Friday, August 10, 2007

Stage 38 -- Gsteig to Col des Mosses

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Well, I finally bonked (synonymous with "going hypoglycemic" or "kein Blutzucker mehr")... but at least it was after the hike. I was in the hotel room around 3:30PM answering email (after showering and washing clothes) when I suddenly felt weak and cold. I ate a Snickers bar, hopped into bed, and was asleep within minutes (unusual for me -- normally I don't nap). An hour and a half later I woke up toasty warm although still a little weak.

I know why it happened. I used up most of my store of glycogen on the hike yesterday, didn't have many carbs for dinner (fondue, mmm...), and for some reason only had a small breakfast. I then hiked fast for six hours (fast in part because it was a cold day and the choice is then between wearing lots of clothes and sweating whenever there is an uphill, or wearing fewer clothes and having to hike fast on level stretches to avoid being cold), and only ate a small sandwich, a Danish (Gebaeck), and a cup of hot chocolate. I think maybe I should put a little less emphasis on losing weight :-).

As expected Sally took the day off with Russell, and the two of them took a taxi to Col des Mosses. In part because I was alone, I therefore took a different route than planned. However, we might have done this anyway because the planned route was above the snow-line for half the day, and in addition the weather forecast was so-so (although it turned out to be mostly cloudy with a few sunny breaks).

I took a trail up to the Col de Pilon (which is both the boundary between the French and the German parts of Switzerland, and also the watershed between the Rhine and the Rhone!), and then climbed to a balcony trail at 1800m (the snow line was around 1900m) for a few hours before descending to Col des Mosses.

If you look on the website at the description of today's hike you'll see that I said a few words about the differences between the German and the French speaking lands. I must have been prescient. At the pass there was a large gondola station to take people up to Les Diablerets (a beautiful chain of 3000m peaks to the south) and the parking lot was, well, ugly, with crumbling concrete and stuff strewn haphazardly around upon it. Amazingly we have been walking for almost seven weeks through German-speaking lands now and I have seen nothing like it; one step into French-speaking Switzerland and there it was.

Col des Mosses is sort of the same -- what would otherwise be a nice valley is disfigured by a huge expanse of asphalt in front of the main hotel, through which the main road runs -- delimited only by the markings on the ground. It feels almost American. Very odd. Gsteig/Gstaad is just the other side of the pass, and both sides are Swiss, but in some ways they feel as if they are worlds apart.

One more thing about the hike, or rather, about the cows. Are French-speaking cows different than German-speaking ones? It seems as if the answer is yes. At any rate, although we have occasionally had to pick our way carefully along small sections of trails that had been over-used and abused by cows, today I spent most of the time after the pass doing so. It was as if French-speaking cows have a special affinity for hiking trails and spend as much time as possible destroying them. Yuck.

And you know what, despite all of the above, it was a very nice day!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Stage 37 -- Lenk to Gsteig

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Thursday, August 8th, 2007

Well, the river in Lenk didn't flood overnight, but we did have another surprise when we woke up: snow down to around 1700m. Our planned route for the day would have taken us over 2040m... not good. I studied the map and found an alternative: we could go further north, cross a lower pass (around 1700m) and then descend to Gstaad, from where we would walk up valley about 10km to get to Gsteig. Much longer in total, but less up and down, so the time should be about the same. A question to the hotel owner confirmed our impression: the high pass was not recommended for walkers today. So that was that.

We set off around 9 (later than usual, in spite of the expected long day, because the weather was supposed to improve in the afternoon) in rain. And it continued to rain on us all day. The rain got lighter and lighter, but it never completely stopped. The trail up to the low pass was steep and slippery, the pass (at the snow line) was cold, and the walk down to Gstaad then up to Gsteig was really long (about 16km after we finished the steep part of the descent from the pass).

In addition Russ developed a reprise of his thermonuclear butt-chafe from last year's C2C, so he won't be hiking tomorrow. And Sally, who has I think been secretly hoping for something like this, will also take the day off. So I'll be hiking alone. I'm not going to do the high route that I had planned -- there's still too much snow around for me to feel sure of finding the trails -- but there are plenty of lower level alternatives, so I'm not worried (and you shouldn't be either, Lidia!).

Total for the day was around 7.5 hours for me (longer for Sally and Russ due to various butt-related factors...), but that was only because I practically ran from Gstaad to Gsteig. A more reasonable time would have been around 8.25 hours. So, I'm beat.

Had a great dinner (fondue :-) and the best schnapps I've ever had. Now pleasantly sleepy and will drop off as soon as I turn of the hair-dryer that is currently drying my boots. Tomorrow I cross the Roesti-Graben and must start speaking French (ca va faire grave!).

A bientot....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Stage 36 -- Adelboden to Lenk

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Tuesday/Wednesday, August 7th/8th, 2007

After our "descent" into Adelboden, the following day, appropriately enough, dawned grey and wet. Given this, we decided not to hike the planned route via Engstligenalp, Ammertentaelli, and the Simmenfaelle, but instead to take the much easier, lower, and shorter route over the Hahnenmoos pass (5.25 hours estimated).

In fact, it ended up being a fairly long day anyway, for several reasons. Firstly we started late, then Lidia spent 45 minutes on her cellphone (while stationary) talking with Madi who was having a case of nerves during a thunderstorm while waiting for her flight from Bucharest to Munich. Then there were multiple changes of clothing as the rain stopped, then started, then stopped, then....

In the meantime Russ and Sally had gone on ahead and inadvertently taken a much longer route to the pass (involving a walk along a knife-edge ridge, and then getting lost for a half an hour in the clouds), so they finally arrived at the pass almost an hour after we did!

Actually in a way we were lucky, both because although it rained much of the time it was only a light rain/drizzle, and also because unlike the hall-full of glum looking model airplane enthusiasts in the restaurant at the pass, who were there for some competition or other, at least we were able to do what we had planned to do, even if not under the best of circumstances.

Nevertheless it was not what you would call a "fun day", and it was therefore perhaps not surprising that in the evening Ioana and Lidia decided that, with the weather forecast predicting further rain until Friday at least and possibly to the weekend, they would abandon the hiking to those nuts who are too obsessed to do something more sensible like watching movies at home on a couch in a dry house (can't say I understand the logic of this myself, but I suppose that I may be a trifle obsessed...).

As I write this, it is late afternoon during our rest day here in Lenk. Lidia and Ioana have left. It is raining cats and dogs and has been all day. The river I can see from my hotel window has risen almost a meter since this morning (another 70cm and it will overflow). I'm hungry because I skipped lunch, and will get much hungrier because I have subsequently learned that a conference call at one of the companies I'm involved with has been scheduled for 6PM, so dinner will be later than I had planned. Tomorrow's hike to Gsteig is a long one with two passes: 20km, +1480m, -1360m and no shorter options. The weather is still forecasted to be just as lovely as it is today.

This, my friends, is the dark side of the H2H.

If I don't drown, I'll try to post again tomorrow evening to let you know how it went. Bleah.

Stage 35 continued -- Kandersteg to Adelboden

<more blog posting problems>

Thus we were reduced from nine to five as we hiked off the following morning to cross the Bunderspitz pass on our way to Adelboden. The weather forecast had promised a hot day followed by thunderstorms towards evening, and so it turned out to be. Since it would otherwise have been another very long day, Lidia opted to take the gondola up to 1700m and Ioana went with her while Russ, Sally and I, still with perfect "all-the-way-on-foot" records, slogged up a steep zig-zag trail through the forest.

Russ and Sally stopped for lunch at a small alm hut but I pushed on, finally catching up with the other two at the 2411m pass. Amazingly the views from there were if anything even more spectacular than from the Hohtuerli: looking back one could see the the Oeschinensee and beyond it, over the Hohtuerli and perfectly framed by the glacier-clad Bluemlisalp massif, the snowy peaks of the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau... absolutely stunning.

After we had eaten lunch, and once Russ and Sally had arrived, we headed on down to Adelboden, stopping halfway for refreshments at the Bunderalp hut where the owner gave us an impromptu demonstration of his Alpenhorn. Sitting there with the views from above fresh in our memory, sipping cold drinks in the afternoon sun, and listening to the notes of the Alpenhorn reflecting of the cliffs above us... it was a perfect Swiss moment.

And I'm afraid it was all downhill from there -- figuratively, and for the most part literally. For one thing, Russell twisted his ankle just after the Alpenhorn demonstration (not too bad, but enough for it still to hurt a couple of days later). For another we had to climb about 100m after reaching the bottom of the valley in order to reach our hotel (climbs at the end of a day are never appreciated!). Then it started to rain about 5 minutes before we got to the hotel (I know, a little thing, but still...). And lastly there was some friction in the group, brought on doubtless by the many and varied stresses of a long expedition such as this one, which led to us splitting into two groups for dinner.

An unfortunate end to an otherwise beautiful day.

Stage 35 -- Kandersteg to Adelboden
<reminder: some photos now available at:

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Our rest day in Kandersteg was beautiful and sunny and filled with partings Beatrice and Arnulf, who had graced us with their high spirits, good humor, and entertaining conversation for the last eight stages since Altdorf, left to return to the real world. My father, in the midst of a whirlwind round-the-world trip, left for Southhampton (via Bern, Munich, Frankfurt, and London Heathrow). And Michelle (the following morning) returned to Lausanne

Stage 34 -- Griesalp to Kandersteg

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

For those who like to read the background material on each stage at the website, I'll note that today's hike should have been to the Oeschinensee, but we went instead on to Kandersteg in order to make it possible for my father to join us (he flew into Bern and took a train to Kandersteg arriving early evening, but would have had difficulty at that time getting up to the Oeschinensee).

Man, the Hohtuerli is a tough hike! It is not only the highest pass (and probably the highest point) on the H2H, but it also has the most unrelentingly steep approach of any pass we have gone over so far. Lidia and Ioana in particular found the climb quite exhausting, and towards the end were advancing some dozen steps at a time before needing to stop and rest.

Needless to say, the climb took a long time :-).

Referring back to the previous post about me choosing to stay with guest-hikers rather than go on ahead with Russell and Sally, I find I must add the following notes:

o A few years ago I would not have had the patience to hike as I did today. And I know this because on the first Swissike I left slower hikers to fend for themselves on more than one occasion! Perhaps one does grow up (albeit slowly :-).

o And even now, for all my good intentions, my patience was not quite sufficient. About 80m below the pass, after we had been advancing at the 12 steps, rest, 20 steps, rest, pace for a while, we came upon a bench and Lidia and Ioana promptly (and understandably!) sat down. I could say that I left them there because there wasn't room for me to sit on the bench as well... but that wouldn't be the whole truth: I just couldn't take the slow pace any longer -- I wanted to be done with the climb and eating lunch as soon as possible! So I walked on and reached the Bluemlisalphuette (some 60m above the pass) about 20 minutes before they eventually arrived.

o And then, in perhaps an appropriate twist of fate, I spent that extra 20 minutes, and 10 more, in a queue in the hut waiting to order lunch, both for myself and for Ioana and Lidia who arrived in time for me to place their orders with mine :-).

The views from the hut, at 2840m, are extraordinary and more than rewarded us for the tough climb. Eventually, however, we allowed ourselves to be persuaded by Bea and Arnulf to begin the descent (they had been there for 45 minutes before I arrived, and Russ and Sally, who had been there for an hour before Bea and Arnulf arrived, had already left!).

Some five hours later, around 7PM, after a wonderful hike past the Bluemlisalp Glacier and the sublime Oeschinensee, we finally arrived in Kandersteg, there to be met by Michele, Ioana's (and our) friend from Lausanne. She offered us a lift in her car to the hotel, but all four of us (Bea having taken a chairlift down from the Oeschinensee to spare her knees) proudly declined.

Since we had left Griesalp at 7:45AM, it had been a very long day, but it was not over yet. My father arrived around 7:30PM and then we had a long and lusty dinner finished off with a cake and candles to celebrate Lidia's birthday. Lidia received many congratulations, but thankfully no presents to carry along the next stage of the H2H :-).

We all agreed that this had been one of the most difficult days on the H2H, and that it was remarkable that our newest guest hikers, Ioana and Lidia, had completed it. Even more impressive: the following morning neither of the two had any particular muscle soreness!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Stage 33 -- Muerren to Griesalp

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Friday August 3rd, 2007

The weather was improving by the following morning, but there was still a light drizzle falling as we set off at 8:45 in misty clouds: no tremendous views of mountains and glaciers today!

After a damp couple of hours we stopped at the old and atmospheric Rotstock Huette (complete with its old and atmospheric outdoor pit toilets (yuck)) for some restorative hot chocolate and apple tart. Russell and Sally, continuing a pattern that had started on the ascent up to Muerren in the previous stage, thereafter forged on ahead, leaving me and the guest hikers to follow.

The simple fact is that those of us hiking the whole of the H2H are in the meantime in much better shape than some of the guest hikers. This was not unexpected, and for myself I had decided before the hike that when and if such a situation occurred I would hike with the guest hikers, for several reasons:

o Safety: it was quite likely that I'd be more experienced from a hiking perspective than some guest-hikers, and furthermore I would have the maps.

o Morale: if I were a guest hiker and none of the three whole-way hikers were to stay with me, I'd quickly start to feel disheartened and like a second class citizen.

o Being a good host: for the most part the guest hikers are my friends, and it would feel wrong to leave them to hike alone.

o And lastly, entertainment: new faces, new conversations, and after all, what would I do with the time "saved" by hiking faster?

Russell and Sally, perhaps also for various, but different, reasons, and also because with me staying back the guest hikers were not alone, felt free to hike at the speed that was most comfortable for them. As a result, and in spite of waiting for a half an hour at the 2612m Sefinenfurke pass, they reached Griesalp an hour or more ahead of us. We arrived, more or less punctually (as compared to the sign-posted times and my own estimates) around 5PM.

There is perhaps less to say about the trail than usual because for most of the time we were hiking through clouds with limited views. The last couple of hundred meters of climbing before the pass, and the first couple of hundred of descent afterwards, were very steep and tiring (giving us a taste of what was to await us on our hike over the Hohtuerli the following day... but I am getting ahead of myself).

The high-point, at least emotionally, of the day was encountering a small herd of large white goats that seemed to possess a certain nobility, if goats can be said to posess such a quality. They were completely unafraid of us, quite friendly, and left me with the impression that they regarded us as equals... quite different from feeling I get from most domesticated animals other than cats. I found that I quite liked them and learned later that they were a breed from the Saanen region of Switzerland: perhaps we should get some for Provence? On the other hand, having observed the unconcerned way they ignored barbed wire fences (slipping between or under the wires), perhaps not: I'm not sure that we would keep them for long!

Our accommodation for the night, the Berggasthaus Golderli, remains an idiosyncratic place with a disconcerting mixture of friendly generosity and irksome and inflexible rules. However, since there is not much choice in Griesalp (one of the more isolated villages we have come across), as the saying goes: beggars can't be choosers. The alpacas were still there, but at least this time the cows kept their distance in the night and I was able to sleep!

Last comment: there is such a difference in my physical fitness from last time we were here (four years ago): then I was exhausted when I got to Golderli, this time I was only a little tired and could have continued for several additional hours if necessary. A pleasing change!

Rest day in Muerren

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Thursday August 2nd, 2007

With excellent timing the weather turned unpleasant during the night and the our rest day was filled with clouds, rain, and thunderstorms. Despite (or perhaps because of?), this our three Romanian guest-hikers (Bea, Ioana and Lidia) decided to go for a walk. The three of us who are doing the whole of the H2H cannot understand this desire of guest-hikers to move when it is not necessary. We do as little as possible and rejoice when we are fortunate enough to spend such days in a hotel with an elevator!

This time, however, we "missed out" on an experience: getting caught in a thunderstorm. According to those involved, the sky turned black, thunder was heard and it started to rain. After a short dicussion about the relative safety of forest versus meadows (resolved in favor of the former) they ran to a hayshed. Shortly after their arrival they heard a tremendous and sustained roaring noise that didn't sound like thunder, and looking across the valley through a gap in the clouds they saw that vast waterfalls had sprung into existence on the sides of the Jungfrau, and that in one of them a Mure (mud/rock slide) was happening. They called us in the hotel to let us know so I saw it as well: most impressive! I'm glad I wasn't in the valley when it came down.

The rest of the day was uneventful, except that we had an excellent cheese fondue dinner in a local restaurant, washed down by several bottles of wine and a round of double Baetzis (an apple/pear schnapps) ordered by Russell. The evening turned somewhat raucous and culminated in Arnulf stabbing himself in the hand with a fork while demonstrating a drinking game :-). I'm not sure if the other diners were appalled or envious at our behaviour, but we had a great time!

Stage 32 -- Kleine Scheidegg to Muerren

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Wednesday August 1st, 2007

Weather-wise and hike-wise, a near perfect day. Some may prefer untouched wilderness, but for me I know of no more beautiful valley in the Alps than Lauterbrunnen. Its sheer black glacier cut walls, in places almost 1000m high, coupled with the majesty of the surrounding mountains and the profusion of waterfalls, put it in a class of its own.

We took the direttissimo trail down from the Kleine Scheidegg via the Truemmelbach valley, descending 1250m in about 3.5 hours at times along trails cut into the vertical rock face, arriving at the valley floor so shortly after the sun that the dew was still fresh in the grass (due, it must be said, more to the N/S orientation of the deep valley rather than an early start to our hike!).

The glaciers on the Jungfrau were gorgeous in the morning sun, and on a couple of occasions we saw large chunks of ice break off and shatter on the rocky slopes below. The views down into the valley were at times so birds-eye that they were vertigo-inducing. Muerren, on its green bench on the other side of the valley from us, seemed much too close to still be several hours of hiking away (but it was :-).

In marked contrast to the previous day, and much to Ioana's pleasure, we met only about a half a dozen other hikers during the descent. The steepness and length of the path is clearly a deterrent for casual hikers. Not so the hike up to (or for most people, down from) Mueren. As with the Eiger Trail, many day-hikers take the train up and walk down. The trail was in places fairly steep, but nothing like what we had just come down the other side. Nevertheless for some of the day hikers it was extreme: three Swiss girls we met told us that if they were in our shoes (climbing up), they would turn around. I responded that I had walked there from Munich, with the rest of the way to Monaco in front of me, and so felt like I could probably manage it. They quickly agreed :-).

Once again, we failed to visit the world-famous Truemmelbach falls: clearly sight-seeing and hiking do not mix! We'll have to come back sometime in a car if we want to see them.

August 1st is the Swiss national holiday and there were Swiss flags everywhere, of course with many Cantonal and District flags mixed in (how could it be otherwise in fiercely regionalist Switzerland?). And in the warm evening there were fireworks, although less of these than I would have expected having seen the show that is put on in the mountains of Austria on New Year's Eve.

Muerren was a beautiful as ever, our hotel very pleasant, and the views from our rooms across the valley to the Jungfrau as breathtaking as always. A wonderful day!