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.