Tag Archives: hiking

Sedona 2016

It is hard to believe we actually had two vacations in two consecutive months, but here we are heading off to Sedona, Arizona for a week at the end of January. This trip was actually supposed to happen last February, but we found out our dog Yuki had lymphoma two days before we were supposed to leave so we ended up having to cancel at the last minute. Fortunately, our AirBnB host EllenE, was gracious enough allow us to reschedule our accommodation for this year despite our last minute change. Every host we have met on AirBnB so far has been so great and Ellen exceeded that with her hospitality.

Get Me Outta Here

As we came down to departure date on Friday, January 22nd, a big “Noreaster” snowstorm, named Jonas, was bearing down on the East Coast. It wasn’t predicted to hit until early Saturday after we left, so we figured we were in the clear. We left home around Noon on Friday and stopped in Easton for some lunch before going to the airport. As we were being seated my phone beeped and I recieved notification that our flight was CANCELLED???!! What??!! It was another 12 hours before any snow was supposed to fall and the paranoid United Airlines were already cancelling flights? We sat through lunch speechless and in shock. Something or someone does not want us to go to Sedona.

We got home and started cancelling rooms, airport parking and rental cars, then trying to reschedule flights for after the storm on Sunday. The storm came and unleashed 3 feet of snow on the area. We ended up being glad that we were home and could shovel out of it. It would suck to come home and not be able to get in the driveway. Our roof was loaded up so I had clear some of that off as well.

The airlines would continue to cancel our flights 3 more times until I finally realized it was more of a Newark Airport issue than an airlines issue. I ended up getting flights in and out of Philly leaving on Tuesday afternoon and returning on Sunday. Our 7 day trip was now only 4 days. The weekend was a roller coaster of anticipation as we kept rescheduling and they kept cancelling. I was starting to wonder if this trip was going to happen at all.

Finally, we got to a very mysteriously empty Philadelphia Airport and our flight went off without a hitch. Actually, all our flights from there on out were effortless. We have been pretty lucky with our air travel over the years, so we were due for a bit discourse. If it had to happen this was probably a good one for it to happen. We also ended up pairing our down our baggage to all carry-on suitcase and a backpack so we didn’t have to deal with any checked luggage. This definitely made things easier, but I had to ditch some of my biking gear(bike shoes, pedals, etc) in the  process.

We arrived in Phoenix around 10:30-11PM, picked up our Prius rental car and made our roughly two-hour drive to the Village of Oak Creek(VOC) in Sedona by 1AM on Wednesday. We found our cozy little apartment, unloaded our unchecked  It is always interesting arriving somewhere new at night, cause it is like big surprise the next morning when you can actually see things.

Day 1-Sedona…Finally!

Despite our late arrival, we were up before Sunrise on Wednesday. Well, my wife was and then she woke me up by pulling the shutters totally open on the window on my side of the bed. I was immediately presented with the “Magnificent Red Rock Views” that the condo is named for on AirBnB. This got me quickly out of Bed.

We walked a couple blocks away to the Red Rock Cafe for breakfast. Breakfast was really good and they were very accommodating. Denise likes to have veggies with eggs in the morning and most places back home look at her cross-eyed when she asks for that. I had French Toast which was very good too. Another older couple near us ordered the Cinnamon Roll which is a claim-to-fame dish there. We found out why when it came. It was the size of a cake! It smelled really good.

We decided to take a walk/hike up to Bell Rock/Cathedral Rock which was only a mile or so away. We walked from our place which added a couple extra miles. Denise was looking forward to feeling the “vortex” energy there but she wasn’t sure if she felt it or not. What I did feel was the warm sun on me which felt pretty good after shoveling snow the past few days. It was a beautiful warm,  blue-sky day. Not the greatest for photography, but I didn’t really care.

We stopped at little place called “Taste of Marrakech” on the walk back to the condo. They had some really good hummus and other Middle-Eastern type dishes. I had a Falafel Gyro which was quite tasty and not dried out like some falafel tends to be. It can be like eating sawdust.

For dinner, we went to the famous Elote Cafe. Usually people line up there at 5-5:30PM to eat since it is a first-come, first serve place. We ended up getting there a little later and were able to walk right in and be served. Dinner was very unique and had a lot of corn-related, Mexican-style dishes. I also tried a special House Margherita which was very different from the typical drink and made with their own house-made Tequila. Our waiter was also quite an interesting character as well.

Day 2-Sunrise and Smoothies

So I have been on this habit of waking up earlier in the morning. Well, I kept this going during our vacation which I thought would benefit my photography. My wife is always saying “you can never be a professional photographer since you can’t get up early.” So I decided to prove her wrong. Never tell me I can’t do something. Anyway, I was up early to try to catch a sunrise photo shoot over near Red Rock State Park which is supposed to have good views of Cathedral Rock. Well, it does but unfortunately, a clear sky doesn’t really provide a great photo in the early morning. Shut out!

After my disappointing early photo shoot, we stopped at Berry Devine for a smoothie breakfast. We got some great smoothies and some entertainment to boot. The fellow working there, Dave, was quite an interesting guy and he kept us entertained for our breakfast. They even had an “Iron Man” smoothie which was my favorite. Coffee there was less than exciting, so we stopped at the Java Love Cafe after for some locally roasted beans. Dave also gave us some tips on some local hikes that would get us away from the tourist crowd.

We headed up to Chimney Rock after breakfast and hiked around it and then on to Andante Trail. It was definitely sparse with hikers. The hike Chimney rock was half decent, but the Andante part was less than exciting. It would have probably been better for mountain biking.

 

For lunch, we stopped at the Mariposa Grill which is perched on a ledge along the highway with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The place is amazing too. They have a large deck to take in the view which no one was sitting at. We asked to sit outside and they thought we were a little crazy. It was in the mid-60’s and I thought it was quite comfortable. They even turned on the overhead heaters for us. It ended being really nice private dining. The place is fairly upscale so we resorted to just lunches there which were the price of our typical dinner. Food was amazing and the Yuca Fries were out of the World!

Next, we headed into town for some window shopping. One of the annoying things in Sedona is all the outdoor adventure places are fronts for selling timeshares. So when walking by stores you get the line “are you staying in town for the night?” I quickly learned to say no and move on. We then headed up to Fay Canyon for a late afternoon hike. It is a quick hike but we ended up getting up into the canyon when it was dark and we had to partially bushwhack our way off of a ledge. I had my headlamp, but the batteries died quickly. Fortunately, I remembered that I had my trusty iPhone and used the flashlight to light up the trail. It worked great too.

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Fay Canyon-Sedona, AZ 2016

We stopped at the Choclatree Organic Eatery in town for a vegan dinner. It was really good food and their deserts are quite amazing. My only wish was that the portions were a little bigger. If you are looking for some healthy, it is a worth a stop.

Day 3 – Chuckwagon

We were up bright-and-early again and headed to the Airport Mesa Vortex to catch a few sunrise photos. We made a quick stop at Oak Creek Roasters coffee shop to get a little caffeine coursing there my veins. We arrived at the Airport Mesa parking lot while it was still dark out. There were only a couple cars in the small parking lot, so there was no problem finding a spot. While I got my photography gear together, Denise checked out the information sign. I saw there was another girl with asking her a lot of questions. We then high-tailed it up the steep and rocky path to the top of the vortex. The girl and her boyfriend/husband were struggling to stay with us and I could hear them sucking air as I flying up the path. Apparently they are not planning on doing any Ironmans this year. 🙂

We got up to the top of the rock and Immediately claimed a nice little platform and setup my tripod. There were a bunch of younger Asian kids up there in shorts and lighter clothing. It was pretty cool up there and the wind picked up as the morning continued making it even worse.

I ended up kicking over my entire coffee on the ground, which did not make me very happy. The sun eventually worked its way up, but there were no good cloud formations to really  gather the color and provide some drama. Regardless I did get a couple ok shots of the valley and rock formations across it. Looking behind us after the sun came up were a couple hot air balloons that I thought might make some good images, but they were a bit too far away.

After the morning photo shoot, we headed back to Berry Devine again for another round of breakfast smoothies. Our buddy Dave was kind of busy this time and didn’t have much time to chat and entertain us. We also headed back to the Java Love Cafe for our morning coffee and latte. Funny how it was the same bunch of people that were in there the previous day too. Definitely a hit with the locals.

Today we had planned to do some mountain biking. My friend Greg had ridden the Chuckwagon trail there in the past and recommended it, so we thought we would give it a whirl. We headed over to Over-The-Edge Bike(OTE) off of Route 89a to pickup some rentals. We had rented bikes from these guys in Fruita, CO a bunch of years ago, so we figured they would be good. And they were. We got a couple nice Trek full-suspension bikes and a rack for the car and we were off to the Chuckwagon trail.

The Chuckwagon trail was pretty awesome. It was fast-and-fun singletrack with some nice views. It was challenging enough, but not too crazy so that Denise was able to enjoy it as well. She wasn’t in super great shape and hasn’t mountain biked in quite some time. It ended up being about 10 miles in one loop. This got us back to the parking lot just in time for some lunch.


We headed to Picazzos for some lunch. Picazzos is a healthier, gluten-free pizza shop and it was fairly busy for a weekday lunch. Denise was excited to be able to have pizza since it was gluten-free. I was psyched because they had Beyond Meat Chicken as a topping option, so I was able to have the Thai Chicken pizza and not have to strip off the animal flesh. Beyond Chicken has a very close texture to real chicken meat, has a better nutritional profile, and is made using pea protein. A great option for those bridging the gap to a plant-based diet. I use it at sometimes when meat is kind of a key element of a dish. Lunch was freaking awesome and we gobbled down pretty much everything. All the calories we burned on the trail were instantly replenished. Better get back out there again.

I had left the mountain bikes on the car rack while we ate lunch, so I was relieved to get done eating. I kept running out to check on the bikes. We then drove back towards Oak Creek for the afternoon and rode up the connector trail around Bell Rock and then eventually to the Llama Trail. The connector trail was a tad bit technical and it was also uphill. There was a lot of on-and-off the bike and Denise was started to get a bit tired…and grumpy. We eventually hit the Llama Trail and that was also a bit challenging. I saw Denise was walking the bike a lot and she was not a happy camper. We eventually hit a shortcut route out and headed back. We took the easy paths and it was mostly downhill to the parking lot after Bell Rock.


We were pretty tired after about 16 miles of mountain biking. We dropped off the bikes and headed back to Picazzos for some dinner. Another good feed fest! After dinner we stopped at the Oak Creek Brewpub and I sampled a couple of their Pales Ales. Denise was having trouble keeping her eyes open so we then headed back to the condo for some sleep.

Day 4 – Road Trip to Jerome

We were up again at 5am on Saturday and made a b-line for Red Rock State Park to hopefully get some good sunrise pictures of Cathedral Rock. Denise dropped me off at the park gate entrance which was closed and it didn’t open until around 9AM. I blindly made way through the park following the river. I searched for a good spot to shoot some pictures of Cathedral Rock with the river in the foreground. It was a bit difficult since I could barely see. I walked and walked some more until finally I found this huge opening where the river which would have been perfect. Apparently it was a bit too perfect. There was another photographer standing right in the middle of the area with one of those old, large format cameras with the black sheet that goes over your head.

I quietly made my way around her so not to startle her. Not sure if she ever heard me since her head was under the sheet. I tried to find a spot up river a bit, but it ended up being too close. I started making my way back again and was kind of throwing in the towel at this point. The lady photographer waved as I passed by her.

I was almost back to the front gate, where Denise dropped me off, when I found the killer spot. Argh!! Despite that the sky was pretty uninteresting anyway. Oh well, maybe next time?

After another breakfast at Berry Devine and some coffee at Java Love Cafe, we took a ride up to the town of Jerome. Jerome was an old Copper mining town that is situated high up on a ridge which overlooks the Verde Valley below. Kind of cool little town with some shops, bars, and restaurants. We cruised through but were really into stopping, so we headed back to Sedona.

We decided to do a short hike to see Snoopy Rock. The trail was called Marg’s Draw and it was pretty close to town. It was actually a pretty nice, easy hike. Perfect end for our trip.

We headed back to Phoenix after our hike and had a nice dinner at True Food Kitchen. We then checked into the Hilton Garden Inn for the night and then back to Philly the next morning.

Despite the rough start, it was a really great trip to Sedona. Our shortened length forced us to make the most of our time. We had some amazing food and adventures. The only thing we didn’t get much of was relaxation, but we really aren’t into that anyway.

Thanks for reading!  Until our next adventure!

 

Haute Route Day 13-Europahütte to Zermatt

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Europahutte

I heard Denise’s watch alarm go off around 6am and I laid there until about 6:30am. We had shared the bunk room with another couple who slept on the bottom of the bunk and we were on top. They were a bit ricketty, so I was a bit self-conscious about moving around through the night, so I didn’t sleep all that well. We packed up and made our way down to breakfast at the Europahütte. More cereal, bread, butter, jam and coffee. Standard fare these days. I really miss my smoothie! My first glance out the window revealed total white out. It was looking more and more like a valley walk so far us. We had assumed that the others were going to hike back up to the other side of the suspension bridge and walk the Europaweg in to Zermatt, but we never actually talked about it with them.

We finished eating, paid up our beer and water tab, packed up and made our way down the mountain to the town of Randa. We had to meet the taxi there around 8:30am and it was almost a 3 mile hike down to the pickup point. We left the hut around 7am.

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Last Day on the Haute Route…down to Zermatt

Denise and I started at the back of the pack as we all made our way down. The descent was pretty steep with numerous rocky zigzags paved the way down. My knees were not used to the steep descent first thing in the morning and they were letting me know that in no uncertain terms. We usually start the day with a good climb and end with the descent, so this was a bit of a change. Denise had been sagging back a bit and I tried to stay in between her and the rest of the group who had gained a bit of a lead on us. I glanced back one time to find her taking her pack off. I stopped and waited a bit and saw her doing some stretches. I went up to see what was up. She said she had taken a pretty good fall and now had a stiff neck. She hadn’t fallen at all in the last 12 days of hiking and now she tumbled on our last day of hiking. This would solidify our decision to walk the valley in to Zermatt.

We continued down the trail slowly after Denise collected herself. She had been listening to the audiobook Unbroken by Laura Hildebrandt and was trying to finish it before the hike ended. Denise fell again a short time later. This time not quite as bad. I then stayed behind her a bit. I was now getting a little worried we may miss the taxi and have to walk that much further.

I caught up to Denise sometime later and she turned around in tears. I immediately thought she fell again and hurt herself and asked if she was ok. She turned around and headed down the hill not saying a word. I later found out that the book had a emotional ending that she had hit which was what caused the sudden burst of tears.

We eventually got down to the taxi pickup point and the taxi driver was coming up the road looking for us. We had decided we would walk the valley in to Zermatt since the clouds had not broken up high. It would not be worth climbing back up the other side of the bridge again. When we got to the taxi we were surprised to see all the others from our group were in there too. We thought they had left in another taxi already. The taxi van was quite full and Denise sat up front and I was crouched on the floor by the sliding door. The taxi stopped at the bus terminal in Tasch and we got out. We were surprised when all the others in our group got out too. They had also decided to walk the valley in as well due to the cloud cover.

We all walked over to a nearby coffee shop and reminisced for awhile about the trip some more. Afterwards we made our way to Zermatt on the trail that followed the river down the valley to Zermatt. The trail had a few undulations in it, much like the trail we started on 14 days ago in Chamonix. This time it seemed much easier now that we were all seasoned Haute Route hikers.

We eventually came to a small rise with a bench overlooking Zermatt and the Matterhorn peeking around the corner. We took a bunch of group pictures and had a big “group hug” to celebrate the long, two-week journey from Chamonix. It was a pretty special moment. We then continued down the hill into Zermatt town. It was the end of the journey.

Entering Zermatt was an immediate culture shock. There were throngs of tourists everywhere. Stores and restaurants lined the street. We spotted the Molino Italian restaurant for lunch and we headed in. It was a beautiful day so we decided to sit outside. I am sure we stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the extremely clean tourists. The pizza and the beer were really good!

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Celebration Meal

After lunch, we all parted ways to our respective hotels. As we were walking up the street, I heard my name being called. Huh? Someone knows me in Zermatt? It turned out to be Anne, Nate, Paul and Claire who had diverted off the trail earlier. We chatted a bit with all of them and then made our way to the Hotel Allalin. We had decided that the entire crew would get together for a big final dinner tonight and then hit some clubs afterwards. Sounds like a party!

The Hotel Allalin was quite the site for sore eyes. Especially after staying in a mountain hut the night before. The lady at the front desk was so friendly and gave us such a warm welcome. Denise had been hoping for a room with a view of the Matterhorn. She asked the lady if we had one, she said she wasn’t going to tell us with a little smirk on her face. When we got to the gorgeous room I glanced outside to see the Matterhorn in all its glory right in front of us. Ahh! The folks at Alpine Exploratory made a good call on this place, especially for your last night of your hike.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and doing our wash in the sink. The day had turned super clear and sunny and it our clothing dried rather quickly on the balcony. The plan was to meet the others at 7pm at the church in town and go out for a final bash before everyone leaves.

We all met up in town and walked up and down the streets for awhile trying to agree on someplace to eat. We ended up eating at the Ristorante Molino again(same place we had lunch), except we ate inside. After a good dinner, we ventured out searching for some type of nightclub to go to. A couple were pretty lame, but we ended  up finding this one in a basement. There was no one in there when we got there, but the tunes were good. It ended up getting pretty crowded as the night went on. We also started getting crazier as the drinks flowed. We were all dancing on some little platform and then swinging from a beam in the ceiling. Denise and I decided to head out a little earlier along with Nate and Anne, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. It was fun trip and even though we had planned on doing this trip on our own, we met such a great group of people anyway to share the experience with. It all worked out really well.

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Post Hike Partying at the Disco!

Well technically the Haute Route trek is completed, but we still have another day in Zermatt. Would we dare venture out for more hiking? Or would we just relax around Zermatt all day? Hmmm…stay tuned. While the entire trek was supposed to be a 14-day trek, we combined the first two days into one doing the 17+ miles from Chamonix to Trient.

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 13

Europa hut(Europahütte) to Zermatt
Day
Hiking Time:3:42
Hiking Distance(mi):)7.15
Elevation Gain(ft):801
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:13
HR Hiking Time:76:14
HR Distance Hiked(mi):128.0
Elevation Gained(ft):40,977

Haute Route Day 12-St. Niklaus to Europahütte

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Denise, Val, Kathy, and Garreth heading out of Gasenried to hit the Europaweg

As I mentioned in my Haute Route Day 11 post, my mattress had a large crater in the middle of it and I spent most of the night sleeping curled around the edge of it. By the way, Paul from the UK informed me later that this was easily resolved by moving the boards closer together. Unfortunately, I am not that clever or motivated to get up in the middle of the night and deal with it I guess. Anyway, I heard Denise waking around 6am and knew I had a about a half hour until I needed to wake. We needed to pack up before the 7am breakfast at Hotel de la Reserve so we could make the 7:44am bus to Gasenried. We decided to take the bus up to Gasenried instead of making the 2.5 hour hike up there. It would be a long day even without the extra 2.5 hours. Kathy, Val and Gareth had decided on doing the same thing so it was an easy decision. They are all pretty hardcore mountaineers, so if they are taking the bus I really don’t bad doing the same.

After arriving in Gasenried, we spotted a little market and I picked up a roll, some Gruyere cheese, and a sleeve of cookies for my lunch. We met up with the others and started on our way.

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Start of the Europaweg

We walked up the road a bit, passed a church, crossed a bridge, made a left and were immediately in the woods and climbing. And climbing. We spent a good part of the morning climbing through the woods. Kathy, Val and Gareth stopped for a bit and we had kept going so we were split up for most of the day. Eventually we came out above treeline and reached a statue overlooking the towns below which was our first waypoint. Again the distances we got were far more than what was listed on the Alpine Exploratory route card we had. What they listed in km, I had in miles.

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DANGER!! Cross the rockfall quickly!!

After this, the landscape had changed to very steep and rocky. It would stay this way all day too. The path was very narrow with some serious exposure all day. The worst parts were the areas with the fresh rockfalls and the signs indicating that you are to proceed through quickly to avoid danger. One of the gullies I had crossed has some very loose rocks and I found myself on all fours, spread-eagled across the boulders, trying to make way without causing a rockfall myself. It was rather stressful to say the least. Right after this, three guys through and walked across it like it was nothing making me look like quite the wuss. Denise had been waiting for me to find my way and just followed the guys path and made it without any issue.

When you were not on a rockfall area you were skirting a very narrow, 1 foot wide or less path that had a sheer drop over the edge. If you mistook a step, you are a goner. Several areas in the paths had big cracks in them that looked like the whole walkway would just drop off at any second. There were also several sections that had ropes attached to the rockwall on the uphill side of the path. Most of these sections were a lot less scary than some of the sections that didn’t have any.

This went on for hours. I was very exhausted from all this stress. Normally there would be spectacular views the entire way too, which may make this difficult terrain more tolerable. But today the mountains were socked in with fog most of the time. As the afternoon went on, the clouds eased up a bit, but it was if they were playing hide-and-seek with us. They would reveal small parts of themselves, but never the entire mountain. The Weisshorn, the Grand Gendarme, and the Brunegghorn were never totally able to be seen in their entirety.

Eventually Kathy, Val and Gareth caught up to us and passed us. We mentioned to them about the scariness of rockfall areas, but they didn’t seem phased by it at all. I guess they are used to that or we just wussies! Smile Or both.

The path did ease up a bit and get a little wider making things a more relaxing. Just as we were settling into some nicer walking, we rounded a bend only to find a cabled suspension bridge linking up the trail across a section of the that was once the mountain. A large rockfall had wiped out a large section of the former mountainside. The bridge was pretty shaky and the narrow planks that were laid on the bottom of the braided cabling would frequently click into place making it feel as if they were giving way. The wood also looked like the thickness of wood paneling and seemed like I could break through at any second. As I approached the middle of the expanse it began to swing more and more. It was actually kind of fun though.

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EuropaHutte!! An oasis among the rocky mountainside. Note the other suspension bridge further on which was closed.

We finally arrived at the Europahütte after rounding a couple more bends in the mountain side. It was a relief to finally get there. We settled in and got the lay of the land for the place. We sat out on the deck for a while with Rich, Martijn, Val, Kathy and Gareth  and enjoyed some beers, snacks, laughs and the beautiful views of the mountains across the valley. We eventually moved indoors after it got a bit more chilly out.

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Apres Hike at Europahut with Martijn, Rich, Val, Denise, and Gareth

Dinner at the Europahutte or Europa Hut(in English) was some scallopini style meat and potatoes with gravy along with a consomme soupe and salad. We had some pink ice cream and whipped cream for desert and sat around talking for a bit. Tomorrow we had to make a decision of how we would proceed to Zermatt. There was another suspension bridge right after the Europahutte which was closed due to another recent rockfall, so we needed to decide whether we would take a taxi from the town of Randa below the hut back up to the other side of the suspension bridge or just walk the valley into Zermatt. Denise and I reserved the taxi, but would decide on the way down to Randa based on if the mountains were clouded in again. It sounded like the others would be hiking back up to the other side of the bridge and taking it in on the high side.

As the sun set, I broke out the tripod and tried to get some sunset shots beyond the mountains. The clouds had cleared up quite a bit now, but the sunset really didn’t materialize too well. We headed up to the bunks around 9-9:30pm for a good night sleep.

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 12

St. Niklaus to Europa hut(Europahütte)
Day
Hiking Time:6:58
Hiking Distance(mi):)9.27
Elevation Gain(ft):3,930
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:12
HR Hiking Time:72:32
HR Distance Hiked(mi):120.8
Elevation Gained(ft):40,176

Haute Route Day 11-Gruben to St. Niklaus

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 11

Gruben to St. Niklaus
Day
Hiking Time:8:05
Hiking Distance(mi):)12.5
Elevation Gain(ft):3,878
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:11
HR Hiking Time:63:35
HR Distance Hiked(mi):111.5
Elevation Gained(ft):36,246

We headed out of the Schwarzhorn Hotel after a relatively mediocre breakfast. It was an immediate grunt uphill as we left the building and switchbacked our way towards the Oberstafel . We started out at around 6500′ elevation and would peak at just short of 10,000′ in less than 4 miles.

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View on ascent out of Gruben

We were had a forced opportunity for a break part way up the mountainside as a stampede of cows were being coerced down the mountain by a young couple. They had a large bag of salt, which they would pour on some rocks on their way down. The cows would then follow along and compete with each other to get the salt. We were a bit startled by it at first as this large herd came bursting out of the trees. We didn’t know which way to go. They eventually moved on and we continued our slog uphill.

 

The weather quickly turned windy and cold as we exited the tree line. Now we could see most of the way up to the pass that we would eventually climb to. The terrain became very rocky and barren from here up. The next section was a little less steep and then it kicked up for the stretch before the pass.

We took a bit of a break at a large rock to put on some more layers, hats and gloves. Rich from CA had passed on by us. Eventually Martign(Ned) and Garreth(UK) came flying up behind us in hot pursuit. They had practically flew up the hillside, which was evident by the sweat dripping off both of their faces. Martign is very tall guy and one of the faster hikers I have ever seen. He just goes consistently fast and you may keep up with him for a little while, but eventually he will vanish.

The others passed by us and we could see them making their way up the large, rocky summit. It had started to snow after we put our jackets on and the pass was going in and out of sight. Denise and I somehow took a path to the right that wound us on the right side of a small pond before the steeper stretch. We realized this had taken us out of the way of the main trail and it was a little tricky getting back over to the left due to the large rocks that covered the area we were on. There was no real trail so we had to figure a way back over. Kind of burned up some time there.

Heading up the very steep section before the pass, the snow was coming down pretty good and a very cold wind blew. The rocks and plants had a very windblown, icy look to them like Sastrugi which makes this pretty evident. We eventually reached the pass where the temperature was well below freezing and the winds were whipping. I took a couple shots of the trail marker sign which looked pretty cool with the windblown snow and ice on it. The Schwarzhorn summit was just to our left, but the fog did not allow us to see it.

We started on our down from the pass on route to St Niklaus. It remained foggy for a while as we descended the rocky path. The path angled to the right side of the valley. I passed an older couple taking a break who brought a small group houses just below in the valley to my right. They could just barely be seen through the dense fog.

We continued bearing to the right following the mountainside. Eventually we came to a landing where Martign was taking pictures. It was an amazing view of the entire valley or “Valais” leading down towards Zermatt. The view was amazing despite the fact that there was a large volume of clouds covering the peaks of the mountains on the other side of the valley. We also watched a couple Chamois(deer-like animals) run around on the flat just below where we stood. It was a just an amazing viewpoint. We stood there taking it in for a while and Kathy and Val eventually caught up. Val took the picture of Denise and I here.

We had a snack and continued on gradually down the mountain side towards the small town of Jungen. We were hoping for the clouds on the mountains across the valley to lift, but they never did entirely. The town of Jungen was supposed to have a cable car to take you down to St. Niklaus too, which we were contemplating a bit.

Jungen was a cute little mountainside village with matching slate roofed cottages. As we came out of the woods the trail angled around the left side of the village eventually coming a small pond and picnic area. There was a nice area to view the valley immediately after where we could also see the cable car. We decided to keep pushing down the mountain on foot. It ended up being a great decision because we found a little restaurant in the narrow village pathways with a big grass terrace and the most incredible view ever! Denise asked me if I wanted to stop for a beer…Yeah…twist my arm!

We unloaded our packs and made ourselves at home on the wood picnic table overlooking the valley. There was yodeling music playing which really made me feel like I was in the Alps for sure. I ask German speaking hostess if they had any food. She said “Brautwurst and Rosti” in some Germany-English language. I gave her the thumbs up! And added a big bottle of Feldschlosschen beer too. Ahh….Life is good!

We were entertained by a group of older gentlemen hikers with a table full of empty beer bottles and wine glasses. I don’t think they were hiking down the mountain. I recorded a little video of Denise and I as we were enjoying the view. We thought it was funny.

Eventually Rich from California showed and joined us. My meal came out soon after and it was the best meal ever! I put my vegan hat off to the side for this one. Rich ended up ordering the Bratwurst and Rosti meal too after seeing mine. Nate and Anne(from Seattle) showed up too … it was becoming quite the party.
We eventually loaded up and started our way down the mountain. It was a little steeper now and consisted of switchbacks most of the way. Once down into St. Niklaus we had to navigate some train tracks and then we were in the town. It was a relatively modern looking town, but it seemed pretty deserted. There was a more quaint section with more shops and dining, but most places were closed. We eventually found our hotel, Hotel La Reserve, which was on the opposite side of town. Our hotel had a pizza place which was rated as one of the better places to eat, but it too was closed.

We settled into our bright yellow hotel room, unloaded our gear, took showers, and washed our clothes in the sink. I did some research on where to eat and decided to head back into town and do some searching there. We settled on the only place that seemed open. Turns out Nate, Anne, Val, Garreth and Kathy were there. Some of the others continued on up the mountain towards the town of Gasenried for the night. We would be starting there tomorrow, but would be taking a bus up to it.

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More Bratwurst and Rosti in St. Niklaus

The waitress did not speak very good English so it was a bit difficult for me wife to order since she has so many special requests. She ended up having to seek help from Nate who spoke a some German. We found that we had more trouble language-wise since entering the German-speaking portion of Switzerland. I think some of that may be because we prepared a little more for the French. Dinner was ok, but not one of our best meals.

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The bright yellow room at Hotel La Reserva

We headed back to the hotel for the night and settled in for a good night sleep. Or tried to. My side of the bed had the most enormous crater in the mattress I had ever seen. I ended up sleeping in “C” position on my side all night. We found out later on that Paul and Clare(UK) had slept in the same room a night or two later. Paul also had the larger crater to deal with. He ended up coming up with a more ingenious way of dealing with it, but I forgot what that was exactly.

Haute Route 2013-Day 10-Zinal to Gruben

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 10

Zinal to Gruben
Day
Hiking Time:7:00
Hiking Distance(mi):)11.9
Elevation Gain(ft):4,117
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:10
HR Hiking Time:57:29
HR Distance Hiked(mi):99.0
Elevation Gained(ft):32,368

We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Hotel Europe around 7:30 AM  then packed up and started on our walk. We saw the older Brit Posse congregating at the supermarche(grocery store) as we headed to the trailhead. It was nice to know we would not have to pass them later and get the dirty looks that they typically give us when we do.

We started up through some roads in town past some large apartment buildings and eventually into the woods. We went through a small tunnel that is apparently part of their avalanche defense. Not sure how they can get the whole town in the tiny tunnel that quickly, but whatever. We then began the long, steep climb up and out of the town. It was pretty exhausting first thing in the morning and I was burping up my croissants right away.  Eventually it flattened out a bit to a narrow path that traversed the side of the mountain. After a bit we caught up to Bob and Matthew, our Ohio contingent. They were heading to Hotel Weisshorn for the night so we probably would not see them until Zermatt. Next we ran into Herman from Holland.

The path then turned into a much wider path that was pretty flat traversing the hillside. We eventually reached the point where we needed to decide whether to go straight to Gruben via Forcletta or go to Hotel Weisshorn and over the Meidpass to Gruben. The later would be a much longer day. It was very cloudy up high and the views were minimal, so we decided to go the more direct route up and over Forcletta to Gruben.

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Denise heading down towards Gruben

We had gotten pretty far ahead of Bob, Matthew, and Herman when we reached the decision point. We pressed on figuring we would see them again probably in Zermatt. We never did though. Fortunately Bob had found this blog on the web and reached out to us through that. Anyway, the climb over Forcletta was so foggy and damp. We stopped to dig out some rain gear and another warmer layer. Eventually we hit the peak and started our descent into Gruben.

The descent down to Gruben meandered casually down the valley. View of the Brunneghorn and Weisshorn were to our right. We were the only ones on the path too, since it appeared that the others were planning on heading over to the Meidpass and staying at the Hotel Weisshorn for the night. Eventually, we reached a series of huts at Chalte Berg where soon after we picked up a dirt road that took us in a more northerly direction downhill.

Further down the road, the path broke off to the right(East) and then switchbacked more quickly down the mountain. After passing through a more wooded section we emerged at the top of the hamlet of Gruben. We followed a small path along the stream through farms and pastures eventually reaching the heart of the town. The Hotel Schwarzhorn could easily be seen the entire was as it dominated the other buildings in the town.

The mileage on our route card had said 9 miles for this trek, but we ended up with just under 12 and we didn’t get lost either. The route card was spot on for the time(7 hours) and elevation gain and loss.

We checked in to the Hotel and made our way to our room. The room had two single beds and we quickly unloaded, showered up in the shared bathrooms, and then laid down for a good nap. We were getting pretty tired at this point. 10 days of hiking in the alps are beginning to take their toll on our bodies.

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Hotel Schwarzhorn Gruben

We headed down to the dining room for dinner after we woke from our nap. We were jolted awake as we entered the dining room and the large table of the group all yelled as we entered. We were surprised to see everyone was here. We sat at a table for two and enjoyed nice hot dinner. Rich from the group came over and chatted with us a bit and told us about his experience at the Hotel Weisshorn earlier in the day. Apparently it was inundated with kids and he then decided to move on. I guess we made the right decision there.

After dinner we hung out for a bit in the sitting area catching up on our social media since it was the only place to get WIFI. We then chatted a bit with Anne from Seattle for awhile then off to bed. Tomorrow is another big day as we head to St. Niklaus.

Haute Route 2013-Day 8-La Sage to Cabane de Moiry

 

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Misty Morning in La Sage

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 8

La Sage to Cabane du Moiry
Day
Hiking Time:5:48
Hiking Distance(mi):)9.68
Elevation Gain(ft):5,538
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:8
HR Hiking Time:44:45
HR Distance Hiked(mi):76.4
Elevation Gained(ft):26,053

Leaving the Hotel de La Sage was tough. We had a fabulous room and fabulous dinner & breakfast. I will dream of those warm, freshly made croissants for years to come. We made our way up the steep road to the little store to stock up with some rations for the day. Our Alpine Exploratory route card instructions had indicated the store as a waypoint, so we thought it put us in the right direction. We met up with Bob and Matthew from Ohio and their directions seemed to jive with ours. One sign that things were not right, was that the large British group passed us going down the opposite way on the street. We found the signpost where we thought we should turn, but it never really mentioned any of the next waypoints that we needed. We were looking for Tsate,  which was our next destination, but the sign didn’t say anything close to that. Regardless the path seemed to follow with our instructions for the most part.

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Bob, Matthew and Denise heading out of La Sage on our way to getting lost.

We met up with a dirt road and were zigzagging our way up the hill. We came upon a hiker sign which seemed to point back down the hill. Denise had already blew past this marker not even slowing her pace to make sure that going up the road was correct. I waited up for Bob and Matthew and the three of us started to question whether we were going the right way now. I decided to continue up the road and try to catch up with Denise and I told Bob I would yell if I ever saw any more yellow markers. I never did. I caught up with Denise after about 2-3 more zigzags up the road and asked her if she knew where she was going. A look of panic came over her face. We decided to continue up the road, hoping it would intersect the correct trail and/or wind up in Tsate eventually. All along we never saw Bob or Matthew below us on the road. Our instructions mentioned that we should come up on a mound with a cross on it. I spotted three of crosses across the hillside! And a small group of barns, which I saw two. We could see a yellow hiker signpost near the one to the right, so we headed over that way.

 

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Heading towards Col de Tsate

By the time we reached barns we had logged about 5 miles already and we should only be doing 7 for the entire day. The sign indicated that this was in fact Tsate, so we were finally back on course. We never saw Bob and Matt which had me a little concerned. We could see a pretty large expanse of the treeless mountainside and didn’t see anyone else hiking. As we wound around the hillside and up, we could just barely see some silhouettes of hikers up the hillside in the fog. It was a very foggy morning as well, so it was much more difficult to identify cols and trails up high. We eventually made it up to a lake where we could now see pretty much everyone who had left after us that morning. So much for starting early!

We passed by most of the others while taking a break at a nice little alpine lake and continued up the col. Our directions indicated that we should be able to see our destination, Cabane du Moiry, after cresting the col. Today was so foggy we saw nothing except for the lake and a large parking lot below. Cabane du Moiry is situated high on a far hillside left of the Moiry Glacier. They say it is quite a view when not socked in with fog.

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Moiry parking lot and glacier runout

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Lac de Moiry

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The path looking up towards the socked in Moiry Glacier

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Morraine path heading to Cabane du Moiry

Even though you can usually see the Cabane, it is still very far away. We then continued descending down the hillside to the car park area right near the turquoise blue water of the stream coming from the glacier. Our route card said there can be a snack cabin below, but it was closed today. We bottomed out at the car park and started our long grunt up the morraine on the other side of the glacier towards our Cabane. The ridge became narrower and narrower as we went almost filing in as a knife edge before we descended down and back up the trail on the actual mountainside. We had to cross some leftover snow that was almost pink in color from aging. Half way through it was a hole which we had to cross. It was a little unnerving since it felt like it could fall through. We continued up to a very steep and difficult section that was almost like scaling a cliff. Then it was steep switchbacks all the way to the top. Still no Cabane to see and I just put my head down and grunted my way up. Eventually I could just barely see the roof of the cabane popping above the rocks when we were only about 150 yards away. Finally!

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Denise and I happy to finally have made it to Cabane du Moiry

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Val, Kathy, Karen and Don discuss the days hike at Cabane du Moiry

The Cabane du Moiry has recently added a new “wing” that is quite large. The downstairs is all big pine tables and large windows that look down on the glacier that runs right below it. At the end of the room is a small sitting area with some Ikea-like chairs, but much less comfortable, sitting around a small table with a large glass window and the end. Today there was no glacier to be seen.

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Cabane de Moiry Dining Hall

We got our room, which was situated above the large dining hall. It had 2 sets of bunks and a large storage area and bench that ran the length of the room. It also had a tall narrow window that looked down on what would be the glacier as well. We unpacked, got some showers(5CHF for 5 minutes), and headed down to the sitting area by the large window where most of the early arrivers where sitting and chatting. We had a few beers and chatted about the day. Eventually the fog relaxed a bit and we could see the glacier just below. Very cool. I ran out to get some pictures but it fogged up again before I could get anything decent. It had started raining pretty hard out and getting very cold. I was glad that it had held off until we had gotten to the cabane. It was supposed to by 100% chance today, but we lucked out during the hike.

Someone had mentioned that there was a cable car(gondola) down from the next days col at Sorebois and the cabance gave out free vouchers. We definitely considered this since it would give our aching knees a much needed break from the over 5500 feet of descent we had to make into Zinal tomorrow. We later found out that the gondola did not run on Mondays, so that was out. There was a bus that ran from the end of the valley to Zinal later in the morning. This did not sound quite as appealing to me. Denise was pretty sure she was going to take it. I would decide the next day after seeing how my knees faired on the downhill from the Cabane.

Bob and Matthew eventually showed up around 5pm, which was a relief. We were starting to get a bit concerned about them. They had actually returned back to La Sage after we questioned our route and restarted again on the correct trail which was down the street instead of up. They seemed a little frantic when they arrived, but were relieved to have finally made it. They also had issues at the cabane who said they didn’t have their reservation. Fortunately a credit card statement proved their purchase. We were also sharing the room with them.

Dinner was carrot, coconut, ginger soup, pork curry with couscous and chickpeas and yogurt with apple for desert. Really good meal and I was totally stuffed by the end. We sat with Herman from Holland during dinner and enjoyed some good conversation with him. He was traveling alone while trying to use up some vacation time from work. We had just caught up with him today as he was taking a couple extra days in Arolla.

As the rain got heavier out, the fog lifted so I decided to make another attempt at some pictures. I got a few a few but the best was a distant mountain to the north that had just got dusted with some fresh snow. I headed back in and rejoined the conversation with Denise and Herman. We eventually headed up to bed around 9pm or so. We did some reading and then fell off to sleep.

Haute Route 2013-Day 7-Arolla to La Sage

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The valley towards Arolla

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 7

Arolla to La Sage(via the bus)
Day
Hiking Time:00:18
Hiking Distance(mi):)1.03
Elevation Gain(ft):13
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:6
HR Hiking Time:38:57
HR Distance Hiked(mi):66.7
Elevation Gained(ft):20,515

We enjoyed a nice quiet breakfast on the second floor of the Hotel du Pigne after a good nights sleep. We watched out the windows as they were setting up the finish line for a local ultra trail run on the main street, just outside the hotel. It was a misty rain out and looked as though it had rained most of the night. Paul and Clare eventually came down to the dining room and joined us for breakfast. Today was supposed to be an easier day on the route and not very remote. The plan was to hike down the valley, paralleling the road, and then head up from the other side of the valley floor to the town of La Sage. Paul and Clare were planning on staying in Arolla another day and camping at a campground just below the hotel. We said our goodbyes after breakfast with hopes of seeing them again, which I am sure we will. If not, were now Facebook friends so we would at least be able to stay in touch with them.

We had not planned any rest days on our entire trip except for one day on each of the trip in Chamonix and Zermatt. Others we had spoken to had planned to take a rest day along the way, which started us thinking we should have done the same. With the rainy weather, the less-than exciting route and weary hiking legs, we decided that we would take the local bus from Arolla up to La Sage and make today a rest day. I checked with the front desk and found that the bus would arrive at a parking lot just below town around 12:15pm. This would allow us to take our time this morning and finish up our laundry and repack our bags.

We enjoyed our room for every possible second until checkout, which was 12pm, and then made our way down the road to the parking lot where the bus arrived. There were less buses today due to it being a Sunday and the ultra trail race also forced the bus stop to be farther away than normal. The runners from the race had began to funnel into the finish line at this point and a crowd had gathered cheering them on. It was mostly younger kids finishing, which were probably the faster competitors of the race. We cheered them on as we walked down the very steep road finally reaching the bus stop.

The bus had arrived immediately as we reached the parking lot and we hopped on and paid our fare. The driver indicated that we would need to change buses at the depot in Les Hauderes which was at the bottom of valley floor. From there we would change buses to the one going up to La Sage. The bus filled up pretty quickly and then we started our way down the valley. We had passed a pizza restaurant not too far away which was a bit disappointing since we were really looking forward to a pizza the night before. Right next to the pizza place was a campground which is probably where Paul and Clare would be staying that night. The drive was pretty scenic and we had gone through some cantilever-type tunnels along the way. We had passed the trailhead to Lac Bleu, which was a crystal blue mountain lake along the way. It was the only real scenic thing on the hike for that day, but we would have to forgo that for some much needed rest.

We arrived at the bus station in Les Hauderes and quickly hopped onto the bus to La Sage. Our bus driver gestured to us which bus we were to take since he did not speak much English. The La Sage bus started up the long, steep hill towards La Sage dropping people off along the way. We initially passed our hotel since we were not sure where it was. I told the driver and he stopped right near it on the way back down the mountain. It was dead end road going up the mountain fortunately. We got off the bus and made our way down the narrow alleys to the Hotel de La Sage.

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Hotel La Sage-Excellent Place!!

The Hotel de La Sage was well maintained old stone building with nice little decks outside each room and beautiful flowers landscaping the building. We were met by the owner, a lady of Indian descent who spoke very good English. She indicated that our room was not quite ready yet and that we could relax outside on the nearby covered patio and furniture. The little patio was arranged perfectly on the edge of the hill overlooking the mountains and the valley below from where we had just came from. It was a perfect setting to just chill. It further reinforced our decision to take it easy today.

Before we could get too relaxed, they were calling us to let us know our room was ready. We grabbed our packs and headed up to the room. It was a fabulous room and undoubtedly the best room on the trip so far. It was very clean and still preserved the old-world charm. It was comprised of three separate rooms within the room: a sitting area, a bedroom and a bathroom. The bedroom had the opening that led out to the deck with a table and chairs. It was the perfect place to dry our our clothes that hadn’t finished drying from the night before. The sun had actually popped out a bit to assist as well.

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Denise enjoying a well-deserved rest day in La Sage

Denise headed back out to the little veranda to do some reading and I took a nap after we got situated in the room. I was later awoken by the smell of something tasty emanating from the kitchen below. I sat out on the deck and enjoyed the smells from the kitchen below for a bit while Denise was chatting below with Rich, one of our fellow trekkers who had recently arrived. I eventually headed down to chat and find out how the hike had been. Lac Bleu sounded cool, but not cool enough that I wished I would have hiked today.

Denise and I then headed up the road to find something to eat. We had spotted a little outdoor cafe up the street while on the bus that we decided to check out. It was between meal times so they were only serving crepes and drinks at the time. I ordered a crepe fromage(more cheese!) and a wine and Denise got a crepe with egg(yuk!). The cafe offered the same great view as our hotel and we situated ourselves at a table that took full advantage of it. Another couple had sat down at another table not far from us who looked to also be trekkers. They had a Canon 5D Mark III camera which caught my eye. The husband didn’t seem to be too into the food they had, and the woman ate the stuff he didn’t.

We headed back to the hotel and the other hikers started funneling in. We saw Nate and Ann coming up the hill and they indicated that it wasn’t as easy as what the guide book would lead you to believe. They looked a bit weary coming up the hill. I sat out under the veranda a bit more chatting with some of the others before dinner.

There was not many places to eat in La Sage so our meals were arranged at the hotel. Good thing too…it was truly amazing. We sat at a group table with Bob & Matthew(uncle and nephew from Ohio) and Karen & Don (the couple we had seen at the cafe earlier in the day). Don & Karen had not started the Haute Route yet, which was obvious since they seemed very fresh. This was there starting point and they would be only doing a few legs before heading down to Italy for some R&R. The dinner consisted of Salmon Tartar for appetizer, Duck for main entree and caramel cheesecake for dessert(what I smelled earler). A meal worthy of a five-star restaurant. Bob, not being a “foodie” was not quite as impressed with the meal as we were but he did eat it all. The hotel was a pretty reasonably priced hotel from what the others were saying. So it is definitely worthy of a higher price I think. The dining room was all glass walls so you could look out on the surrounding valleys. A must stop place if you are through here.

We settled in for the night in preparation for another day on the trail tomorrow. It was a much-needed rest day and it will rejuvenate us for the remaining 7 days of hiking yet to come. Hard to believe we are only half-way through this trek. Tomorrow we will be hiking over to the Cabane de Moiry hut which is perched on a hill side overlooking the Moiry Glacier. It will be another long day, but the view from the hut is supposed to be well worth the effort.