Saturday, October 06, 2007

Stage 78 -- Aiglun to Brianconnet

<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Oct 6th, 2007

A very nice hike today. Tiring, but very nice. Beautiful countryside with cliffs and gorges, autumn colors, the trails led over several shoulders and up and down some scenic valleys... just a very nice hike. Took around 6.5 hours, so another fairly long day.

As expected, we saw no other hikers. On the other hand, we did see several hunters, and heard but did not see several more. They are hunting wild boar, of which there appear to be many around, judging by the number of patches of rooted-up ground I have seen.

It is a little unnerving at times to be walking through a hunt, hearing shots, and rounding corners to see orange-hatted men standing around cradling guns, but they have all been very friendly.

Of course, their pleasant characters won't help us much if they shoot us accidentally, but we whistle non-stop (which they recommend) and they do seem quite professional. If we make it through tomorrow unscathed, then we should be OK for a while: they mostly hunt on the weekends.

We haven't seen much in the way of wild animals since leaving Monaco (although this is perhaps not surprising given my whistling :-), but Sally did almost have a head-on collision with a Mouflon today -- a powerfully built type of wild mountain sheep with impressive curling horns. She says it came charging down the trail, screeched to a halt when it saw her, and after a few seconds in which they eyed one another, turned around and bounded off.

From which you may deduce both that Sally is way scarier than a mountain ram, and also that she has been hiking out front again.

Today was another day for which rain had been predicted but failed to materialize: blue skies and almost uninterrupted sunshine. The locals tell us that the weather forecasters have been predicting rain every three or four days since June, but that they have had nothing yet. However, although the forests are clearly quite dry, they don't seem to be parched and we have seen no smoke or signs of recent fires.

So I suspect that despite the complaints of the locals there has been some rainfall, just not a soaking rain. In consequence, the fire risk has been manageable but the rivers are extremely low.

We arrive at the hotel this afternoon and Russ takes one look at his and Sally's bed and says, we won't fit in that. I'm not quite sure why: it is a normal double bed and I'd feel quite comfortable sharing it with Lidia. On the other hand, they are both quite broad-shouldered, and Sally says that Russell is like a Thresher Shark when he sleeps, prone to lay waste to anything and anyone around him when he "turns over", if such a violent motion can be so described.

So since there is nothing else free in the hotel, the owner of the hotel gets on the phone and arranges another room with a local B&B. In fact, there are several rooms free in the B&B, and the hotel owner initially assumes that we will all move over there.


I have already unpacked and anyway the B&B is several hundred meters away, so there is no way I'm moving. Amusingly Russell decides he also doesn't want to walk any more, so he is staying too. And most amusing of all, Sally is thrilled to be on her own for the first time in months, and is more than happy to walk some more for the privilege! So off she goes and we'll see her tomorrow morning.

Tough hike, the H2H.

Stage 77 -- Bezaudun-des-Alpes (Coursegoules) to Aiglun

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Oct 5th, 2007

I just realized that my stage numbering for the blog entries has been one off from the numbering on the website since Chamonix. Oops. I'll try to remain consistent from now on.

So, I felt better than the last couple of days, it didn't rain, and the hike was "only" 6.5 hours. Jackpot!

Little or no connectivity here, or yesterday in Bezaudun, so you might not see this post, or the previous one, for a day or two. This is wild country: deep-cut valleys, towering cliffs and mountains (over 1000m difference at times between the tops of the mountains and the rivers between them), just the occasional road and village, and nigh on nobody on the trails.

The first day out of Monaco we saw two hikers, the next day one, and today none at all. It perhaps plays something of a role that we have spent much of the last couple of days on secondary, i.e., non-GR (Grande Randonnee) trails, but I suspect that we wouldn't have seen many more on the GRs: this is France's empty quarter.

Aiglun is another of these tiny medieval perched villages, and is among the most isolated that we have seen on the whole trip. We were apparently fortunate to find accommodations here: the only place to stay reopened under new ownership (after a prolonged hiatus) just yesterday. On the positive side, I assume that this means that the ingredients used to cook dinner will be fresh :-).

There is little or no farming here -- the terrain is just too rugged for that -- and neither is there much animal husbandry it seems, probably due to the perennial lack of water. Basically the local economic activities seem to be forestry and a little tourism. So it is perhaps not surprising that it is so thinly settled.

We have two more days of this country until we get to Castellane: I'll bet we won't see a single other hiker on the trails.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stage 75 -- Colomars (Aspremont) to Bezaudun-des-Alpes (Coursegoules)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Oct 4th, 2007

Our accommodation challenges continue. Unable to contact the only place I had found to stay in Coursegoules (nobody ever answered the phone!), we instead came to a B&B in the little village of Bezaudun-les-Alpes, about 7km east of Coursegoules. And for various reasons this has turned out to be a good thing.

The first reason is a direct result of yesterday's heroic hike: I was still tired when I woke up this morning. My heels and knees hadn't recovered and I felt even slower than I had felt the previous day. Memo to self: don't take breaks longer than a couple of days when on a long hike -- when you start again it is almost like starting anew!

And so it was with some pleasure that I realized that today's hike would be much shorter than the planned 9.5h -- in fact it took us under 6 -- in part because we had done some of the hike the day before, in part because Bezaudun was closer than Coursegoules, and we took different trails in order to get there which turned out to involve less up and down.

The second reason is that the B&B here is just charming, as is the owner. Ruth McIntyre is an American from Missouri who has lived in Europe for 40 years, most of that in Barcelona. She and her then husband, a French painter, bought this place several years ago -- it is a classic medieval village house, with many doors and steps and courtyards and thick walls -- and renovated and redecorated it with excellent taste.

She has also offered to take us to the nearest restaurant for dinner (there is none in Bezaudun, nor, for that matter, is there any other shop that sells food -- there are only 80 inhabitants and that is much more than there were 30 years ago). And it turns out that the nearest restaurant is in Coursegoules, so we'll get to see it as well.

Tomorrow, however, will almost certainly again be a long day, since our goal -- the village of Aiglun -- is far to the west of Coursegoules, and we are 7km east. We'll take a different route, which will save us some up and down, but I'm still expecting at least 7 hours of hiking. On top of that, it is supposed to rain and there may be thunderstorms. Hope I feel better tomorrow morning than I did today or else it is going to be one of the worse days on the H2H!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Urs Ruefli reappears

Perhaps he/she/it was also in Monaco?


Strange Things in the Alps – Porkie, the new hero
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

During the past week, Porkie has become the center of the global media attention. There are now dozens of helicopters over the Alps that look out for the group. While initially the public opinion considered Porkie as dangerous pork killer, he is now usually seen as a victim of the red guy. Let me summarize some noteworthy publications.

The Union of Meatworkers suggests that Porkie should be treated like one of their members. They claim that the red guy is violating various rights of Porkie. Meatworkers must not work longer than 6 hours without a break. They are entitled to 2 rest days per week. Their work place has to be dry and clean. Overall, they list 12 worker rights of Porkie that are constantly violated by the red guy. As a result, they plan a big strike of the Meatworkers across Germany.

The Catholic Church states that Porkie is not just a giant, but also a human like all of us. Nobody knows what he did to receive all that torture, but, like anyone of us he deserves a chance for rest and peace. The Church organizes special events where people around the world can gather and pray for Porkie.

George Bush announced that he would send rescue teams to Porkie. He stated that the Alps are now on the axis of evil. Would they be in Texas, he would tear them down and pave them like a huge parking lot. But since he was told that they are in the middle of the plots of Angela, this Australian guy, and the chocolate country of which the name he can never remember, he feels that a more subtle approach is required. He asked Arnold to head the rescue team. Arnold told him that he knows the Alps better than anyone else. He is now putting together his team, consisting of 600 armed actors, led by Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, and Charles Bronson.

Amnesty International teamed up with Greenpeace and also sent out their combined troops. Included are 16 helicopters that throw down encouraging letters in 34 different languages, as well as pork packages in 34 different wrappings. They applaud Porkie for not eating whale flesh and for being outside so much, but without consuming any natural resources besides pork. They also provided some statistics that show that pork is the one natural resource that can be renewed without any problem. Thus they also demand that nuclear power plants have to be converted into pig farms. Porkie has become their figure head for this global campaign.

Stage 74 -- Monaco to Colomars (Aspremont)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Oct 3rd, 2007

We were unable to find rooms at either Aspremont, where we originally planned to spend the night, or at Tourrette-Levens, which would have made the day shorter, so we had to lengthen an already long day by another 45 minutes or so. My hiking time was therefore around 8.5 hours... not really what I needed after several days off!

Russell and Sally, the former to spare his knee and the latter because the former wasn't doing it :-), chose to skip the climb from Monaco that retraced the route we had come down last Friday. Instead they took a taxi up and met me at the Col de Guerre where we first saw the Mediterranean. It took me about an hour and three quarters by foot, and it took them about 25 minutes by taxi -- testifying both to the density of traffic in Monaco, and to the inefficiency of the street plan.

It became a long day. Perhaps it was our heavy hearts at leaving Monaco, perhaps it was our heavy stomachs after several days of gastronomic excess, or maybe it was something else, but what is certain is that both Russell and I felt very slow and listless today. On the other hand, Sally seemed unaffected and strode ahead for much of the day.

We considered ourselves fortunate to find a place to eat around 2PM in Cantaron, after having failed in Drap, even if it did not exactly inspire confidence as to quality or even cleanliness. But the food turned out to be copious and solid, even if not quite what one would call haute cuisine (meatloaf at Alan Ducasse? Unlikely...).

We arrived at our hotel around 6:30PM, and after a shower and a light dinner (lunch was still squatting in our stomachs) we retired to our rooms at 9. Tomorrow looks like it will be another long day....

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Stage 73 -- Peillon to Monaco

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Sept 28th, 2007

Sorry about the lack of posts for the last few days: we're in Monaco and the H2H has seemed far away. But tomorrow we go back on the road again, and so my thoughts have returned to the blog.

The hike from Peillon was exhilarating. The first view of the sea from about 620m as we came up to the crest of the last ridge was deeply satisfying. As we came down into Monaco, we passed La Trophee des Alpes, a victory monolith erected to celebrate Rome's subjugation of the Alpine tribes almost 2,000 years ago. I understand sort of how they must have felt. After more than three months hiking along the great southwestern arc of the Alps, we had finally won. Very, very satisfying.

And Monaco. Well, what can one say? Monaco is never disappointing, and when one reaches it after a journey such as ours, well, it seems like a little bit of paradise on earth.

We were met in front of the Casino by Lidia and Madeleine, both dressed to the nines and looking immensely chic and sophisticated, and then, after several photos, we walked through the revolving doors of the Hotel de Paris and stood in the vast and elegant entrance hall savouring the moment.

Lidia had done an excellent pre-arrival PR job and so the doormen knew who we were and thus did not try to evict us out of hand. We checked in, went up to our rooms, and since then have been enjoying a truly sybaritic interlude. Dinners in some of the finest restaurants in Europe, cabaret and gambling in the Casino, walks along the ranks of the mega-yachts in the port, and through the alleys of the old town, visits to the superb acquarium and exotic gardens, lounging by or in the salt-water pool, massages... it goes on and on.

In addition to Lidia and Madi, Christine rejoined us for four days, and our friend Francois -- a true gourmet if I have ever met one -- came to town for a memorable meal at Alain Ducasse's Louis XV and pronounced the meal and service and ambience -- the whole experience in fact -- flawless and quite possibly the best meal he had had in his life.

It has been that kind of a stay here in Monaco.

But all things have their time, and some must come to an end, at least for a while. Lidia and Madi left yesterday, we leave tomorrow. We have several long and tough days of hiking ahead of us before we meet Dad and Oliver in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and the easier, shorter, flatter days of the end of the H2H are upon us.

On the injury front, Russell had his knee injected with steroids and was told to not hike for 15 days if he knew what was good for him. Apparently he does not know this. However, we will try to find some ways to shorten some of the longer hikes for him.

The weather here on the Cote-d'Azur has been hot the last few days, but I hear rumours that it is supposed to get colder and rainier later on in the week.

Although there are "only" 19 stages left, we clearly still have some challenges to overcome. And so I'll be blogging again more regularly until the Neverest Fest begins on the 26th.