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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.

Road Trip: Pittsburgh 2014

It is really hard to believe that I have lived in Pennsylvania for over 45 years, traveled all over the world and have never been to the city 4.5 hours to our West. It is the place we Eastern-PA-er’s usually refer to when we hear of a PA town that we have no idea where it is. “Oh that must be out near Pittsburgh somewhere…” is the typical phrase. If you ever meet someone who is from Pittsburgh or grew up there, they have nothing but great things to say about it and there is a large sense of pride for their city. My wife has been itching to visit there recently and came to the realization that the only way she could get me out there was to find some type of endurance event to sign up for. She saw the Pittsburgh Marathon table at the last years’ Runner’s World Half Marathon race expo and made a B-Line for it. Before I knew it we were signing up for the Half Marathon in 2014.

Over the months that passed between signing up for the event and the event itself, my wifes’ knees had not cooperated with her training. She eventually came to the realization that she was not going to be able to do the race. So it was down to just me, but we were still doing a long weekend in P-Burgh.

We made the 4 1/2 hour drive west on the PA Turnpike on Friday morning after I knocked out my long swim for the week. It was a recovery week for me so it worked out pretty well with the race on Sunday. My wife had performed in-depth analysis on all the restaurants in the Pittsburgh area locating all “farm-to-table”, organic restaurants. They were also required to have at least one vegetarian or vegan option for me. Dining out for us has become much more complicated these days since my wife has changed to eating a more “cavewoman”-like diet and me being the plant-based vegan. Although I sometimes slide into more of a vegetarian while traveling just to make things a little easier.

Friday Lunch

2014-05-02 13.40.06

The big leather couches in the dining room of BRGR in the Shadyside district of Pittsburgh

Our first stop in Pittsburgh was BRGR on the Eastside of the city. They also have a couple other locations, one of which is in the PNC Park baseball complex. The place was really good and they have an extensive draught beer selection. This came in handy for my new favorite social network, Untappd! They have good selection of handcrafted burgers which you can get with the roll or lettuce for any of you carnivorous folks out there. For the veg-head, the “Santa Fe Hippy” burger is outstanding! I think this is the best veggie burger I have ever had in my life. I knew when we left here that we would be back again before we left. At least once.

We made a quick stop at the Whole Foods Market just down the street, before making our way to our hotel. One of good friends is from Pittsburgh and her dad had helped us with where we would should stay. We stayed at the Hampton Inn just north of the city which was a very nice hotel and the location made the logistics for getting in and out of the city very easy. It is a short drive to get to the “T” light rail line at the Allegheny station which is right next to Heinz Field. Two stops and you were in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. It made the whole experience very enjoyable. Especially considering all of the events that were going on downtown that weekend. Marathon of 30,000 people, Penguins playoff games, and Pirates baseball games.

Friday Dinner

We settled into our nice room at the Hampton Inn on McKnight Road and before we knew it is was time to head out for dinner. For dinner, we had made reservations at Salt of the Earth (NaCl) which was also located on the East side of the city not too far from BRGR in the Garfield neighborhood. The area looks like it had been pretty run down at some point but they were working to bring it back to life a bit. The NaCl looked to be the “seed” for doing that as it stuck out well against some of the more dingy buildings around it. Although the lime green Mexican restaurant up the street did its fair share of sticking out too. Salt of the Earth is a pretty trendy looking place, with a very high ceiling and the dining room lined with long tables providing a more communal dining experience. The bar wrapped around the perimeter of the dining room on two sides and a large chalkboard wall and a large front window took the other sides. We were seated upstairs in a loft-like area that overlooked the downstairs in the middle. It was kind of odd décor since there was nothing on the walls. It was also very warm up there since all the heat had eminated up there.

To start off I had the White Asparagus soup and my wife had the Steak Tartare(ugh!). The soup was a puree soup with some almonds on top for garnish. It was very good. My wife seemed to enjoy her raw animal flesh and said that the pickled vegetables added to the flavor. It looked like dog food to me though. For my entrée I had the Tofu Curry which was also very good. It was a mix of spice and sweet and was definitely a unique mix. My wife enjoyed the Duck entrée but said that the carrot puree that came with it didn’t really blend well with the asparagus and duck.

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Mmmmm…beer!

It was also Craft Beer Week in Pittsburgh so I hit it at a good time. NaCl was running a food pairing with Shawneecraft brewery this evening so I was able to sample their Double IPA along with my meal. It was pretty good. Smile After dinner, we stopped at Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar for a nightcap. My wife was itching for a glass of wine and the wine at Salt of the Earth was a bit pricy for her taste. Toast had sampler taste size glasses of wine which was perfect for her. I enjoyed a Lagunitas IPA, which I had had in San Francisco last month and also a Breckenridge Brewery Ophelia(draught) which I didn’t care for. I am not a fan of wheat beers. I traded the Ophelia in for a Dogfish 90 minute IPA, which is always good.

Saturday

After a good nights sleep we had breakfast at the hotel. The conti breakfast was one of the best ones I have seen, but there was a large group of kids in green t-shirts infiltrating it when we went down there so it was pretty hard to get what you wanted. I ended up going down an hour later and it was smooth sailing. I enjoyed a fresh Belgian Waffle which was rather delicious. While we ate in the room, we researched our logistics in the city for the day. We would do a dry run of our plan for Sunday Race morning just to familiarize ourselves with it. Park at the Carnegie Science Museum/Heinz Field, then T-rail to downtown. Piece of cake!

We then walked around the city a bit and headed over to the area called “The Strip.” A lot of outdoor markets and things along the way. It was about a mile and quarter, but seemed a bit longer. Our plan was to hit the Church Brew Works for lunch which was another 1.25 miles past the strip. On the way I decided we would catch a bus back into town. I hate how we always seem to walk all over the place the day before my races. I should be taking it easy.

Church Brew Works was really cool. It was an old church converted to a brew pub. Food was pretty good and the Thunderhead IPA was excellent. I found out later that the Thunderhead IPA was not actually brewed by the Church Brew Works. Oh well it was good.  To eat I had pizza and pierogies. Kind of lame, but I was rushed to order and kind of choked. Regardless, it was tasty.

After lunch, we then took the bus back to downtown. It worked out well because it had started raining. The bus stop had a bit of shelter so it was a good decision. We then went to the convention center for the packet-pickup and expo. It was a huge expo and there were tons of people pouring in and out. This was bigger than the San Francisco Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo. We collected our swag and were out of there. The rain was just stopping as we left.

Next, we walked downtown a bit and ended up at Point State Park. This is the triangular-shaped park at the convergence of the three rivers. Very nice park with a fountain and nice landscaping. We ended taking a little siesta due to the insulin surge and beer buzz from lunch on the river wall that runs along the Monongahela River side. The sun had come out and it was quite nice out. The breeze had a nice coolness that balanced out the heat of the sun.

After walking around a bit, we decided to go to dinner a little earlier than planned. We had reservations at Six Penn Kitchen for 6:30pm on OpenTable, but I was into eating a little earlier with the race tomorrow. They agreed to seat us early, so we did. It was a really good meal. I think the best one we had in Pittsburgh. Service was outstanding too. We decided to split a bottle of wine, which probably wasn’t the wisest decision for me with the race tomorrow but what they hell. The wine was called the “Immortal Zin” which I though was funny since we were at the Church Brew Works for lunch. It was a whole religious, alcohol theme today. We started out with the house salad, which was a really good salad. I had the Garden Risotto and Denise had the Braised Short Ribs. Both were outstanding. Denise said the Short Ribs were amazing and she was kind of uncertain about it when she ordered. Great meal and worth a stop for sure.

Post-dinner, we made our way back out of the city and up the highway to our hotel. Early to bed since I had to get up at 4:30am for the race. I will create a separate post for the Race Report and will add a link here once I get it done.

Race Report

Pittsburgh Half Marathon 2014 Race Report

 

PA, Travel, pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Marathon Finish Line

Sunday

After the race, we quickly made our way out of the city and back to the hotel. It was still before 10am, so I was able to get last dibs on the hotel breakfast buffet. We then showered up and headed north to the BRGR located in Cranberry Township mall. It was about 20 minutes north of the hotel. This one was quite a bit larger and they had almost double the beer selection. I had another great veggie burger and best of all was a Mojo IPA that was a NITRO tap. Yummy! It was like a creamy Boddington-style IPA. This put a damper on my trying any other types of beers and I ended up having two of them. So good!

PA, Travel, pittsburgh

Mojo IPA NITRO!

We then headed over to a nearby Whole Foods. My wife had gotten some Gouda cheese at the other store and was desperately seeking more to stock up on. She was pretty psyched to find they had a bunch of it too.

We then headed back to the Hotel and I headed down to the Hotel Pool. I was going to jump in the hot tub but there was an older couple in there and the guy was massaging the lady’s shoulders, so I decided not to crash their party and jump in the pool for bit. They eventually left and I jumped in the hot tub for a bit. This was then followed up with a little nap afterwards.

For dinner we had made reservations at Spoon also through OpenTable. I am a big fan of OpenTable. Here is a list of all the Pittsburgh restaurants they serve. Spoon is the big brother restaurant of BRGR and is located right next store to the Shadyside BRGR location. Spoon is a little more fancy and expensive than BRGR. The food there is well presented, but portions are pretty small. They are also pretty lacking in vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, but most places in Pittsburgh are. I had their only option which was the Spring Vegetable Tasting, which consisted of saffron and mushroom rice “grits” , white asparagus puree, artichokes and fava beans. It was pretty good again not a lot of food for someone who just ran a half marathon.  My wife had more steak tartare (“raw meat”) for appetizer and the duck for entrée. She said it was good.

Travel, pittsburgh

The Duquesne Incline(aka Vernicular) on South Side of Pittsburgh.

After dinner we ventured over to the Duquesne Incline which is a funicular that runs up-and-down the steep hill on the South Side of the city. We parked across the street and took the steps and pedestrian bridge over the road to the station house, paid our $2.50 each and road to the top. We were the only ones in the car which was pretty cool. There is a small museum at the top and an overlook of the city. They had large wrought-iron bars around it so it was kind hard to get any pictures on the tripod. There was also a bunch of East-Asian tourists jockeying for position too. The view of the city was pretty nice though.

Travel, pittsburgh

Pittsburgh At night. Not the greatest shot, but you get the idea. Tripod mounted here but it was windy and I was trying to squeeze lens between a wrought iron gate. Really, you couldn’t ame a little room for people to take some pictures??

We took a walk down the street hoping to get some better views but it was totally blocked by either houses or restaurants. Since it was Sunday night most of them were closed. We did manage to finagle a glass of wine at La Mont Restaurant by the manager who was nice enough to serve us despite the bartender going home already. It was a really nice view from there through the large picture windows. The place seemed like it was out of the 20’s with the large glass beaded chandeliers and very ornate woodworking on the walls and ceiling. The people eating there seemed ot be out of the 20’s too, except for the one girl with the skin-tight red sequined pants. Hmmm? I hope that was his daughter?

Travel, pittsburgh

Denise excited for her ride on the “incline”.

Our ride back down was solo too. It was a great finish to a nice weekend to our city to the west. The city has a very special feel to it. It is big city with a small town feel to it. I always felt very safe here and it is so easy to get around. I think it will only get better in time. Hope to get back again soon.

Travel, pittsburgh

Last night in Pittsburgh. Glass of Wine at Le Mont overlooking the city. Great weekend in the city to our west.

Monday

We enjoyed another hotel breakfast and then packed up our stuff. We made one last stop at BRGR for lunch and then we were on our way back east on the PA Turnpike. Denise ended up getting sleepy, so I took over on the drive home. We had a pretty smooth drive with no traffic issues. It was a fun weekend, but back to reality.

San Francisco Trip-April 2014

I had the opportunity to head out to the Microsoft Build Conference in San Francisco this year. This consisted of a 3 day event so I decided to take advantage of the airfare and make a longer vacation of it. I had been itching to get to Yosemite the past couple years so now was my chance. My wife also decided to take advantage of a free place to stay and spend time in the city and visits friend who lives nearby.

We flew out on Tuesday afternoon from Newark and arrived at SFO in the evening of the same day. The flight was about 5 1/2- 6 hours and was a little delayed due to sitting on the runway for about an hour or so. There was some bad storms in San Francisco which they were going to wait out. The flight went pretty well and they had WIFI on board which I decided to try out. Good for killing some time. We took a taxi from SFO airport to the Hilton Union Square where we were staying which was about $40. Glad I wasn’t paying for that!

Since we arrived late, I didn’t meet up with any of my work mates and instead Denise and I hoofed it down to the Bay and have dinner at The Plant Organic Cafe on Pier 3. I had wanted to check this place out so no time like the present. The walk was a bit longer than I had anticipated and it was getting kind of late. It had started raining pretty heavily by the time we got to the waterfront and we were getting soaked by the time we arrived. I had the soup of the day, which was a Southwest Tortilla soup, and the Quinoa Bowl with tempeh for my main course. Both items were really good. I paired that up with a Green Flash IPA and life was good. We made the walk back to the hotel, grabbing some things for breakfast at a Walgreens on the way.

The next couple days I was pretty consumed with the conference. Typically when a group from work goes to one of these conferences we go out for at least one meal together. Not this time. I did go out for a quick pizza with a few of the guys, but it was pretty low key. Most of the meals are provided by the conference, buy the food was not that great so we usually hit the food court across the street at the Moscone Center for lunch.


I did get to meet up with our one friend, Nate, from our recent Haute Route trip in Switzerland. Nate, who actually works at Microsoft, was in town for some other business and not the conference. We enjoyed a couple pints of Murphy’s and chatted about our common interests. There is no shortage of things to talk about when you are both into travel, photography and software.

MS Build, San Francisco

Nate and I enjoying a couple pints

I Need to Run

On Thursday, I decided I needed to get out for a nice run after sitting in sessions all day. I skipped out on the last session of the day and made my way down through the city out to the Bay Trail that runs along the water. Running in a city really sucks! Dodging people and stopping at almost every light really breaks up the momentum. It makes me appreciate where I live!

Eventually, I got out to the Bay trail but I still had to dodge people most of the way. Fortunately, the scenery was pretty cool. Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Downtown San Fran and Fisherman’s Wharf where all along the way. It became more of a sight-seeing tour than a training run, so I didn’t break any speed records here.

Swim Time

On the way back from my run, I headed up Mason St. to the Club One Fitness at Union Square to see if I could reserve a lane for Friday to get my long swim in for the week. They require that you reserve the lane ahead of time which is kind of nice since you won’t have to worry about waiting around. The conference ended around 3pm on Friday so I got a lane for an hour starting at 4PM. It was $20 for a day pass which is kind of steep if you are just going for an hour, but in the grand scheme of things I need to get my swim in.

 

The pool consisted of 3 lanes of 25 yards long. It was a little dingy, but not real bad. They had towels and lockers which were all pretty nice. Gotta thank the Swim Radar iPhone app for hooking me up with a place to swim. It felt good to get my 2 miles of swimming in which kicks the weekend off to a good start.


I was planning to hook up with the work guys after my swim, but they blew me off so I ended up going with my wife down to Roam Artisan Burgers on Fillmore St. It is always a little difficult finding places to eat for a carnivore and herbivore, but Roam was the ticket. I had a killer veggie burger with the “French and Fries” topping selection and my wife was raving about her meat burger topped with an egg and no bun(I say “Yuk!!”). I paired my burger up with another Green Flash IPA which always makes everything taste so good.

Cycling the Paradise Loop

On Saturday, we headed up to Blazing Saddles bike rentals which was located just below the Club One Fitness on Mason St. I wanted to rent a higher performance road bike which they did not have at this location, but they hooked me up with a hybrid to ride down to their Columbus Ave location to get something a little nicer. My wife stayed with the hybrid. On the way down, we stopped at the pier and had a quick lunch at a couple of the little shops in there. Once at the other shop, they hooked me up with a Fuji road bike and put my pedals on it. The bike was a little long for me, but it was ok for the time being.

MS Build, San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

My plan was to do the Paradise Drive Loop which was supposed to be a really nice bike ride. My wifes’ friend had recommended it to her and it looked like a good ride. It seems there are several variations on this ride and I created my own by getting mixed up several times. My wife headed straight down Tiburon Blvd to Tiburon while I headed north up to Paradise Drive in Corte Madera. We would then meet up in Tiburon and take the Ferry back to San Francisco. We had to have the bikes back by 7pm and the last ferry was at 6:30pm, so if we took that one we would not make it.

Denise kept riding along the Bay Trail to the Golden Gate Bridge while I picked up the other bike. I ended up catching her about halfway over the Golden Gate Bridge where we stopped to take a couple selfies. The bridge was pretty congested with bike traffic, so it was a relief to get off of it. Some guy almost clipped Denise while going the other way.

I had heard Sausalito was really nice, but I have to say it was very touristy as I rode through. It was also very congested with traffic and I was more than happy to get out of there. Much of the route after Sausalito to Corte Madera was on a bike path which was nice that I didn’t have to deal with traffic. Once in Corte Madera I got a bit mixed up. One bike trail I was on had no one else on it and eventually dead-ended. I then turned back and found a turn off that I missed(Lomita Drive/Alto Sutton Manor) the bike route wound through some streets and up besides Hwy 101 for a bit.

After wandering through the streets of Corte Madera for awhile I eventually figured out that I needed to cross over the Hwy 101 overpass to get to Paradise Drive. Once on Paradise Drive it was finally a nice ride winding down the coastline. Much of the ride was also shaded too which I enjoyed since it was a pretty warm day. I received a text message from my wife along the way where she found that there were no more ferries until 6:30pm in TIburon. This would complicate things a bit with the bike returns. I would figure this out in TIburon when I got there. For now I just wanted to enjoy the ride.

I eventually got to Tiburon and met up with Denise there. I called the bike shop and they said just drop bikes off at there other store on Hyde St. We had a almost an hour to kill waiting for the ferry, so I hit one on the shops for a chewy coconut macaroon. Mmm! I ended up doing around 30 miles which was pretty lame given it took 2:30 hours. Oh well, it is a rest week and at least I am still getting some training in. How often do I get to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge and around the Bay area.

The ferry eventually showed up and we made our way back to the city. They had a little bar on board so I took full advantage and enjoyed a local microbrew IPA for the cruise back. We headed right past Alcatraz Island which was pretty cool. I took advantage of that by turning my Garmin on to record a “swim” from Alcatraz to the San Fran Pier to trick my coach. He had texted me the day before asking for a swim report from swimming from Alcatraz, so I had to play along! I am sure he didn’t fall for it too long when he saw the 22secs/100 yds…I wish I could swim that fast!

We headed quickly over to the Blazing Saddles shop on Hyde St. to return our bikes. It was a bit of a madhouse with everyone from the ferry returning bikes and then trying to explain to them how we rented at Mason St., then I swapped bikes on Columbus and now I am returning to Hyde St. Hmmm…oh yea no chance of this getting messed up. I will be calling Mason St. shop tomorrow to make sure they credited my account correctly.

We then walked up the street to catch a bus back to the hotel. It was a pretty long ride and by the time we showered it was getting late for dinner. Hmmm…we ended up taking a taxi back to Roam Burgers again! Hey if it is good, gotta stick with it I guess.

Tomorrow I will be running in the San Francisco Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon which will be a story in itself. I continue that in a separate post. That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Haute Route 2013-Geneva to Chamonix

It was a quick two and a half hour flight to Geneva from Stockholm. We quickly made our way through passport control and into the baggage claim. I hunted around for a ATM while we waited for our one checked bag to hopefully come around the conveyor belt. We only check a bag because our trekking poles and my tripod most-likely be not allowed on the plane. There was no ATM, but they did have an currency exchange window where I exchanged enough USD’s to pay for our transportation to Chamonix.  We then anxiously awaited our bag to come flopping down the chute. It took its good old time as usual, but it finally did come. Ahh!! That is always a bit nerve-racking. We have been so lucky so many times, that I fear the next time is going to be the one where they lose our luggage.

We then looked around for the Alpy Bus desk which was our transportation to Chamonix. The Alpy Bus was the cheapest I found(~52 EUR for both of us) and they had very good reviews. When we found the desk there were a bunch of others there and we just had to wait for one more person. The other person came pretty quickly and we ended up leaving about 20 minutes early. The drive was around a hour and half and we made several stops before our hotel. We had left around 7:30PM, so it had gotten dark quickly and not much scenery to see. You could just make out Mont Blanc as we came into the valley as some last bits of daylight illuminated the white peak. I was glad we went with the Alpy Bus. I think it was a better move than trying to deal with the French trains which sounded much more complicated.

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They dropped us off at the back of the Hotel Richemond, which was the hotel we would be staying the next two nights in Chamonix. It was a very large, old concrete building and the decor inside matched it well. We quickly checked in, received our very large, heavy keychain, and took the tiny elevator to our room on the third floor. Room was also old style, but clean and comfortable. It had that old world style which really made you feel like you were in Europe. We quickly unloaded and made our way out into town to get some food.

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The Hotel was located on a main walking strip which had several restaurants and shopping. Most of the shops were closed but there was a lot of activity on the street. The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc was taking place the entire weekend which was pretty cool. There was a whole endurance vibe going which made me feel right at home. We walked around a bit and finally settled on a little Italian place called Casa Valerio which was right on the other side of the river from the hotel. It was a tiny place, but it was packed with people so we figured it must be good. There was a bunch of trail runners in there and a big table of Americans sitting behind us. We had a couple pizza’s, which were great, and some vino. Everything was really good.

We walked around town a bit after dinner and checked out the town. There was this street band marching around town playing this really catchy beat. It was drawing everyone in to see what it was all about. They kind of reminded me of some Mardi Gras-type band. Anyway, I have a video of it which will show you what I mean…

We had a really good night sleep after being awake for over 24 hours and made our way down for breakfast. It was the usual European hotel breakfast of croissants, bread, cereal, lunchmeat, juice, and coffee. I quickly broke my plant-based diet with some cereal & milk and a croissant with butter…Yum! That didn’t take long! I also had coffee which I had not had in awhile either. The view from the dining room was excellent. They had these very large windows that perfectly framed Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. It was like a giant 3D picture. There were several UT Mont-Blanc competitors having breakfast too. They were very easy to spot was they slowly hobbled bow-legged around the dining room. Ewwe…I know what that feels like!

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Shoe Shopping in Chamonix

A couple weeks prior to our trip, my wifes’ favorite pair of 10+ year old Lowa hiking shoes decided to self-destruct. This lead to a huge panic in an effort to finding a replacement pair in a short amount of time. Lowa’s current model was not the same quality as before, so that made things a bit more complicated. Also, the fact that there are no good outdoor stores in the Lehigh Valley(PA), forced her to mostly ordering online and driving down to Philadelphia. Our living room began to look like a shoe store with several sizes of each shoe were ordered. The credit card bill also began to rack up with many pairs of $100+ shoes ordered. She eventually found a pair that were not great, but were the best-fitting she could find. They were from Cabela’s of all places! I was teasing her about getting a bunch of camo attire to go with them. Anyway, she finally had hiking shoes but she was planning on looking in Chamonix too when we go there.

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Immediately after breakfast we made our way out of the hotel for some shoe shopping. The first store we stopped in she found a pair of Salewa approach-style hiking shoe that she really liked. She walked around in them for what seemed like forever and then we had to do the obligatory check of other shoes at other stores. Of course we came back to the Salewa’s again. They were not cheap, but hey if they worked it was worth it. While she was walking around I took the shoe box with her old shoes up to the La Post(Post Office) to see how much it would cost to ship home. It was only ~20 EUR which was great. I ran back to the store and she immediately bought the new ones in the Gore-Tex version which was another 30 EUR.

As we were walking down the street, her new shoes started making a clicking noise with each step. We checked them over rigorously, but still could not find what was causing it. So, back we go to the store to exchange them. The salesgirl looked them over, but could not find anything either. The only option was to go with the non-GoreTex model. She tried these and they were better. There was still a little clicking sound, but not as loud as the GTX model. We then exchanged them and the salesgirl refunded us the difference on my credit card. At least we thought she did at the time.

Finally we are done shoe shopping and make our way to the Post Office to send back the Cabela’s shoes. The Post Office is right next to the finish line for the UT Mont Blanc race so there are tons of people there. Just as we round the corner to the post office we see the galvanized metal garage door covering the entrance to the post office. I glance at the time on my iPhone and it is 12:05PM…they close at 12PM on Saturdays! Ugh! We stood there dumfounded for awhile. We were starting our hike tomorrow and they are closed on Sundays. We weren’t sure how long it would be until we got to another town that had a full-fledged post office. She would have to carry an extra pair of shoes for the next couple days at least. Bummer!

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Next, we headed out for a little day-hike to stretch the legs and Denise to try out her shoes a bit. We took part of the trails on the mountainside heading towards La Flegere, opposite of Mont Blanc, to get some views of Chamonix and the snow-covered peaks in the background. The trail we were on was used for the trail race, so runners were coming by every few minutes. We would clap for them and cheer them on a bit. It looked pretty brutal, but I have to say the thought of it started to swirl a bit in my head for a future event. Denise seemed to read my mind as she warned me “don’t get any ideas!”

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As we made our way up the hillside, the path went directly through a little cafe situated on the mountainside called Cafe La Floria. It was covered in beautiful flowers and had an amazing view. Runners were actually running through the seating area, which was quite narrow. We eventually dropped down and looped back to where we had started. We ended up doing around 4 miles or so. Denise’s shoes also stopped the clicking noise during the hike. She was not wishing she would have stuck with the Gore-Tex model. I thought it was a little ridiculous to need Gore-Tex for such a low shoe.

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We arrived back to the hotel, showered up and heading out for some dinner. We got a good recommendation for some pizza from the lady at the hotel lobby desk, so we headed up there. The place was called La Bartravel. It was right across from the Post Office, which we could state at menacingly during dinner. They had super large beers and killer pizza. Another good one. We were really diggin’ the pizza here as you can see. It was really good and probably the safest thing to order since we could not translate most things.

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We then walked around Chamonix a bit after dinner. The street band was out again playing their beats all around town. At one point we saw them overtaking a outdoor dining area at one of the local restaurants which was pretty funny. We headed back to the hotel to get a good nights sleep to get ready for the start of our Haute Route trek tomorrow.