Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Breithorn (4164 meters)
September 2nd, 2006

September 2nd, 2006
Zermatt to Geneva, Switzerland
Shawn and Vonessa Martin 5th wedding anniversary

We woke up early and went down to the breakfast of hiker champions. They had everything. Croissants, eggs, granola cereal, cheese, coffee, hot chocolate. We wanted to eat it all, we felt so deprived of choices. We tried, we really did.

Off to the town. The hotel generously agreed to keep our bags while we were exploring. Our mission: to find a gondola to get as close to the Matterhorn as we could (like we had to Mont Blanc). We have two choices. We can take a gondola up to 3883 meters, the next highest point (The Matterhorn being 4478 meters) OR we could take a gondola up to 2786 meters and hike to 3260 at the foot of the Matterhorn. Higher equals more adventure we decide. To my surprise our Swiss Passes get us half off the price ($68 instead of $136).

We take a gondola with a dozen skiers and snowboarders. Actually I think the Olympic Austrian ski team was on our gondola. We take one gondola to what they call Schwarzsee paradise (2583 meters) then another one to Gletschen Palast (3883 meters). Both areas our major ski centers but Gletschen Palast has the MATTERHORN GLACIER PARADISE!

We spend some time taking a lot of pictures at the top. Pictures of the Matterhorn from an entirely different perspective then from the valley. The panorama is epic. We can see Mont Blanc far away. Looking north to Zermatt there is an excellent wooden carving of Jesus Christ on the cross. Underneath it says (in French, German, Italian, and English): BE MORE HUMAN.

To the east of us is the Breithorn mountain at 4165 meters. It actually looks like a lot like Mont Blanc. You can see people slowly climbing the snow to the summit but they are too small to show up in any of our pictures. When Shawn has finally exhausted his scenic photo options we head down the metal stairs (why cold icy metal?) to the ice tunnel. Viva Matterhorn Glacier Paradise! Carved into a glacier is a large room about 200 feet under ground. A novelity to be sure. In this room they have displays of ice carvings (that presumably never melt because it IS arctic in there). They have chamois, Buddha, a carriage, etc. MGP wins one point against the awe inspiring Aiguille du Midi.

It is getting pretty crowded so we descend. We are forced to share with 3 Swiss Germans skiers our gondola to the midway down point. They are having a boisterous conversation when all of a sudden one of the guys breaks into song. The White Stripes' I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself. For our benefit? If so, good American singing accent.

Now we are just tourists and no longer hikers. We have no back packs to show our status and now our mission is to buy presents for our family and friends. Our train leaves at 4pm and we have 2 hours to achieve our goal. Chocolate is a must. I can't say enough about how great Swiss chocolate is. We stop to eat. I purchase my last Swiss bakery sandwich and Shawn has "the best brat ever" from a man who cooks outside on the street. Then we board the train and sadly make our way to Geneva where we hope our gamble paid off on the hotel we randomly found two weeks ago. Wow, two weeks.

Total score. Our hotel is just as nice as the hotels on the trail. Hooray! Those Swiss teases. Tomorrow we fly home. The best trip ever.

The Matterhorn
Zermatt, Switzerland
photo by Shawn Martin

September 1st, 2006 continued Jungen to Zermatt
After our lovely picnic we mosey on down the hill and (after one itsy bitsy wrong trail detour) we are in the itsy bitsy village of Jungen. Previously we had planned to take the gondola (our love hasn't faded) to St. Niklaus and then a train to Zermatt. If we walked all the way to Zermatt from there it would take us 7 more hours. Not necessary.

The trail from our lunch to Jungen was somewhat leg jarring so we were relieved to see the fenced in cow pasture of the first homestead of Jungen. Ahh, civilization? The farmer let us walk thru his yard and into the square village (all gesture communication, I assure you). Steps further we managed to run into English speaking people who told us the gondola wouldn't go down until 3pm. It was 2. Shawn recommended we forego the gondola and hike to St. Niklaus and I-not wanting to sit around another hour-agreed. Mistake. Our legs would be jarred like they never were jarred before...and I don't use the term 'jar' lightly (or accurately). We journeyed down the side of the mountain on the only California trail of the Alps. Pounding sun, dry as dessert trails, no cooling wind, and the same view for the whole set of switchbacks we traveled on. Not all trails in California are like this but we never expected to find this in Switzerland.

On a side note the one thing you would never find in the States is at every quarter of a mile there was a little stone prayer monument. Stations of the Christ. The Swiss acknowledging that prayer was needed for this trail in particular?

When we arrived at a bridge that crossed a raging waterfall/river we were ecstatic. Although we had a ways to go we were so happy to see and feel water (see picture).

Then the adventure begins. We hike for a little bit and Shawn discovers what he sincerely believes is a short cut. It turns out to not even be a trail. Half scrambling, half sliding down with the occasional apology from Shawn, we arrive at someone's driveway. It was interesting actually because these mysterious Swiss people had what looked like a mine carved into the mountain. When we stood next to the gate we felt cold air coming out of it. We couldn't see where it ended.

We continue our off-trailing. When we get to train tracks we jaywalk across (scenes from Stand by Me flashing through my brain). We know we are in St. Niklaus but have no idea how far we are from the train station. It has to be on the tracks, right? We walk on a semi-parallel road marveling at all the signs in German. Although we have looked up the word for train station (Bahnhof) we see no sign. Our original trail was suppose to come out steps away from the station. How far did our 'short cut' take us out of the way? We ask a couple of people. Nope, no English. We know it is probably south of us so we continue that way. Looking back we probably looked like we knew where we were going because we managed to go the exact way the station was but at the time it was frustrating. We spy a town clock. We ask one more person but this time more of a point and 'Bahnhof'? Yah.

At the station the teller tells me our Swiss Passes are good for the train to Zermatt and it will be there shortly. Sigh. The hike is over.

The train takes an hour to get to Zermatt and it's a complete joy to see the countryside. I have my first sighting of 1/2 black 1/2 white mountain sheep. (sorry, no picture). I couldn't see the Matterhorn from St. Niklaus but somewhere on the ride it's there and I wonder how it could NOT have been seen. Although not as tall as Mont Blanc I think it's more interesting to look at.

Zermatt is a big town. There are no cars but these half gold cart half van things and horses pulling carts. Pretty neat. Next to the train station there is a tourist office that has a map of Zermatt on the wall. All you had to do is find your hotel on an alphabetical list, press a button, and your hotel would light up on the map. Snazy. I do a quick look and return to Shawn outside. Of course two blocks later as we look around at all the different stores, horses, and people I completely forget where the hotel is. I quickly jog back to the tourist office - at least I didn't forget where THAT was--and read the map again. Oops.

Bill Russell did us right with the hotel. 5 star and upscale. Perfect place to stay for the trip finale. Our concierge informs us in her perfect English that included with our demi pension is a special annual event. The Hotel Mirabeau is celebrating the Valais region with the meats and cheeses for which its known. She escorts us to our room that has a great view of the Matterhorn from the balcony. Oh la-la! We shower the trail off our weary bodies, nap, and head down to dinner. We are the most casually dressed but oh well. It is our anniversary tomorrow but we had always planned on celebrating it tonight in Zermatt. Our server recommends this lovely white wine (we end up buying a bottle to take back to the States). We are seated near the raclette table so we get to see the chef and assistants in all their traditional Swiss clothing and raclette making glory. The chef would spin one end of the cheese wheel on a flat grill, it would melt, he would spin it back, and then slice the semi melted cheese off. The assistants would put this cheese (Raclette du Valais) on a plate with red potatoes, round onions, bruchetto and pickles. Sooooooo good. We ordered dinner as well (I had fish and Shawn had a pork chop) but the raclette was the most memorable. We were, dare I say it, wowed.

After dinner, bed. Enough said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

September 1st, 2006 Grimentz to Zermatt

A long day today. 8 hours, 10 hours. Who knows. The plan is to hike the Augstboardpass (2894 meters) and get to Junger. Take a gondola from Jungen to St. Niklaus to Zermatt. With all the rides and such we still will be hiking for at least 7 hours. We want to get into Zermatt fairly early so we can have dinner. We magically got ourselves up before 6:30am. Me, actually, it's what a bathroom way down the hall will do for you.

We had a nice little breakfast. Granola, yes. Croissants, no. Chocolat chaud? Oui, oui. We were on the trail by 7am with two groups hot on our trail, um, tail. Remember the V? Verticle, baby, and lovin' every minute of it. Until the sun pops up-or we reach the sun, either way, and smacks me right in the eyes. And this is the direction we are traveling. Funny problem to have, actually, when you want to HAVE the sun. We stopped at a little shelf of land. Where did this come from? We let the long legged, very fast, French Swiss people pass us. Vous etes tres vite! Ha, ha. But we put our foot down at the lone Aussie passing us. Our boot down, rather. Took off our long underwear and fleeces and hit the grass.

Long day of hiking. Hoo-ya. Hour pass of zen and then we hit snow again. Can't see a trail but there are footprints. Footprints of people who couldn't see a trail either. Off trailing and rock climbing AND snow manuevering all at once. Gotta have a challenge for the last day. We work it out. Achieve Augustboard pass. We even chat a bit with the Austrialian guy when he catches up at the top. He's gonna take a quick one hour jaunt to the Schwarzhorn (3201 meters) right next to the pass. I mean, hey, if you're 2900 meters up, what's another 300, right? Shawn and I decline and descend (the big group was coming and there simply wasn't enough room on the pass). We had bought a lunch from the hotel but it was only 10am and therefore too early to eat. I had chocolate instead which must be taking place of my mocha ice blended habit.

The descent was a more of a precarious snow plodding/sliding. I'm sure there was a trail of switchbacks but it couldn't be seen. Just one straigt line of footprints all smudged from sliding. Two Germans coming up-one with Westcoast University on his t-shirt--what's that?--and he says 'watch yourself.' As in 'I can't believe you're going down this' while I almost said "wait until you get to the other side, buddy." I was annoyed, I admit it. Descending is, for me anyway, suppose to be the easy part. Fun even with snow like the Col de Torrent. This day the Alps were trying to tell me "you're done, please don't miss us. Live your life. Use what you have learned." Ok, maybe not that last part. When we finally get down to more level ground without snow or as Kev would say 'a steadier gradient.' And Kev says around this ridge you'll see a great view of the Weisshorn (the peak not the hotel) but we keep going around rocky ridge after ridge around rocky edge after edge. During this period I would look back and not see anyone. Long break? But when we FINALLY get past the last ridge the Weisshorn reveales itself in all its glory. We sit on the on the edge 2500 meters up to have our lunch (see picture). It's like we spread out the proverbial red and white checkered blanket because the three French Swiss join us and four rude Brits. It's a big land lip I think but they all sit close to us. I guess it was the best view, I'll give 'em that. The Swiss ask to borrow our map (actually they point to the map and say "s'il vous plait?"). Later Shawn says--because they mysteriously disappear down the trail--that their ghosts of hiker's past and that's why they and the Brits don't talk to one another and only we can see them.

Next posting will continue this day...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

August 31st, 2006 Hotel Weisshorn to Gruben

I think we woke up around 7am. Regardless we were the first at breakfast. HW actually had croissants-rationed though, one each. Shawn let me have his because he says my whole face lights up when I'm eating them. The rest of breakfast, as far as I'm concerned, was a bust. They have no right to have Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes. Enough with the American cereal! I want my granola. Shawn fills up on cheese and cut meats but his face never lights up so I assume he agrees.

Today's hike is another short one. 5 hours. But we went to get outa dodge so we are on the road by 9am. We don't buy a picnic lunch in the hopes that Gruben has a bakery. It's a small town but we've come to expect one bakery, one grocery store, and one restaurant. Today we walk into German Switzerland and I'm nervous. I know how to say goodbye, yes, and no, and do you speak English but that's it. A linguistic trainwreck. My sister, Valerie, tried to give me some useful phrases before we left but my memory is horrible (I only remember the 'do you speak English' phrase). I'm not a shy person in general but I have rarely initiated conversation when my French, I know, has many grammatical errors in it (I'm constantly correcting past French conversations in my head as if I was my high school French teacher) but in a German world I am even more insecure. I really feel like its a cultural failure of Americans to not speak more languages. I hate that I depend on the Swiss to speak English.

For half the hike today we are entirely alone so I forget my worries of how to say hello in German. Actually we do run into an Australian but we were still in 'bonjour' range. On the trail the previous day we kept seeing signs for 'Jupiter' and 'Saturn.' We thought it was for an observatory (which there was one nearby) but it turns out there's this Trail of Planets in the area. Each 'planet' - and this sounds lame but it Looked cool - was a monument with a metal creation of each planet. An orb, as Shawn would say. Below the orb was a description of the planet in all its astrological detail. We saw 'Uranus'.

Then we went up a cow pasture and were almost accosted by a large cow. She actually moved into our path as we were attempting to go to the right of her. She just stared at us, daring us to do something about it. We stood there patiently waiting for her to move - but then, even on vacation Shawn's patience isn't a fine oiled machine, he just walked toward her. S'all it takes, folks. No murdering cows in Switzerland apparently.

We are about an hour away -away and up- and we can see the lone Hotel Weisshorn behind us. Soon we entered the snow zone. Although still completely sunny and beautiful there was at least half of a meter of snow on the ground. We came across a snow run-off stream made out of black rocks. Very striking against the snow surrounding it. Shawn, of course, took pictures while I sort of sat there like a squirrel nibbling on the snow. It's the Alps, right? I has to be pure. Glacial snow? I could bottle it and sell it in the States. We get higher and the snow gets deeper. I think wouldn't it be a good idea to make an imprint of my face in the snow? I do (see picture above). I press my hands and my whole face into the snow. I actually have to press my face a little harder then you would think but I'm hot so it feels great. I'm impressed with myself.

Everytime we thought we had reached the Meidpass (2790 meters) we saw we had to go a little farther up. The ascent was pretty steep so in true hiker paradise fashion they (the mysterious Swiss) turned the trail into switchbacks. The snow was so deep though Shawn just created a path straight up. Brilliant. I say 'so deep' because otherwise you would be afraid to slide off the side of the mountain just walking on the rocks below the snow. We finally did finally get to the pass off trailing as we did. It was actually quite dramatic. We climbed over an edge and boom, we suddenly saw east. Behind us the beautiful Mont Blanc de Cheilon we once spent the night next to, the Grand Combin, and even Mont Blanc looking so utterly far away. We had trekked far.

No lunch so we eat the left over meat stick and cheese from the day before. And some Rhone wine, of course. A singular experience drinking wine on the top of a pass. Now the hard part begins. It is a thousand meter descent to Gruben and it seems to happen all at once. At first we are just casually walking through snow pastures and then suddenly we are in for the knee-jarring of our lives. We walk through what is referred to as an 'alp hamlet'. A box of four or five square wooden huts with sheep meandering everywhere. The sheep in the mountains seem to be more interested in our presence but these sheep didn't seem impressed (except one baby sheep who wanted to crawl under his mother). What is singular for sheep? Shi? Anyway those moutons (French term) had curly horns next to their ears. Maybe because they were German Swiss sheep. We keep walking to a 'lower hamlet'. I think it's called Mittel Stafel, meaning lower alp. The other one was called 'upper alp' (Ober Stafel).

We can see Gruben in the distance below. Small village. No bigger then Los Feliz actually. And just one hour of knee jarring to go. But the snow is gone. I should mention this. Shawn has an altimeter on his watch. Every day I know the meter height of our highest point, our beginning point, and our ending point. Often there is an up and down in between. So frequently I call out to Shawn "meterage?" The trekkers version of 'are we there yet?' I'm not bored or impatient to get anywhere. I just like the feeling of accomplishment distance gives you. (This is the second to last day of hiking and we feel like pro's).

We arrive at Gruben after some forest switchbacks and crossing what I can only assume is another glacial run-off stream. Geez, I'm so sick of glaciers and waterfalls and mountains! Where the traffic, the smog, neon signs? Every now and again in want of something new to say besides 'wow', 'it's amazing', 'beautiful', etc. we find ourselves saying, 'ugh, what an eye sore', 'how ugly', 'gross'....How do the Swiss handle all of this gorgeousness? It's too much. Also, and this is interesting, both of the whites of our eyes are really clear and white. No red. Are we healthier?

Hotel Schwarzhorn is easy to find. It's the only building above two floors in the whole town. Kev has a German, French, and English word glossary in the appendix. This saves us twice during the trip. Across the little road from the hotel is a 'Lebensmittel.' With the jalopy parked out front Shawn thought it might be a mechanic but we learn from Kev that the sign means grocery store. It feels like an accomplishment to make something understood that wasn't before, yes? We go in but she doesn't have much. We buy our customary Swiss chocolate and hope for better at the hotel. By the way, this woman knows English, French, and German. I am so used to talking French then even she talks to me in English I respond in French. How embarrassing but there you go. The hotel is old but very well kept. The clerk greets me in English like I have on my forehead 'I DON'T SPEAK GERMAN. I AM IGNORANT.' but she gets nicer as we check in. She asks about the Meidpass and it's a pleasure to give her trekker info. 'Yes, it's snowy.' Pat self on back. Our room has a sink in the room but no bathroom or shower. Yes, down the hall. Another corner room. Bill Russel must ask for them specifically. Champex, Verbier, Grimentz, and now Gruben. We went downstairs to the restaurant and scored some sandwiches and Shawn's face did light up when he got to drink his after trek beer. Yesterday at Hotel Weisshorn I forgot to tell him I said 'bottle' of beer rather then 'on tap' and she brought him an Amstel. It wasn't an Amstel Light so he forgave me. Today it was some German longworded beer (seriously every German word is so long it's a wonder they ever end conversations. Even 'danka' is short for a long word). We ate outside on the grass patio where they had tables set up. Beautiful day. We could see where tomorrow's trail started. Literally right outside the patio. The valley was a total 'V' shape (as opposed to a 'U' or half of a hexagon). The stream was the bottom, we descended one side of the 'V' and will go up the other, the side that Gruben was on.

We went upstairs to take our showers and wash some clothes. Actually I just wear the clothes in the shower, soap them up, take them off, and then rinse them. We hang them up around the room in front of the windows. You just open the windows up and fall out if you want to. Dinner is at 6:30pm (see what I mean by goals). We go to the dining room and for once see it pretty well populated. Up to this point we have either been the only people or just one or two other tables (maybe an extra at Hotel Weisshorn). So much for the busy season. But Hotel Schwarzhorn was packed that night. Really cool to sit there and hear the cacophony of German, French, British, and American (and if you are about to say that the British and Americans speak the same language, you would be wrong). Dinner was forgettable. Chicken, I think, which is or would have been a rarity had not we just had it the night before. So much beef we have had on this trip. But then again, we've seen a lot of cows (and hardly any chickens). We saw the three French Swiss that we saw at the Col de Torrent the day before. Two girls and a guy. Although they didn't speak any English to use they were very friendly. Every now and again I would throw out a 'that was fun' or 'you guys are really fast' and they would laugh. Maybe it was because of my American accent or maybe I told them 'you better laugh or I'll push you off this mountain.' You never know. The elderly British people were there too. Actually it turns out two are British and two are from New Zealand (they didn't talk as loud, I swear). We ran into the elder Brits on the trail earlier. She said something to me in French (I'm so flattered she thought I was French - guess my forehead sign wasn't on) but I replied in English. Not because I knew she was British but because I had just slid/walked down the side of a mountain and my brain couldn't function. Anyway she said she made that mistake with a New Zealand couple they met (ok, I'm less flattered. It's her, not me.) We had the trail conversation. Where are you headed? Gruben? Us too, yeah. Cheers. Whatever. They didn't acknowledge us in the dining room (although I was wearing my eyeglasses..maybe they didn't recognize us).

We saw a whole group of French Swiss, maybe 15. They had vans to carry their luggage while they walked. Wimps. Another Aussie with the Kev Reynolds book. He would dog our steps the next day. We were all one happy treking family. United by our French, German, English speaking waitresses--I've totally decided to continue studying French back in the States.

After dinner I convinced Shawn it would be a good idea to take a walk. Brrr... We get half way to the river and turned around. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to suffer if you don't have to. The beds are comfy but we aren't sleepy. Instead I read to Shawn our adventures in my journal and in turn shows me the hundreds of pictures he's taken. I always tease him about taking too many pictures of me but he is right, it does add a lot of perspective. One day he let me have the camera (from Grimentz to Hotel Weisshorn) but I didn't have it long. I had to give it back after the third, 'this would make a great shot.' I only like it when I say it to him. Bon Soir.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

August 30th, 2006 Grimentz to Hotel Weisshorn

Sleeping in wasn't a big deal considering the hike today may or may not be 4 hours. We were off any Kev Reynolds sort of stage but he vaguely mentions the route (3 1/2 hours). Shawn looks out our balcony and he can actually see the Hotel Weisshorn across the valley and high, way high, on top of the mountain ridge, Pointes de Nava (on the very north end of the range). Just because we can see it doesn't make it a short walk, does it?

We go down to breakfast--after taking a shower (I'll never take them for granted again). Breakfast was grand. Croissants and hard boiled egg. We had our coffee and hot chocolate. Lovely. Went upstairs to pack while watching French cartoons. Isn't life wonderful?

We left the hotel around 10am really expecting the walk not to take more then 5 hours. The map is not too helpful in a village so we just wandered in the general direction of the town, Mission, from where we thought the trail to Hotel Weisshorn would lead.

Grimentz is a quaint lovely place and probably really old. Some of the chalets are up on these mushroom type stumps - it just doesn't seem stable. And a few of the houses have the littlest doors. Are we in Hobbiton? Sure enough the Swiss left some signs to Mission and we were on our way. Grimentz is 1572 meters up. Mission is 1493. Hotel Weisshorn is 2337 meters high. The river we cross to get to Mission is 1263. We look at the map, taking all of these elevations in and realize we would be doing a meter gain of at least 1200 meters. Super.

The trail to Mission was lovely and not just because it was mostly downhill. It started at the bottom of Grimentz passing probably the smallest chapel in all of Switzerland and then crossing a river (La Gougra). Most of the trail, in fact, walked alongside the river with the forest providing sun cover. Beautiful. Smelled like pines and water. We had a lovely time. When we arrived at Mission it was garbage day and we had to take a detour to avoid the truck. Actually I was fascinated to see a handle on the truck pick up this 20 feet tall tarp formed like a closed shute with a tie on the bottom. It picks it up, dangles it over the truck, and then another mechanical handle pulls the strings and all the garbage comes out. Seemed rather smart actually.

After that excitement we climb. Any more vertical and we would have needed ladders. It was back in the forest with soft ground but what a calf burn. When we looked down we could see Grimentz, St. Jean (different St. Jean then the famous chapel we visited earlier...St. Jean seems to be Switzerland's Springfield), and the houses we've past. Mission was quickly covered by the curve of the mountain we were on --oh and yes there were signs to Hotel Weisshorn from Mission like we suspected.

After an hour and a half of walking we broke for lunch in a patch of sunlight alongside a bisse. This time we bought petite baquettes, cheese, and sausage for our meal. Shawn had also surprised me with two boiled eggs he snagged from breakfast. He's such a good cook. And he bought a bottle of Rhone wine from the grocery store in Grimentz (COOP, the chain store we went to in Verbier as well). We walked for about an hour after lunch when both of us heard the close flapping of wings. We've heard them in movies but not quite like this. It was windy but a circle of ravens were quite close overhead and squawking a lot. We got deeper into the forest and you could still hear their agitation. I made a joke about them waiting for one of us to drop on the steep incline when they attacked. Not us, but these higher pitched squawking birds above us. BIRD WAR - and the ravens won. Suddenly silence.

Hotel Weisshorn was probably an hour and a half up from there. Even though the whole way from Mission was an ascent it was an interesting one. Our standard conversation when things got hard was "It looks so far away." "Yes, but it's closer then it's ever been before." Of course like all tough ascents the most vertical part is the last 10 meters to the hotel. Just rude, I think.

The innkeeper didn't speak English which is fine as long as he didn't ONLY speak German. He spoke French, great, and told us rather grumpily that we were early and the room wouldn't be ready until 3pm. Fine. Shawn had a beer and I a hot chocolate in 'the panoramic restaurant.' It was semi-cloudy but a great view of all the peaks we were about to be leaving. When we were done it was 3:30pm and grumps gave us the key to our room. As we walked to it we noticed a door with the word Douche on it. Showers. Even though Hotel Weisshorn is a 'hotel' you might as well call it a Cabane. I mean, yes, 2337 meters up with spectacular views but bathrooms are down the hall, folks!

Our rooms were small and the walls were thin but it was neat. We walked down the hall, took our showers--the stalls were private at least and then we took a nap. A quiet nap. Our view from our room is full west, the valley we just crossed. All of these beautiful scenic views day after day have spoiled us. Instead of staring out the window for hours we were able to shamelessly rest our eyes for an hour before dinner.

Ah, diner. It has become our custom to rate our sleeping and dining experiences along the route. I am afraid Hotel Weisshorn didn't make it to the top of our list for either category. Dinner was vegetable soup, black salad (I made Shawn take a picture because I've never seen or eaten black lettuce), chicken curry, and sorbet drowned in some liquor. Shrug. I guess we didn't work ourselves enough going up 1200 meters to appreciate the dinner. Thumbs down. Shawn took pictures of St. Luc-the village on the next level below us. Pretty street lights. There's an 1800's picture of the Hotel Weisshorn in the dining room that says 'St. Luc' underneath. I think at one point the town reached all the way up here but for some reason no longer does. Hotel Weisshorn is alone on this mountain top. It's suppose to be a legendary place (indeed there is a signed picture of Gerard Depardu in the hallway). It's probably as old as Hotel Mont Collon but no ghosts as far as I could tell. Old though, and creaky. The chairs in the dining room were the creakiest I had ever heard--and it takes some loud creeks to make the distinction--or acknowledgement really. There were four other groups besides ourselves and two of them smoked, the jerks. Just up there to enjoy the fresh mountain air. One of the tables were four Brits--with their posh Noel Coward accents--and they were well into their 60s I believe. We've come across a lot of elderly hikers. Amazing, the culture differences.

The sleep wasn't great this night but we'd take what we could get. There's always a new place the next night.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

August 29th, 2006 Arolla to Grimentz

The weather forecast was suppose to be bad again today. Arolla to Grimentz is actually a two stage walk in Kev's book which could take us up to 12 hours. So we decided to forego the boring valley stuff that hiked criss cross along the main road and just hike from Ville to Grimentz doing the 2919 meter high (Col de Torrent with the great views, etc). When we left Hotel Mont Collon the skies were pretty overcast but it wasn't raining (by the way, CROISSANTS for breakfast). We took the 8:27am bus (stop right outside our hotel) to Les Hauderes.

The busses are really nice. Like long travel Greyhound busses. The driver put our packs in the bin underneath and we hopped on. Using those Swiss Passes finally. Yee haw! The ride was an adventure. First of all, Swiss Alps roads are like one way streets in America only they're not one way and it's not like these busses are small. Greyhound, ok? So everytime he went around of those u-bends I felt like clapping because he stayed on the road. The views were great but the death defying ride had all my focus. We also went INTO the mountain a couple of times where the sides were so obviously carved rock.

Les Hauderes is a bigger village then Arolla. We had to take our next bus from there. While we waited we purchased two sandwiches for lunch at the boulangerie (bakery). We have decided that buying sandwiches at bakeries is the way to go (as opposed to buying from the hotels). The bus to Ville was quicker. Before we knew it we were dropped off in the town square at 1714 meters and ready to go up and up.

Ville is a small place so we managed to be above the town in minutes. We were always passing stragler chalets or huts - thinking about what it would be like to own one ourselves. About halfway up we enjoyed our lunch. The best sandwiches yet. They had hard boiled egg on them! Genius. Then we're off. I walked so close to a bull (remembering the murduring cows in England) I almost reached out and touched him. Shawn took a picture but you can't really tell how close we are.

Up and up we go and it's snowing. Then it's snowing really really hard. We are coming up and we can't see the path we're walking on only the three people's footprints ahead of us (Swiss French we let them pass us earlier). And it was so windy, it was the first time I felt like the wind could knock us off the mountain. We got to the top--the Col de Torrent--and saw the Swiss people and we kind of looked at each other and were like 'that was crazy, right?'

I said a prayer at the cross and then we started our descent (see picture above). I thought we would be taking it real slow since there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground, incredibly windy and snow was still coming down profusely but I was wrong. We were in the midst of a strong storm and we shoe skied most of the way down (at least 300 meters worth). I think what would take an hour for a normal weather day took us twenty minutes. We did pause at one point to put on rain gear but it was total military style. No sitting, resting sticks, anything. He held my pack while I put my jacket on and vice versa. I don't even think he said 'be careful', it was just 'let's go'.

Eventually we looked around us and realized we were at a civilized elevation and slowed down our pace. In the distance we saw a chamois (like a deer) running along a ridge. Our first siting we realized. Lac de Moiry was clear and boy, was it blue and kinda hour glass shaped. On the rest of our descent it just kept getting bigger.

From the bottom of the valley you could hear people calling to the cows. I thought they were mocking them at first until I saw a whole heard move as one farther up the hill. Who knew they could be so obedient? Throughout our walk downhill Shawn and I discussed whether or not we would take a buss to Grimentz from the dam of the Lac de Moiry or not. It was about an hour's walk from the dam but the weather could break any minute again.

The dam looked so cool. On the west side was our trail (we were coming from the west) but the east side was where the bus stopped. I said, whatever we do we have to cross the dam and that decided it, buss it is.

The dam is a modern miracle. I can't begin to describe how high it is-Shawn says about 300 feet. Its north side faced a valley that got lower and lower. Its south side was the lake and you could see how deep the lake must be. We had coffee and hot chocolate while we waited for our buss. This bus was on the Apline ligne so our Swiss Pass wasn't good for it --so we learned. Still only 4 francs each. Again with the u-bends and the are-we-gonna-die on the edge of the road driving. We went by a construction site and I felt like the bus on Harry Potter magically getting thinner to squeeze thru. How are we not hitting other cars? Or the walls of the tunnel?

The bus drove us almost to the front of our hotel. We were glad we took it (despite the danger) because the weather had really turned wet, cold, and really rainy. Not even fun rainy anymore. Our hotel looked like every other lodge hotel on the street. Dark wood and ski resortish. But the inside was warm and comfortable. The manager was extremely pleasant and welcoming. Walked us to our room, a corner chambre. Beautiful room complete with TV (oh good, I'll be able to see French Survivor) and a balcony. Dinner is at 7pm. Shawn loved the room. He was so thrilled he did all the laundry. Wow. I flipped channels to see which one was the one for Survivor. Ah yes, the one that had French Wheel of Fortune on it (I think you can really learn a lot of a language by watching that show).

Dinner was on par with Hotel Belvedere. Wallis plate of meats, buffet salad, veal slices with apple, fresh pasta, cheese plate (you could choose your cheese from a board), and then creme brulee. Awesome. Shawn especially was really excited about the whole experience. The room is just so cozy, he says. The beds were comfortable too.

(Skip this part if you don't watch Survivor). We watched French Survivor as much as we could but we kept falling asleep. It's the same but different. They had a narrator and they had this thing that focused on one Survivor called 'Portrait of....(the person's name)'. Strange. The host did look European but no similarities to Probst (the host of Survivor in America). Everyone also seemed nicer to one another on the show. Oh, and they had cameras on the Jury House. What they were talking about and little tifs they were having amongst one another. Interesting. But that's all we stayed awake for. Just couldn't hack it past 9:30pm.

During our vacation we haven't used an alarm clock or wake-up call once. We were surprised then the next morning that we slept in until 7:30am. Ooops.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

August 28th, 2006 The ladders of the Pas du Chevres. There are three ladders. One you can't see in this picture. Ouuu, scary.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cabane dex Dix to Arolla August 28th, 2006
Kev says its 2 1/2 to 3 hours to Arolla. In order to get there you have to walk across a glacier and then you have two choices: the Col de Reidmatten or the Pas du Chevres. The Pass has three ladders you have to climb while the Col is suppose to be 'rocky underfoot.' We had our sucky breakfast of dense bread and cold oatmeal/yogurt. I keep seeing that guy on Simpsons saying 'worst breakfast ever.' Anyway, we didn't buy lunch since we would be in Arolla by noon. The Brits had to get to a buss in Arolla to get their car in Martigny to catch their plane in Geneva. Geez. Time pressure.

They left a half hour before us but we knew we'd catch up. We bought some chocolate for the road and said goodbye to our whistling innkeeper--he was nice. Outside it was cold and windy. Again I lemented my failure to bring gloves. Crossing the glacier was so cool and so strange. A lot of the glacier was covered with rocks so you couldn't tell you were walking on a giant block of ice then wow, you'd see a break - one slab of ice two feet higher then the other. Other times you could tell you were walking on it but it just felt like walking on thick ice (what, I'm suppose to be impressed it's hundreds or thousands of years old?) When we got to the end of the glacier we saw a crevasse or a hole, I guess (see picture above). It looked like a tube slide made of ice and it went so far down we couldn't see the end. I let Shawn take a picture but I had to hold on to him for fear he'd slip in!

Then we ascended the rocks. We had decided to use the Pas de Chevres because being on vertical ladders in the middle of the Alps sounds cool. Jo at one point --yes, we caught up-- turned around and said 'I hope you two aren't thinking of using the ladders. Tut, tut. The Col is much better.' I was really floored actually to hear the term 'tut, tut' sincerely used. I got a laugh out of Shawn when I replied 'you've seen one Col, you've seen 'em all.'

Turns out Chris wanted to do the ladders too (traitor) so we seperated. Jo and Sara to the Col and Chris, Shawn, and I to the ladders. A bit of a rock hop up but nothing painful. The ladders were indeed your industrial strength ladders going up the edge of he mountain side for about, oh, I don't know, say, 100 feet! No security features. Just you and a ladder and your 25 pound backpack making life interesting. Chris went up first, then me, then Shawn. I didn't look down once. I was scared but exhilarated. I yelled up to Chris to tell me how far I was to the top (when I knew I was definite bone breaking height) but he was too high up to hear me. When we had all arrived the weather was too cloudy to see the Matterhorn (a possibility Kev says). The Pas was definitely a better choice, sorry Jo, because we were way faster getting to the main Arolla trail then Jo & Sara. We waited for fiveteen minutes, I think.

The five of us walked up the valley. Soon just the four of us because Jo outpaced us so far we couldn't see him anymore. There were many peaks on the way but the most impressive was the Pigne d'Arolla and the long Tsijiure Nouve glacier (if you've seen one you HAVEN'T seen them all, trust me). There were spots of blue ice on the glacier (or glass-E-A as the Brits call it). Beautiful. We finally met up with Jo at a prime view of the Cabane des Vignettes where he and Sara had stayed for their excursion the previous year. Sara pointed it out before we actually got to where Jo was waiting and I think he was a little disappointed to not be the one. Regardless we all took turns looking through the binocs at the Cabane and peak way up there. I'm glad they pointed it out because I never would have seen the cabane on my own. Wow. I was impressed.

The rest of the way to Arolla was downhill with various path choices all leading to the town center--or village because Arolla was too small to be a town. We shook hands with the Brits and said goodbye (Chris returned the knee stuff, just in case you're worried). There was a sign pointing farther down the hill for Hotel Mont Collon, our hotel. We turned around a bend and saw this huge, old, run down hotel with Hotel Mont Collon printed in big letters. When we got to it Shawn saw two stars printed by the door. Now, if you've only got two stars, why would you advertise it?

The hotel was indeed old. Probably over 130 years (some letters and picture on the lobby wall dated 1873). At the time Shawn put a 'brave face' on it, as he says, but he really felt it was run down and haunted, frankly. I kinda liked it. The manager was a lovely and nice woman who spoke English really well and during our stay was very gracious. She gave us a key to our third floor room and we went up. Up four flights of stone stairs (the first floor is NOT the main floor) to our 1970's rustic decorated room. Pretty ugly but in a isn't-it-great-it's-so-ugly way.

Why I love it? Hot water. I practically cried when I took a shower. Washed twice. And the conditioner? No regrets. We were actually quite early. I think it was noon. We went up the hill to get some lunch. In hindsight we probably could have eaten at the restaurant in our hotel but it didn't occur to us. Instead we went to the Hotel du Glaciers restaurant because it had a giant sign that said 'OUVERT.' Again most things are closed between 12 and 3. We had a ham sandwich and a ham and cheese omlet. Delicious. The waitress did not know a lot of English. Perfect. The only confusion came when she thought we were staying at the hotel (you don't get your bill until you check out). We waited a while for a bill until we realized that's what she thought. We sat at the wrong section of tables apparently. It's pretty structured this hotel system. In the restaurant of a hotel there are guest tables and walk-in tables. For breakfast and dinner you sit at the same table (usually with your room number on it). Anyway, dumb Americans.

Afterward we went back to the other hotel for a food coma nap. Why? Because we could. Then we went to the living room of the hotel with all its stuffed animals (literally animals that were stuffed--they were everywhere in these hotels) and old old furniture. We plotted out our journey for the next couple of days and -MUSIC- folded up our Mont Blanc map. We would now be travelling on the Matterhorn map. Yeah!

Soon it was time for dinner. One of the great things on this trip is that I haven't been around a lot of smokers. I've seen them from a distance but in general and to my surprise, no smoking is allowed in most of the restuarants we've eaten at. Until Arolla. Smoker during our lunch and smokers during our dinner. Because I've been fortunate I sucked it up. Dinner was an up and down affair (remember it's an event). The soup was absolutely great. Some green vegetable thing. Really brilliant actually. But the salad was weird. White lettuce (Shawn said it wasn't cabbage) and cubes of gruyere cheese. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. Main course? Would you believe steak and fries again? The waitress asked if we wanted our steak medium or well. We said medium and they came out so rare I don't think it would be legal in the States. Shawn didn't want to waste the steaks so we sent them back to be recooked. New steaks arrived same rare. Oh well. The fires were good and the apricot surprise for dessert was ok. See, emotional rollercoaster. Sigh.

So Mont Collon was a bust, I guess. After dinner, bed. Nice to have a bathroom in such close proximity. The view was lovely too even if it was rainy. I made a concentrated effort to not be haunted while I was sleeping.

Forgotten memory: We were telling the Brits about NOISE (play we did at Furious) and that it took place in England, in the Black Country. They had never heard of it. Chris actually asked if it was where a lot of blacks lived. It's a mining area.