Saturday, August 06, 2016

Madeleine and friend

Trupchun pass awaits

And they are off... Day 1 for D&M!

A typical dinner scene on the H3H

Stage 14 -- the Ofenpass to Taufers

Summary: the third long day proves almost too much for our intrepid young hikers! And we meet Lidia (and Andreas)! And it's Lidia's birthday! And I can use exclamation points!

Beautiful landscapes, as almost always along the HxH, fine weather once more, more horses, well, ponies, more mountain-bikers (although less than the previous day): good times. Not quite as long as the previous day (24km instead of 26km), but much more downhill (about 1500m)... which was almost too much for the increasingly sore and tired legs of our no longer quite so fresh young hikers :-).

At some point I pointed out that if this had been the H2H, we would now be saying "Only 88 days of hiking still to go!"... which deeply impressed Madi and David. Frankly, it deeply impressed me too ;-).

About 100m (vertical) before our final low pass (a mere 2300m) Madeleine had fallen back quite a way, and we waited for her to catch up: her back was starting to hurt, so David offered to take her backpack (along with his). A true friend! He then carried it all the rest of the way... up to the pass, and then the 1150m downhill to our hotel in Taufers, where he collapsed to the ground in the entrance hallway.

After 23 hours and 70km of hiking over the past three days, we were all (more than) a little tired. However, the next day another long hike was planned, before two rest days at the charming spa-hotel Glieshof... what to do? A quick call to the weather gods and all was solved: rain was arranged for the whole day... so that was that. :-)

Lidia and Andreas were there when we arrived, having driven down by car from Bavaria during the day, so we even had transportation for the upcoming rainy day. And somehow the hotel knew that it was Lidia's birthday and had prepared a cake for dinner... so once again, all was well on the H3H!

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Stage 13 -- Livigno to the Ofenpass

Summary: long, hot day, with hordes of mountain bikers.

Breakfast at 7:30 (Madeleine put up a token resistance to the early time the night before, but she is morphing into a real hiker, and she was down on time :-), and shortly after 8:30 we set off again. The day was an unusual one for the HxH: many kilometers, but not much up and down, which was just as well after the previous day.

However, there was a drawback: being flat, the trails were well-suited to mountain bikers, and I think that the region has sort of specialized in the sport... at any rate, there were signs along the way for the Swiss Mountain Bike Marathon, and many trails were marked as for mountain bikes as well as hikers. The bikers were in general quite pleasant and considerate, but for a hiker it is not the same experience being slowly overtaken by panting bikers (on the uphills) or rapidly overtaken by gravel-scattering bolides on the downhills.

But the weather was fine and the landscapes were beautiful (a couple of big lakes, two narrow valleys, some huge meadows and vistas... I wouldn't want you to get the impression that we were suffering!).

At one point towards the end of the day we passed a group of free roaming horses and Madeleine was drawn as if magnetically towards them... and they, or at least one colt, towards her. I'll see if I can post some of the photos she took. She tarried with them a while and then jogged, with a full pack and after almost two full days of hard hiking, a fair distance to catch up with us (unnecessary, because we would have of course waited for her... but she was charged with new energy from her seance with the horses :-).

And the first one to our hotel at the Ofenpass at the end of the 7.5 hour day? Madeleine. There was a minor issue of her elbowing aside her Dad, who slyly took a short cut at the end, but we won't talk about that ;-). Impressive stamina and vitality!

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STage 12 -- Zuoz to Livigno

Summary: tough pass... new tough hikers!

Madeleine and David arrived as planned, and after a pleasant second evening at the excellent Hotel Engiadina, we set off bright and early to cross a high pass to the duty-free resort of Livigno. The day started off warm and sunny, but, as we got closer to the pass, it turned cloudy, windy, and cool... which was a good thing, because the trail, as it got closer to the pass, got steeper and steeper.

We went into the Swiss National Park somewhere along the Trupchun valley and saw small groups of brown animals high up on the slopes surrounding us. They were too far away to identify with the naked eye, but they might have been Ibex.

Russell took the lead, marching to the tune of a song in his headphones, followed by David and Madeleine, with yours truly bringing up the rear. But I consoled myself with the thought that maybe it was a day for tortoises... :-).

The last stretch before the pass was steep, gritty, and like climbing a sand dune... if you weren't careful, you slipped back two steps for every three steps forward. About 200m from the pass Russell's hare-like pace did him in, David put on a surge and overtook him, followed by Madeleine, and the tortoise crept closer. David reached the top and whooped. Madeleine was second. And then, 30m before the pass, the tortoise crept by the panting hare. :-)

2830m... the Trupchun pass was the highest so far on this section of the H3H... and also the border between Switzerland and Italy. A few photos, some shivering (the wind was cooooold) and then we headed down into the balmy south. A nice surprise: about two dozen Ibex (Steinböcke) were grazing just on the other side of the pass. We took photos from about 25m at the closest... not that they were afraid of us.

The way down was at times steep and along narrow trails on very steep slopes... a good thing that neither Madeleine nor David had vertigo. We reached our hotel in Livigno under war sunshine about 5:30PM, very tired indeed and very hungry. Unfortunately, being now in Italy, dinner wasn't served until 7:30PM (in contrast to 6-6:30PM in Switzerland)... or perhaps fortunately: Madi and I promptly went to sleep :-).

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Monday, August 01, 2016

Stage 10 Addendum

For those who are not as experienced with watersheds: yesterday we went from the Rhine (flows into the North Sea) to the Inn/Danube (flows into the Black Sea). "One small step for a man..." 😎

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Stage 11 -- the Kesch hut to Zuoz

Summary: a little light rain, but otherwise an easy and pleasant walk down a glacial valley to the Engadin.

Rain in the morning stopped before we left (around 8AM), but soon returned to dampen us for the first hour or so of our walk. However, it was not particularly hard, nor especially cold or windy, and in fact I hiked in shorts and felt fine. After a while it trailed off and the rest of the walk was under intermittently cloudy skies. Lots of waterfalls, and cows, just a couple of other hikers, and all downhill until a short ascent around the shoulder of a mountain brought us out into the wide manicured valley of the Inn River -- the Engadin.

We thought to stop for lunch in S-chanf, the village just before Zuoz (our destination) but it left a Shining-like impression of being deserted and spooky, so we walked the additional 30 minutes to Zuoz and had an excellent lunch there (Rösti, cheese, bacon and bratwurst... just the thing for hungry hikers!). The hike had taken around 5 hours (less than planned :-).

Our hotel is very nice, and dinner in the Stube was excellent. Millie announced that despite various aches and pains she would actually prefer to stay and keep on hiking, so much she had enjoyed herself... so it looks like we have a new convert! She and Oliver left this morning to return to the UK... we'll miss them.

Today is the Swiss National Holiday, so there will be various events and fires on the mountaintops tonight. I think I'll make it outside to look at the bonfires, but otherwise I'm planning on a typical HxH rest day: clothes-washing, games, blogging, sauna, and reading. Got to heal up for tomorrow's big pass hike to Livigno (highest one so far -- 2782m). Madeleine and David will arrive towards the end of the afternoon and the forecast for the next couple of days is good... all is well on the H3H!

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Stage 9 -- Bergün to the SAC Kesch Hut

Summary: an easy uphill accompanied by ultramarathoners.

Another fine day weatherwise, with sun and clouds until the end of the afternoon, and a short hike as well -- under 4.5 hours, all uphill, mostly gently, to the Kesch hut. We set off early nevertheless because of an unexpected event: the Swiss Mountain Ultramarathon was being held today and along part of its route it went from Bergün to Kesch just like us. Arrival time for the leaders at Kesch was projected to be aroun 11:20, so by setting off early I hoped to minimize the number of ultramarathoners we would inconvenience.

And this turned out to be a good decision -- something like 40 or 50 passed us on the trail, but in total I think that well over a thousand ran by the Kesch hut during the afternoon. Impressive... the total distance for the ultramarathon was over 70km and almost 3000m of altitude gained and lost along the round-trip route from/to Davos, and the Kesch hut was around km 54, yet most of them seemed to be in good shape when they arrived... and yes, now that you mention it, they did seem to be fitter than we are :-).

Millie again marched out ahead, complaining from time to time of various ailments (ankles, knees, hips) but walking faster than the rest of us despite these obviously unbearable pains ;-). Oliver's achilles tendon had recovered overnight, as had Russell's back, so it was a pleasant hike for us all.

The hut was a modern building with standard bunkrooms... fortunately we got a fairly small room, with just two other people, neither of whom snored particularly loudly. Around dinner time a violent thunderstorm swept through -- rapid-fire lightning bolts, sheets of rain, visibility near zero... very impressive and we were glad that we have thus far been lucky enough to not experience a mountain thunderstorm while on the trails. In fact, until that point we had been rained on for only about half an hour over the 9 days of hiking so far (you'll remember that we skipped the stage to Savognin because of thunderstorms... and would have been caught in one otherwise).

Morale was high (as were we -- the hut's at 2630m), we had congenial dinner table companions (Norbert and Elizabeth, Swiss, a chemist and a sports teacher from WInterthur), and the food, while not brilliant, was ample and hearty. Another good day.

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