Chasing Elevation

Being so close to the mountains, I had hoped — and expected — that I could ski several times between December and April and figured that by the end of the season I would know enough about skis and my type of skiing to buy skis. A lack of being around in December and a dearth of snow in January made skiing a lot less common than thought, however, and by February I began to get fidgety about not being in mountains so close they are home. Thankfully, I was saved from the doldrums of valley life by… commercial aviation!

GVA_elevation-4

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Chasing Elevation

One Alp, Two Alp, Three Alp, … Thirty-Four?!

Some of you are probably wondering why I keep going back to Switzerland. The speed limits on the highways stink, a 40 € vignette is required for use on these lame roads, German sounds even uglier when spoken by the Swiss, “great there are lots of mountains who cares get a life”… these are some of the reasons that I could have stayed in Germany this weekend. But… in my three previous Alpscurisions, I never saw what is in my mind the quintessential “Alps” picture — something like this, perhaps. My trips to both Zermatt (week 7) and the Bernese Alps (weeks 10 and 14) always showed only a few mountains; whether from the cities themselves or from observation platforms above 3,500 m, “la chaîne des Alpes” never really made themselves known. I subconsciously gave up on the idea of ever finding them — until this trip, that is. Continue reading “One Alp, Two Alp, Three Alp, … Thirty-Four?!”

One Alp, Two Alp, Three Alp, … Thirty-Four?!

Always sunny in Switzerland

As was the case with Norway, the motivation to go to Switzerland again did not come strictly from my own head. The idea to flee Germany instead came first as a passing reflection on the weather forecast, but it wasn’t until I had seen and then reconsidered a few other NWHikers.net threads (and in particular this one) that I decided resolutely to go. It took me five days to make up my mind and reserve a room, but I largely used that time to figure out what I’d do. Considering the amount of time Brian and I had in the area at the beginning of September, I think what we did was perfect… we got to hike a bit and see some of the most majestic viewpoints without feeling “rushed” to only see the highlights with no real appreciation for the area. With two and a half days in the area this time, I could slow down a bit and look into venturing a bit further astray.

The first hike I did (Schynige Platte to First via Bachalpsee and Faulhorn) was one of the most memorable hikes I’ve done. There weren’t many people on the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wilderswil at 6:30 AM, but the cogwheel train from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte was packed — they had to get a second train to meet capacity. It was clear why so many people visited this area once I arrived at Schynige Platte: the views there are spectacular. Not to say that views from elsewhere aren’t impressive; the difference is that from most places, such as Kleine Scheidegg, it’s usually only possible to see Eiger, Mönch, or Jungfrau:

Not complaining, but where are the rest of the Alps?! This is only two Alps!

From Schynige Platte, the Alps as a chain of mountains are fully visible. The deep valleys leading up to the mountains were also breathtaking in person and a stark contrast to the rising rock beyond. Continue reading “Always sunny in Switzerland”

Always sunny in Switzerland

When it doesn’t rain

I was hoping to go to Oktoberfest in one of the previous two weekends, but timing proved difficult. Long story made short, I chose to go to Switzerland instead of drinking beer. The weather was right for hiking, and the long weekend was right for finally doing some more “extreme” photography.

First, I have to make a plug for the hotel I stayed at. As is usually the case, I started by looking at booking.com and saw that the Hotel Silberhorn was decently rated and priced. I called them to ask if they had availability — and they quoted me an even better price than what I had seen online. When I arrived, the owner (the hotel is family owned) asked if I would be able to attend breakfast, and I told him I’d probably be gone an hour before it started. He offered me a sandwich, but in packing it also packed me a lunch sandwich, bottle of water, and an apple. He did this the next day, too. Parking was free, breakfast was included, and the hotel was literally a three minute walk (across the street and up a small hill) from the Lauterbrunnen train station. I usually don’t writing glowing reviews about hotels, but this one was fantastic. The room even had a balcony. I could gush on about this forever, but…

As I wrote a long paragraph ago, the weather was right for hiking. In fact, it’s been nice for a few weeks now — maybe to make up for the dismal (i.e. cold and wet) July and August. While this seems perfect for picture-making, rain helps bring down dust in the air, which otherwise gets in between a camera sensor and the intended subject. This was especially evident in Hegau. 20 km before exiting the A81 autobahn for the Swiss border, there’s a rest stop with a decent dinner selection. A month ago, right before my second trip to Switzerland, this is what the sunset looked like.

Continue reading “When it doesn’t rain”

When it doesn’t rain

Maelstrom

When I first thought I’d be seeing one in Norway (I actually walked or drove by two during my time there), the image my extensive vocabulary conjured up was one like this. In person, and at the wrong time of day, it looks nothing like that — but my travel plan for the two months of August and September resembles the graphic (not sure what the lightning symbolizes, however). My itinerary has looked like this:

July 30-31: Italy

August 5-6: Strasbourg

August 12-13: Zermatt

August 19-20: Norway (Tromsø)

August 20-21: Norway (Stamsund / Lofoten)

August 27-28: Norway (Moskenesøy, traveling back to Stuttgart)

For the record, that’s travel on every weekend of August. A friend came last week to visit for ten days, and the itinerary now looks thus: Continue reading “Maelstrom”

Maelstrom

Cheating on Rainier

Until this weekend, the highest elevation I’ve ever hiked to was Camp Muir, one of two high camps on Mt. Rainier. At 10,080 feet, it’s the highest you can go on the mountain (permissibly) without ropes and a helmet. It’s also 615 feet short of the Hörnlihütte, a similar high camp on the Matterhorn. Sorry, dear, but I’ve moved on. Or have I?

I first read about the Matterhorn in the form of a mountain called “the Citadel,” or “Rudisburg.” This mountain was located in a town called “Kurtal,” both of which were dreamed up by the author James Ramsey Ullman in his book, “Banner in the Sky.” Maybe this is where I got my love of all things mountainous from; I’m not sure. But either way, the Citadel is for all literary purposes the Matterhorn; Kurtal is Zermatt, Switzerland; and Edward Winter of the novel is really Edward Whymper. I loved the book as a child, and it was… emotional — I can’t really put my finger on the right word — to see the city and mountain after imagining it for fourteen years. The trip was planned kind of on a whim. I decided to hold a hotel reservation and wait to see how the weather forecast would turn out. It started off (a week in advance) decent, then changed to cloudy, then the last day I could still cancel my reservation, it cleared up again. I meant to deliberate (i.e. flip a coin) whether it was worth the gamble — Switzerland isn’t exactly cheap — but forgot about the 6 PM deadline and realized only when I walked in my apartment at 7 PM that maybe I had just made an expensive mistake. Too late to change plans, I forged ahead and left Stuttgart at 4:50 PM on Friday, one hour and twenty minutes behind schedule.

I got to Zermatt around midnight, and it was already pretty neat. The town itself allows no internal combustion engines; nearly all vehicles are electric. They’re not silent, as the Wikipedia Zermatt entry states, but their sound isn’t that of a gasoline or diesel engine, either. Going to Zermatt means parking in Täsch, only a few kilometers up the Mattertal, and then taking a navette (French for shuttle) into Zermatt’s train station. After unpacking I slept for about four hours and then woke up to see just what the weather would be like — and whether my gamble would pay off for a sunrise shot of the Matterhorn. First, though, let me make something absolutely clear: I don’t think my photos here do the area justice. I didn’t capture (pun not intended, either) the mood of Zermatt or the incredible expanse of the Swiss / Italian Alps; I also had probably the lowest keeper rate of any place I’ve been to. I’ll try to do my best in explaining what it was that I saw, but bear with me here…

I roamed around my hotel, looking for a place to get a clear shot of the Matterhorn while still keeping an eye to the south and west to see if the sky would light up at all. By 6:15, the sun had clearly risen a bit and there really wasn’t much color, so I figured I’d just sit around and see what the Matterhorn would look like in the morning sun. I turned around to see how things were looking away from the mountain and saw some incredible colors starting to pop. So it was that my first “moody” sunrise shot wasn’t even of the Matterhorn, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. I don’t like the crop on this, but there were roofs at the bottom of the frame… so I’ll have to live with this one. ;-)


Continue reading “Cheating on Rainier”

Cheating on Rainier