Friday, July 29, 2016

Bergün panorama

The tough final ascent

Oliver in the background...

View forward from the pass

View back from the pass

What I found at the pass


Our pass

The one with the teeth -- 2700m

Start photo, Stage 9

Stage 9 -- Savognin to Bergün

Summary: a perfect first hike.

For whom? For Millie (our cousin Oliver's daughter) who did her first real mountain hike today. Something like 1600m of ascent, 1400m of descent, 8 hours of hiking, a perfect pass, majestic views in all directions, and good weather: a classic day, and Millie mastered it magnificently. Oliver: not so much :-).

Unlike the previous hike we did, which was a brutal climb, today's route went up at a pleasant pace, for the most part (except for the final ascent to the pass... but hey, no gain without some pain, right?), and the descents, although steep were not punishing. Still, eight hours is eight hours: we were all tired at the end of the day and happy to get to Bergün.

We are staying in the 466 year old Hotel Weisses Kreuz, had a good fondue for dinner, and are now, at 21:16, sacked out and about to go to sleep. A good day!

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Excellent photos from Kristof!

If you don't have dropbox, get it, if only for these photos!  It's free, I believe.

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Tomorrow's hike...

...goes somewhere under the big cloud and over/through those mountains!

The thunderstorm we missed!

Stage 8 -- Andeer to Savognin

Summary: I need new hikers... these ones are used up!

And the long version is not much different: given the length of the planned hike (very long), the questionable state of health of some parts of some hikers' anatomy, and the fact that from midday on thunderstorms were expected, the group decided not to hike today. Instead we took bus/train/bus around the mountain, arriving in our Savognin hotel rooms around 12:30 just in time to see a large and impressive thunderstorm come over the mountains about where we would have been hiking. So, probably this was a case of "the wisdom of the crowd" :-).

Instead of hiking we played games, before having a good dinner and some good conversation about geopolitics in the evening. This morning Walter left early (going back to San Francisco via Milan and Istanbul, Franz towards midday (to Bavaria), Russ and I then had lunch with a Swiss friend of his before taking a couple of chairlifts up to near the top of a mountain from which we then descended along steep gravel trails on Trottibikes (push scooters)... much scarier and more dangerous than hiking!

The needed new hikers, cousin Ollie and daughter Millie, will arrive in the early evening, and tomorrow I've ordered good weather for a nice long hike to Bergün: hope they appreciate it!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Last stretch down to Sufers



Landscape at the pass

Franz at the pass

Note absence of fatigue 🤔

Russ at the pass

Note sweat line on pants 😄

Tough steep climb

Partially modernized house

Yes, the toilet is now inside, but....

Going down into the Safinental

At the pass!

Russ has a reputation to uphold 😜

Meadows and dicy weather

An hour before the pass from Vals to the Turrahus.

Vals from above

Vals town center

A lovely little village.

Stage 7 -- Turrahus to Andeer... well, Sufers

Summary: Unstable weather and hiker health concerns lead to a shortened day... and perhaps a prettier hike.

Showers and thunderstorms being in the forecast again for the early afternoon, we set off even earlier than the day before: hiking by 7:15AM. However, a non-executive decision, taken by the other three while I was temporarily absent the previous afternoon, meant that we were taking a different path than the one I had planned. Instead of a long 8 hour day to Andeer, with an exceptional amount of descent (around 1700m), they opted for a 6 hour hike to Sufers with about 1200m of descent followed by a bus ride to Andeer. First Brexit and now this -- direct democracy just doesn't work, does it?

The first part of the hike remained unchanged -- Turrahus being at the end of a large north-south valley with only one hiking trail out of it to the east. And it was surprisingly difficult -- a Ticino trail in Graubünden. Not because it was particularly dangerous, but because it was unrelentingly steep, directly up grassy meadows for about 900 vertical meters, on a narrow trail through long, and very wet, grass. I was up front and despite all my efforts to brush the water droplets off the plants on either sides of the trail, my socks and boots were soon soaked (I poured / squeezed about a half a cup of water out of each when we got to the top).

I felt fine, having mostly recovered my hiking shape, but Walter said that it was a good thing that this hike happened on day 7 instead of day 1... because otherwise there wouldn't have been a day 2. Russ said it was the most unrelentingly steep climb he had ever done. And Franz said he felt great :-).

A couple of words about Franz: he has been jogging every morning before we hike, because of a New Year's Resolution to run every day of the year... which has been a little challenging when we have stayed in mountain huts (at Capanna Scaradra he ran around the hut 80 times because the terrain was too steep and rocky to do anything else!). So he is in great shape... and the new boots he had picked up in Vals had eliminated the foot pain under which he had been suffering.

Yesterday's pass at 2450m had been grassy, today's at 2614m was inmidst a desolation of old snowdrifts and broken stone. In addition, we were all soaked through with sweat from the hard climb, it was cool and cloudy, and a breeze was blowing... so we didn't tarry at the pass. Fortunately, however, the descent was beautiful. The sun came out, the lower we went the warmer it got, the trail was much less steep than on the ascent, and the landscape went from stone and gravel to flower-strewn meadows with marmots, to glade-filled woods, before ending in a lovely village on a lake. Just delightful.

And 10 minutes after we arrived at the bus stop, after 6.5 hours on the trail, it started to rain. So it was probably just as well that we didn't go the longer route to Andeer.

Got to do something about direct democracy though. :-)

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Stage 6 -- Vals to the Turrahus in the Safinental

Summary: "Easiest 1100m I've ever climbed" -- Walter.

We aren't in Ticino any more! Hike took about 5.25h... three quarters of an hour less than planned. Now, that's more like it! Showers and thunderstorms in the forecast for the afternoon, so we left early, at 8:15... but in fact we had sun coming down to the Turrahus after noon. So that was good too.

The Turrahus is a classic old mountain hotel... complete with wood floors that slope at odd angles, steep wooden stairs, and wood panelling everywhere. Oh, wood ceilings too. Lovely, and imposing, views up to the end of the valley... where we'll be hiking tomorrow on our way to Andeer. However, I think we'll do a shorter hike than planned, with about 500m less descent, to reduce the stress on various injured knees and Russ's back. It will mean that we'll take a bus to Andeer... but the spell has by now been well and truly broken, and the "every step of the way" mystique of the H2H has been abandoned for the H3H. It's the pragmatic decision, not least because of my knee, but I regret it nevertheless.

Otherwise, it has been a quiet day. We chatted a bit over a late lunch / Café & Kuchen here, then retreated to our rooms for snoozes, reading, and (in my case) a bit of blogging. I wouldn't say that we are gamed out after our two rest days, but the edge has been taken off of the obsession :-).

And meanwhile in Germany the drumbeat of violence goes on, with a machete attack and a suicide bombing yesterday. There are many different reasons for the attacks, it seems -- copycats, suicidal depression, crimes of passion, and the ideologically inspired -- but the common element is that the perpetrators were islamic immigrants or, in one case, the child of an immigrant. And this, unfortunately, will be what most people will remember... and generalize from. Which will be a tragedy for the overwhelming majority of "good" refugees and immigrants.

On the "positive" side, the old Franco-British rivalry has reasserted itself post-Brexit, with at times just one French passport control agent dealing with all of the British holidaymakers passing through Dover on the way to their summer hols on the continent. Should have been in Schengen, mates! Hmmm, maybe there is something to this European integration thingy after all :-).

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Second rest day... catching up

My legs are getting back to normal, Thomas left early this morning, Russ, Franz and I went to the thermal baths across the road (we stayed for an hour and a half, Franz for something like four hours, and the visit was well worth it -- very interesting architecture made of local stone, hardly anyone there when we arrived at 11AM, and only half-full when we left, a nice range of spaces and temperatures, lovely views of the mountains, a sunny day... Just really nice), and many games were played in the afternoon. That's the quick summary of today.

A few further notes:

o the time estimates on the Ticino trail signs were even more wrong than mine... and the information given by the locals was even worse. For example, 2h25m on a signpost turned out to be closer 4h10m... through no fault of ours... and our host in Camperio told us that the walk down to Olivone would take 20m when it actually took more like 40. I mention it not as an excuse, but rather to say that hiking times in Ticino are more difficult to estimate than you think, even when you know they are more difficult to estimate than you think. :-)

o we have seen surprisingly little wildlife thus far... no chamois or ibex, few birds, and only a couple of marmots. Lots of sheep and cows though. And the flowers have been at times lovely.

o we have seen some stunning dams -- three so far, in the Valle Verzasca (the one Bond jumped off in Goldeneye), above Campo Blenio, and above Vals. Amazing constructions... the amount of work each of them must have taken to build is enormous. Good thing there are very few earthquakes in the Alps, though: if those dams ever collapse the destruction doesn't bear thinking about.

o although we are in one of the most idyllic spots on the planet, and feel far from the outside world, we have not been able to shut out current events completely. What with the Munich attacks, Erdogan's crack-down in Turkey, continuing Brexit aftershocks, and Trump's take-over of the Republican party in the US, the contrast is so great it is almost disorienting.

o we saw very few hikers while in Ticino -- on average 2-3 a day -- but while coming down from the pass to Vals we came across eight, despite it being a day of showers and thunderstorms. The Röstigraben is clearly alive and well... all around the German speaking part of Switzerland. Overall, we have seen very few tourists in the mountain villages and valleys and nowhere has our accommodation been full... despite fine weather and high season (the exception being Valle Verzasca on Sunday afternoon, where many cars were coming down the valley as our bus drove up... but my impression was that most of them were Swiss). I think the very expensive Swiss Franc (20% higher versus the Euro than in the past several years) continues to wreak havoc on tourism here. And of course, the "lucky" Brits who had booked their Swiss holidays before the Brexit vote are now paying almost twice as much in sterling terms as they had been expecting.

And now I'm being called back to games... perhaps more observations / insights later....

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