Friday, September 21, 2007

Stage 68 -- Roure (Refuge de Longon) to Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Sept 21st, 2007

A very pleasant hike today, with, once more, very pleasant weather. Perhaps a little too pleasant at times, especially after the roast leg of lamb at lunch... but I am getting ahead of myself.

The hotel in Roure I have decided, upon reflection, to downgrade from "little gem" to "very nice". The reasons? Little things, mostly attributable to a poor choice of interior decorator, such as showers that were too shallow and lacking a curtain (so the floor got flooded), sink taps that were too close to the edge of the sink, doors that closed automatically with a bang (and couldn't be closed manually softly unless you waited for several seconds), and so on. Nevertheless, it was definitely very nice.

The descent from Roure to Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinee was also very nice, winding down the hillside through fields and woods (including lots of sweet chestnut trees -- it reminded me of Tuscany). The main street of Saint-Sauveur was nothing special, but then the climb to the village of Rimplas was spectacular, ending with a lengthy stretch cut into fairly sheer cliffs.

Rimplas is a beautiful little village, spectacularly located, and with an excellent little restaurant ("Le Pous-Cafe" or some such), where I had the aforementioned leg of lamb. By the time we were done, and after also consuming a liter of red wine, it was 1PM, quite hot, and we were quite full. The initial descent was bearable, but the prolonged ascent afterwards was not.

We were thus more than glad to find our hotel in Saint-Dalmas, complete with a fat cat, friendly owners, showers and cool drinks. And dinner? Gigot d'agneau. Can't wait.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More from Urs Ruefli...

Strange Things in the Alps: Many theories

by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

Things are escalating. All major papers started with report series about Porkie. Some describe him as a danger. Some describe him as an evil force. Some have pity with him. Most were wrong. They assumed that he is a bear, killing all the pigs. But now they are coming around and recognize that this is not an animal. The behaviour is too consistent.

Some experts analyzed the path based on the casualties. The general opinion is that it is pointing towards Portugal. They have identified a huge pig farm in the North Portugal as the most probable target of Porkie. A Portuguese army general was quoted with the words: "We will protect our national pigs at any cost. This Porkie might be able to kill hundreds of Austrian pigs. But he will not get a single one from us." Of course he is wrong. At least in that the pigs were mostly Bavarian and not Austrian. But who can stop Porkie and his fearless leader in red?

But I am not convinced that Portugal is really the target. If aliens want to attack Portugal, they have better options than to start in Bavaria. For instance, they could start in Spain. Logical, isn't it? Logic is the base of all outstanding journalism. There has to be some meaning to all of this. And I will find out. I will speak to the experts.

Stage 67 -- Roya to Roure (Refuge de Longon)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Sept 20th, 2007

Hard to get very sozzled when you go to bed before 9PM. Dinner at the Gite in Roya was acceptable, breakfast quite good, but the mattresses were very thin. Overall, a B.

A loooooong hike today, longer than planned because the Refuge de Longon was full and so we had to walk a couple of hours further down to Roure. The day was as a result one of the longest hikes we have done: +1390m, -1740m, 25k, and a total of 8.5 hours hiking time even for such fit hikers as we currently are. I don't think I have felt this tired since the day I met Mel after racing through what should have been a 10 hour day. My feet feel as if they have been pounded flat. Poor Russ: it was his birthday today and I'm not sure he appreciated the present :-).

Roure, by the way, is a charming little perched village, and our hotel, whose name escapes me, but there is only one in the village, is a little gem. Definitely a place to come back to.

No doubt lots more to write and report, but I'm knackered. G'night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stage 66 -- Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee to Roya

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Sept 19th, 2007

Sitting at dinner last night, in the second very good restaurant in Saint-Etienne, I asked our waiter why it was that there were at least two good restaurants in the town, and, as far as I could tell, not hotels of equivalent quality. He laughed and said that he didn't have an answer (but that he basically agreed). On balance, though, I think I'd rather have good restaurants than hotels :-).

Lidia has in the meantime informed me that I misunderstood her request for more detailed information about cuisine: she actually wants me to say nothing more about food. Unfortunately, for her, she has only limited enforcement capabilities at the present time....

So, last night I had a very nice Confit de Canard, with pommes sarladaises that were not quite how I prefer them (which would be super-thin and heavily caramelized), but which had lots of garlic as partial compensation. Mmmmmm. The previous night the highpoint was the salad, or more precisely the salad dressing. I'm not quite sure what they added to the basic vinaigrette (and they refused to tell me, citing the official secrets act), but it was intoxicatingly good. And the dessert (nougat ice-cream, laced with caramel sauce, in a bed of whipped cream on a crepe) came in a close second.

And that's probably enough of that, at least if I want to keep using this keyboard: too much saliva dripping on the keys will have negative long-term effects, I'm sure.

Just a short hike today (maybe 3.5h, I'm not sure, it went so quickly), up to the Plateau d'Auron, whose purpose-built ski-resort was actually much nicer than expected, and then over the Col de Blainon (2013m) before a short descent to Roya (1500m). Californian landscapes -- everything golden due to the long drought -- plus picturesque European ruins (the valley has clearly known better times). Very nice.

We arrived around 2:30 to find the refuge shut and a message from our host announcing that he'd be back around 5PM. Luckily the weather was near-perfect, there was a nearby fountain for rehydration, and I had had the unusual foresight to buy a paper in the morning, so the enforced lounging about on the patio in the sun was more than tolerable.

I felt unfit and bloated at the beginning of the walk today -- a result in part of the two days of inactivity and twice a day restaurant visits, and in part (it turned out) because I really was bloated (too much garlic last night). As a result, I tried to maintain a decent distance to my fellow hikers :-).

The Refuge here in the tiny hamlet of Roya seems very nice: newly renovated, run by a young couple (he is from the area, she is from Montreal), and with a cat and a wine cellar. The cat just brought in a lizard, and I'm going to start drinking the highly barrique (oaked) Corsican red wine the owner recommended. Given my choice of subjects above while sober, I feel that I should perhaps stop now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rest days in Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday / Tuesday, Sept 17th / 18th, 2007

So, I'm sitting on my bed after hiking Sunday night and think to check my resting pulse rate as an alternative way of assessing whether or not all this hiking is making me fitter. My preferred method would be to look in the mirror and see someone whose belly and BMI (Body Mass Index -- a measure of the amount of fat versus lean muscle and bone that one is carrying around) are like Kristof's... but since that doesn't look like it is going to happen by the end of the H2H (although Russell keeps assuring me that I look much thinner, as I do him), I am forced to resort to secondary measurements.

So, I take my resting pulse: 46 beats per minute. Astounding. I haven't been that low in my life, as far as I can remember. Perhaps there has been something of a cardio-vascular reset after all.

It is now midway through a second day of enforced laziness in Saint-Etienne Frankly I would have preferred to hike today, and even Russell said yesterday evening -- unprompted -- that he felt like he could easily hike today, but I think that for Sally these days remain psychologically essential (quote from dinner yesterday evening: "I just wish it were over.").

It doesn't help that the weather forecast has been proved wrong once again, and both yesterday and today were sunny. Which makes me a little worried, since they are currently predicting sun for tomorrow as well.

Fortunately I have a number of things that I need to or want to or can do on such days. I typically pick up an English paper or two, blog, handle email, make reservations for upcoming days, make a few phone calls, and, as is the case today, have the odd conference call. In fact, today's conference call starts in one minute, so toodle-oo.

A fifth anonymous post

I'm starting to get an inkling about what this might be about...


Strange Things in the Alps: Getting closer
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

Today I spoke to another witness. Actually to two of them. A father with a young son at the age of 11. Two days ago, they were hiking in the mountains That is noteworthy, because it was raining all day. When asked why they went out at such a terrible day, the father only pointed to the poor boy. I assume he referred to his weight. At a height of only about 150 centimeters, the boy had a weight of at least 88 kilos. Not a nice picture, I can tell you. I found out that the father had threatened his son that he would hike with him every day, if he ever crossed the 90 kg line. That was the case 3 days ago. That's why they went out at that terrible day. They walked for three hours and didn't see a single soul. The rain became stronger and stronger. The father finally decided to seek shelter under some big tree. Suddenly the man noticed that his son had stopped crying. He looked at him and saw him staring into the distance. When he turned around, he noticed three figures walking towards them. The first one was wearing a bright red something. The next one was close behind. The last one was a giant who seemed to walk under great pain. As they came nearer, they could hear the giant moan at every step. Both father and son were stunned. The group came slowly nearer and nearer. When the red guy was about 5 meters away, they could see his more clearly. He had a happy grin on his face for no obvious reason. The father greeted them loudly. The red guy did not even seem to notice him. He passed by in less than one meter distance with this happy grin on his face and an aura of energy and purpose. The father told me that he was so glad that he was not exactly in his way. "He would have run straight over me", he said. "He knows where he wants to go and nothing can stop this guy." The next figure seemed to be a woman, although difficult to say with all the rain and heavy raincoats. She also passed by without a word, simply staring at the back of the fearless leader. Then the giant came up. First they thought he would also simply pass by. But when he was a few steps away, he stopped and looked at the boy. "I grew quickly uncomfortable by his stare at my boy. First I was not sure, what it reminded me of. But then I realized that it was the stare of a predator, looking at his bounty. Slowly, he lifted his enormous arm and pointed at my boy. I could not really hear him, but read his lips. P_O_R_K." The father still shuddered when he talked about it. "I shouted to him that this was my boy and that he should leave him alone. I could see that he was not listening. His tongue was licking over his lips. My boy didn't make any sound. Then the giant started to move. In that moment, I knew what I had to do. After all, I am a good father, even if I'm unable to control the appetite of my son. I quickly dropped my backpack and threw it towards the giant. I shouted "PORK, PORK, PORK" and pointed to the pack. Then I grasped my boy and we both started to run. The giant looked after us and then turned to the backpack. We ran for 10 minutes until we both fell down exhausted. Since then, my son has not eaten a bite. We will never forget this day."

Shocking, isn't it? And do you know what? Porkie is not a bear, he is a giant. But he is not from this world. And I will find out why he is here and what he wants.

Stage 65 -- Bousieyas to Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee

<reminder: photos now available at:

Sunday, Sept 16th, 2007

Our host at the Gite in Bouseiyas was as good as her word: she was back at 7 and dinner was at 7:30. Next to us sat a very nice couple from Holland, who we were to see a few times over the next couple of days because they were also hiking along the GR5 (Grande Randonnee #5, a French long-distance hiking trail that the H2H is identical with at this point).

The following day we opted for the shorter option to get to Saint-Etienne (although this still took around 5.5 hours); after four straight days on the trails there wasn't much appetite among my fellow-H2H-ers for hiking further than necessary :-). As a result we had lunch in a nice little restaurant in the charming village of Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, nestled in its wild valley.

Afterwards we walked on to Saint-Etienne, passing various hikers, picnickers, and even five kids on off-road motorbikes: clearly we are returning to civilization.

Saint-Etienne is a pleasant little backwater, for the most part overlooked by tourists who in the summer go further into the mountains, and in the winter stay at the purpose-built ski-resort of Auron a few km to the south. In consequence it is not exactly chock-a-block with good places to stay. Our hotel, le Stephanois, is probably the best in town, but even so has no en-suite bathrooms. Not quite what I was hoping for when we decided to spend two consecutive rest-days here. But at least the toilet (one for all the guests, as far as I can tell!) is of the western type and the place is clean and the owner friendly.

And since tomorrow and the day after are supposed to stormy, it looks like we have timed things right for a break anyway.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stage 64 -- Larche to Bousieyas
<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Sept 15th, 2007

My birthday today, and what better way to spend it than by hiking? Expecially when the hike is the last great hurdle on the H2H: the 2671m Pas de la Cavale.

During all the bad weather early in the expedition, this was the pass I most worried about, because it is high, steep, and faces north, and so is often one of the earliest to be blocked by the autumn snows. If it had been blocked by we would have had few other options; we might well have had to take transportation to the other side.

But it was, as forecast, a perfect day. Sunny, warm, hardly a cloud in the sky, not even much wind at the pass. And of course, no snow. The hike up from Larche was quite lovely, leading past a beautiful lake to the dramatic pass.

On the way we passed several large flocks of sheep being driven, I suppose, over the pass to descend to their winter pastures in the south. If I remember aright, there is a big Fete de Transhumance in one of the towns or villages we'll be going through in the next few days -- perhaps we'll see those sheep again.

Bousieyas is perhaps even smaller than Maljasset -- just a couple of houses Our lodging for the night is a Gite (like a refuge, but not high enough to be called a refuge) that closes for the winter tomorrow... so we have been exceptionally fortunate both with the weather and with our timing. Or maybe it was planned that way?

The owner of the Gite was off somewhere this afternoon, so she left the door to the bunkroom and shower open and put three cold beers under a bed for us. She told me, when I called her to reserve, that she'd be back at 7PM and that dinner would be at 7:30. I hope she is true to her word: we have nothing else to eat!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stage 63 -- Chiappera to Larche

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Sept 14th, 2007

A long climb today up to the 2683m Col de Sautron, followed by an equally long descent back into France to the village of Larche. It was foggy in the morning, windy and somewhat chilly at midday (at the pass), but sunny and warm as we went down. Christine's blistered heels gave her problems again, unfortunately, but everyone else seemed to be fine (or, in Russell's case, as fine as his knee gets).

The landscape in the meantime has become very dry and dusty, unusually so, according to our host in Larche, who said that there has been no rain here for three months. Good for us, since it means that these last few high passes are snow-free, but bad for the environment, agriculture and forestry. We haven't seen any signs of fire, however.

It has been a strange summer in Europe: exceptionally cool and wet in the north and west (with floods from time to time throughout the summer), and exceptionally hot and dry in the south and east (with horrendous fires, particularly in Greece and Italy). Not an optimal one for the H2H, to be sure, but also not tragic. I suspect that when I go back to tot up the bad weather days for the hike as a whole, I'll find that they were about what I had estimated they would be while planning.

Sort of an end-of-of-the-world place, Larche: almost 100k from the nearest train station (at least in France), it nevertheless has a fair amount of visitors due to the fact that nearby is one of the lowest non-tunnel roads into Italy -- under 2000m.

Our hotel rooms were basic, but once again the people were very nice and kind. Russell spoke to them once we arrived to arrange a birthday cake for me, and in just a couple of hours they put together a very good meringue and ice-cream concoction. I was not expecting it, so it was a nice surprise and we had a merry dinner.

This was also Christine's last day on the hike. She was with us for 8 stages -- one of the largest number done by a guest hiker -- and she held up much better than I had feared after seeing her struggle (knees / blisters) for the first few days. Her humour and good humour were also very welcome, and we will be sorry to see her go tomorrow morning. However, we'll see her again for a couple of days in Monaco, so it wasn't a final goodbye.

Tomorrow is the last big pass of the H2H -- and the weather is supposed to be perfect. Excellent....

Another "anonymous" post...

They just keep on coming...


Strange Things in the Alps: You heard it first here!
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

I knew that it would not stay unnoticed for long. Today, some major newspapers were reporting about the strange things in the Alps. Let me summarize.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported in a long article about the significant number of pig-related incidents. They listed even a few more that I was not aware of. But they had a wrong theory. They suspect that this is another wild bear. You might remember last year's drama related to Bruno the bear. Due to a lack of imagination and diligence, they simply assume that this is another bear. But I know better.

Then there was a report in the Abendzeitung. Obviously, they picked up the Sueddeutsche story, because they also assigned the events to a wild bear. They even quoted a person who stated that he thought he had seen a bear with a pig under his arm. What poor journalism is that?

And I just know got today's copy of BILD Zeitung. It is the headline: SAVE PORKIE!
It is depressing, isn't it? But I will reveal the truth.

Stage 62 -- Maljasset to Chiappera

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Sept 13th, 2007

Dinner at the Refuge in Maljasset was OK, not great, but acceptable. The guardian, however, saved our impression of the place by being extremely helpful the following morning when Christine realized that she had probably left her wallet (and passport, and credit cards, and...) in Ceillac (shades of Sally on the first day).

The guardian called the Matefaim, explained where the wallet might be, then when it had been found, called a taxi service and arranged for him to pick it up and bring it (the hour and a quarter drive) to Maljasset. It meant that we didn't start hiking until after 11AM, but since it was a short day it didn't really matter. And of course Christine was mightily relieved :-).

The hike was a simple up and over the Col de Mary / Colle Maurin and down the Valle Maira to the village of Chiappera. It was special, however, since this was our first and only time in Italy on the H2H. Sally was particularly pleased since she was able to try out her Italian, both with the guardian of the refuge and with one of our dinner companions. As far as I could tell, she had no problems making herself understood, as well as understanding what they said to her. And for my part it was a pleasure to, for a change, not be the only person who could speak to our hosts.

The Valle Maira is quite spectacular -- towering cliffs, rock spires, huge boulders... quite different, it seemed to me, from the French side. In addition, the refuge served an excellent meal, and a couple of Germans seated next to us told me that they were a little disappointed because they had had a six course meal at another Italian refuge the night before. Hmmm. Maybe I should have planned to spend more time in the Italian Alps? There is apparently a multi-stage hike that has been laid out recently in the Valle Maira... perhaps this is yet another place to come back to....