Saturday, July 28, 2007

Continuation of Russell -- One man and his Blog

<more posting problems, sorry>

Cows rule, as they are ubiquitous. A helicopter flew overhead yesterday with a cow suspended beneath it confirming my suspicion that cows are at the top of the food chain, not ourselves. Saner people than myself suggested the cow was sick and was being transported to a more vet-accessible area, but I believe otherwise. People walk, cows fly, seems simple to me who's on top For instance, all the cows have yellow tags in their ears. On first glance, this appears to be a cataloging system, but with closer inspection, one realizes this is noise reduction technology of the highest quality, employed so that the sound of their own bell doesn't drive them insane. This technology has yet to be made available to me, and thus I have gone a little round the bend from all the ringing. Another technological intervention proving bovine superiority, is the use of electrified fences to keep humans from straying too near the cows. The shock is particularly nasty to the human nervous system, but co
ws seem unaffected by the occasional contact. Gated communities are the in thing for the upwardly mobile herd, keep the human riff raff out at all cost!

Every hiker knows of the cow gauntlet. This is when, hiking along a trail, suddenly one or more cows blocks the path, and you must then walk the dreaded cow gauntlet. Cows sense your incipient fear and refuse to move when approached. If the wind is right, small strands of mucous are blown from their noses, creating an early warning system somewhat like the web of a spider. Aware of your proximity, they crowd the path, forcing you off of it. You skirt them warily, but to leave the path is to enter full-on dung and hoof-wrecked terrain, which you traverse usually with deleterious incident. Heaven forbid that any of your clothing is red, as we have seen this attracts the damn beasts and they start to give chase! I am haunted by the cow gauntlet, and fear intimate contact with these huge beasts as I am small and easily crushed. One licked my hand the other day it's sandpapery tongue sening shivers through me. I am their plaything and they know it. I live in fear and yet must eat chees
e to live, thus do we serve the cow.

A piercing whistle is heard and small brown furry animals run into burrows. This is the warning call of the Muermel Tier (marmot), a rodent often encountered in the Alps. Cute they might appear, but their holes evilly await the hopping hiker, to turn an ankle or break a bone. Some of the locals have banded together in opposition and now sell Marmot oil for a variety of purposes. One gets about a liter of oil per fat marmot, according to our innkeeper, who hawks the stuff in his hut. The oil is very strong, he informs us, a natural form of cortisone, good for muscle and joint aches, viral upper respiratory infections, botulism, menstrual cramps, and hair loss. We purchased a jar and sadly I spilled some on my flipflops, and the rather distasteful musky odor follows me around without surcease. I worry that this particular jar of oil was derived from a female marmot in heat, as many of the rodents now seem to look at me with a driven look I find quite disconcerting.

On a side note, the Swiss seem to use helicopters for the most mundane of activies. Yesterday I saw a helicopter hovering above a lake and a line with a hook on it was let down into the water. There was a picture of a 108 cm trout caught from a local lake, framed on the wall of last night's restaurant. Perhaps this was small fry, and a helicopter is necessary to catch the big ones, but still, you'd think some motorized winch on the shore would suffice, as opposed to a helicopter. All these banks, all that money...has to be used somehow I guess.

I will talk of other animals anon, but am called to a dinner of cheese-smothered, arterially-bothersome pork fat, and must cut this short, for I have not long to live.

Russell in Meiringen -- one man and his blog

Stardate 1.29 Sheepherder fourth class, wee Heinz, forecasting today's milk report:

A tour of the Alps and currently Switzerland cannot be considered complete without a description of the various animals, and their habits, that abound in this alpine wilderness occasionally spotted with villages. It seems that humans are in a minority here, as their settlements are far and few between, especially if one is walking. What humans one does see are obviously beholden unto the animals as they serve them with both deference and concern. The most noticable animal is the cow, both audibly and olfactorily. One senses a bite on one's leg, one slaps, a (poorly named) horsefly ( as I have seen only 2 or 3 horses so far, but have seen over a billion cows ) escapes near death, and one knows the cows are nearby providing building materials for colonies of said flies. The ground is a checker board of artfully splattered redolent waste, which one navigates at one's peril in a hopping fashion. Since our hike has been taxing so far to say the least, one's legs are ill equipped for such a travel mode, and more often than not, one's uncoordinated hop leads one directly into full contact with the detritus. It's hard to imagine one could get even dirtier or smellier, but such is the case

Free day in Meiringen

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Saturday July 28th

Meringen is a wonderful little town, friendly, full of life and history and things to do, and very well laid out. I particularly liked the surprisingly large church together with massive free-standing campanile in a deeply peaceful setting just up the road from our hotel. The inside is, despite the typical Swiss Protestant lack of ornamentation, very unusual, with free-standing massive wood columns of almost Egyptian stature supporting the roof.

Even more interesting are the ruins of previous churches that you can visit underneath the present-day church. These were discovered during renovations and reveal that the church had been destroyed and rebuilt on many occasions over at least a thousand years, mostly, it seems, as a result of the massive flash-floods known as "Murs" (or at least that what I think they are called).

Murs are actually almost more like avalanches or landslides: walls of water bringing vast quantities of rock, sand, gravel, and earth down with them. On a wall inside the church there is a line that must be 5 or 6 meters above the floor. Above it an inscription says that in the eighteenth century one such Mur filled the church with sand and rock up to the line! It also adds that through the effort of "four quarters" of the population, the church was cleared of the rubble and reopened in a mere fourteen days. Given the number of locals whose houses must have also been damaged or destroyed in the event, this is a remarkable testament to their piety.

It is easy to forget today that until quite recently life must have been very hard for the Swiss in their Alpine valleys. From avalanches to landslides, to Murs and regular floods, to snowstorms cutting off access for weeks at a time, to Foehn-driven fires (the Foehn is a hot dry wind that can blow at near hurricane force for days at a time), it seems as if they must have aspent at least half their time rebuilding their villages and towns.

Meiringen in particular seems to have been particularly subject to catastrophes, as evidenced both by the excavations and inscription at the church and also by the unusual and unusually consistent Belle Epoque appearance of most of the houses. The explanation for this is that in the 1840s, after a particularly massive fire caused by a Foehn that destroyed most of the town, they decided that henceforth houses would be built in stone... and they haven't burned down since.

Our hotel, Hotel zum Alpbach, is also very pleasant, and we had an excellent evening meal accompanied by a couple of fine bottles of St. Emilion Grand Pontet 2000, which was particularly pleasing to me since I have a case or two of the wine in my cellar!

The rest day, by the way, was spent fairly typically: a mixture of errands, blogging and email, games, reading, a modicum of sightseeing (key decision factor: very little walking must be involved!), and generally relaxing and gathering energy for the next hike.

Stage 29 -- Engstlenalp to Meiringen

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Friday July 27th, 2007

Another significant hike today, with one of the greater downhill walks to be done on the H2H: some 1600m in a single continuous descent. But it was a glorious hike! The views were once again remarkable, both to our left where the centerpiece was a huge glacier, and ahead across the deep Haslital to the vertical wall of the 3700m Wetterhorn and the Grosse Scheidegg pass that we will cross to get to Grindelwald during the next stage.

The day was mostly sunny, but there were some clouds, at times lower than we were, which kept the heat down. The path was excellent: well maintained and graded, and the distance and climbing and descent were all rendered much easier as a result. A tough day, with some 6.5 hours of fairly fast hiking, but an immensely enjoyable one.

Except, perhaps, for Beatrice during the descent. Bea's weak knee causes her to change her gait to accommodate it, and that leads to various other problems. She was during the first two days most sensible about taking gondolas and chairlifts at times to reduce the daily stress, but today, perhaps under the overly benign influence of Voltarene, her painkiller of choice, she was too ambitious and took only the last of the series of four lifts down from the top. The result: she announced at dinner that her leg had seized up on her as soon as she got into the gondola, and that the apothecary she visited thought that the problem might be tendon / ligament related, so her participation in the H2H might be over.

And then we saw once more the benefit of having our own personal ER doc (Notarzt) along with us. Russell asked a few questions, pressed a few places on Bea's leg, and announced that he thought it was a muscle strain and that with ice, massage, and the judicious application of a miracle ointment she should make a swift recovery... perhaps even quick enough to allow her to hike to Grindelwald after the rest day.

His advice was followed to the letter, and so it turned out to be: at breakfast the following morning, Bea announced that her leg was feeling much better. The miracle ointment (distastefully produced by catching, killing, and rendering marmots (Murmeltiere), and purchased a couple of days earlier at Staefeli) had done its job once more. Our perfect record of having had no drop-outs due to the stresses of the H2H will continue!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stage 28 -- Staefeli to Engstlenalp

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Thursday July 26th, 2007

We were up at 7 for breakfast (sorry Sally), because although the weather forecast was good, today was expected to be a fairly long day -- some 7.5 hours of hiking time. Actually it turned out to be just over 6, in part because we are now fit enough to hike faster than we could initially, and in part because we changed the route to leave out Engelberg, which saved us a half an hour, because it turned out that no-one needed anything from the village or was interested in visiting the famous monastery in the middle of a hike.

If any readers are thinking of doing a multi-day hike at some point, don't bother to try to combine it with cultural activities: it won't work. During a hike it turns out that all anyone wants to do, other than to rest and eat, is to finish the hike. After the hike and on rest days all anyone wants to do is to stay off of one's feet as much as possible. I honestly believe that if the Mona Lisa was in the local museum we H2H hikers would not go and see it if doing so required walking more than 300 meters or standing for longer than 20 minutes.

Of course, guest hikers are another species... at least at first. Bea and Arnulf, for example, after dinner tonight went for a walk. You can't see me, but I'm shaking my head at the sheer insanity of it.

But back to the hike. What can I say? Yet another beautiful hike in Switzerland. If by now you haven't understood from my posts that this is one of the loveliest countries around, then repeating myself in this one is not going to break through the comprehension barrier either. I'll just say that the proof is the number of hours I spend each day just looking around and marvelling as I hike.

There are, of course, exceptions -- when it rains, or there are low clouds, for example, and also when, very rarely, I get caught up in the exercise dimension of hiking. This doesn't happen often for several reasons:

o as the sole map reader (which is a subject for another rant!) I try to stop every time there is a fork in the trail to make sure that everyone knows which way to go.
o I try to spend some time each day hiking at the end of the group, mostly to make sure that no-one feels left alone and struggling too long or too often.
o and lastly because the H2H is so long that it feels as if the only way to get to the finish line is through slow and steady. It is inconceivable to approach it as a series of sprints, which is what it would feel like if one were focussed on exercise all the time.

But occasionally I do get the urge to race up or down a slope, and today was such a day. The last stretch up to the Jochpass (2207m) was around 420m of altitude, and I did it in under 50 minutes. My state of mind must have been contagious, because Arnulf also charged up (finishing just behind me, which was pretty amazing given that I have been hiking for a month and he only started yesterday!), and even Russell (normally the epitome of slow and steady) was spotted marching up the slope at a much higher speed than normal Sally, who would have otherwise beaten Arnulf and me by a country mile, opted to stay with Russell, and Bea, very sensibly, had opted to take the gondola. The result: we sat at the top for 45 minutes sucking popsicles and trying to recover an urge to continue!

But continue we did and arrived at the Engstlenalp Hotel at around 4PM. It's a nice old place, in a beautiful setting looking along a valley at the Wetterhorn and the east side of the Berner Oberland, and with a mixture of "nostalgia" (i.e., unrenovated and lacking bathrooms) and more modern rooms. Dinner was fine and we retired early about 9PM... after all, we have to be up for breakfast at 7 tomorrow :-).

Continuation of Post to Stage 27

Sorry about the abrupt ending to the previous post: I couldn't hold my concentration long enough to form and type a written sentence.

So, what I didn't stay awake long enough to say about yesterday's hike to Staefeli was that we had superb views of the amazing Titlis monolith as we came over the Surenen Pass: clouds on all sides framing the snow-covered peak with its glacier below. At times it seemed as if only we, the valley we were going to descend, and Titlis were in the sun: beautiful.

I should also add that the hut at Staefeli was very nice, although a little light on the construction materials in the bunkroom building -- you could hear every movement! Fortunately we were about the only ones there, so I believe that we all slept well. Except, perhaps, for Sally, who seems never to sleep well. Apparently she can't go to sleep quickly and she always wakes up at first light (at this time of year in these parts around 4:30 or 5). Add these two facts together and it also means that if we are going to have breakfast at 7 (which means getting up at 6:30), then she doesn't go back to sleep after waking at first light.

And this causes friction between her and me, because for various practical reasons I believe it is better to start a hike early (most days -- shorter hikes on days with good weather forecast are exceptions), and, perhaps worse, I also am a morning person, so I like getting up early. The practical reasons are:

o safety: if something goes wrong (injury, massive error of map-reading, washed out trail), then you have more time to recover.
o safety: in general thunderstorms in the Alps come up later in the day, and if you start early you have a better chance of avoiding being in an exposed position (at a pass or on a ridge) when a storm arrives.
o comfort: since we mostly do passes, we can get more of the climbing out of the way before the hottest part of the day.
o comfort: you get a better choice of bed and/or room if you get to your accommodation early.

Sally is normally exceptionally safety-conscious, but not in this case, where she pooh-poohs the safety concerns listed above. She also is generally good at not sweating the small stuff... but not in this case, where she will argue vigorously for an extra 30 minutes and then look daggers when she doesn't get them. And on her side, I'm sure that she thinks that I am being arbitrarily tyrannical and am totally ignoring her needs and wishes based on illogical arguments just because I like getting up early.

So that you don't get the wrong impression here: in general we get along fine, and being a hard-bitten Jersey girl (unlike overly-sensitive English me :-), she probably doesn't even regard the friction as significant. But such are the interpersonal dynamics in a small group on an expedition! And to give you a feel for what it is like to be here, sometimes I'll write about them.

Now what else did I want to say? Oh, yes, something strange: it seems that we are losing our appetites. For example, we started out with a pact to only eat dessert every other day. Well, now we rarely eat dessert (and only have a green salad as an appetizer at dinner) because we just aren't hungry. I have heard of exercise-related appetite suppression before, but never experienced it myself. I wonder what causes it?

One theory I have come up with is that the body's fat-burning metabolism is being used at a high rate for so much of the time that it simply isn't shutting off, or only shuts off partially. Effectively, therefore, the body doesn't need as much food... at least as long as fat reserves last. Well, looking at myself in the mirror, I definitely see some improvement, but there are nevertheless clearly plenty of reserves left! So it may be some time until I can eat the amounts of cheese fondue that I have been dreaming of :-).

And I think that's about all I wanted to add to yesterday's post. So I'll move on to today (in the next post).

Stage 27 -- Altdorf to Staefeli

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Wednesday July 25th, 2007

Today was a big day -- the largest amount of altitude gained in a single day on the H2H: 1890m (6,250 feet) -- and we did it with ease! Well, some of my hiking partners might take issue with that characterization (e.g., Russell, who almost fell asleep when we stopped about an hour before the end of the hike), but in fact we all really did find it easier than expected. In addition, we did in 7.5 hours what I had estimated at 9.5 hours, providing, if you like, further proof of our increasing fitness.

And the hike itself? Well, quite lovely. A pass hike (over the 2291m Surenen Pass), and so with the familiar profile of a long uphill followed by a long downhill (in this case, much more uphill than downhill, because we are staying in a hut tonight). The massive scenery we have come to expect from Switzerland, waterfalls, meadows, huge mountains, old snow fields and, in the distance, glaciers, was augmented for a change by a flying cow. Really. Hanging from a helicopter. Wonder what it was thinking?

But first I need to report about a couple of things that happened during the rest day in Altdorf. Sally and I spent the morning trying to solve our respective foot problems: me through some strategic grinding away of part of the inner sole of my boot, and Sally through the purchase of (yet) another pair of hiking boots. I am pleased to report that it looks as if my fix worked: at any rate, I had no Morton's pain today! Sally says that she had no pain from her Morton's and reduced pain from the Plantar Fasciitis, so she is very happy too. We both hope the improvements turn out to be lasting.

Altdorf, by the way, is a nice town with many charming older buildings. One striking thing about it, and in fact about all of Canton Uri that we have seen (of which Altdorf is the capital), is the strong regionalism as evidenced by the number of Uri flags flying (far more than the number of Swiss flags).

Also interesting was my reaction, which was at first one of irritation, perhaps because I have quite an affection for Switzerland and this seemed almost secessionist. But then it was pointed out to me that it was very much like Bayern, where the number of German flags is far outweighed by the blue and white chequered Bavarian flags. Both Bavaria and Uri are proud of the fact that they existed long before the states of which they are now part, and since I don't have a problem with Bayern, I guess I'll not be irritated any more about Uri.

In the afternoon Bea and Arnulf arrived, and we all went out for a very nice dinner at the Goldener Schluessel (recommended).

Arnulf wuerde gerne seinen Kollegen gruessen und mitteilen, dass er den Tag ueberlebt hat und kaum an sie gedacht hat ;-).

Hey, I think I must be more tired than I thought. I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Russell reflects in Altdorf

Stardate Rest Day Altdorf 1.28 henchman St.Piedus von Komplainzfuss beaming up, phaser on stunning.

There are three great Christian pilgrimages: from anywhere to Jerusalem, from Canterbury to Rome on the Via Francigena, and the Jakobsweg (also known in English as St.James' way), started at points all over Europe and ending in Santiago de Compostela in southwestern Spain. Now a fourth can be added - the H2H hike.

These pilgrimages are both historical and contemporary, as tens of thousands of people conduct these journies yearly, but their routes have been in effect for almost a thousand years. Of particular interest to me during our hike, has been how it at times joins the route of the Jakobsweg. I have been unlucky so far in a goal to meet fellow pilgrims. I would like to share with them my experiences garnered on this most transcendental of hikes, the H2H, and compare and contrast with their experiences on the Jakobsweg. I feel we have a lot in common to discuss and that potentially I might gain insight into blister management and the like from my fellow pilgrims. So far only three people have undertaken the rigors of the H2H and they have only completed slightly more than 25% of the route, but it is my strong belief, that this too shall become a hike of significant religious permanence. I look at every wild-eyed wanderer, every bearded sandle-shod staff-wielding hiker and I think to myself, that they too could be on the H2H hike. I see such folk but have had trouble finding the pluck to strike up conversation to discuss our mutual quests. Perhaps it is the language difficulties, perhaps it is the zealotry I feel welling up in myself, perhaps the fact that so few know of the H2H's spiritual significance. I gaze at these folk who wander a far longer distance than myself, and I feel humbled. I will bury the fingerbone of St.Kevin, in Provence at our ultimate destination, thus adding the appropriate touch of christian depth necessary to solidify the H2H hike in the hearts and minds of pilgrims world-wide.

Apparently St.James' Way has older roots in a celtic tradition of Initiation, and follows lines of force known to the Celts, as leylines. These are lines of power in the earth. I have yet to see any physical manifestations of these leylines, but at times as I travel, I feel myself to be affected by forces outside of myself. For instance, there is definitely a strong force line pulling my backpack down to the ground. No matter how many items I throw out, the pack still wants to go to ground. I recently discarded my evening shoes, which is bound to get me into hot water at some time with OberGruppenFuehrer Andrew, our fearless Leader, but they were sooooo heavy...Given that shoes form a connection with the ground and thus leylines, they might be construed as the most responsible item for the sensation afflicting my pack and myself. I have a pair of flipflops that will be my evening wear from here on out. Really, would a Michelin 2 star restaurant deny me entry based upon footwear? Di
d not Jesus wear rude sandals? Did not Celts have hairy feet and little else? The flips flops are made of rubber; thus, if the force of leylines bears any relationship to electricity, I am protected. I worry about future establishment clothing rules, and know hereby that a pilgrim's way is not to be the easy way. Ridicule, denial, and ostracizement await me, and potentially some hunger. I must find a way to gain sustenance from the leylines. There are definitely forces affecting my bowels that cannot be even comprehended.

The H2H hike covers some 1700 kilometers, and goes up and over the equivalent of 10 or more Mount Everests. That's a heck of a long way both forwards, up, and down. However, to become a historically significant religious pilgrimage-like experience, a certain distance is required or else people will view our hike as a mere jaunt, a whimsy, something fairy-like, perhaps slightly magical, definitely not a heavy duty pilgrimage like the other big three. If one were to construct an outhouse exactly one kilometer from one's dwelling and visit it seventeen hundred times, one would achieve a similar distance, but not the height elevation gain and loss. Laxatives and diuretics could shorten the task, but still I feel our hike has more significance than mere miles traveled. In addition, when we rise above sea level to precarious heights, the oxygen starvation achieved leads to a mind set more prone to religious trance and spirit animal consideration, a must for any true pilgrim looking for t
he one true vision. If you add in starvation from restaurant denial, there is no way I will not achieve Nirvana upon this trip, which can only add to the overall religious significance of the H2H.

Apparently, if one makes it to Santiago de Compostela, after having completed a Jakobsweg of an appropriate distance ( from my studies this seems to be a distance greater than or equal too 800km), all one's sins are forgiven by the Catholic church. One must collect stamps from various places along the way, tasked with the duty of giving out these stamps only to serious pilgrims, to prove that one has actually completed the pilgrimage. Many of these stamping stations can only be reached by foot, thus making it more difficult to cheat. The H2H will need some similar sort of arrangement to assure non-cheating participation. Perhaps receipts from hotels could be used. Perhaps the little pins one puts on one's hat from the Mountain Huts. It's going to be hard to come up with a final reward, as good as eternal redemption and a place in Heaven, for the H2H hike, but I'm sure we can come up with something equivalent. Any suggestions?

I have found that rest days are similar to the time of day the prisoner is let out into the yard. A small taste of the freedoms one used to take for granted. Enjoy these freedoms my listeners, and if you feel that you have come by them too easily, consider a pilgrimage upon the H2H to find your way back to that which is true and real.

Stage 26 -- Klausenpass Hotel to Altdorf

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Monday July 23rd, 2007

The warm and comfortable feelings about the Hotel Klausenpass from the previous evening were, however, quickly and effectively dispelled the following morning at 7 as we waited in the hall for the breakfast room to be opened. We had asked if an early breakfast was possible, and had been told that it was (normal was 7:30), but someone must have forgotten, so we went back to bed. But at 7:30 it was the same thing -- the owner and his wife had not just forgotten, but also overslept. We didn't actually get breakfast until about 7:50, and left around 8:20, significantly later than planned.

This was potentially a problem, because the hike was to be particularly long, and the weather was supposed to get worse in the afternoon with showers and thunderstorms possible. In addition, I add experienced some intestinal trouble in the night (but save your sympathy for Russell, who experienced the same but in a more acute form during the hike the previous day (ewwww)), which had left me feeling a little, shall we say, drained.

On the plus side, however, the clouds had gone away and we now were able to appreciate the spectacular landscape surrounding us. The hike was along a balcony trail, varying between 1650m and 1850m halfway up the north side of the Schaechental. At times along farm roads, at times over meadows or through woods, at times across rocky mountain slopes, and sunny and with those beautiful views, it would have been a true pleasure if I hadn't felt a little weak.

Thus when we stopped for lunch at noon and threatening dark clouds began to mass to the south and west, I felt compelled to suggest to my doughty and ambitious hiking companions that we could perhaps shorten the day by an hour and a half or so if we were to descend a little earlier than planned. Most surprisingly (not) they proved to be less doughty and ambitious than expected and were vociferously in favor of this change of plan, Russell going so far as to call me his god.

So we took the next path down into the valley (along the Suvorow trail -- that guy (a Russian general from the Napoleonic era) was everywhere! -- more about him in a later post). It was interesting to see the difference between being on one of the "main" trails, which in Switzerland are generally superbly marked and well maintained, and one of the "minor" trails, which is what this was: with not a marking to be seen during the whole descent, and only one signpost after the initial one, it required a fair amount of mountain-hiking intuition (as well as frequent mapchecks) to make the right choices at the frequent intersections. In addition, it was in terrible shape in its upper reaches, and I was very glad that it was dry: if not, we would have reached the valley covered in mud.

But the rain held off, and we managed to avoid losing our way (except for a 50m error once down), so some 1300m and 3.25h later we arrived at our hotel in Altdorf. The total hiking time had been around 7 hours, and thus although shortened, this had not been a short day. I was borderline catatonic at dinner, and was happy to go to sleep early once more.

Stage 25 -- Linthal to the Klausenpass Hotel

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Sunday July 22nd, 2007

The weather was supposed to improve from rain to sun during the day, so we were in no particular hurry to leave and our 9:15 start reflected this. Low clouds hid the sides of the inner valley and a light drizzle fell as we left the unlamented Hotel Adler and zig-zagged across Linthal. I mentioned the poor town planning in the last post; well this extends to hiking paths as well.

Eventually we reached the far side and started to climb: a steep 600m through a dank and dripping forest. Russ and Sally said that it felt neverending, but I was in a Zen-like frame of mind and didn't notice the time or the effort. After a short stop for drinks in a charming mountain restaurant at Nussbuell, we went through clouds into and up the Urnerboden (the largest hanging valley in Switzerland) to the 1948m Klausenpass.

It was a long hike, with a lot of altitude to gain, and the low clouds robbed us of the spectacular views of the 2500m - 3250m ridges on either side. Perhaps this left us with a bleaker impression of the valley than we would have otherwise had, but there was something odd about it: a feeling of poverty that I haven't experienced anywhere else in Switzerland. Urnerboden is still Switzerland, so the signs of poverty were somewhat subtle, but they were there nevertheless. I had read that the valley is slowly becoming depopulated, because the high altitude gives it severe weather for much of the year, and that was the impression it left: a sad sort of emptiness.

We crossed the Klausenpass with little fanfare -- coming as it did at the end of the day when our feet hurt and also because we were still unable to see much because of the low clouds -- and arrived at the Klausenpass Hotel 25 minutes later at 6PM, more than ready for a shower, meal, and bed. There is something psychologically fatiguing about starting a hike late: one is much more tired after a 7 hour hike when one arrives at 6PM than when one arrives at 4PM.

Fortunately the Klausenpass Hotel is a very nice place. Odd, but very nice. For one thing, the whole house is very noticeably tilted: over the years the winters' snows have shifted the foundations so that it is now at least 10 degrees out of true. For another, the rooms have been minimally renovated, and one feels like one is stepping back into the 19th Century (the hall showers, however, are modern!).

However, the food was excellent, and there were numerous small touches unexpected in a hotel of this class, such as fine white terrycloth bathrobes in the room, that left me with a feeling of warmth and comfort. We went to bed early, and I for one was asleep by 9:30PM.