Friday, August 12, 2016

Meran by night... fin.

Merano and Dolomites from the Leiteralm

Big but distant waterfall

Andreas among boulders


Branchy tree

Nassereith Alm


Side ravine

Waterfall and Lidia


1000 Stufen Schlucht #7

1000 Stufen Schlucht #6

1000 Stufen Schlucht #5

Happy Russ

1000 Stufen Schlucht #4

1000 Stufen Schlucht #3

1000 Stufen Schlucht #2

1000 Stufen Schlucht #1

More Höhenweg views

Lidia at the Pirchhof

View from the Pirchhof

Pichhof and our balcony

Alluvial fan in the Vinschgau

Those are all apple orchards!

Hay "fields" along the Meraner Höhenweg

Stage 18 -- Pirchhof to the Leiter Alm... last day!

Summary: a fitting final hike for this section of the H3H.

We awoke to drizzle, but it faded away during breakfast. Today's plan was to hike as a group to the Giggleberg Alm gondola, from which Lidia would go down, make her way back to the car, drive it to the lift going up to near the Leiteralm, and come up to meet us there. The plan changed 10 minutes before the Giggleberg, when Russ announced an incipient chafe, so he went down with her. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Shortly after leaving the Pirchhof, we went into a section of the Höhenweg known as the 1000 Stufen Schlucht (1000 step gorge)… which was most spectacular. I took lots of photos, which I'll post, so I'll leave the description to them. After an hour of hiking we turned back to see, apparently just a short distance away, the Pirchhof… which might give you an idea of how much up and down and in and out there was.

After splitting from Russ and Lidia, and with rain forecast once more for the mid-end of the afternoon and an uncertain amount of hiking yet to do (lots of ups and downs in reality that were difficult to recognize on the map), Andreas and I pushed the pace. We stopped for photos and views, water in and water out, and once for a Snickers bar when I was about to go hypoglycaemic… but otherwise we moved! And after many beautiful sections of trail, and many unexpected ups and downs, we arrived at the Leiteralm dry... and 5 minutes before Russ and Lidia.

A shower, a late lunch, once again stunning views over Meran and to the Dolomites, a few games, an early dinner, a couple of bottles of wine between the four of us, congratulations all around, and an early bed. The third section of the H3H was over. One more to go… but that's the subject of another year.

Stage 17 -- Unser Frau to the Pirchhof

Summary: slip-sliding away… rain forecast leads to truncated hike.

Remarkably, both Andreas and I felt in good shape despite our long hike the day before, and Russell's chafe had also subsided, so in theory we were all set to go for today's hike. In practice, with rain in the forecast from mid-morning on, we looked for, and found, a way to shorten the day. Lidia drove us down the valley to the village of Katerinaberg, where we had planned to join the Meraner Höhenweg trail, saving us about 3 hours of less interesting walking, and we set off around 9AM.

The Meraner Höhenweg goes all the way around the Texlergruppe massif just north of Meran. Along the south side of the massif, which we hiked, it oscillates between around 1400m and 1850m, about mid-way between the valley and the peaks, at times passing through forests, at times crossing the steeply sloped fields of the Almbauern (mountain meadow farmers), at times diving into (or crossing on suspension bridges) the deep-cut ravines in the sides of the mountains. It is quite simply spectacular… and even if it meant hiking in the rain, I didn't want to miss it.

A word about the Almbauer. Some of the farms are noted in documents dating back to the 13thC and earlier, long before the advent of lifts and roads, and it is pretty amazing that they managed to eke out a living a thousand meters and more above the valley. Frankly, even now some of what they do is still amazing — especially mowing 60 degree plus slopes for hay. I'd be afraid of merely walking across some of their fields — one slip and you are finished — and they mow them. Some have diversified into tourism (the creation of the Höhenweg has no doubt been a godsend), but the steep meadows all still seem to be under cultivation. Impressive.

And as for the Höhenweg itself — it lived up to its reputation. Continually varied, with spectacular and ever-changing views across and along the wide valley of the Vinschgau, with its vast apple orchards and stunning alluvial fans, back up towards Switzerland and south and east to the Dolomites. Every 30 minutes or so you pass an Alm, many of which offer drinks and food, or, if needed, a safe refuge from the elements… which, had we not had good clothing, we might have needed once the forecasted rain arrived around 11AM in the form of a thunderstorm. But we had good rain-gear, so after a brief stop to change under an eave (with several other less well-equipped hikers), we pushed on. A lightning strike a couple of hundred yards away left us a little unsettled, but the nature of the Höhenweg means that you are hardly ever exposed as you would be on a ridge walk or a peak, and several other hikers passed us in the other direction while it rained, so we weren't alone in our estimation that the risk was low.

We arrived at the Pirchhof shortly after noon… to find that Lidia had preceded us by a few minutes. She had driven the car to a gondola about an hour from the Pirchhof, taken it up, and then hiked from there. Unfortunately her rain-gear and preparation was not as good as ours and both she and most of the contents of her pack were soaked. She had a dry change of clothing, however, and the rest dried out overnight.

The Pirchhof is one of these ancient alms… and our rooms for the night were in the original farmhouse, which, if it did not date all the way back to the 12thC, both looked and felt as if it might. Our room had a balcony, but after a quick look at the state of the wood floor, I opted not to use it :-). The newer buildings are also charming, with great views, and everywhere there were flowers… delightful!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Stage 16 -- Glieshof to Unser Frau im Schnalstal

Summary: highest pass this summer, spectacular views, great weather, hoisted by my own petard.

Andreas, Russ and I set out, regretfully, from Hotel Glieshof around 8:30AM. Regretful not because of the upcoming hike, but because the Glieshof really had been a delightful place to stay: Lidia and I will definitely be coming back. Speaking of Lidia, she had decided, way back when she first saw the plan, that this day (8.25h, 18k, and something like +1400m, -1700m) was not one she wanted to hike… so she drove the car around to Unser Frau (yes, odd name) and walked uphill in our direction instead. Oh, and I should probably mention that we took advantage of this to put everything unnecessary for the day's hike into the car… another step down that slippery slope I've being talking about! So, we had the advantage of hiking light today… which was perhaps unsurprisingly a good thing.

After an hour walking up the valley, and a couple of hours climbing out of it to a refuge at 2670m, we asked the refuge overseer where the trail next went: he pointed up at a forbidding black wall of rock and said, more or less, "Over that." It turned out to be easier than it looked, although it was just as well that none of us suffer from vertigo, and about an hour and half later we sat down to enjoy lunch at the 3100m Bildstöckljoch Pass surrounded by chaotic piles of fractured rock and remnant snowdrifts. But the views! From the Dolomites in the East to, well, we weren't quite sure what the mountains we could see in the western distance were, not having Kristof's Peak Finder app with us, but whatever their names, they were impressive and far away :-).

The weather was delightful, so we tarried a while before starting the long (and at times quite challenging) descent into the Schnalstal. First destination, some 1100m down, was the ski station of Kurzras — a dramatic change from the bucolic and remote Matschertal we had just left, with modern architecture, kiosks and souvenir shops, large parking lots, ski-lifts, and several hundred day-trippers walking down from where the lifts deposited them. It is probably good that there are some places like this — they allow a certain number of people to experience the beauty of the mountains who would otherwise never get closer to them than a car — but Dieu soit béni that most of the Alps has not been "developed".

Shortly after we passed Kurzras, Russ announced that the dreaded chafe had returned… and he chose to stop and take a bus the rest of the way rather than suffer as it got worse (a good decision: as a result he was able to hike the next day). Constrained by my promise to meet Lidia further down the trail, I suppressed the urge to join Russell in taking the bus, and Andreas and I walked on.

We found Lidia about 45 minutes later just above a hotel... in front of which there was a bus-stop. Having been day-dreaming about an ice-coffee (with vanilla ice-cream… mmmm), and no-doubt motivationally weakened by the absence of my trusty hiking partner, I suggested that we go down to the hotel, have something to drink (perhaps an ice coffee?) and take the bus. But Lidia, who had counted on the walk back down to get her exercise for the day, voted in favour of pushing on. And disgustingly chivalrous (and impressively fit) Andreas came down on her side. And that's the trouble with democracy for you. I suppose I could have let them continue on alone… but what if they had gotten lost?

Joke! Joke!

Somewhat dehydrated, increasingly exhausted, and gravely motivationally challenged, I plodded on. And on. And on. At some point Lidia noted that now I knew how others had felt, since (she claimed) plenty of other people have had the experience of me insisting upon continuing when all they wanted to do was to stop. Not true, of course — as I'm sure I could have proven if I had had the energy.

Finally, around 5:45PM I hobbled into our hotel in Unser Frau. I like to think that Andreas was hobbling too. One shower, ice coffee, and dinner later, I went to bed and was asleep shortly after 9PM. :-)

Stage 15 -- Taufers to Glieshof in the Matschertal

Summary: didn't happen.

I realized that I, ahem, forgot to mention this. It rained all day… and it turns out that once you abandon a principle ("I'm going to walk every foot of the way"), then rain makes for slippery slopes. There were good reasons for not hiking the whole way on Stage 4, but taking the bus then made it easy to take a bus down the last couple of hours to Vals on Stage 5, to opt for a shorter route with a bus connection in Stage 7, and then to avoid being fried in a thunderstorm during Stage 8 (OK, that one was probably justifiable… but it makes me wonder how on earth we managed to do the H2H without ever being in a thunderstorm during 91 days of hiking!). And it also made it easy to decide not to do a long hike in the rain this day.

Everyone else was happy, though.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Quick notes from free days at Hotel Glieshof in the Matschertal

We have really enjoyed our time here -- a lovely location, nice rooms, great weather, friendly owners and staff, excellent value for money, and the daughters of the owners regale the guests with impromptu concerts after dinner each evening -- on zither, accordeon, and piano. An inspired choice for a two day rest and recovery place... recommended!

Andreas and Lidia, who joined us on Thursday 4th, then (like us) didn't hike on the Friday because of rain, have been able to get some training hikes in (together on Saturday, then today I went with Andreas 800m up to a lovely lake -- see photo of the views).

Tomorrow Andreas, Russ and I will hike over a 3100m pass, while Lidia will drive around (with, ahem, a certain amount of unnecessary things from our packs in the car) to our next port of call: a village with the picturesque name of Unser Frau im Schnalstal. Then two days along the Meraner Hohenweg and we'll be done with this section of the H3H: time has flown by!

Sent from my iPad

Andreas on a free day hike above Glieshof

David of Arabia

Russ in CH, Madi in CH and I!!

Day 3 for Madi and David

Madi: "My back hurts!"
David: "Carrying two packs at once is not quite as easy as I thought!"

Day 13 for Russ

Lord of the Rings scenery

How does this phomera thingy work?

The trail goes ever on and on

Switzerland is not small

Just above the Ofenpass...

...fingers clutching sky

Happy Day 2 hikers!

Beauty not in short supply

Another lovely lake

Low pass, temporarily free of mountain-bikers

Walking along Livigno lake


Almost there

Narrow paths!

Madeleine coming down from the pass

Top of the world looking SE

Top of the world looking NW

Trupchun pass

The arrow of the sign points at Russell coming down from the real pass some 30m higher!