Thursday, October 30, 2014

Listen To The Guide

Okay, So we finally arrive at The Silence-Hotel Burchnerhof. This was such a long day of hiking that we really didn't get to enjoy our stay here or see the town much. When the father and son dropped us off we checked into our room. We had just enough time to shower to clean up and eat before the dining room would close.
Ya'll we had to walk down three steps to get to our floor for our room and I nearly cried my knees hurt so bad. I have been training for our hike and have done everything to the best of my ability to prepare. I have been on a diet for 12 weeks and lost 17 pounds and exercised for most of those 12 weeks to help prepare my legs for our trip, but my knees just didn't cooperate. I prayed we would be able to finish our hike the next couple days.

The hotel was nice and the restaurant was unbelievable. While the room was a nice size the meal and service was catered as if you were the only person there. The dinner was delicious, and I'll have to say I picked the best meal off the menu. I had a delicious garlic butter noodle dish with smoked salmon. I wasn't super hungry after our day, but mainly exhausted. I had the salad bar and noodles. Our waitress also talked us into desert and after our day I'll say we deserved it. :) Apricot sorbet with this special sauce. Apricot was everywhere on the menu, so it must be a good pick here.

Our waitress was so expressive and animated. She was wonderful. Spoke very good English and told us all about these fighting cows that were so popular around here. check out the video to see in action.
Wait for cow #50
She explained how the cows will fight to take possession of the Queen and whoever wins that spring the 
herd will follow all year. 

End Day 4

Speaking of cows, I didn't realize that we had a cow outside our bedroom window. So when Matt got hot 
in the middle of the night he opened the window and  this loud cow bell continued waking me up. 
Breakfast was amazing. There was five freshly squeezed fruit juices, note again the apricot. There was all kinds of 
breads and rolls, jams and jellies, cereals, meats and cheeses. Our waitress made freshly ground coffee for Matt. 
It was heavenly. This day and the next we wizened up and made a little cold cut sandwich out of our breakfast bar and 
saved it in our packs for lunch. We had several transfers today to get to the head of our next trail. The famous
Europaweg (Europe Trail).

We took the bus (right outside our hotel) down the mountain to Visp. I don't know if many of you are aware that the man Samson- whom we call Matt had a secret weakness. I'll be Delilah and give it away. Matt gets motion sickness. I mean severely and it struck this morning. He could not handle the 20 minute bus ride zig zagging down the mountain. With a queasy stomach we get a sprite and catch the little red train to St. Niklaus. Bus back up the other side of the mountain ridge to Grachen. (remember the W with your fingers?) We have now crossed the valley between the last set of mountain ranges and will travel south to Zermatt. By the time we got to the top of the slope the bus door couldn't open fast enough before Matt lost his cookies, or more appropriately lost his cheese and coffee breakfast.

The views and buildings were beautiful this morning. And God had definitely recharged my batteries despite the cow bell clanging. I just love the traditional Swiss home with the dark wood and red and white flowers.

Matt was very pleasant now, but daylight was burning and I was itching to get on with our 9.9 miles we still had to hike. Grachen had spaghetti trails leading out of town, which we were to find out about later in the day. We stopped at the information center and got some bearings about the trail. There were rock slides on our trial the following day so we would have to decide about an alternate route tomorrow.

Here is the tractor I saw being driven around town to haul various needed supplies. It was like this lawnmower motor that they rigged up to a wagon.

We decided children didn't play with a ball much in this part of the country.

The sun is shining, it is such a glorious day. We are in the tree line. The forest is beautiful. We passed all kinds of animals on farms on the way out of town. Now our hike is on.

Matt found his hiking stick that he wanted. You see around here in the States people may use trekking poles or a talk hiking stick. When we left for our trip and were packing Matt said I could have his poles and he would look for a stick on the trail. Well today was that day! he whittled and worked on this stick and named him Hauns.

We're hiking along at a good pace. My knee feels fine as long as I don't step down. The trail is perfect and we have gone about halfway when we see caution tape blocking the trail we need at an intersection. We stand and ponder and discuss and wonder. Then Matt says we should take the risk and see what is on that trail. Maybe it was not at all that dangerous. After all the guide at the information office didn't say one thing about a blocked trail, that was tomorrow. So with caution we ducked the tape and gingerly pressed on. The other option at this point would be to go down in the valley, or go back 4 miles to the last town. There was evidence of a rock slide, and crushings like this path had been traveled. We carefully picked our way across. This rock slide had happened a long time ago as grasses had grown up between the rocks.
We are thinking this surely wasn't the reason the trail was closed. And we were right. The absence of land in the canyon picture below was the reason. Ahead on the trail I see how the mountainside just disappears. It's probably a 15-20 foot drop off. Stunned we stare. Our walk up to the edge spooked some long horned sheep and about 10 scampered straight down the raven and up the other side.

We think we can pick our way lower down the hill and find a place to cross the raven. Trying everything we can not to backtrack on the trail. We see there is a detour. Either in an attempt to aid trail workers or trying to make the trail as safe to cross as possible for people like us, there was a path for us to manage to cross. The path had the steel cable hooked onto the rock wall. The ledge was very narrow and gravely. I was super nervous of slipping. We crossed safely and then picked our way back up the steep slope of the other side to re find our trail we detoured around. We found another ravine. This one a little more easily crossed but a lot higher and a more scary view. This one also had a cable and ironically long horn sheep scaled a high smooth rock surface ahead of us with ease.

It looked as if we were back where we needed to be and were relieved to find that we had already hiked 8 miles today. Surely not much farther ahead.


We are very high on the mountain side and were totally surprised to learn we had been on the wrong trail all day. At a y in the trail we see signs that don't make sense to us. We are looking on the map and looking around us to make sense of what we think it is telling us. We should not be far from our Europahutte and look to see if we can see it on the cliffs ahead. Thankfully we were right near this cabin and as we are discussing what to do we see a man working out in his yard. Matt heads his way to ask questions with map in hand and I stay put on the trial.
In my head I imagine things like Matt not returning and this mountain man taking us captive and would I run away if Matt didn't return. Silly I know, but Matt returned shortly with bad news. We were not on the Europaweg trail at all and as we look back I don't think we ever where. Several points along the way had the Europahutte on the sign, but I think that was just telling us to go up to that trail to get to the real trail. Now our only option was to hike down into the valley. Herbriggen was the town at the bottom of the trail and it was also one of the points you could take a trail to hike up to the Europaweg trail. Great we aren't that far off huh? That up hill trail takes four hours to hike. We do not have four hours of daylight to make that hike. The mountain man suggests in his non English speaking gestures and pointing's of the map to stay in Herbriggen. We had thought to try and get to Randa, but he said the closer you get to Zermatt the more expensive it becomes. So we head down the mountain on what was to be a 15min walk to bottom and became a 45 minute walk for Miss Cripple.

The hotel/ restaurant in the town was very nice and as we approached I didn't think we would be able to afford this change in our plans. We had emailed a reservation to Europahutte which was to cost 170 SFC (Swiss franks) for two people with dinner and breakfast included. I was glad this reservation did not need to be paid in advance. When the helpful host greeted us and told us a stay at this hotel with dinner and breakfast would cost 190 SFC I could have kissed her. Wow! Praise the Lord a bed, food and nice accommodations nearly the same cost as the dorm setting with no shower ?!

While you could not see the Matterhorn from here, this was a great stop for us on this fantastic journey. I washed out my socks and a couple of shirts to dry overnight on the balcony.

After all the planning and talking about gear and picking out the right things for our trip I had one pair of hiking socks. You see Matt had little to gather for his packing and I asked if he would get me another pair of socks when he went to buy his. Reasonable right? He forgot. The day before we left for Switzerland and he forgot me. That man. Needless to say a wash was needed by day four.
Hikers make hygiene sacrifices you know?
As we asked our host questions about the trail and many others. She looked pained and said that her English was not very good. She called for her son to come help us. He had studied in Florida and was the chef at this family owned hotel. He was so helpful and was a tremendous chef as we found out at dinner. We had chicken cordon blue, which we learned was a traditional dish in Switzerland. Often a frozen ice cream treat was offered at dinner and tonight we got to try one. The menu was set and had five courses. Yummo!
End day 5

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Death By Walking

So here we go, all pumped to begin a new day of hiking and a new trail. When we had written the writer of the article in Backpackers Magazine, I had asked him all kinds of questions about the terrain and how the trip was going to be. This was the day I wish he had given more details. Anyway, Lanza had described the terrain in three parts; above tree line, tree line and the valley. We were to experience all three today. The entire day up the Barrhorn was above treeline. Which I have decided I like the least. It has that gravel/ rock pit feel like a moonscape.

We knew this was to be one of our 13 mile days, so our longest hiking day. We had hiked 14 miles from 10:30 - 7:30 so we knew that we needed to get an early start today.

We still did not take the 5am breakfast, but we were out on the trail by 8:30

The mountain ranges that we crossed over look like a W. Hold up your left hand with with three fingers. Picture St. Luc our beginning point on the left side of that third finger. We crossed that finger when going over Meid Pass (Mountain peak #1). We came down that finger to the base of that finger to stay at Turtmann Hut (now you're at the base of that middle finger. Today we will travel north up that finger and cross over that middle finger to cross Augstboard Pass, then hiking to the top of that middle finger on the other side of the mountain.

The morning was clear and cool. I had the typical woman start. "Hey, let's stop a minute so I can take off this fleece." "Hey, let's stop a minute I need to get my tissue out and blow my nose." This went on for I guess every reason I had. Don't know why my morning began this way, but after I got all those kinks worked out we hear the cow bells ahead.

Yes, our trail goes right by this herd of about 9 of these black fighting cows. The Belgians told us how they came across them and the farmers called them their fighting cows. We heard the story about them when we got to our hotel that night. Not only were they bigger than the ones we saw the first day but there were male bulls out in this herd. They did not look friendly. But to be fair they were not aggressive, nor did they seem interested in us walking through their hill. I did convince Matt to make a wide birth around these cows. The trail was a bit easy to loose during this stretch. A couple of times I found our blaze up higher on the hillside and we got back on the right track.

Doesn't this make you think of Lord Of The Rings? God's beauty is just so amazing. The landscape He gave us to enjoy and be adventurous through. It is so desolate on this mountain range. One road snakes along the base of the valley and was hardly used the entire day. Matt and I agree you must be a hermit to live in the mountains. The hillside is so steep. I couldn't imagine getting up and down it to leave for work everyday.
I just loved the red foliage here in the mountain. Such pretty colors.

Here you see the Meid Pass behind me. I just look and say "Wow! I hiked over that mountain. life is so much the same. You may look ahead and think I cannot parent four kids, I cannot loose 15 plus pounds, I cannot be a stay at home mom and have meaning to my life or sanity." Our minds cannot be trusted. We need to lean on God to trust our lives with. I think of the Israelites and how Joshua was lead by God to take the land. Impossible things are decided by God not us frail humans.

This moonscape pass was slow going. The wind would bite at my face and my pack pulled at my shoulders. We stopped for "lunch", a power bar and meal shake. Gazing at the mountain to guess where our trail would take us over the mountain, and we see two black dots at the top picking their way down in a zig zag pattern. Never would I have guessed the trail would have taken us up the bulging rock face in front of us. We were just as surprised by the hikers as we were the direction of the trail. We had not see anyone since we began our hike today. Again this area was very desolate.

Conquering the top, it felt like the wind would blow us off the top of the mountain. Many times along the ascent I had to concentrate on each step. The rise was so steep and loose gravel was easy to slide on. I am glad we were going up this piece of the trail. I felt like it would have just slid below us had we needed to come down it. I had a hard time trusting my steps. I could feel the fear of falling creep up on my like a dark fog, but I was not going to have it. Just watched how Matt stepped and steadily plodded up the trail to the top. Conquering is the way you feel after you make it up a trail like this. Not to mention the four hours it took to reach this height.Success

I didn't take any pictures of the back side of the mountain pass. It was so bright and windy. Off to the prettiest part of our trip. And we thought more than halfway through our day.

The rocky trail and tall grasses made for the most intense hiking of our entire trip. The descent down the pass was about 2.5 miles of 45-60 degree trails. My knees felt the pounding pressure. I did not tell Matt about my knees hurting yesterday. I did not want him to worry or think I couldn't do the hike, but this was one of my fears for this trip. My knees have issues with the hinging muscle in my knee. The pressure of my pack and the incline and not getting any relief of a flat trail killed our hiking time. Several times I had to stop, walk backwards and fight off the tears. It was horrible. Matt says every 10 foot of decent is one story on a building. This point of the trail we descended 4,000 feet. So 400 stories. The PNC Building in Louisville is 26 stories.

Relief.... We have hit the tree line. I can move at a normal pace now. My knees feel the release. That kink in our time is pushing us at a faster pace now and Matt almost missed the horned sheep that lept up the rock. He however, was not going to let us ignore his presence. He had two female sheep with him and didn't want us to go near them. He reared up on the rock and stared us down while gruffing a mean snort at us. We backed up the trail a bit for this was not good.

Matt is so brave. I would have sat there and waited it out. He said we are going. I held onto his pack and was on the far side of the ram and looking down at the trail and walking very quickly.

As long as my knee didn't hinge like taking a step I was able to hike. We had a new found energy now at the prospect of us ending our very long day. We were even giddy at the beautiful sites and reaching the bus for our next point. However, we kept hiking and hiking and saw no bus stop or Moosalp.

The views were gorgeous and we were drinking in every moment. Just like day one, I kept saying to myself it has to be around the next alcove.

We had now hiked over 13 miles and were a bit nervous that we were not near our destination. Unlike day one, I had no landmark to see that we may be getting close like I did with the glacier.
We hear cow bells ahead like earlier and I become nervous as to what we will find. This part of the mountain was pretty steep and we were traveling on this narrow dirt road. We passed dirt bike paths and now see the fighting bulls again. Later we learn that this area is very famous for them and Moosalp is a point where you can see them real close. We saw them close alright. We passed a hillside of them they were below the trail. The only "fence" was that thin ribbon. Not even an electric fence. Ahead on the trail I could hear bells and saw the "fence" was down up on the left side of the trail. Sure enough in the road were about seven cows. I stop. One (clearly the leader) is in the middle of the road staring at us. We are discussing what to do. More like Matt is telling me we are walking through them and I in my panicked voice was saying no and I can't. Then the cow starts coming toward us. Yikes! I jump off the path below the fence to my right. I am not going near those cows. Matt says there are no aggressive cows. It will be fine Melanie. With nerves strained on his face he slowly walks toward them and reaches out his hand to touch the leader. Something spooks the cows and they take off running in the direction we need to go. Matt why couldn't you have gone around like me. Then they would have been passed us. We both walk below them and they run back the other way. Shew... drama, drama, drama.

We come near a farm. See a turn around spot and think this is it! We are here, this is where the bus comes. Nope. A man comes out of his farm and says hello, we ask about the bus. No, we are not in Moosalp yet. It's another 40 min hike down the way. It is already 6:10p We are never going to make it. He whips out his cell phone and calls the bus. ( I know! I expected a hand crank phone attached to the pole but  he had a cell phone in this desolate place) He tells us he is a cowboy. :) Matt was so stressed about the time of day and not catching the bus. Later we wished we had taken a picture with this Swiss cowboy. The last bus left by 6.

Exhausted by our now 15 mile day, my knee throbbing, Matt was upset.

Before we left on our trip Matt told me we were to have no Cancun moments in Switzerland. You see when we were in Mexico we had a scenario where we had no cash and needed to get back on the ferry to the main land. It's a good story but the jest of it is that Matt freaks out when he doesn't know the plan and I am carefree as a bird knowing that somehow it will all work out.

This was looking like another Cancun moment. After a few minutes of silence. I said, " You know it will all work out. We will find a ride or just stay in Moosalp. It will be fine. " His shoulders lifted a little and he agreed that we will be fine. He was very frustrated that the magazine article and the author did not give better instructions. How did they expect a hiker to make what turned out to be a 17 mile hike in the time frame by telling us it was a 13 mile hike with no tips of how fast to hike or what time to leave out in the morning. No details. We thought by leaving by 8:30 we would have plenty of time. Yes, we were very slow especially the descent off the pass, but not getting there till 7 shesh.

The restaurant and small town of Moosalp was like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We were so happy to be here. What a beautiful, long, painful and fantastic day.

Matt found us a father and son who were here at the restaurant and lived at Berchin (our destination and hotel for the night). They offered to give us a free ride down the mountain to our hotel. God's provision was so evident on our trip. He continues to provide for us at every turn.