Saturday, July 14, 2007

Stage 19 -- Feldkirch to the Gafadura Huette

<reminder: some photos now available at:

An easy day today: hot and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky, and even shorter than the expected 5 hours -- instead it took around four and a quarter. The shortness was due to our tearing up a very steep slope this morning far faster than expected (or, perhaps, sensible: the sweat was dripping off the brim of my cap by the time we arrived at the top). The sun was due to a regional shortage of water to make rain as a result of a heavy drain on reserves over the last ten days :-).

We stopped for an hour (and second breakfast) at the Feldkircher Hut after the initial steep climb, then walked another couple of easy hours to the Gafadura Hut. Beautifully positioned high over the valley of the Rhine, this marks our first foray into Liechtenstein. Tomorrow we will go back into Austria for a few hours, then leave it behind for good as we descend (a total of some 1840m -- 6,000 feet) to spend the night in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.

The hut does not have regular showers, but they do have a solar-heated outdoor shower set up: fortunately for us, there was lots of solar heating today. In the 4.25h of hiking I drank 3 liters of fluid, and knocked back another liter when we arrived at the hut here. Pant, pant, pant.

The free day in Feldkirch was very pleasant -- it is a lovely town -- but I must confess to a slight feeling of boredom: I would have preferred to have been hiking! Sally most definitely could not relate to this sentiment :-) Seriously though, it is a little difficult to know what to do to fill a free day: after blogging and responding to email, learning some poetry, and perhaps buying and reading a paper, there is still a lot of the day to fill

If, as was the case yesterday, Russell is busy doing other things and therefore not available for a game, then "boundless and bare, the long and lonely hours stretch far into the future". I did walk around town for an hour, but one feels as if one should be giving one's feet and legs a rest. Maybe next time I'll do what Sally does and buy a book. It'll have to be either a short one or a light one though!

Russell's "blog 1.16"

Words continue to flow from his fingers like the screams of a man trapped in a nightmare from which there is no escape....

Stardate 1.16 crypts of Molchedom, whipped nameless Minion screaming:

Let me just get this quickly out of the way. Snow today, followed by whipping rain and cold. Frostbite and trench foot expected. Gruel lacking pork a faint carrot on the horizon. Suspicion, fear, loathing and hatred colored by feigned friendliness. Ipod electrocutes across earpieces, and brain is fried in process.

So, my fears have been realized. There is a greater plot afoot ("...where the hand of man has never set foot..."), greater than the MasterPlan of the trip, a hike from Munich to Provence. It involves demonic rituals, sacrifice, and pain. I know this to be true, for today, or was it yesterday ?, I sensed a hint of the underpinnings, the diabolical framework, the nightmare spoken backwards, that is to be my lot. See, my brother hikes in this large red poncho. I have described it before, in whimsical terms of glee at his inadequate clothing, but I now see it is a sign of his order. He is but one of many. Today, for the first time, many of his bretheren were out and about, a portent of great hiking evil. Due to the weather, everyone is wearing some sort of impervious protection, but today, a majority of encountered hikers had on red ponchos. Coinkydink? I think not.
They chant to one another as they pass, in a sub dialect I cannot unravel. A new coldness greater than any I have known, fills me with dread. Is it any wonder we recently stayed in a town called Schroecken ? I think that translates to Screaming or Scarey, or somesuch bad juju.

Today my pains reached new lows. I have developed a bilateral Morton's Neuroma. This manifests in the sensation of a small ember embedded in the foot, at the base of the second and third toes. Every step has an acorn in the shoe, which cannot be removed. A burning stinging sensation extends along the inner aspect of digits 2 & 3. One hobbles along, utilizing all manner of funny walks, to try to avoid pressure to this knot of pain, to no avail. When massaged, there is no palpable lump, which often leads others to believe you are lying about this process. You yourself cannot palpate it, leading to the suspicion of psychosomatic illlness. (Am I a pussy? Am I just trying to get out of this hike?) Sadly, both my brother and my girlfriend had acquired this entity upon last summer's trans-Anglic hike, and assured me I was not making it up. This is little solace. I had up till now thought myself immune to the petty physical failings of the flesh. I secretly reveled in the superiority of my
vastly superior body. I had no niggling aches and pains of foot failure, I was perfect! How far the mighty must fall... So now my plan is to acquiesce to the combined wisdom of my fellow hikers. They have found the application of orthopedic shoe implants a substantial intervention for pain mitigation. I will seek out this purveyor of pedis protection upon reaching the next vestige of civilization, this foot fixer, and have myself similar foot crutches constructed for future footing. I have never supported cosmetic plastic surgery, as it usually indicates insecurity and vanity, but perhaps I must change my tune, as I now too will get implants.

I have found the perfect food, to make pork pine, and veal vague.... deer! Tonight's gruel had lumps of deer meat in it, the most sublime of meats I have yet to encounter. In Europe, they actually raise these animals for consumption, a smart thing I must say. In the States, deer meat though delicious, is often very tough, no wonder given the spartan existence of these wily creatures. It is only in the farming and fattening of these beasts, that true culinary delectability is achieved. If you are ever in Austria, order anything from the menu with Reh in the title. You will not be disappointed. And for the vegetarians amongst us - try Pfifferlinge - a mushroom little available at home, but which has been brought here to a culinary peak unparalleled, especially in a cream sauce! Ein Guaten!

Sadly, all the rich food causes abdominal cramping and no sleep is obtained I will stick to pork from here on out.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sally's first blog

Responding (perhaps) to popular demand, Sally enters the blogging fray!

Well, here it is. Sally's Saga...

Hello and HELP! Just kidding. I have not yet had a chance to write being
excessively busy trying to quell the rebellion led by the insidious Captain
Feet and his various minions. But I'm starting in the middle, let me go
back to the beginning....It was a dark and stormy night, (Snoopy's start for
all stories) and Russ mentioned that his then sane brother had an "idea"
(nefarious plot, really) to hike from one abode to the other, with only the
Alps in the way, and would we be interested. I was, if I recall (my memory
storage limited due to recent deprivations), sitting, warm and cozy, and
thought, hmmm, sounds like fun. "How long" I asked Russ. "Oh, about 4
months". I thought, hmmm, cool. Looking back I must blame the book I was
reading, some heroic tale with rangers and wizards, for deluding me with
such absurd thoughts as "cool" or " fun". I have since stricken those
deceptive words from my vocabulary which has become quite small in the past
3 centuries, oops, weeks. The bolus of words in my current word bank are:
How long until we stop, when is the next rest day, do they have a foot
surgeon, and when is October. Seems small. Ah, I see I'm rambling. Get
it? Rambling???? (for you Walleye). Where was I? Ah, yes, Captain Feet.
You see, I've always been a size 8 in shoe. Dainty, really. Who knew that
feet expand with savage time? Who knew that feet swell with abuse? Who knew
they have a brain? So, to make a short story long, I continued in my vanity
and bought a size 8 Italian hiking boot and yes, I did go hiking with them.
But not for days in a row. Not for 9 hours in a row. Not with 33 pounds in
tow. No. So, I was in for a bit of a surprise when out of the blue on Day,
say, um, Day 2, a longer than Forecasted day, my feet led by, at that time
Lieutenant Feet, rose in rebellion against what they blamelessly perceived
as Torture. OUCH. What is going on? After about 4 or 5 hours, I felt what
is was like to walk over hot coals without any mental training. Every step
a step onto pebbles the size of Everest. Every step a step further into the
Inferno. About this time, Lt. Feet began his covert campaign (he must have
someone at HQ on his side). I began to have thoughts of October. Yes, I
know October (the end of the H2H) is a long way away. Yes, I remember Guy
(AKA-the Dark Lord) saying "it's about the Way, not the destination" or
something of that kind. Yes, yes, and yes. BUT. BUT. BUT. One is never
to old to learn new things, especially about one's self. I find I AM goal
oriented. October, here I come! Whoa, rambling again, sorry, must be
oxygen deprived. So, from Day 2 until Day 5 when we, Russ and me, (Guy was
unfortunatley, still hopping right along) crawled into the lovely town of
Oberammegau, my feet were in a world of hurt. I would wake up in the middle
of the night to relieve myself of my poor attempt to drown the pain in a
pint of good German beer, dreading the necessary act of putting my not
insignificant weight on those poor, small and dainty feet. Then, I would
hobble, hobble is a good word, to the bathroom and having found that quite
the ordeal, would crawl, crawl is a good word, back to bed. Same thing with
waking. But, there, in Oberammegau, I found the Miracle Worker. In a shoe
store not 100 feet (but still painful feet), there was respite, in the form
of a foot artisan whose family had been in the shoe and feet biz for over
150 years! First, he removes my shoes and examines my feet. "hmmm, yes I
see. Hmmmm...." Then he has me walk. More of the same..."hmmm." Then,
like the sun coming out after a prolonged storm, he says " I have just the
thing for you. We see this all the time. Come back in 5 hours and you will
see what I make for you". Joy. A small word full of big meaning. I also
had the shoe salesgirl show me new boots. I had a niggling idea my boots
were too small. I told her I did not know my size and could she figure it
out. She did and yes, I am NOT an 8, but an 8.5. Who knew? So I bought
new boots, came back later and got custom-made orthodic inserts for my new
boots. Ahhhhh. Ohhhhhh. So this is what it is supposed to feel like.
Would that those sentiments had lasted longer! Having demolished my feet
during those first 5 days, they are slow to recover completely. But, they
are gettimg better everyday. Everyday, Captain Feet (promoted after the
Battle of Day 5) has less ground to work on (walk on). Of course, there are
other minions to watch out for like Sergeant Torestdaze and Lt. Cudbehoam,
for example (work them out). And how is the actual hiking? Oh. The H2H.
Other than the above whine, it has been very....interesting. I've learned
that my slothlike reflexes do not stand a chance against my new enemy, wet
wood. Yep, there seems to be a suspicious (goes back to the "nefarious
plot") amount of wet wood, tree limbs etc, on the trails. There is not a
tree for miles but there is a sneaky little tree root on the trail and here
comes me, doodoroo, and WHAM! The foot slides left, the body flys right and
there you have it....a hiker down! Guy, on the other hand, has curiously
(suspicious, really) quick reflexes and has been seen to fly throught the
air with the greatest of ease, turning around mid-air in order to land
catlike on the side of the trail, albeit 12 feet down the side of the
trail. But still, he saved himself and the H2H from certain catastrophe.
Curious,no? What else have I learned? Hmmm. After 3 weeks of gorgeous
mountain meadows, spectacular views, beautiful landscapes and ridiculously
adorable villages, I understand more that aphorism about too much of a good
thing. After awhile (the first 4-5 hours of each day), the brain stops
seeing it and concetrates more on getting there alive. After ´4 hours of
death incurring trails,sweat and views, my amazingly slothful, greedy, and
decadent self only sees the bed, showers, and dining table. Am I really
that small? That awful? Alas. Yes. And it's early days yet! We have come
through some treacherous weather and terrain. The snow storm in July was
fun. I do mean that. It was really cool to feel the wind almost blow me
off the ridge. I am light! What more have I learned? Well, it's
interesting but I find that I get just as much peace and happiness from just
sitting in our garden watching the antics of the my rats and birds, from
looking at my lovely flowers as I do from experiencing these high mountain
beauties. So I got that going for me. Which is nice. So, today is one of
those rare entities, the REST DAY and really, I need to put my feet up and
eat Nutella and read and imagine Provence. Ah, October. A lovely month
that will no longer be known as the bad month, the month when Frodo was
stabbed by the Dark King (no, not Guy) on Weathertop, but as the month when
the we celebrate the end to the NOT vacation. What Was I Thinking??? Okay,
that's all folks, will write more later. If I live or am not
murdered. (Pssss. whoever is reading....if I mysteriously disappear...leave
no rock unturned....)

Russell's next post: blog 1.15

The mad blogger strikes again...

Stardate 1.15 ICU Dartmouth Hitchcock University, Bed #3, intubated, catheterized, sedated Patient MR#2334095 reporting:

The rain continues...

At some point, a constellation of events that can only be understood of, by the rational mind, as random, to the deranged mind coalesces into a perceived plot of sadism and abuse. For instance, the discussions over pork at dinner the previous evening, seemed to indicate an early start was appropriate given the length of the following day's hike. And yet, at the ungodly time of 0645 I find myself slathering layers of processed meat (pork? probably) on cheese on spreadable cheese on a roll with frustration and increasing anger. Why are they making me get up and hike again? Did we not do that just yesterday? ( & the day before that and the day before that, etc) Why could we not get up later? Isn't rest needed for recovery ? Hasn't sleep been built into the MasterPlan for this expedition? Had I really agreed to such nonsense as an early start or had something been slipped into my beer?
I sense a plot afoot intended to thwart any feelings of well being I might be developing.
I grudgingly apply my hump, the backpack, and QuasiMotor out of the hut into the half light of dawn. Clouds loom overhead ominously, and I know they are in on the plot. Their laughter booms in the distance, and soon enough, rain starts to pour upon our heads. This requires a rapid response, for one must don all the purchased impervious nylon gear to protect pack and person from the insidious fluid. I have learned the hard way not to pack my rain gear at the bottom of my pack. Nevertheless, even moving at the speed of fear, one is inevitably sodden by the time one is protected from the rain, and underway. It's really somewhat a waste of time, as the impervious nature of the nylon means no sweat can escape from the bundled package of joy known as russell. This sweat accumulates, and a microclimate within my rain gear is created, akin to that of the monsoon. Warm wet sweat is wrung from my body, in ever increasing rivulets, to brooks, to streams, to rivers, until the moisture density
on both sides of the nylon is equal. Though impervious to water, somehow the result is that of no barrier at all, and one moves, having sadly devolved, in the medium of the amphibian.
Speaking of amphibians: there exists upon the soaking trails numerous examples of the creature known deceptively in German as the Molch; translation, Salamander.
These black prehistoric-appearing micro-dinosaurs abound, and there are too many seen for this to just be coincidence. Addlepated, I suspect there is some connection between my affectionate name for my girlfriend Sally ~ Salamander, and the appearance of these creatures. She has called them to her and this cannot bode well for me. We often shout "Molch" as we pass them by, I suspect to warn others to watch out and to not inadvertantly with vigourous steps squash them; but, as I linger behind the other hikers, I delight in spearing each minion (minny one), skewering them with the tip of my hiking sticks. They will not amass to cause me some sort of downfall, no way, not no how, uh uh.
My brother manages to eat two huge meals for second breakfast and lunch today. He appears thinner daily and hikes in the dowpour with apparent glee, often leaping from rock to rock. Though limiting myself to tiny portions of pork, as sadly no veal has been found on the menu for days, I must have gained weight as my joints complain at ever increasing decibel levels. Perhaps this can be attributed to the graduation from Radler to pure beer, which probably contains more calories than the watered down stuff. Sadly, without ehthanolic stupor, no sleep would be my lot at night, given the cacophony of coporeal complaints catastrophically chorused callously. The stronger liquid must mask the taste of the mind-altering, behaviour-conforming drug added by my captors .
Vespers is scheduled for 0300. I weep myelf to sleep, adding more fluid to the surroundings.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Second half of Stage 14 post

(Don't know why it refused to post it completely again... let's try it this way)

So, we returned to the hotel and I started talking with the reception desk people, basically intending to convince them to let us use the hotel's laundry facilities (as a rule, they had informed us, they didn't wash guests' laundry in house, but instead sent it out -- the only problem being that it would then not be done until Monday afternoon at the earliest). My efforts were, however, cut quickly short by Frau Nussbickel, who told the reception girl that she would take our laundry home and do it herself that evening. As said, a queen among hotel owners!

One more thing about Oberstdorf: we had there our best meal on the trip so far. Maximilian's, the restaurant, is apparently just about to get, or has already received, its first Michelin star, and, in our humble opinion, it is well deserved. The seven course meal we had was exquisite in every respect save one: the goat cheese creme brulee that Russ and I had for dessert was, I felt (and told them -- they took it well) a bridge too far (Arnhem / Arnheim WWII reference, which they understood).

Back to the hiking. The plans said that it would be a long tough day with a large amount of altitude to gain: 1730m. And it was. The initial climb up to the ridge took three hours, and then the ridge itself was a roller-coaster that added a significant amount of additional up and down to the day. Russell in particular found the climbing exhausting (he is, after all, carrying some 3+kg more in his pack than I am, as well as weighing around 18kg more than I do). The 350m up to the hut at the end of the day didn't help either!

The views from the ridge were, as compensation for the effort, spectacular, but the trails were as crowded as we have seen yet. Granted, it was a Sunday, but the primary reason for the crowds was the Fellhorn gondola: it brings up masses of people who then walk part or all of the way down the ridge. Many of these seemed to be real hikers, at least based upon their gear, but many were not (most notably the couple accompanied by their dog,and their cat, each on its own leash). Not even the hour or so of light rain we encountered while climbing up to the ridge seemed to minimize the flow of these day hikers (although it may explain the less than thrilled look on the cat's face).

The Fiderepass Hut itself was a nice place, but lacking in showers and individual bedrooms. This was our first night in a bunkroom and we were somewhat uneasy about the prospects for sleeping well. We need not have worried: there were no snorers in the room, and also since we got there early we were able to choose places that were uncrowded.

Dinner was fine except that I was served the smallest portion of Schweinebraten I have yet encountered. After some prodding from Russ and Sally I complained about the deficit, producing the immediate response of an additional amount of meat equivalent to three times what I had received immediately. With they redeemed themselves completely in my eyes and it was also a good reminder for me that I shouldn't follow lessons learned from Oliver Twist in every situation :-).

We were so tired that it was only with the greatest of efforts that we restrained ourselves from going up to bed immediately after dinner -- at 18:30. We played a couple of games of Royalty and then retired before 9PM. I listened to music (on my sunglasses -- I must have looked a sight) before going to sleep around 10PM.

Stage 18 -- St. Gerold to Feldkirch

<some photos now available at:

Well, how about that? A day without rain and a forecast without rain as well! And Internet / Email access, and a day off tomorrow!! All is once more well with the world.

And as usual when I say something like that, I have to add various caveats:

o the weather forecast is calling for a heat-wave, with valley temperatures reaching 35C in Switzerland (where, by the way, we will be in four days time, and we can already see it on the other side of the Rhine!). This will present its own problems and I wonder how long it will be until we are praying for rain and cold temperatures?

o Russell seems to have developed double Morton's Neuroma: we hope he can find a maker of orthopaedic shoe inserts tomorrow (Friday) who can produce them for him before we leave on Saturday morning.

But otherwise things are pretty good.

We had a hike of a different type today: through settings more reminiscent of English countryside (or, of course, of Romanian countryside :-), at least until you looked up from your immediate surroundings to the towering mountains all around. Fields and pastures, orchards and paddocks -- all very bucolic.

We set off around 8:30 and arrived about 3:15 (having taken a little more than an hour for an excellent lunch in a restaurant called the Roemerstube just outside of the village of Sateins), so the day was just about as planned.

It started off cloudy and cool but warmed up and the sun came out for ever longer stretches as the day wore on. I spent several hours listening to (and singing to... which may have something to do with the distance my hiking partners kept from me today) music on my sunglasses, for the first time while walking (I hadn't done it before because either there were fresh guest-hikers with whom to talk, or else because it was raining or threatening to rain). A nice moment came on the descent into Schniflis (great name) when the music was interrupted by a phone call: it was Lidia and we then talked as I walked.

The hotel we are at in Feldkirch is nothing special, but it was the best I could get at short notice: apparently there is an international gymnastics competition here right now (with participants of all ages from 55 countries) and so I was lucky to get any rooms at all. And, after all, it is clean and dry, so there is nothing to complain about.

As we get further and further away from Munich people we tell about our trip are getting more and more incredulous. That coupled with the fact that Feldkirch is the last place we will stay in Austria, and that we can see Switzerland already, and probably also influenced by the terrible weather conditions we have come through, have resulted in me finally feeling like the hike has truly begun. We have, in fact, now done about 20% of the way; still 74 stages to go!

For some of the day the paths we went along were marked upon the map as being part of that celebrated pilgrimage route the Jakobsweg (Path of Saint James). Interestingly, there were no signs of any kind on the ground to let pilgrims know where to go (whereas hikers need constant reassurance, it seems as if for pilgrims faith suffices). The only indications that a given path was on the Jakobsweg were an occasional Jesus on the Cross and the odd small chapel. However, since you can see those all over the place anyway, the indication was even more subtle: it was only the increased frequency with which the crosses and chapels appeared that testified to the path of pilgrimage.

We agreed that we were pleased to be on the H2H rather than the Jakobsweg for a couple of reasons:

o Firstly, we really appreciate the signs and trail-making and -maintenance work that help us hikers stay confident that we are on the right path.

o Secondly, walking 30k / day on the flat, which is apparently fairly typical for pilgrims, would absolutely kill our feet. After a mere 20k Russell felt unable to move from a horizontal position for more than two hours! Stop press: Russ would like you to know that "he is not a pussy" -- his feet are really killing him -- but he has good news: he found a maker of orthotics and should get a pair tomorrow -- perhaps they will help.

Tonight we'll see if we can find a decent pizza place for dinner: no haute cuisine for us today, just quick service so we can come back to the hotel, get horizontal, and go to sleep early. Tomorrow, however, our free day, is another question: there is a promising looking place on the Marktstrasse...

Repost -- Stage 14 -- Oberstdorf to Fiderepass Huette

(reposted b/c original was only half-posted!)

<Sent late because only now I have email access in Feldkirch after 5 days without...>

After a very pleasant rest-day in Oberstdorf we were up and out by 7:40 for the hike up to the Fiderepass Hut. First, however, a couple of words about the Hotel Filser where we stayed in Oberstdorf, or rather about the owner of the hotel: Frau Nussbickel, a queen among hotel owners. She came by this title in the following manner.

When we arrived in Oberstdorf on Friday afternoon, the first thing we did was to gather our dirty clothes and look for a laundromat. We were informed that there was only one in town, but when Russ got there at 16:55 he were told that a) it was closing in 5 minutes, and b) it was going to be closed until Monday, and c) it was the only laundromat within 50km. Not what one wants to hear when one is on foot and planning to hike away on Sunday morning

Stage 17 -- Buchboden to St. Gerold

<some photos now available at:
Woke up to rain... again. Here's an investment tip: invest in Austrian hydropower. One thing that there is no shortage of here is water.

After an excellent breakfast we played a couple of games of Carcassonne in the hope that the rain might stop before we left. Only a short hike lay ahead -- about 4 hours (the Berggasthof Bad Rothenbrunnen is about 30 minutes from Buchboden) -- but even so as noon rolled around we felt we should get going. It was still raining.

As we strode out I remarked that I was starting to feel like a real hiker at last: wearing dirty clothes, boots and pack having become second nature, and marching blithely off into the rain.

As we walked along the Lutz River, Russell observed that he could imagine doing the rapids in an inner tube, and Sally added that he'd better be wearing a wetsuit unless it was summer. And then both said at the same time: wait, it is summer! Technically, I suppose, they were right, but it sure didn't feel like it.

But then, a little while later, we spotted a patch of blue sky! And then, I think I have this right (it has been so long), the sun came out. That's what the hot yellow light in the sky is called, right? Remarkably pleasant, hiking under such conditions: I think that I could get to like it ;-).

Other than that the hike was fairly uneventful and we arrived at Hotel Johannishof in St.-Gerold at around 16:15 (having taken 40m for lunch -- we are getting faster!). Tomorrow we hike to Feldkirch where we will award ourselves another rest-day. Probably it will be sunny :-).

Stage 16 -- Schroecken to Buchboden

What a surprise! More rain today. Except at the Schadona Pass where it fell as snow. It did stop for our descent (thanks), but as I write it is raining again. However, since I am now inside, I don't mind as much and our host just told me that it will rain less tomorrow. I was about to celebrate but he then added that in part this will be because more snow will fall. Perhaps some day the summer of 2007 will start?

In the meantime, we hike. Today we came over the 1850m Schadona pass, climbing through snow (both falling and on the ground -- but nothing like as bad as the conditions we experienced when coming over the Bockscharte) for the last 100m or so, stopping for lunch at the Biberacher Hut, before descending to Buchboden in the Grosswalser Tal.

Actually we stopped just a little before Buchboden proper. Hotel Bad Rothenbrunnen is a 170 yr old building with its own healing spring that was purchased and partially renovated by Lorenz and Maria, a nice local couple, in 2006 after having been standing empty and unused for 20 years. He has a small successful medical software company but had wanted to buy and run this place for more than 30 years, and when it became available he didn't hesitate.

First thing he did, he built a significant hydropower generator (1 megawatt per hour) on the stream next to the hotel, which generates enough income to cover all of the costs associated with renovation and restarting the business. Their daughter runs it, but they step in from time to time when she takes a break. We were the only guests this evening (due to the continuing awfulness of the weather, although, as they said, they don't mind bad weather because on the one hand the increased water flow generates more power, i.e. income, and on the other hand it means less work for them!), which was very nice since it meant that we could talk at length (I stayed up until the almost unheard of time of 10:30!).

I am sleeping in the Kaisersuite, so called because Prinz Friedrich Leopold von Preussen, a brother-in-law of the German Kaiser, stayed here for two weeks to do some hunting in 1912. The furniture appears to date from before that time, and was purchased with the house, so it is entirely possible that I am to sleep in the same bed. Fortunately, however, the bedclothes and mattress are new :-).

It really is very peaceful here, the only sounds being those of water -- the rain falling and the rushing stream next to the hotel. Of course, with all the rain we've had over the last few days, all the mountain streams are rushing. Countless spectacular waterfalls are about the only compensation we have had for the foul weather. Oh, other than the opportunity to test extensively every possible combination of our rain and cold weather gear.

But enough griping. The countryside is spectacular: much wilder than the Allgaeu or the Bavarian Alps. Steep and high mountains with much bare rock and dark pine forests in deep dark valleys.

Coming over the pass into the Walser valley it was interesting to note the changed architecture. I had read that the Walser people had retained a distinctive dialect, dress, and architecture since moving here from the Valais / Wallis region of Switzerland (Rhone valley upstream of Lake Geneva) back in the 14the Century, and the difference was immediately clear in the first houses we saw. Their roofs and walls were clad with narrow wooden shingles unlike anything I have seen elsewhere in the Alps.

However, I have seen exactly this style of building outside of the Alps: in Romania. It pains me to have to say this, but after years of making fun of Lidia for remarking about almost everywhere we visited that it looked just like Romania, I find myself now doing exactly the same thing. Perhaps Romania really is the Omphalos of Europe, the center of the world of which all other places are just pale imitations?

Something to ponder during the short hike to St. Gerold tomorrow, where, I am told, we will be staying in the hotel of the Buergermeister, who knows Maria of Rothenbrunnen well because she grew up there. We will thus be carrying greetings and perhaps have more interesting conversation as a result. I think I like the Grosswalsertal.

Stage 15 -- Fiderepass Huette to Schroecken

Today was spent in the clouds... and the rain. We were out at 7:15, looking to get as much of the hike done before the rain started: we managed 45 minutes. The rest of the day it poured, and we got progressively muddier, wetter and, at least in my case, colder.

My rain gear turns out to be inadequate in an important way: my feet get wet. I'm going to have to go back to hiking with proper rain pants, although I think I'll keep the poncho, for the breathability, even if it does tend to whip around a little too much in hurricane force winds :-).

In consequence I found myself faced with a choice: I could either be miserable or I could have fun. I opted for the latter and spent the rest of the day charging ahead and jumping from rock to rock like some demented red-garbed Gollum, then waiting for the others to catch up while exhorting them to greater effort. This had the additional benefit of generating extra heat (metabolic, not interpersonal) that was, in general not entirely dissipated by the time the other two caught up.

The other element of my stay-warm strategy was to eat. We stopped after 2.5 hours at the Mindelheimerhuette (around 9:45) and I ordered a big plate of spaghetti bolognese for second breakfast. Then at around 13:30 at the Obere Widderstein Huette I had a piping hot Germknoedel with Mohn and Butter for lunch. I may not have lost much weight today, but my chill was certainly lessened compared to what it would have otherwise been!

Otherwise there isn't much to report about the hike: there was nothing much to see, because we were surrounded by clouds, other than multitudes of Molche (salamanders). Russ theorized that they were Sally's mini-ones gathering for a mass attack upon me. The necessary million to one numerical advantage was however not achieved.

Schroecken seems to be a somewhat godforsaken place, much busier in the winter, apparently, and consisting of a church and a few houses and hotels clustered together under narrow set steep glowering mountains. Our hotel is practically empty, but it has one great asset: the daughter of the house runs the kitchen and she seems to be a gifted cook. Traditional fare, but mmmm.. very well done.

Tomorrow it is supposed to snow down to 1600m and since we will be going over the 1850m Schadonapass to Buchboden, we'll probably start in the rain, switch to snow, and then have rain again at the end of the day. What happened to summer?

For those who are cross-referencing these blogposts with the website, I'll note that we are doing the shorter option tomorrow: a super-long day in these weather conditions seemed guaranteed to provoke a mutiny :-).

Until tomorrow (later for you since I have no email / Net access).

Stage 14 -- Oberstdorf to Fiderepass Huette

<Sent late because only now I have email access in Feldkirch after 5 days without...>

After a very pleasant rest-day in Oberstdorf we were up and out by 7:40 for the hike up to the Fiderepass Hut. First, however, a couple of words about the Hotel Filser where we stayed in Oberstdorf, or rather about the owner of the hotel: Frau Nussbickel, a queen among hotel owners. She came by this title in the following manner.

When we arrived in Oberstdorf on Friday afternoon, the first thing we did was to gather our dirty clothes and look for a laundromat. We were informed that there was only one in town, but when Russ got there at 16:55 he were told that a) it was closing in 5 minutes, and b) it was going to be closed until Monday, and c) it was the only laundromat within 50km. Not what one wants to hear when one is on foot and planning to hike away on Sunday morning