Friday, August 22, 2014

Women's lib... icon-style!

Sonogno beckons

Passo Redorta -- the notch to the right of center

Passo Redorta looking towards Sonogno

One of the least difficult sections of the climb to the Passo Redorta

Ticino houses

Coming down from the pass

Hey, I did take a good photo of Lago Nero!

Climbing up to a pass

Lago Nero... not a good photo, but you get the idea

The intrepid photographer Franz!

Looking back

Climbing up to Lago Nero

Arcadia again -- going down from Lago Vannino

The symbolism is overwhelming

Looking towards Milan :-)

Back into Italy

The Alps = waterfalls

Et in Arcadia ego... leaving Binn

Stage 21 -- Prato-Sornico to Sonogno

In which we have a tough hike (but not as tough as it was the last time I did it), we evade bad omens, and we finish up the second section of the H3H!

Dinner last night was... necessary. I don't think that I have eaten dinner thus far on the H3H with such focus :-). I didn't think that I was super hungry, but obviously my body knew better. Still, didn't eat that much... as has mostly been the case during the last month... so I'll be interested to see how much weight I've lost.

We set off at around 8:15 this morning, and immediately started going uphill. The climb got steeper and steeper until we had done about 1000m... at which point we still had 450m to go to the pass. It was a tough hike... one of the most difficult on what has been a very difficult section of the H3H. But the weather was fine (sun and clouds and cool... good for hiking... although I still managed to get my cap brim dripping by 1460m :-) and we were all fit (Russ's chafe having healed enough to allow him to hike too). We finally got to the pass about 12:45... perhaps 4.25 hours of hard hiking after we left Prato-Sornico.

The downhill to Sonogno, although steep and fairly long (1250m), was much easier than it was when Lidia and Ioana and I came up several years ago, in particular because the snow-filled ravine that caused us such Angst was free of snow (something I wasn't sure of when we were climbing up since there were big snow-drifts on the other side at, I kid you not, 1350m... on August 22nd, no less!).

As to the bad omens... well, there was my perhaps ill-advised observation in the previous post as to how nobody on the long hikes I've done in the last 10 years has gotten injured, then a black cat crossed the road in front of us as we were leaving Prato-Sornico, and I have still not forgotten the old man sharpening his scythe and laughing ominously several years ago as we left Sonogno and told him we were heading over the pass to Prato-Sornico.... Good thing I'm not superstitious! And, anyway, the cat had white socks :-).

So, we are done. 21 days of hiking, a vast amount of ascent and descent, and a large number of kilometers and hours of hiking since we started in Courmayeur almost a month ago. The weather has been overall very good, if a little chilly (but, as said, that's good for hiking). I haven't been back over my blog posts to check, but I'd guess that we had rain on about a quarter of the days... but only for short periods -- there was not a single day when it rained on us during the whole hike. So, lucky again.

Lucky also with my fellow-hikers who were, without exception, up to the rigors and challenges of a very tough series of hikes through some of the wildest and ruggedest parts of the Alps. Many thanks to all of you... and most especially to Russ (who amazed us all with his resilience while carrying 20 kilos more muscle, bone, etc. than me, and 30-40 kilos more than the non-Bradleys up and down the mountains!)... for your good humour and company: I couldn't, and I mean it, have done it without you.

This section was very tough -- much more so than the first section 2 years ago (the first week of amazing heat in Provence excepted!). I must confess that I'm very ready to head back home, put my feet up, and do nothing for a few days. I'll post some more photos over the next couple of days, but other than that, thanks for reading and over and out!

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stage 20 -- Robiei to Prato-Sornico

In which we enjoy perfect hiking weather, regret Russell's absence, and have another long day... the penultimate hike on this section of the H3H !!

Dinner in our hotel in Robiei was very good, as were the bedrooms, but Franz was nonetheless a little disappointed. Not by the hotel, but by the fact that the rest of us headed off to bed just after 9PM. I told him that that is what he gets for being so fit.

We woke up the following morning to a beautiful sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky... and to the bad news that Russ wouldn't be hiking with us today: his chafe had gone thermonuclear and hiking was out of the question. Fortunately for him this was one of the few days on this section of the H3H where both start and destination were reachable by regular transport, and the distance between them not immense (only about 25km). So we set off at 8:45 leaving him to navigate the Swiss public transport system (gondola, bus, bus), while we went over another high pass.

It was a bit chilly at first, with a brisk wind, but as the day went on the weather got better and better. The pass, at 2550m, was much less rugged than the previous day, and with a stunning view back to a beautiful high Alpine lake. The long descent down the valley on the far side (as in, VERY long... over 1850m of downhill!) was, aside from being exhausting, lovely, with huge variation from bare rocks, to sparse grass, to meadows, to forests, to small hamlets of old wooden houses, to charming villages.

We arrived at around 5PM, footsore, tired, but in good spirits. Russ was already here... but since he is lodging with Franz tonight, and since I've not had the energy to do more than take a shower and lie on the bed writing this, I don't know yet how his day has been.

No WiFi,for the third day in a row, so no upload of this blog. Sorry! And now a little snooze and then dinner.... Tomorrow is the last day....

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Stage 19 -- Lago Vannino to Robiei

In which the biggest threat yet to the H3H is overcome, I get us lost for a while, it hails on us, and we have the longest day yet.

The night at the refuge at the Alpe Vannino was not as restful as it could have been.  For one thing, the mattresses in the bumkrooms were very thin... even doubled up one felt the hard boards underneath.  For another, I was worried.  You see, my ankle had started to hurt during the previous hike, at times enough so as to affect my gait, and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hike the next day.  In addition, Russ had developed some chafing and it wasn't clear if he'd be able to continue.  So I tossed and turned.

Apart from the thin mattresses, and the Turkish toilets, the refuge was actually quite nice.  The food was very good and copious, the hut manager friendly and helpful, and since there were only 12 people there we had a bunkroom to ourselves.  But I was worried.

The next morning, however, Russell's chafe had subsided and my ankle felt much better... so off we went (leaving at 7:40AM).  First a descent of some 800m along a long valley, then a climb of some 1200m past a 145m high waterfall (interrupted by a nice lunch in a restaurant... whose only drawback was that it took an hour and a half).

It was during this climb that I got us lost... well, not exactly lost, since I knew where we were, but I took the wrong trail and instead of turning back persisted thinking that it would meet up with the right trail again.  Which it did not.  So we spent roughly 30 minutes extra bushwhacking across a rolling high meadow to the right trail... NOT appreciated by my fellow hikers given that it was already a long day.

Around 3:30PM we arrived at the 2660m pass, which was quite rugged, and hardly were we over it than it started hailing on us (up until that point the weather had been a mixture of sun and clouds, despite a forecast calling for showers all day).  It wasn't big hail, nor particularly hard, nor did it last very long (as we descended it became light rain), but it did make the rocks and trails quite slippery, so we had to pay great attention.

As an aside, a few days ago I added up how much time I've spent hiking over the last 10 years... and it comes to about a year (yup, over 360 days!).  Most of that time has been spent hiking with others, at least two others on average.  So that makes over three hiking man years... without anyone having an accident that required first aid or even that caused them to miss a day of hiking.  That is pretty impressive, I find, particularly given the high Alpine terrain through which much of the hiking has been done... and also a tribute to how fit and careful my hiking partners have been.

All of which is a propos of nothing... there were no accidents today :-).

We arrived at our hotel around 6PM, walking through clouds, and very tired.  My ankle had held up well (it felt much better than the previous day), but unfortunately Russell's chafe had gotten worse... it looks like he won't be hiking tomorrow ;-(.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stage 18 -- Binn to Lago Vannino

In which we hike over two passes and Russell finds out that rest days do not agree with him.

The rest day in Binn was... very restful. We each made a token visit to the village, which was lovely, but basically we just hung around our hotel. Several of us washed our clothes, after having been unable to arrange anything with the somewhat unfriendly owner. Fortunately the quality of the food was excellent and the other serving-folk were charming, so overall we were happy, but there is a major difference between being exceedingly happy and being just happy, and online reviews and ratings will reflect that. Given that there is competition in the village (at least a couple of other hotels), I predict that long term the success of her hotel will be limited... which is a pity.

Afterwards we caught up on email etc., and of course we played lots of games (we being Russ, Franz and I... Père Ephrem went off to Brig to buy a new pair of poles, although even had he stayed with us I have to say that he doesn't strike me as the game-playing type :-).

The following morning dawned wet, but by the time we set off at 8:45 there were only a few drops falling and we didn't bother to put on our rain gear (the rest of the day was mostly sunny). Binn is a lovely quiet valley and we enjoyed the three hour walk to the Binntal SAC refuge where we had a light lunch. Or perhaps I should say that most of us enjoyed it... Russell was flagging. At first I thought it might have been the cheese fondue with wine we had the night before (followed by a double digestif to... ahem... help the digestion), and it probably did play a role because he didn't sleep well, but then I remembered that after the previous rest day (in Macugnaga) he had had the same problems despite not having fondue for dinner... which is when I realized that rest days obviously don't agree with him. I will plan future long hikes with this in mind.


Aside from that revelation, the day was uneventful. We crossed into Italy over a "low" pass -- 2409m -- and then went over a somewhat higher pass (2600m) to get to our refuge. As always the difference between German-speaking Switzerland and Italy was striking (the former being so much neater and well-maintained). And we arrived at the refuge just after 4PM -- net hiking time about 6h40m instead of the predicted 7h.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Hiking in Switzerland -- more dangerous than you would think

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Binn bridge... another great photo taken by Russ, official H3H photographer!

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Another image of suffering

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Urk! Notice the lean away from the void....

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Binn up close

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Rough life

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Walking along the aqueduct... not the steepest place, but still plenty steep!

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Binn from above

On the way to Binn

Where did you spend your day? We saw this...

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Saflisch pass to Binn

Dinner in Rosswald

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The trail to Rosswald gets vertiginous

Our hotel at Simplon pass

Looking across the Rhone valley from Rosswald to the south side of the Berner Oberland

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Hiking down to Binn

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Stage 17 -- Rosswald to Binn

In which we have a beautiful easy hike on a beautiful sunny day over a beautiful pass down to a beautiful village in a beautiful valley and take 5 hours instead of 6.25, which redeems the H3H planner somewhat in the eyes of his fellow hikers.

And that's what happened.

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Stage 16 -- Simplon Pass to Rosswald

In which we do some "urban" hiking, "easy-peasy" is revealed to be much more difficult than expected, and the perils of splitting up the group are revealed.

It was pretty cold and a little windy when we set off from our hotel at Simplon Pass... despite it being after 9:30AM. The late start was due to the hike being relatively short (estimated at 5.5 hours), And the cold was due to the fact that it has simply been a bad summer in this part of the Alps. I've been speaking with our hosts along the way and they have all said the same thing: in July the weather was awful, and in August it has been much colder than usual, with the result that the number of visitors has been low (which might also explain the number of "For Sale" signs we have seen in the various villages we have passed through).

However, despite having to remind myself from time to time that it was summer, overall we have been, IMHO, very fortunate with the weather. Cool is better than hot when you are hiking over passes... and we have been doing a lot of those. Moreover in the meantime I'd guess that less than 5% of our hiking time has been spent in rain-gear....

And today was another rain-free day... but for all that not without its challenges. The first of which presented itself almost immediately as we were unable to find the trail down from the Simplon Pass in the direction we needed to go. It turned out that there were major roadworks being done just after the pass, and where the trail normally passed was now a building site. However, since it was a Saturday no-one was working and so we were able to make our way through it... albeit with a bit of scrambling. We saw a sign in the midst of the construction area saying that the hiking trail was closed... which would have been more than minorly irritating if it had been a week day, since there was no other easy way to get to where we needed to go... other than walking through the road tunnel alongside the traffic :-(.

It is this sort of complexity that makes planning long hikes so much more challenging than one would think: it is not trivial to arrange to pass building sites on weekends or holidays.


After a short steep climb of about 250m we reached a balcony path that we planned to hike along for the rest of the day. We could see our destination, Rosswald, just across a deep valley, but since we'd be going along the contour lines into each side valley we would be hiking further. As it turned out, "further" was "much further", and with much more in the way of little ups and downs than were visible on the map -- instead of three it took us almost four hours to get to our lunch place, the Bortelhütte, and there was a very steep climb just before we got to the hut. Not so "easy-peasy" after all!

After lunch the hike went from tiring to technically challenging. There were no more large climbs, but the trail went up and down along cliff-side trails that made me a little uneasy, and I'm pretty resistant. Thomas, who has a touch of vertigo, found them to be at the limit of what he felt comfortable with... so when we came to a trail sign that offered two options to get to our destination, one longer, and the other shorter but marked as being only for those with no fear of heights (the previous trail had had no such warning), he decided that he would take the longer path.

Which was a good decision: the shorter path went along an aqueduct taking water to Rosswald that had been set into the side of a near vertical cliff. Spectacular... but scary! I paid great attention to where I was putting my feet, only glancing out and down into the void when I was standing still. Thomas would have been way out of his comfort zone.

When we got to the end of the difficult section, Russ decided to wait for Thomas where the alternative trail he had taken rejoined ours. I pushed on with Père Ephrem, feeling an acute need to find modern plumbing facilities :-(. Just before we arrived in Rosswald about 45 minutes later Russ called and said that Thomas had not yet appeared (which was surprising because his trail should only have been about 15 minutes longer than ours). Oh-oh.

From my makeshift office (in the aforementioned modern plumbing facilities :-) I called Thomas and found out that he had turned back after his trail also turned out to be vertiginous. Then he had tried another trail that was signposted to Rosswald, but it took such a meandering route that he thought it would be dark before he got there, so he turned back from that one too. When I reached him he was about to head down to find a road we thought we had seen from across the valley... but since that "road" was the aqueduct we had walked along, I told him that that was doomed to failure as well and that he should just go back to the original plan. I then called Russ to let him know the situation and he decided to walk towards Thomas and in fact met him at the most difficult point, so was able to help him through it.

So, all was well that ended well, and Russell's kindness in choosing to wait for Thomas turned out to be exceedingly helpful... he's a good fellow, Russ, and especially good to have with one in the mountains!

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