Saturday, October 20, 2007

Urs finishes his report

I'm not sure what happened to his theory about aliens... but Urs seems to have reached a state of peaceful acceptance as regards that strange trio of Alpine wanderers. I wish him well....

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

AAA: Today, we have set up a phone conference with various participants who might help us to understand the events in the Alps in the past months. First, I would like to introduce one of the leading long term experts on Alpine expeditions. Mr. Ötzi, what is the attraction of doing such exhausting projects?

Mr. Ötzi: Well, in my experience, there is nothing that compares with arriving at a mountain hut after a demanding 7-hour march, and sitting in the evening sun and watching the ice melting from ones bones. Such a peaceful feeling can subjectively last for centuries.

AAA: So, you feel that it is a kind of "Carpe Diem" philosophy that is motivating this extraordinary group?

Mr. Ötzi: I can only speak for myself, but at the top of a mountain, a split-second and a millennium are almost the same. You arrive with pained muscles, with a hungry stomach, and maybe completely wet to the skin. But then you start to relax, you celebrate a simple meal as if it were a royal dinner, and you enjoy some pleasant conversation with your fellow travellers. Suddenly, all the pain is forgotten. You look down at your trim body and you don't see a gram of fat. It is so gratifying to be a mountain traveller.

AAA: Thanks, Mr. Ötzi. Let me include our next guest in this conversation Mrs. Paris Hilton, what is your personal view on such challenging projects? Have you ever been to the High Alps?

Paris: First, I'd like to say how much I admire this group. Always out in the fresh air and every step is a step towards fame and mystery. I wished I could join them.

AAA: If you join them, what would you tell them?

Paris: I would encourage them to always move on. We famous people are the beacon of the ordinary people. Without us, they are lost in their small daily lives, without hope and without future. This expedition shows especially to young people that there is more to life than just playing computer games and wasting their nights in discos. Instead, they can walk up and down the mountains and see real stars at night.

AAA: It sounds like you are really excited about this expedition. Is there any person in the group that you would like to greet especially.

Paris: Yes, absolutely. All the media are talking about this big giant, who is taking all this pain to follow his fearless leader. I'm sure he deserves all this admiration. In fact, if he ever comes to Santa Barbara, he should definitely stop by for a drink. But, there is also this woman in the group. In my view, she is the real hero. She is walking for months with these two men. It would be so much easier for her if I would be with her and could cheer her up. But she is basically alone, I mean as a female. But she never complains and she always walks up and down each mountain. This is so amazing. I hope that at the end of each day, she gets at least some Caipirinha from these men. I mean, that is the least she can expect.

AAA: Thank you, Paris. I'm impressed how emphatically you are. Finally, I'd like to introduce Mr. Dalai Lama to this conference. You have heard Mr Ötzi's comments about his High Alpin experiences, as well as Paris' thoughts about the importance of a little bit of alcoholic encouragement every while. What are your thoughts?

Dalai Lama: This expedition is a symbol for the diversity of life. For some of us, every day is just getting us one day closer to the end. For some of us, every day gets us up at some high mountain. For some of us, every day is filled with pain and hunger. For some of us, every day is a step forward on our dream path. All of us share the same days and the same paths, but our perception is so completely different. And suddenly we realise, that we are suddenly getting close to the last day of our journey. We turn around and look back, where all the tall mountains of the past stand up high into the sky. And we recognize that all the pain and all the hunger disappeared. What is left is what we make out of it. Was it good? Was it bad? It is all up to us. We recognize that we will never take the same journey again. We are happy that we did. Life is short and there are not so many opportunities to experience all these sentiments.

AAA: Long-distance projects, like the Way of St. James (Jakobsweg) are becoming more and more popular. Are you suggesting that all of us should start such as expedition?

Dalai Lama: I'm suggesting that all of us are already in such expeditions, although not all are so physically demanding. Not all have clear objectives, not all show daily progress. But in the end, we will all be united at the final destination and will share what we have experienced. It is up to us, what we can tell.

AAA: Thank you. Let's conclude this report by wishing our fine travellers that they will reach their destination soon and that they can enjoy looking back to every single day of the journey, every mountain top, and every piece of pork.

"Rest" day in Rustrel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Oct 20th, 2007

Well, that was impressive. Just got back from a hike through the former ochre quarries and you can count me among the converted: they are truly spectacular.

Dad and I struck off from one of the main north/south paths and took a meandering and poorly maintained trail through a fairies' playground of bluffs and dells and micro-canyons and hills and grottos and spires and hoodoos, heavily eroded and displaying the most remarkable variety of colours -- from white to yellow to orange to red to dark umber and all offset by the bright green of vegetation.

It was a challenging path for Dad, continually going up and down, at times next to drop-offs, often steep, and with many roots and branches to clamber over and under, but he soldiered on until we came to a steep and eroded section down a dark red ochre wash that he declared to be his limit as far as difficulty went.

I'll definitely be coming back: there must be 10 times as much to explore as we saw, and judging by the state of the trail there aren't many who do so At any rate, we saw not a soul along the side trail, despite it being a Saturday and there being a fair number of other walkers around.

Dave DeRose and his brother are going to be joining us this afternoon for the rest of the hike. Since Dave was our first guest-hiker, with us from when we walked out of our front door in Bavaira until he left us at Hohenschwangau, there is a pleasing symmetry in his return for the final week.

The. Final. Week. Wow. A week from today we will wake up in our house in Provence after our first post-H2H night. To paraphrase Vizzini from the lovely movie, The Princess Bride: it's inconthievabubble!

Stage 87 -- Viens to Rustrel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, Oct 19th, 2007

Sort of a mini-stage today: only 2.75h and most of that downhill. The original idea was to then go out in the afternoon and walk for a few hours without packs through the abandoned ochre quarries of the Colorado Provencal.

However, since we are going to take a rest day tomorrow, and since Dad is disinclined to sit around for the whole day "doing nothing" (it may be that to truly appreciate the beauty of "doing nothing" one has to have done the whole of the H2H :-), we agreed that we would take the afternoon off and go hiking among the ochre hills tomorrow.

"We" being in this case Dad and I, since Russ and Sally refuse to thus profane a rest day.

We therefore allowed ourselves a couple of bottles of wine at lunch, which led to the expected proliferation of afternoon naps. Also as expected we weren't terribly hungry come dinnertime. Not that some of us let ourselves be distracted from the serious business of dining by such unimportant matters :-).

Rustrel, by the way, is not a particularly impressive village. The center is practically non-existent and without charm; there isn't much in the way of commerce; and the surrounding houses and streets, although neat, seem as if they were extracted from somewhere around Poole or Bournemouth in southern England and then plumped down here. Not that there is anything wrong with those areas, but houses that belong there just don't seem to fit in here.

The ochre quarries, however, are supposed to be spectacular, so perhaps redemption is waiting in the wings.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stage 86 -- Montfuron to Viens

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Oct 18th, 2007

Somewhat shorter than expected, today's hike was again about 5.5 hours. After an hour along a semi-busy road we were pleased to spend the rest of the day on farm roads and quiet country lanes. Another cloudless, warm day, enlivened by a moderate Mistral wind especially in the afternoon: perfect hiking weather.

We crossed into the Luberon and spent the morning walking along the top of a slowly descending ridge parallel to the Luberon hills themselves. Beautiful countryside, at times with little villages, at times almost deserted with just the odd farmhouse.

We reached the village of Cereste around 1PM and stopped for lunch in an excellent little restaurant called La Pastorale, run by a young Dutch couple. For my money (and it was not expensive), it is at least as good as the much better known restaurant run by a Dutch couple in Eygalieres: Chez Bru (which has two Michelin stars). And the owner and her boyfriend are charming and love cats: what more could one want? Definitely worth going back to!!!

Well-fed and quite contented with ourselves and life in general we ambled off around 3PM, past fields of lavender and an ancient ruined priory, and arrived in the dramatically located village of Viens at 5:30.

Sigh. Almost makes one wish that the H2H will not soon be over....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stage 85 -- Greoux-les-Bains to Montfuron

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Oct 17th, 2007

Ditto. As in: nice weather, easy hike, 5.5 hours, good conversation, excellent lunch, nice place to stay for the night. One significant difference was that we spent most of the day walking along roads, including about 45 minutes on a very busy main road, which was quite unpleasant. In addition we aren't staying in a hotel this evening, but rather at a B&B which doesn't offer dinner; so we'll be eating some quiche that we purchased in Manosque at lunchtime.

I was a little tired this morning, having stayed up until around 1AM talking with Oliver with whom I shared a room last night. He left this morning, much to our regret: with his humour and conversational skills he is an excellent hiking partner!

Manosque is the biggest place we have been in since Monaco, and the traffic was the worst we have seen since then too. At other times, however, I suspect that I would regard Manosque as being a small and somewhat sleepy town -- which shows how much time we have spent in the wilds recently.

Dad is holding up well. This was his third day, and apart for some intermittent ankle pain and sore shoulders in the evening, he seems to be handling the hikes. He is more sensible about walking at a reasonable pace than he was last year: i.e., he doesn't charge up the hills and get tired out and have to stop after five minutes, as he did on the C2C.

He is still pretty beat at the end of the day, though, as witnessed by his falling asleep next to me as I was writing this (pre-dinner). And snoring. Which if he does tonight might result in a radically shortened life expectancy. Grrrr.

Tomorrow will be slightly longer hike (although it will be shorter than planned -- we'll cut out the walk around the Gorge d'Oppedette, so it will be about 6.5 hours, an hour longer than we have done so far). We'll be watching him carefully.

Otherwise everyone is in pretty good shape. Russ's knee continues to give him some problems, but ice, drugs, and a support bandage seem to be keeping it under control. Sally's feet hurt at the end of the day, but not so much as to impact her overall sunny mood. And I'm much as ever, fully recovered from the post-Monaco low.

The days are rushing by now....

Stage 84 -- Riez to Greoux-les-Bains

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, Oct 16th, 2007

Another easy and relaxing hike. Another very good lunch in a restaurant in a tiny village. Another sunny day. Another picturesque town in which to spend the night. Another nice hotel and another excellent dinner. Hiking through this part of Provence may be a little monotonous, but we have decided that monotony is good :-).

About 5.5 hours of hiking, as yesterday. Interesting conversations. No hunters seen or heard. Forest and farm roads for the most part, with about a km along a larger road into Greoux-les-Bains at the end of the day.

A little touristy, but otherwise a nice place, Greoux. Dominated by the ruins of a Templar castle (which, as usual, we did not have the energy to go and visit), it has a charming old center. Another place to go back to.

Gravy days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Urs Ruefli calms down

Not a word about aliens... must have changed his meds ;-)

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

I met again with Prof. Dr. Bruno Kirchgraber, the expert on stochastic and probability theory.
You might remember his earlier interview. Since then, Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber has spent a lot of time with additional research.

AAA: Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber, it has been almost three weeks since out last interview. What new insights can you report about?

PDK: Well, there is so much wrong information in the media about this group There are more reports about their appearances than for Elvis. But there is a strong indication that they left Bavaria a long time ago and have now moved deeply into France.

AAA: Are they still in the Alps?

PDK: That is my assumption. There is a consistent pattern in their travel path. They always move up and down. For some unclear reason, they seem to like to take difficult routes, even if shorter and easier ones would be available to them.

AAA: Do you have an explanation for that? Do they try to hide?

PDK: If they would look for protection they could also take other paths. There must be some other motivation.

AAA: Is it related to pork, as all media assume?

PDK: This pork thing is hugely overvalued. As a matter of fact, it seems the group didn't eat any pork for many days. The main ingredient of their nutrition seems to have changed towards cheese, which is no surprise as they seem to be in France now.

AAA: Are you saying that Porkie abandoned pork?

PDK: The name Porkie and all these stories were initially made up by the tabloid press, like Bildzeitung. Both the name and the stories are misleading The person referred to as Porkie is an unusually tall and strong individual. But he is not 8 feet tall, as some reports suggest. He is quite strong, and certainly has a quite low fat percentage. Otherwise, he could never move so quickly through all these mountains. And all these stories about pigs and pork were extremely exaggerated.

AAA: These are surprising news. So what is the name of this giant if it is not Porkie?

PDK: Hard to say. French press starts to refer to him as Monsieur Le Fromage. But that is a simplistic attempt to promote their cheese industry. From a purely statistical perspective, it is most likely that his first name is Mohammed and his last name Chang. But statistics is not always so helpful.

AAA: Do you have any new information regarding their destination?

PDK: Obviously, they entered the Alps in Bavaria. From there, they crossed the whole of Switzerland and then entered France. Since then, they walked constantly towards South. It seems they want to get to the sea. From there, their next plans are not clear. They might turn towards Italy, towards Spain, or even get on a ship.

AAA: Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber, what would you do in their place?

PDK: I don't think that my preference is a good indication. Whenever I have to go from Bavaria to France, I take a plane. Obviously, this group has a different taste. You can not predict their behaviour by asking ordinary people like me.

AAA: Whom could we ask?

PDK: I don't know. Maybe the Dalai Lama? Maybe Paris Hilton? Maybe Ötzi the Iceman?

AAA: I'll think about it.

Stage 83 -- Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to Riez

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, Oct 15th, 2007

After two much appreciated rest days in Moustiers, during which Dad and Oliver arrived, we set off around 10AM on our way to Riez. Another perfect hiking day, sunny but not too warm. The hike started with a climb of about 220m up out of the Moustiers valley and onto the Plateau de Valensoie. Peanuts to those who strove with the Alps, but quite significant for the Florida-adapted (Dad) and the unprepared (Ollie).

From the top we could see back to mountains, which stretch without a break all the way from here to the Po plain in Italy. They looked beautiful, impressive, even hyperbolically adjectival, but I felt absolutely no urge to go back into them. Maybe in a month or so, but not now.

The Plateau is flat agricultural land with many fields of lavender, which although not in flower were still fragrant in the hand. We walked across it at a comfortable pace, talking of this and that. Lunch at the village of Roumoules was in an unprepossessing roadside restaurant that, however, served excellent food (it's in France, after all), and there remained under two hours until we reached the Chateau de Pontfrac, where we were to spend the night.

A day, when all was said and done, like the landscape: easy, pleasant, congenial.