He wasn't as heavily laden, that is true, but it is also true that he would probably have done much the same time even if had he been!

We had a nice evening and now, at 22:31 I am going to go to bed. We have a long hike ahead of us tomorrow -- around 8h if everything goes as planned -- and since it will be cold and rainy/snowy, we'll need every ounce of energy. July 4th in the Alps is rather like Christmas :-).

I probably won't be able to post this or the previous post for a couple of days until we get to Oberstdorf because there is no reception here.

One last thing: I didn't know Richard very well before the H2H, but I had an intuition that he was a good person and that he would fit in on such a hike. My intuition was richly rewarded: he was always cheery (sometimes almost too much so when at the end of a hard day he ran up the stairs in front of me :-), always willing to help, a perfect gentleman and a quick Carcassonne learner, and in every way an excellent H2H guest hiker. Richard: it was a pleasure getting to know you better and we look forward to seeing you at the Neverest Fest!

Stage 10

The day dawned bright and sunny, but the weather forecast threatened rain showers later in the day so we started -- sadly -- early. Sadly, because the Hotel Schlossanger Alp is one of the best hotels we have ever stayed at. Not that it was one of the most expensive or luxurious, but everything was of high quality, the common areas were lovely and full of cosy corners and interesting things, the setting was charming, the rooms were decent sized with good bathrooms and sufficient furniture, the food was superb, and the personnel was clearly having an immense amount of fun working there. They even threw one of their own into a cauldron at the end of the evening (with, it should be unnecessary to add, the help of Russell :-).

We then descended into a valley and then began to climb the Breitenberg. We, that is, not including Lidia, who wisely chose to take the gondola, given that the day would be long, and the climb hot and boring.

A couple of hot and boring hours later, we met her at the top and headed for the Bad Kissinger hut. We had originally intended to go over the Aggenstein, but we decided that it would be better to conserve energy for the Jubilaeumssteig the following day, if the weather allowed us to attempt it.

As it turned out, however, we wouldn't have done the Aggenstein either way, because shortly after setting out from the Gondola Bergstation Lidia suffered a sudden and debilitating headache such as she had had only once or twice in her life before. Last time Russ and Dad recommended that she get a CAT scan (or MRI, I don't remember), and perhaps after this new experience she will actually do so.

So, we were presented with a bit of a dilemma: should we all wait, or just some of us, or should Lidia turn back or what? A complicating factor was that the likelihood of showers and thunderstorms was supposed to rise during the afternoon.

Lidia suggested that she and Richard stay to see if she would recover, while Sally, Russ and I continued. The logic being that the three of us needed to get to Tannheim on foot, while the two of them could either return to Munich directly or follow us and take the lift down from the Bad Kissinger Huette that I had seen on the map.

About 20 minutes later, looking back, Sally saw that Lidia and Richard were following us, so clearly she had recovered. Some short time later, at the Bad Kissinger Hut I discovered that it might be better if I learned how to read a map: the lift I had seen on the map was a lift for supplies, not people. And the clouds were closing in....

Luckily we had only a few sprinkles while going down to Tannheim, and Lidia had completely recovered, so the day turned out fine in the end.

Landhotel Hohenfels, where we stayed for the night, is also excellent -- a close second to the Schlossanger Alp.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Stage 9

After an excellent and enjoyable day off in Hohenschwangau (Russ went to an Internet cafe, Bea and Arnulf to the Schwansee to sun and swim, Peter and Sally to the Wieskirche and the church in Rottenbuch, I had lunch with Claudia, an old friend who lives in Fuessen, then Sabine and Michael arrived for Kaffee und Kuchen, Lidia showed up, Peter came down from watching the French Grand Prix, and we all talked for a while as we had done in the morning, then Bea and Arnulf and Peter and Sabine and Michael and Claudia all left, and the remaining five of us had dinner and went to bed early), today was not as good, primarily because it rained all day.

We started the day off slowly, since Russ and I needed to go into Fuessen to see if we could find someone who could reinforce the wristbands of our hiking poles (something about the two of us -- weight, maybe? -- was causing them to break with depressing regularity (i.e., every 3 days or so)).

We found someone who could fix them, but only by the end of the day, so we had to plan to get to Falkenstein by 5:30 so I could take a taxi back to Fuessen to pick them up (such are the absurdities of the H2H).

We set off at 11AM, had an uninspiring lunch at the Hotel Alatsee, and finally arrived at our hotel at around 5:30PM for a hiking time of 5.5 hours. The day was supposed to take only 4.5 hours, but the rain made descents slippery and sapped our wills on the uphills. On the plus side, we saw lots of salamanders (Molche).

The ponchos worked well for Lidia and me, although my propensity to sweat overwhelmed somewhat the natural ventilation. The pack stayed dry, however, and I only got cold when I went bareheaded (oddly enough in order to cool off :-).

The hotel, Schlossanger Alp, seems very nice, and the rooms are large, comfortable, and heated (which will help us dry our boots and clothes tonight).

Russell was a hero today: he offered to come with me to Fuessen to pick up the reinforced and repaired wristbands. When I said that it wasn't necessary for both of us to go, he said that we should play rock/scissors/paper for the privilege. And then he purposefully lost (it is possible :-). He said after that he didn't feel as if I should always be the one who had to take care of everything. Is that a nice brother or what? And then Sally said she would go with him (same comment about girlfriend).

The weather report this morning said the next couple of days are supposed to be rainy too, but I'm holding out hope that they will have changed their minds by tomorrow.

Carcassonne and dinner call....

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Stage 8

Well, the Kenzenhuette was an interesting experience. Unlike the Puerschlinghaus (where we stayed the night before), it at least had showers. However, also unlike the Puerschlinghaus, it was full (because it was Friday night), which meant that we were assigned one room for the five of us (three normals and two snorers), in which were to be found only three beds. Now, it must be admitted that the beds were slightly wider than standard beds... but not by much.

My logic machine kicked into high gear: ok, Russ and Sally in one bed, that's clear, now, who is the widest person left? Me? Well, then it only makes sense for the other two (Dave and Richard) to double up, and I'll just have to sleep alone :-). Anyway, since I can't sleep when people snore, I figured I'd be suffering enough as it was.

In point of fact, however, I slept like a lamb. The reason was three-fold. First, Sally kindly inserted my earplugs correctly so that I could hear almost nothing. Second, Russ kindly gave me some Benadryl to knock me out. And lastly, and probably most importantly, the two snorers kindly exerted themselves so as to sleep on their sides rather than their backs, and as a result apparently did not snore. At least, the one time I was awake for more than a few seconds during the night, they were not snoring. Much appreciation is hereby duly noted.

We set off at 7:40, climbing immediately up to and over the Kenzensattel, and then shortly thereafter to the hole in the rock known as the Fensterl. The weather was cool, but the climb steep enough so that I proudly noted a new maximal sweat line on the brim of my H2H hat.

By the time we reached the top a stiff breeze had come up and it was much colder. So much so that when we stopped for lunch on the Kraehe (first time over 2000m!) everyone put on multiple additional pieces of clothing. Sally's delightful pink / purple knitted hat should receive special mention at this point.

We didn't stay long, pushing to descend by a path marked with the same "Nur fuer geuebte" (only for experts) sign that we had been seeing for the last several days. I can report that legs stiff with cold can transform a regular goober path into a truly challenging climb!

Shortly, after, while heading down to the Niederstraussberg Sattel we heard in the distance someone disturbing the peace by yelling through the pristine mountain air. It is amazing the lack of consideration that sopme people have these days, isn't it?

Then Sally says, I think they are saying my name. And Dave says, I think I heard Russell's name too. And I say, well, if it is Russell and Sally, then it is Bea and Arnulf... and it was. They had come up the Tegelbergbahn and hiked towards us, just like they had done a week earlier in Bad Toelz. I think it was very nice of them to let us know they were there long before we met them, no? Grin. Once again, a lovely surprise!

We walked on. By the time we reached the Tegelbergbahn Bergstation it was around 3PM and we had been hiking for over 7 hours with a long descent of some 900m still to go. Russell was starting to fade, and not even the consumption of an icecream (or was it a Radler Mass?) improved things. By the time we reached the bottom of the beautiful trail leading down the ridge to the Marienbruecke, with spectacular views of Schloss Neuschwanstein (the Disney Castle, for those who haven't been there) and the picture-perfect landscape around Fuessen, he was moving at about half normal speed.

We arrived at the Schlosshotel Lisl in Hohenschwangau at around 7PM, some 11+ hours after starting in the morning. Welcoming us was our uncle Peter, who had booked us lovely rooms in the Jaegerhaus annex. After a short break to shower and change we had a long, lusty, and excellent dinner, during which Russell recovered remarkably. Around 11 we wandered off to bed, all, I think, well satisfied with the day.

One last thing: Dave left us to return to the US in the middle of dinner, and we will sorely miss him. Our first guest hiker, our first (and most prolific!) photographer, as well as the best hiking companion you can imagine (never complaining, always watching out for others, fit as a fiddle, albeit with an odd run / stop hiking style and a tendency to snore when sleeping on his back :-), it was a pleasure and an honor to hike with you, Dave! We look forward to seeing you at the end of the H2H for another few days of hiking if you can swing it with your employers back in the US.

And that was that. The next day was to be another rest day. I heard no complaints about the plan, for a change :-).

Stage 7

Another day, another beautiful hike: from the Puerschlinghaus to the Kenzenhuette. For the first time, I think, we did exactly what I had planned without unexpected alterations or delays, and so I was able to get a better feeling for our hiking speed: what I did last year in 6 hours, we did in 6 hours 10 minutes... which is for all intents and purposes identical when you take into account the group delay factor caused by us being five people instead of last year just me.

It was an unfortunately eventful day for Russell and me, with a couple of nasty moments. I was first: when walking along a narrow path on a steep mountainside above Linderhof I caught my foot on an oddly projecting root and was launched off the path downhill. I think I must have been at least six feet above the ground at one point and Dave, who caught a glimpse concurs

I was extremely fortunate in several ways. First, I must have cat genes: I turned in the air to keep my feet under me and to land on my haunch, then immediately turned further on the bounce so as to land the second time on my front, which allowed me to quickly arrest my fall. I still ended up over a dozen feet down the slope, but that was far better than it could or would have been had I landed on my head or had I started cartwheeling.

Second, there were no rocks where I landed, so I survived with just a couple of scrapes (and, a bit of a back-ache that showed up the following morning, so perhaps I pulled a muscle or two when I landed).

Third, at the point I fell there was a grassy slope, but at many other points along that path there were rocks and trees or even vertical cliffs. It was a sobering reminder of how quickly things can go wrong when you are walking in the mountains.

One odd minor side-point: about a minute later when I was telling the others what happened one of them said, "Your heart must be pounding!", so I checked my pulse: standard for hiking at perhaps 100 -- it didn't seem to have affected me at all. I'm not sure if that says good things or bad things about me, but it sure is interesting.

Next Russell. About five minutes later Russell was climbing above and over a large fallen tree that was blocking the path, slips, and slides down into protruding branch stumps, narrowly avoiding getting impaled and reaping an impressive set of bloody scratches on his arm for his effort. Later he was, in a much more dangerous place on top of a narrow ridge, to repeat my stumble, but he managed to catch himself at the last moment before he went off the trail.

I wouldn't say that either of us were pushing the pace faster than we should have done; it was just momentary inattention and poor decision making. As I said, sobering, but ultimately no serious harm done. Nevertheless I will change the H2H site after this hike is done to note that this day's path should not only be avoided if the weather is bad, but also if anyone hiking it is inexperienced: there are some vertiginous stretches that were, according to the team, significantly more difficult than the Klettersteig up Kofel that we did the day before.

Other than that, we had a great day. I think, and Dave, with whom I have had a running joke of responding to his "Man, it is so beautiful here" comments with "It is going to get better", concurs, that each day has been better than the last in terms of the countryside and the trails.

At one point we heard a couple of loud and insistent "caws" from a raven flying nearby, and when we looked at him he curved back to pass us and demonstratively did two 180 degree barrell rolls. Yes, he actually flew on his back for a few seconds, then flipped back rightside up, then did it again. Jonathon Livingston Raven in the flesh. We applauded, which must have pleased him, because the following day we saw what must have been the same bird and he did exactly the same thing.

Last thought for the day: I caught myself wondering at one point when it would start to feel real. I've lived with the idea of doing the H2H for such a long time, and in fact hiked from Bad Toelz to Hohenschwangau last year, that there is a pervasive aura of deja vu about the whole thing, as if I can't quite believe that I'm now really hiking. In addition,it is still so early in the hike that it doesn't feel like we have done anything really yet.

I wonder when I'll feel like I have really achieved something? Not, perhaps, until Montreux, which I have for long regarded as a "reward" stop, when we get a couple of free days and will eat and stay (if possible), in some very fine hotels and restaurants. A reward implies achievement, and moreover we will by then have done 40 stages, so perhaps that is why it feels that only then will it be real....

Russell's Third Post

Yet another communication from the twilight zone known as Russell's stream of conciousness...

Stardate 1.06 THE REST DAY - oh frabjous day callooo callay! A rest day has been granted! My brother is the wizard bearing fireworks!Wheelchair access everywhere is necessary as I am unable to ambulate more than to the toilet from the bed. Like a rickety pensioner, I hobble to breakfast whereupon pork and fruit are masticated. My feet though balloon-like upon going to bed, have decreased to merely a US size 14 (UK 13) ie. 2 sizes overswollen. We have come to rest in the most gorgeous town of Oberammagau, a unique yet classic bavarian town. Our hotel neatly situated in the center affords minimal excursion distances for the wounded. I have a few tasks. To cleanse clothes, to translate for Sally's purchasing adventures, and to frequent an internet cafe to post some blogs into the whirling electron storm of the website. These things done, I embark upon an anesthetic quest on the good ship Radler! Known throughout the world for it's healing benefits, it's wonderful flavors, and it's ref
reshing liquidyness, the Radler is known by other names: Shandy, Alsterwasser, Panache; however, you might never have tasted this half-half mixture of lemonade and beer, as the lemonade used in Europe is not available in the US (if you are reading this as an Amerikanos) -not really lemonade, more like Sprite but less sweet and less limey, it creates a beery drink that can be quaffed in nanoseconds. I have graduated from drinking in half liter quantities to the full adult portion of the MassKrug, one intense full liter. Seconds later one orders a second. To order liquids in this quantity generates a knowing grin from waitstaff personnel. They know you are very thirsty, they suspect you might have an ethanol habit, and they are aware that the toilets will soon be vigorously a-flushing. After hiking for days and miles, even on a rest day the body is in water defecit. T'would be intelligent to drink pure water, replenishing the body and mind, achieving once again a healthy balance for
the trials to come. Less than bright is to consume vast quantities of Radler-juice. This fools the body into thinking it has a revitalizing positive fluid balance, whereas really you're just feeding the liver empty ethanol carbs, drinking lots of sugary lemonade, and achieving a negative fluid balance as the beer acts as a diuretic, not offset by the lemonade component. Drunkenly dehydrated, you pruneishly order too much pork for dinner in the form of a pig knuckle or a schweinebraten, and the next day's grumpiness is guaranteed. I look at my companions and realize I am the only one consuming alcohol. I worry for them as don't they know misery loves company? I hope that tomorrow's hike is without distance or grade.
STARDATES 1.07-1.09 Gollum once again reporting. These days see me moving at an ever slower pace. I have found that to offset injury, one can learn much from the snail. The slower you move, the less likely you are to run into anything. Everything can be reasonably evaluated over time, and avoided if problems might arise therefrom. Each day's hike sees successively increasing distances, and as such, my dismay and pain grows commensurately. I like days of perhaps one or two hours hiking, interspersed with numerous rest stops, a couple of second breakfasts, some more breaks,
a lunch, and then the intermittent mountain-top restaurant with panoramic views and liters of radler-juice. How one is to get to the mountain top with such little hiking is a time-space dilemma I cannot delve into here. We H2H through-hikers have agreed to the tenet of utilizing no mechanical transportation en route. I begin to regret this foolhardy agreement, as I find that each mountain-top restaurant is serviced by a reliable, rapid, vista-exposing, yet sadly mechanical, gondola. Perhaps I would have been better served with a less absolute approach towards modes of transportation. The feet are a sore substitute for the wheel. Heck, a ride down from the top in a two man paraglider wouldn't be cheating would it? Sadly, the answer is yes, and my quadriceps feel as heavy and as leaden as a snail's shell as I descend the endless millions of meters on day 9 down into the crazy Ludwig II town of HohenSchwangau. or google under pictures for
Neuschwanzstein. If you are ever here, you will find my snail sweat trail embedded into the path down to and beyond the castle into town.
There will be a rest day tomorrow; therefore, no murder has to occur tonight. As the weakest member of the hiking team, I must always consider taking myself out of the equation as this incessant slowing of the pace of others' will way heavily upon them over time.