Friday, August 17, 2007

Stage 43 -- Chalet Neuf to Chindonne

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Friday, August 17th, 2007

A sunny day, so everyone was smiles... fair weather hikers! Today was almost like canyon hiking: down in the morning, up in the afternoon. We bottomed out at 636m when crossing the deep Val d'Illiez at the old Roman village of Trois-Torrents (from trans torrentium -- beyond the waterfalls) and then climbed up to almost 1700m where our accommodation for the night, the delightful Alpage de Chindonne, is located.

It was a fairly uneventful day, although we did "lose our way" (if errors of 50m count as losing one's way) a couple of times -- once when I took a turn too early,and once when Sally misidentified a yellow flower as a signpost :-). Overall, however, navigation is definitely getting more challenging: the signs and signposting are not as consistent or as reliable as we have become used to. I am starting to hike more often with the map in my hand, as I did last summer on the Coast-to-Coast in England, because unless I do so I lose track of where we are, and thus don't know which unsigned trails to take and which to ignore.

However, our most impressive experience getting lost happened at the end of the day yesterday in the fog. We managed in about 10 minutes to make a complete circle without realizing it and ended up at the same signpost we had started at 10 minutes earlier. It was pretty funny: I looked at a compass when we were at the signpost for the first time, and then again as we came back to the signpost for the second time, and for a couple of minutes was simply unable to accept what it was telling me. Afterwards we took the longer, but much more reliable, route via the road rather than try for a second time to follow the trail in the fog!

Big changes ahead: the weather forecast is fine for tomorrow, but on Sunday it deteriorates, and Monday through Wednesday are supposed to be crappy with heavy rain and the snowfall line dropping to 2500m (a figure we do not believe since the last time they said something like this, in Lenk, it snowed down 600m lower than they had predicted).

As a result we have decided to skip tomorrow's stage to the Lac de Salanfe and will instead just go straight to Barme (Stage 44). On Sunday we will hike to Samoens (Stage 45) and then spend two probably rainy rest days there hoping that the weather is better by Wednesday when we hike to the Refuge de Moede-Anterne.

I pointed out to Russell and Sally that contrary to their many and various accusations and insinuations, I am capable of diverging from the planned route when conditions demand it! Which brings up an interesting point: it is remarkable how different both their expectations and their experience of the H2H is from mine. I'm a little too tired tonight to do the topic justice, so I'll try to return to it when we are in Samoens.

And with that soap-opera-quality cliff-hanger-ending I'll bid you all good night....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stage 42 -- Lac de Taney to Chalet Neuf

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Rain. Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. And more rain. Tough to hike in the rain, I find. It might be the extra physical load incurred by sliding on slippery paths, clinging raingear, and sauna-like conditions within said clinging one's raingear. Or it might be psychological (it would have been nice to have seen something a little further away than 10 meters). But whatever it is, hiking in the rain is draining.

I try to keep everyone's spirits up (success most notably with Lidia, whose basic attitude towards days like today mirrors mine -- i.e., they are what they are, so add humour and stir), but Russ and Sally are no longer consolable when it rains (if they ever were).

Now waiting for dinner (we are the only guests in the hut, so they appear to have given almost all the staff the day off and as a result service is counterintuitively glacial).

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny; I'm looking forward to it :-).

Stage 41 -- Montreux to Lac de Taney

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

A surprisingly tough hike, at least the first part -- a flat trail around Lake Leman (Geneva) for 3.25 hours (the 1040m hike up to the Lac de Taney afterwards was, I felt, easy in comparison). The problem was the heat: it was around 30C, and by the time we got to Bouveret, the town where we planned to have lunch, we all really needed a break.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The rest days in Montreux were extremely welcome and would have been perfectly relaxing if I hadn't read until 4AM one night and then talked with Lidia until 1:30AM another. Sleeping inadvertently until 11AM (due to not noticing that impermeable blinds had been lowered and therefore thinking that it was still night-time) one morning gave the coup de grace to my sleep rhythms, so I actually was a little tired when we got up to restart the hike.

Said restart occurred a couple of hours later than planned due to a very un-Swiss display of stupidity, incompetence, and dishonesty by a local cobbler (details too much to recount given my current tired state). As a result we left at 10:45, just in time for the heat of the day.

And now I'm back on the hike. After an excellent lunch from which we were all in no hurry to rise, we started the climb around 3:30 or so, resulting in Lidia and I arriving at our lodging shortly before 8PM (Russ and Sally, as usual, having arrived earlier). One quick shower and another meal later, we were in bed (me with earplugs to shut out the snorers on either side).

Ultimately it wasn't as difficult to leave Montreux for the long stretch down to Monaco as I had feared, probably because I have become sufficiently obsessed that stopping early is no longer imaginable....

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stage 40 -- Sonchaux to Montreux

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

A short two hour hike downhill and we were there: Montreux. Walking along the waterfront, weaving in and out of the tourists and the shop stalls, with boats zipping back and forth on the lake and buskers and beggars plying their trades, I said to Russell and Sally: it's a different world. And it is. Now, a day later, the first feeling of being a stranger in a strange land has gone away, but I don't feel at home here, and I don't think I will feel at home anywhere but on the trail until the H2H is done. I'm reminded of what someone in my favorite book once said (more or less): it is nice here and all but we aren't getting any closer to finishing what we started. It isn't a bad thing, it's just how it feels.

Walking into the Raffles Montreux Palace hotel was an amusing experience. I changed out of my hiking boots before going in, but I'm not sure if that made things better or worse since it meant that I was carrying them in my hand when I arrived at the reception desk. Add to that a distinct odor that I was conscious of emanating (my fleece needed to be -- and since has been -- washed), and the copious hiking aftersweat still flowing from my pores (it had turned into a warm sunny day), well, I felt just a little out of place. But after announcing to all and sundry that we had just arrived, on foot, from Munich (which produced, as it usually does these days, a double-take followed by initial disbelief that is however quickly replaced by respect tinged with awe), I felt better :-).

We were early but they quickly gave us one of our rooms so that we could shower and change (something that probably suited them as much as it suited us!). Afterwards we came down for Sunday brunch, which was an embarassment of riches: Russ and I could hardly move for an hour or two afterwards. Sally, by contrast, who ate just as much as we did, went for a tandem paragliding flight (no word on whether the flight-time was truncated due to the weight of the passenger :-).

And now we have, for the first time since the H2H started seven weeks ago, two free days in a row! Lidia will arrive this evening and, as long as the weather isn't too bad, will rejoin the hike for the rest of the way to Chamonix; Ioana will join us at Lac Taney after the first day, also going to Chamonix. I am quickly recovering strength and purpose and all is well with the world!

Stage 39 -- Col des Mosses to Sonchaux

<reminder: some photos now available at:

Saturday, August 10th, 2007

A nice relaxed hike today, albeit with more passages along some amazingly mucky cow-befouled sections of paths. I think I have worked out what is going on: the problem is not the cows, it is the trail-makers. Up until now hiking trails have in general been laid so as to avoid the tracks and paths along which farmers drive their cattle, but no longer. It is of course much easier to use existing paths, but there are, as noted, some disadvantages!

A follow-on comment also to the general topic of French / German differences: it was pointed out to me that there is another way of looking at them, namely that the French are much more easy-going than the Germans as far as order is concerned -- they don't have this obsession with perfect neatness, which may be nice to look at, but which demands a ton of effort in order to produce. I think this is right, and I'll also add that in terms of quality of life both German and French-speaking countries have remarkable strengths, and at the end of the day that is why we have chosen to divide our time between the two.

Back to the hike: we haven't had such an easy day since Stage 22 to Vorsiez, it felt like being on holiday! And after the previous couple of tough stages this was, at least for me, a good thing. In addition, the weather had improved and although the skies were still mostly cloudy we did see the sun from time to time and the temperatures were warmer.

After a lunch in an almost medieval setting at a hut just before the Col de Chaude, we walked 15 minutes further to the pass and looked down on beautiful Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). I can't speak for the others, but my feelings were more complex than I had thought that they would be. There was the expected pleasure of accomplishment -- we had just hiked pretty much the whole way across Switzerland, and not be the easiest route either. But there was also an awareness of how much we have still left to go (reinforced by the looming presence of the mountains we have to climb on the far side of the lake). Furthermore I had envisaged celebrating at Sonchaux with Lidia and Ioana (and Michelle), but with the first two leaving the hike because of the bad weather it looked like it might be "just" the three of us at dinner. And lastly, even if the hike had been easy, I was tired: more interested in a shower and bed than anything else.

But on balance, it still felt good :-).

And when Ioana called shortly after we arrived to say that she and Michelle would be coming up to have dinner with us after all, well, my spirits rose and I threw my "no fondue for dinner" resolution out the window! In fact I had both cheese and meat fondue in the course of a lovely meal accompanied by interesting conversation with much merriment. Thank-you Ioana and Michelle!

And a heartfelt thank-you also and especially to Russell and Sally for hiking through thick and thin with me to get here.

And I sit here now (two days later) and think: wow, we actually made it to Montreux. It's a nice feeling.

WG: Off his Bloggo

And now, the long awaited return of the mad blogger...

Stardate 1.41 Chief Leisure Officer SpankyBackhand coming to you live from the poolside holodeck;

Musing that it was nigh on 3 years ago to this day that I decided hiking was anaethema to my very soul, Jorge slowly rubs a mixture of guava, opium, cormorant guano, and willow bark extract into my stumps, and the ensuing ticklish phantom-pleasures remind me of that humorless foot-plagued time in my distant past, whereupon I was forced to cross the Alps as one of Hannibal's elephants. It had started as a bizarre idea of connections, a traipse between dwellings, a purported challenging yet rewarding jaunt next to a few scenic mountains, with the eventual goals of coronary artery plaque regression, sweat excretion, cheese mastery, the reenactment of the second Punic war, and renewed familial connections.

Sadly, what was to be a a three hour tour, turned into a many month trial of woe and weeping, of human depravity and cannibalism, of bizarre hair coloring and insect-comparable pack lofting accomplishment, and the true facts of the disappearance of all my fellow hikers is a story I could not reveal to the jury or the press until recent zloty advances were confirmed. My feet never recovered from the insults received upon said trip, and my amputations must be ministered too still daily or else my sleep is plagued with the nightmares of centipedes. I remember fondly the historic chinese practice of foot binding, I see comfort in Mr.Martin's cruel shoes, I scoff at Dr.Scholls, as all these are but a footnote to the macerated hamburger that remained after my second set of boots was tossed into the bay at Montreux, CH. The amputations have been made into stylish footstools and here is a link to a picture of them:

I awaken from this now familiar recurrent dream, to find myself lying upon the 1200 thread count sheets in our Junior Suite in the Montreux Palace Hotel, a member of the Fairmont Group of World Class Hotels, in a rafflish mood. My sweat has created a shroud of Turin lookalike on the sheets, that annoyingly will not befuddle biblical historians for decades, as once again, I neglected puncturing my wrists and ankles prior to reclining. I request yet another foot rub from Sally, and she saint-like usually complies. She works miracles upon my tired feet and will be canonized for this soon if the Pope is allowed to answer his own mail. It's this planet's original religious quandary - which will serve the long-distance hiker better?~ Let the feet develop callouses or keep them supple with unguents and creams? We have opted for the latter approach and every Drogerie is scoured for new products to aid in foot resurrection. Contains salicylic acid? Good. Contains salicylic acid and urea? Be
tter. Contains thrice-blessed, nun-approved, human-derived, antigravity-enhanced, liposomal aided dermis-scouring talcum chips in a base of dicocoyl pentaerythrital distearyl citrate? Intriguing! New sandals? How old school. Having moved up through the footwear ranks, from private 3rd class flip flop, to lieutenant soft leather evening loafers, to commodore rollerblade, to brigadier mountaineering crampon, I have finally reached the four-star, many-birded fleet admiral level of the long distance hiking shoe set - the full wooden clog applied to the salved foot with cheese-derived superglue! No more will you hear me complain of tired dogs my friends, for I have graduated, and I look forward with relish to tonight's promenade along the waterfront to show off my natty new foot bling!

Speaking of progress, it was recently brought to my attention by an inanimate objet d'torture in the wellness center, that my gradual weight loss has suffered a reverse in directional trend. Thus, cheese must be relegated to an "off the boat" level of culinary participation. I ululate, as now in French-speaking Switzerland, the food has reached new heights of decadence. The cheese in its' many varieagated and pungent forms, has made me realize that up till now, I was consuming cardboard and sawdust in a yellow paste base. My eyes and nose have been opened, but my mouth must remain shut against it's natural inclination, to this most sublime of pleasures. I consumed mostly waxy fruit for breakfast today, and will order a purgative for dinner. I expect to return home in an emaciated state that rivals the transformation of Tom Hanks in Castaway. Look closely for me Waldo, as I will be difficult to spot. This new found dietary restriction might have dire consequences for future hiking efforts ie. the dreaded Bonk. Take pity and drag me a distance along the path, should you find me collapsed in your way, upon the route between Montreux and Chamonix. However, look closely - my medic alert bracelet specifically forbids cheese rescusitation.

Orlando's Rule of hiking # 467 A palanquin is a perfectly acceptable form of footwear