Friday, August 03, 2007

Second half of Stage 31 post -- Grindelwald to the Kleine Scheidegg

<posting problems again>

o Sally ostensibly stayed to provide companionship to Russell, but in truth only because she wanted to spend another morning in the wellness center (both Sally and Russell later hiked up the shorter direct route to the pass, thereby maintaining their 100% by foot H2H record).

o Lidia and Ioana and Beatrice took a train up to the mid-way point, in order to (very sensibly) conserve energy for the days ahead. The hike as planned involved 1790m of ascent over some 8 hours, which would probably have left some or all of them unable to hike the following day.

Thus was I left at the mercy of Arnulf, who, duly energized by competitive testosterone flows, charged up the side of the Eiger at a blistering pace. For safety reasons -- because no-one should hike alone on the Eiger -- I was of course forced to follow closely ;-). Thus we completed what should have been five hours of hiking in around 2.75h (pant, pant, pant).

Despite the ridiculous speed, I still looked around as much as I could, and the views were breathtaking, with the Eiger towering above and the vast valley of Grindelwald spread out below. We saw hardly a soul until we got to the point at which we had agreed to meet the three train-takers, at the beginning of the Eiger trail proper. Thereafter the views remained beautiful but the solitude was over: we must have encountered well over a hundred people over the next 2.5 hours as we hiked up to the Eiger Gletscher Station.

And the Kleine Scheidegg pass is no better, with its multiplicity of hotels, restaurants, tourist boutiques, train station, and even a teepee or two. Ioana was quite saddened by the rampant commercialism, but I pointed out that it was probably better that it all be in one place rather than spread throughout Switzerland, and anyway, the Jungfrau railway (which is what most of the tourists comes there to see) was finished in 1912 (started 1895), so it isn't as if this is anything new.

We stayed at the appropriately named Hotel Bahnhof, squeezed in between the train lines coming up from Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, and going up to the Jungfrau Joch (at over 3400m the highest station in Europe, as their advertizing never tires of repeating). I've actually never been up it, unlike (it seems) the majority of Japanese, of whom a staggering number pack the trains that leave every 15 minutes or so. I can't really see the attraction, I must say, but I suppose I'm never going to be a typical participant in mass tourism.

What Hotel Bahnhof lacked in style and elegance, it made up for with clean rooms and facilities and plentiful tasty food. I assured Ioana that tomorrow's hike would be different and as usual we went to bed early: asleep by 10, I think.

Delayed blogs

Apologies for falling behind somewhat with this blog: with Lidia now here, and being in total seven, there is less time to write than I have been used to. I'll catch up soon!

Stage 31 -- Grindelwald to the Kleine Scheidegg

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Tuesday July 31st, 2007

We spent a very pleasant free day in Grindelwald, or more accurately in the Hotel Regina, in large part because it has such a lovely wellness center that we all felt no need to go anywhere else. After blogging and email in the morning, Lidia and Ioana arrived around lunchtime (which we skipped, as is becoming usual on a rest day) and then we all went down to a melange of massages, manicures, saunas (2), steam baths (2), and swimming pools (2, one inside, one out), as well as a saltwater meditation pool, a Kneipp bath, cold and hot showers, and various relaxation rooms. Ahhhhhh.

More than a little refreshed, the following morning we set out for the long climb up to and along the base of the north face of the Eiger to the Kleine Scheidegg pass. "We" in this case being Arnulf and I because:

o Russell needed to find an ear doctor to resolve partial deafness caused by a wax ball he had unwisely pushed down his ear canal (removal successful)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Russell posts again: "bloggart"

A pollock of pong. An olfactory Rorschach. Artfully splattered redolent waste. Let me see, where was I. Ahhh yes, describing animals of Swiss derivation. Well one cannot describe animals without first describing the Swiss themselves, so let me quickly get that out of the way.

The vast majority of Swiss folk are pleasant, helpful, content and generally wonderful in a tra la la kind of way. Perhaps it is the abundance of private-numbered bank accounts, the world famous spectacular vistas, the predominance of pork n' cheese, something prionic in the air, the active involvement of the Red Cross ( as evidenced on flags everywhere), the overwhelming japanese signage, or shrinking glaciers, but it leaves no doubt that there is something fundamentally different about the Swiss as compared to the average human.

As an octegenarian bicycles by me at speeds rivaling that of the Pelleton on the downhill, I am surprised at the the familiar "Greuzi!" call of greeting she humorously wafts in my direction, as she seems to have breath to spare, something I would not. I am somewhat annoyed by their sportliness, as no matter how hard I try, my adiposity just keeps increasing. I don't mean to gripe, but it is in the comparison that I always fail to measure up, and this eventually gets Jaba down. I have increased my physical output a thousand-fold these last five weeks, but still the average Swiss child can bench press more than I.

We recently observed a pregnant Swiss 98 pounder throw a rock twenty feet, and the rock must have weighed as much as a VW. This was during a competition staged as part of a folk festival that took place way up on a mountain pass. The air was so thin I worried about foetal oxygenation status, but the mother's performance indicated a thriving state of health. Helicopters have a hard time finding enough air to push through the blades at this altitude, but the Swiss are unaffected.

I thus must search for some reason behind this ostensible difference. What makes them superior? It can't just be a question of placement ie. higher on the earth's crust. One of the reasons might be genetics. Given the relative physical boundaries the Alps provide, perhaps a certain amount of selective breeding over the centuries has favoured the trait of altitude thrivation, as has been observed in himalayan sherpa chest excursion measurements, or andean goat herders' hematocrit levels. My most ridiculous fear of interspecies breeding seems to be absurd as there are no tails or pelts to be seen.

Could it be the cheese, which is consumed in vast quantites? There is cheese in everything eaten, I kid you not. Look at the ingredients on anything purchased as a comestible item, and somewhere cheese is to be found. It's used in soap powders, marmot-based massage oils, gasoline, rocking chairs, air fresheners, and even beer. Cheese is sprayed on fields as a fertilizer. Cheese is used as paper. Cheese is eaten even more than pork. Switzerland could be the moon, which they say......(is made of cheese fer all ye fuzzy furryners).

If it's not the cheese, then what? I suspect I might never know, but I will eat more cheese in the vague hope that I too might become more Swiss over time. I will however, never be able to throw the rock that far, or even lift it. And I am not pregnant no matter how it looks or what the strip indicated.

So for now, it's cheese rather than pork for me. Cheese tartare followed by cheese soup, a small piece of amuse cheese, followed by filet of cheese medium rare, then the queen of desserts' cheese brulee, followed by a plate of cheese, all washed down with a cheese smoothie. I will walk over the mountain passes, as opposed to crawl, sometime during this trip, I promise you.

Stage 30 -- Meiringen to Grindelwald

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Sunday July 29th, 2007

We walked out of our hotel at 8:15 under partially cloudy skies. The day promised to be fairly cool, which suited us well, since although the hike up and over the Grosse Scheidegg pass would not be a difficult one, it would be long.

Because of this Beatrice, mindful of her leg cramps after the last hike, had decided to take the Postbus up to the Schwarzwaldalp, thereby saving herself some 800m of climbing and shortening the day by 3+ hours. But Bea cannot endure inactivity for long when in the mountains, so it was not to be. She left the bus at Rosenlaui for a short walk up the side valley to see the glacier, and some 2 hours and several hundred meters of ascent and descent later got back on the bus.

As a result at the end of the day she had tears of pain in her eyes once more. However, on balance it was probably a reasonable bargain because she said that the Rosenlaui valley was so beautiful that she was crying with joy (and by the following morning she was fine once more). Clearly, therefore, like Meiringen (and Elm, and Vaduz...), this is another place that I will have to come back to.

We spent a half an hour at the pass watching a "Schwingen" competition at a little folksfest. Schwingen is sort of like a stunted version of sumo, or possibly like cows (not bulls :-) vieing for dominance. The two participants in each bout spend most of their time bent double, cheek to cheek, holding onto one anothers' pants, punctuated by short bursts of frenetic movement and grunting, and culminating in one or the other being thrown to the ground and pinned. Not the most elegant of sports, but somehow appropriate in the Alpine context!

The views were (as usual) spectacular: with massive glaciers and even more massive mountains. The high points, as we were coming down, were our first views of the Eiger, and the Upper Grindelwald Glacier cascading down its narrow valley to end about 1350m, making it one of the lowest glaciers, if not the lowest, in Switzerland.

We reached Grindelwald around 4PM after some 7 hours of hiking. Compared to previous visits we were in remarkably good shape: in the past we have arrived here and chosen to take the elevator rather than walk up or down a single flight of stairs. Clearly we are much fitter than we have ever been (from a hiking perspective), which is most pleasing!

Grindelwald, by the way, is as "touristy" as it gets in Switzerland, due to its proximity to the Eiger / Moench / Jungfrau trio, but despite this it manages to be a very pleasant place to stay -- the beauty of the surroundings somehow overwhelms the commercialism, at least for me.

I was pleased, however, seeing all the people, to have booked our hotel a week in advance. This was further in advance than I had originally intended when planning the trip, but for a couple of reasons I have changed my thinking as far as reservation strategy is concerned:

o I quickly found that reserving accommodations on weekends can be difficult. Even now, reserving two weeks ahead for weekends, I find I can often get only my third or fourth choice because the others are booked.

o we have found that the incidence of bad weather (i.e., sufficient to make us wish we weren't hiking), is lower than expected. And the incidence of awful weather (i.e., sufficient to make it impossible for us to take the route we had planned to take) is very low. We have been hiking for forty days (30 stages) now, and only once has the weather been awful (going over the Bockscharte to the Prinz-Luitpold-Haus in Stage 12)... and even then we were able to hike it anyway. So the need to delay making reservations until the last minute is much lower than I expected it to be.

o Lastly, the number of days where the hike is truly dangerous in awful weather, and where there are no lower-level or safer options, is quite low, so the risk of having to change a string of reservations is very low. Moreover, even if awful weather and such a no-option day were to coincide, since we have many rest days planned in I'd probably only have to change two or three days at the most.

I thus am now booking a week or ten days ahead for weekday stops, and two weeks for weekends or bottle-necks (where there are few alternatives). Thus far we haven't had to break or change any reservations, and we remain exactly on schedule. However, we are now entering August (high season), and afterwards comes September (higher likelihood of awful weather), so I'd be surprised if our record is still perfect by the time we get to Monaco.

One final thought: it now seems quite natural to say "by the time we get to Monaco", which is a big change. We seem to have settled into a comfortable routine: all three of us remarked on this last night, when, after a full day of hiking we nevertheless had the energy to spend a couple of hours before dinner in the excellent wellness facility of the Hotel Regina where we are staying. Our various aches and pains seem to be diminishing from day to day, and seven hours of hiking (which corresponds to a planned 8 to 8.5 hour hike, since we now find that we hike 15-20% faster than the estimated times) now seems like a comfortable distance.

Pyschologically too we are settling down, as some come to accept the plan, others work out how to balance group interaction with private time, and as all benefit from the reduced levels of stress associated with chronic pain and fatigue.

It is starting to feel as if we might make it....