Thursday, July 18, 2013

Appenzell hike -- Day 8

Last day. There had been a shower in the night, judging by the water on the tables outside, but once again we awoke to sunshine and hardly a cloud in the sky. The hike was a simple descent of some 800m down to the train station in Wasserauen, and we caught the 10:19 train as planned. We said our goodbyes at Appenzell -- Gabi taking a train to Sankt Gallen on her way back to Munich, and me continuing to Gossau where I caught an Intercity to Geneva (and from there I'll go to Lyon then Avignon), in which I'm sitting as I write this.

In summary? Appenzell was as lovely a region to hike in as I had hoped. The trails and views were spectacular, the food and accommodations (with the exception of the Rotsteinpasshütte) excellent, the people friendly, the weather perfect, no injuries or accidents, and my hiking partners a joy. And just the right length too... yesterday would have been too soon to go home, tomorrow too late. But I think I'll be back in Appenzell some day....

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Appenzell hike -- Day 7

An excellent dinner at the Bollenwees last night... and we slept well... so we decided to do something a little different for the hike today: a reprise of the ridge hike I had done with Kristof and Corinna on Day 3, instead of a simple up and over saddle to Meglisalp. The weather forecast, for the first time, spoke of the possibility of a thunderstorm, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky as we set off around 8:30.

I've had ridiculously good luck with the weather when hiking so far this year. 28 days of hiking and garden visits in England in May with one day of rain, another of drizzle, and otherwise just a couple of showers. 4 days in Provence in April, with summer temperatures for all but the last day (when, I have to admit, it hailed on us for almost 5 hours, but still), and now 7 days in Appenzell without a drop of rain. I'm sure I'll pay for it some day, but for now I'm just enjoying it. This is how hiking is supposed to be!

And speaking of hiking, today's hike was once again gorgeous. There were a few people on the trails, but not too many, and, well, it was pretty much perfect. Gabi hikes at around the same pace I do, and is if anything slightly more tolerant of challenging trails than I am (when we went by the Altmann peak yesterday she wanted to climb up the last 100m to the top... despite the fact that there was no visible marked trail... and only did not do so because I said that I wouldn't go, although I did offer to wait for her with the packs :-). So I had no worries about taking her along the ridge... and other than almost falling off once, she had no problems with it either.

After lunch at the Meglisalp, and taking possession of our room, and showers, the question arose as to what to do with the remainder of the afternoon. I wasn't excited about putting my sweaty hiking gear back on, and frankly felt that after 7 days straight of hiking (I had hiked about 3.5 hours on my rest day, between going up to Aescher for lunch and down to Wasserauen to meet Gabi, as well as over 4 hours already today), I could afford to give myself an afternoon off. So Gabi went out and hiked another couple of hours by herself... she does not lack for energy!

Dinner was once again excellent, and we had a nice conversation with a young couple from Sankt Gallen, who introduced us to the local specialty liqueur, called (what else) Appenzeller, which apparently contains 42 different herbs... and tastes like medicine. And despite there having been some clouds, the threatened thunderstorms had not materialized. Another good day.

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Appenzell Hike -- Day 6

Last night was as bad as feared. Knocking back a couple of shots of Williams (pear schnapps) and a beer put me to sleep around 10:30, but I was awake again by 1:45, and tossed and turned for the rest of the night. Interestingly there weren't many snorers audible, and those that started seemed to stop quickly (probably as their hiking partners poked them in the ribs to make them sleep on their sides... and thus stop snoring). But there was lots of movement (as people went to and from the bathroom), some light (headlamps, phones), and lots of little noises. At least Gabi seemed to sleep reasonably well (she didn't notice any lights, for example), despite being poked in the ribs a couple of times :-).

So I was a little bleary as we started off this morning around 8:30... but I woke up quickly as we climbed the Altmann. It was a near vertical Klettersteig of around 260m, which doesn't sound like that much, but was surprisingly exhausting after coffee and not sleeping the night. A couple of interesting things on the climb: we saw a group of Ibex (Steinböcke) above us, and Swiss kids. I'll explain the latter.

Throughout this trip I've been surprised at how laissez-faire Swiss parents are about their kids and boulders and cliffs. At Hotel Forelle, for example, there was a near vertical rock ridge of perhaps 4m in height. Kids from about 5 years old up were climbing on it the whole time, chasing one another along the top, tripping and falling over rocks and boulders, and so on. I didn't see a single parent intervene (nor, for that matter, a single child cry or get injured). So, this morning on the Altman, climbing up a difficult and steep Klettersteig, I look back to see a Swiss family (mother, father, two kids under 7) climbing up after us. And they were fast too! Impressive.

We traversed to a saddle with a beautiful view of the ridges and valleys between us and the Rhine valley and then went down an at times very steep and difficult path to the photogenic Fählensee and Berggasthof Bollenwies where we are staying the night. Took us a little more than 3 hours under a hot cloudless sky, so we were ready for lunch (Chaesrösti and Fleischkäse washed down by 2.5 liters of mineral water).

But of course we weren't just going to sit around in the afternoon, so we slogged up to the high ridge overlooking the Rhine valley and walked along it for a while in the afternoon sun, enjoying the stunning views. I was able to point out Liechtenstein and the town of Feldkirch in Austria, as well as the location of the Gafadura mountain hut across the valley, because we hiked through this area on the H2H and stayed overnight in the Gafadura. However, I was pretty ignorant about everything else we could see below... I only know things I've hiked through!

We got back to Bollenwees at around 4:30, had showers, and the Wirtin (owner / manager) told us that the place would be very full tonight... and would it bother Gabi to sleep in a room instead? That would be fine, said Gabi, grinning. Some people are just born lucky. As I write this, she is outside, reading in the sunshine. Lunch was excellent, so we are expecting the same of dinner. I imagine I'll go to sleep early, given my lack of sleep last night, and also because tomorrow is another big hike (the last!).

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Appenzell Hike -- Day 5

I like it when I can sleep in a bedroom in the mountains, as opposed to a bunk-room: no snorers and plenty of space. However, given Gabi's experience last night, I started to reconsider: she had an 18 mattress bunkroom all to herself... way more room than I had, and, one assumes, nobody snoring either. At least, I was starting to reconsider, but then we arrived at the Rotsteinpasshütte, and saw how we were going to "sleep" tonight. For those who were there and remember, think Refuge de Balme the night before we went down to Samoëns. And just as it was then, the place here is full tonight. With lots of familes... with lots of kids. Sigh. It's going to be a tough one.

But I'm ahead of myself: back to this morning. After a leisurely breakfast in Hotel Forelle, during which I was able to check the news and a couple of blogs via the house WiFi, we set off under blue skies and sun (but, how else?). We had about 1000m to do with full packs up to the Rotsteinpass, and then after we would climb to the 2500m Säntis peak and back with a lighter load. We were in no particular hurry because I'd already decided to scale the hike back given the amount of snow there was around Säntis... we'd do about 6 hours total, instead of the 8.5 that was planned.

First stop was Meglisalp, where we had something to drink and Gabi applied plasters to an incipient blister on her heel. Second stop was Rotsteinpass, where we had lunch and got the bad news about tonight's accommodations. Third stop, after an impressive (lots of vertical cliffs on either side) and impressively secured (cables and steps galore) hike up the Lieslgrat was the Säntis peak, where Gabi applied a second plaster (the first had slipped off) to an in the meantime full-fledged blister. Then back to the Rosteinpasshütte, an unexpected (and very welcome, but expensive... 5CHF for 3 minutes) shower, and now writing this.

Views weren't superb today... it was pretty hazy when it wasn't cloudy, and it was cloudy a lot of the time. That was OK as long as we were hiking (because I was hot enough anyway), but it was chilly at lunch and there were only intermittent views from the peak. Don't remember if I've mentioned this before, but the construction on top of Säntis is one of two blots on what is otherwise a spectacularly beautiful area (the other being a vast car park in the valley at Wasserauen). It looks like a 1950's conception of 22nd century architecture (although it was only built in the 1990's), and is "crowned" with a massive (123m high) spire. I'm not sure what its function is, but as for its motivation, I'm inclined to believe that it was built as a compensation for the Appenzeller males' ego after they were forced to give the Appenzeller women the right to vote... in 1992.

We are up fairly high here... about 2120m... and tomorrow will go up almost to the top of the second highest peak in the area, the Altman, at around 2400m, before dropping back down to Hotel Bollenwees (1450m)... where I have reserved a room :-). Gabi, poor soul, only requested a bunk... but who knows, maybe she'll get lucky again like in the Hotel Forelle!

I wonder if I'll sleep at all tonight. I wonder how many snorers there will be in the upstairs bunkroom complex. Sigh.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Appenzell Hike -- Day 4

After two tough and long days, it was time for a rest day. And that was what I had planned. Only it didn't work out that way. Not for Kristof, who hiked some 1300m up the second highest peak in the area (the Altman at around 2430m, I think). And not for Corinna, who hiked some 350m up to Hotel Aescher for lunch (and afterwards hiked back down again). And not for me, since I went with Corinna, and then at the end of the day walked 200m down to Wasserauen to meet Gabi and take her back to the Berggasthaus Forelle.

The weather was perfect -- sunny and warm -- and because of that and the fact that it was a Sunday there were tons of people on the trails. We must have seen 300+ while going to and from Aescher for lunch (Chaesrösti for us both... despite my intention to order something else, after hearing Corinna order one, I couldn't resist). But on balance I decided that I prefer it like that rather than to be alone due to cold and rain.

Before and after lunch I washed clothes, chose and posted pictures to the blog (but not these daily summaries because they are written on the iPad and for some reason it can't connect to the local WiFi), read news, and so on.

Kristof enjoyed himself on his hike, did some climbing, got to boot-ski down another snowfield, and saw a small group of Ibex (Steinböcke) from up close. Midafternoon Corinna and he left to drive back to Munich... better hiking partners one could not wish for.

Gabi showed up around 6PM... an hour later than planned due to another delayed train... and then we hiked back up to the Forelle (drawing amused glances all the way since she wanted to carry her pack, and I had none :-). We showered, changed, had dinner outside, dessert inside, and a nice conversation. Off to bed now and back up to Säntis tomorrow!

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Through the cleft

The zigzag way down

Bollenwees... just right of center

Espresso time again!

Looking back



On our way down

Morning view from Schaefler 2

Morning view from Schaefler 1

Heading back to Schaefler

Looking back to Säntis

More landscape


And boot-skied down this!

Espresso mountain style!

Much more snow... we crossed this


The way gets wilder

Wildflower with bug

On our way to Säntis!

View from Aescher

We'll walk along the top of this ridge tomorrow!

Aescher in the morning light


Hotel Aescher

Appenzell Hike -- Day 3

Just the three of us in the bunkroom at Schaefler last night, and neither Kristof nor Corinna snore, so we all slept well. With the weather and the forecast once again perfect, we saw no reason to rush off, and had a leisurely breakfast outside on the terrace before starting out shortly after 9.

Yesterday's hike had been tiring, with over 1700m of ascent, but my overall level of hiking fitness seems to be excellent at the moment: I had no soreness and my legs didn't feel tired. No doubt the fact that we boot-skied a lot of the downhill helped too. Just as well: today's hike was going to have us descend over 1800m... in addition to, of course, a fair amount of uphill!

The first stretch was 800m of at times near vertical descent... I'll post a couple of pictures, but I'm not sure they'll do the steepness justice. It's an interesting way to start a day. We then left most of the weight in our packs at the Berggasthof Forelle, where we would be staying the night, and hiked on.

The next stretch took us up to and along a very nice balcony trail overlooking the valley from the side opposite Schaefler, and ending at the Meglisalp hamlet where we had lunch (for me a very satisfying Chaeserösti -- cheese on grated potatoes). Shortly after 2PM we were back on the trails, climbing up to what was billed as an Alpine ridge walk along the top of the cliffs opposite Schaefler and Aescher.

Most of the trails we go along are classified as mountain walking paths (Bergwanderwege), which are marked red and white and well maintained and secured. Alpine walking paths are marked blue and white and are typically unsecured... and this was the case here. I must confess that I felt a little exposed at times on the ridge, but since the weather was near perfect (sunny, no wind), and the sheep we passed seemed to be unconcerned, I decided not to worry. When, as we enjoyed another of Kristof's mountain espressos, a couple of hikers passed us coming the other way along the trail... and they looked less experienced and less well outfitted than we were... my relaxation was complete.

The views in both directions were stunning... an absolutely superb hike... and once again a tremendously varied palette of landscapes and trail types. It's a gorgeous region here... when the weather is good... and I suspect I'll be back again soon.

At the end of the day we descended another 800 plus meters back to our Berggasthaus, arriving with legs that felt somewhat the worse for wear, but nevertheless much better than I would have guessed given the gruelling nature of the last couple of days. Proof? I had no issues going up and down the stairs to my room (yep... I'm in a room here :-). A nice dinner, another game (Seven Wonders), delightful conversation, and off to bed. Tomorrow's a free day... at least for me... and though I might go out for a short walk, for the most part I'll take it easy, do a few chores, and let my legs recover. Gabi arrives tomorrow, with fresh legs, and there are more long hikes planned (to begin with, back up to the Säntis peak, via a different route).

I hear that there is WiFi here, so perhaps I'll be able to send this off tomorrow. And there are electrical outlets in my room, so I'll be able to recharge iphone and ipad! Bliss.

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Appenzell Hike -- Day 2

Nice evening last night at Hotel Aescher.  After dinner, which I had early by myself, I went up to the bunkroom for a fleece and found there a German couple from the Bodensee.  We chatted a bit and later I sat with them at an outside table as the sun went down, the views got better and better (as the clouds thinned out), and a dessert of sinful appearance was brought and consumed (ahem, by me).

Before then, however, I went for a walk.  Just a short one -- up to the Wildkirchli, an open-air altar with pews for a congregation of a hundred set into a cave in the same rock ridge that shelters the hotel, and beyond it 100m through another cave to the other side of the ridge for views to the north and east over the hills and dales of the Appenzeller land.

Around 9:30 I went up to bed, read for a while, and then went to sleep... sort of.  Apparently this was one of the first nice evenings this summer, and the locals were out in force... and clearly enjoying themselves immensely.  There were 70-80 outside... and around 100 inside... and the noise level was high.  For some reason, however, people partying when I'm trying to fall asleep doesn't bother me... but the thunderous snoring of the otherwise charming German guy in the room, to which I awoke a couple of hours later, did.  Ah well, that's bunkrooms for you.  Earplugs in, pillow and blankets wrapped around my head, and eventually I went back to sleep.

The morning dawned bright and clear... not a cloud in the sky.  And warm... I was outside at 7:30 with a light fleece and considered taking it off.  Not bad for 1450m.  At 8:15 Kristof and Corinna appeared and we ate breakfast together with the couple from the Bodensee.  Around 9 we set off, hiking first about 500m up to the Schaefler mountain inn, where we left a large part of the contents of our packs (we are staying here tonight), and then up to the Säntis peak.

It was a beautiful hike... very varied and with great views much of the time (although fairly soon there were  convection clouds caused by rising humid air).  We walked along knife-edged ridges, traversed grassy slopes strewn with flowers (many of which were new to me), scrambled over stony scree, and increasingly, the higher we got, stomped across snow fields.  The last hour or so we were on snow in sun almost all the time, culminating in an exhausting and hot slog up a steep nève and then a near vertical klettersteig up to the peak.  We got there at 13:40, without having stopped for lunch... and I was running on fumes.

A bratwurst with rösti quickly solved the hunger problem, and we enjoyed the sun and views for a while before considering how to go back down.  Kristof has a special relationship with snow... there's always snow when we hike together... so he wanted to boot-ski down, and after close inspection of the map and the slope (from above), I let myself be persuaded.  I've boot-skied before, and it's a great way to shed altitude quickly and without much effort, but in the past I've done it only on slopes I know... and we'd be going down a different one from the one we had come up.  But all went well and we dropped some 800m in about 45 minutes (punctuated by frequent stops to enjoy the stunning views and, once, for an espresso that Kristof prepared with his portable cooker :-).

One final climb of 400m or so and we were back at the Schaefler hut just after 6PM... a long day, but a very good one.  We ate dinner outside until the sun went behind the mountain top, then went inside and played a game while listening to the kids of a local family "entertain" everyone with a sort of slow, doleful, and occasionally off-tune, multi-voiced yodel that is apparently typical for the region.  Then this blog, and now... we are off to bed.  Got a long hike ahead of us tomorrow!

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Appenzell Hike -- Day 1

Not too much hiking today... just a couple of hours at the end of the afternoon... but first things first.  I left Icking in the early morning, with a plan, suggested by the Deutsche Bahn, that had me taking 6 different trains on the way to Wasserauen, the end of the line in the Appenzeller Land.  Due to a 10 minute delay on the second leg (an ICE from Munich to Ulm), 6 trains became 10 and 7 hours became 8... for a trip that would take at most 3 hours by car.   On the one hand it is great that you can get almost anywhere in Europe with public transportation.  On the other hand, >2x the time it would take in a car is a little lame.  Still, I did get to spend a half an hour in Appenzell... a charming little old town... so there was some compensation.

Then came what was supposed to be a 2 hour hike up to the Hotel Aescher.  I intended to go slowly, in order to avoid sweating, because Aescher has no showers... and I did go slowly, or at least I wasn't breathing too hard, but it was humid and I sweated anyway.  And somehow "slow" only took an hour and 25 minutes.  Not quite sure what I did wrong (other than the obvious... going too fast).   I'll try to do better tomorrow... because, with between 1300 and 1700m climbing to do (depending upon the route taken), if I don't go at a reasonable pace, I'm going to bonk!

The weather today, by the way, was a little cloudy, but no rain and warm.  And the forecast for the next week: aside from a possible shower or two, there is only one symbol on the weather forecast webpage: sun.  Because of that, the hotel is full this evening... and I expect there will be many people on the trails over this weekend.  But given the alternative (bad weather, empty trails), I'll take it.

And Hotel Aescher?  As beautiful, and beautifully situated, as advertized.  An old wooden building, nestled under an overhanging cliff, with wonderful views across the valley several hundred meters below to the cliffs rising to over 2000m on the other side.  Stunning.  Many thanks to Madeleine for sending me the photo of the hotel that led to the planning of this trip!  Now, if I can only convince her at some point to come along as well :-).

Kristof and Corinna will arrive tomorrow morning ... and then the real hiking will begin!

PS No WiFi here... it may be a while before I can post this to the blog.

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