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Sunday, 17 June 2018

The difficulty of transporting a bike

One of the big considerations about doing a bike challenge is how to get your bike from your home country to the country where you are doing the ride and more importantly how are you going to get it back. This may sound simple... and it may be simple, if you are driving to your destination or taking a train. But when you throw in air travel... things take a turn for the complicated.

Bikes are generally designated 'sports equipment' and on many airlines that means a hefty charge or oversized baggage fee. How much your bike weighs may be the difference between a £50 and £150 charge! Some airlines (thank you United) include it in your checked in allowance meaning that if you are economical ( saw off toothbrush handles, take no spare clothes etc) then bike and kit will make it in without an extra fee.  Aside from the expense though there is a far bigger problem.... what to put your bike in???

If you like your bike and want it to get to the other side injury free then this is a very important consideration, complicated by the type of ride you are doing.  If it is a round trip ride, the box you take your bike in, may be left at the hotel or airport (maybe for a fee) ready to collect on the way back... if your ride is from A to B and you are flying out from a different airport then that is not a possibility and a different solution must be found.

There are different things that a bike can be packed in for air travel... all of which have their plusses and minuses.

1st up is the simple plastic bag... cheap being its main attraction but also with the added bonus of being able to be folded up and stuffed at the bottom of a bag on your bike ready to haul out at the end of your trip. The it gives no protection whatsoever to your precious steed and you may find upon arrival at your destination that the heap of junk which comes out the other end is not repairable.. let alone rideable! Not good if you are reliant on it to leave the airport on! Some people say that being able to see that it is a bike means that the baggage handlers will treat it with respect but that is a gamble I dont want to take...EVER!

The humble cardboard box...  definately the cheapest to procure as most bike shops will have a spare one they will give you for free. Packing the bike into these takes a bit of practice and reams of pipe insulation and bubble wrap is required to keep the important bits of your bike free from damage. The handkebars come off and are taped the underside of the top tube... the pedals likewise are removed and taped somewhere securely... the front wheel is removed and squashed down the side (with some of the air removed from the tyre) and then as much kit as possible is stuffed around the bike to protect it from the baggage handlers. This means that you are left with a small carry on bag but be wary of baggage weight limits as the kit might tip it over the edge and you will find yourself paying a ransom fee at the airport.

The downside to cardboard boxes is they aren't portable on a bikepacking set up and therefore you will have to disgard this one and find a replacement at the end of the ride. They offer a bit of protection but you need to add the bubble wrap to ensure safety for your bike and you may find a brake lever sticking out of the box at the other end. For a round trip.. the box can often be left at the hotel for you to pick up on the way back.

The third option is the soft bike bag. Mid price range (£80-£150 ish) they will have a pocket for the wheels... some have a bit of extra padding... some have restraints to hold parts in place. I haven't found one that will assure acommodation of 29 inch wheels though they may exist and depending on padding they may be able to fold down small enough to be able to carry it on your bike... 'may' being the operative word.  It seems a bit of a half-way house that is a bit like a hybrid bike... it does neither well! Again for a round trip ... you could leave it at the hotel but it would add to the weight you needed to haul up the mountains if you could take it with you... not to mention reducing space on your bike for other, more vital bits of kit.

For me the only reason to buy a soft bag would be it's price (cheaper than a full on hard case)... although the fact that a cardboard box is free would make me lean towards that option anyway for a non-round trip.

The final option is the full-on hard case. It offers guaranteed protection for your precious cargo. No use if your trip end with a flight from a different airport than the one you started as there is no way to transport this on your bike. However if you are doing a round trip cycle or can transfer by taxi or bus from your end point back to your start point then this form of packaging is well worth considering.

There are downsides....
Weight! This box in itself could tip the bike well over the scales of the plane company baggage limit... forcing you to pay a copious amount of money for exceeding weight limits. Im also not sure you could fit any extra kit in here either... weight limit or otherwise. Finally... these cost a few hundred pounds... making it by far the most expensive option. Hiring one of these is a slightly cheaper possibility or talking to your friendly local bike shop to see if anyone has one you could borrow could be an option as well. 
But at least you would know your bike would be rideable out of the airport!

So my choice for the upcoming Ecuador Challenge...

Well.. given that I will be flying in and out of Quito... I do not necessarily need an option that I can fold up and take with me. I am planning to leave it at the hotel I stay in the first night and then pick it up when I get back to Quito. 

Usually I go with the cardboard box option because I tend to do A to B rides and although this is not a circular route, I will be transferring back to Quito by bus or taxi, making the hard case a viable option. My only concern is the weight of a hard case and the inability to fit more kit in it. That said... because AW Cycles (highly recommended) have indicated that I could borrow a hard case, cost won't be the consideration and the increased protection for a nice new shiny steed may win the day in the end!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Challenge Prep begins!

The dust is settling on my last challenge... settling back into normal life is complete. The book is out... A Divide of Two Halves      and the documentary of the same name is also available  (CLICK HERE)  So what happens now??

Essentially the feet begin to itch and I start chasing the plastic carrier bags of my dreams as they are blown by the wind (see ABSOLUTE REALITY- for the reference).

So what does that mean?
It means that the planning phase for my next challenge has begun.

After much debate and various temptations .. the destination is settled....
ECUADOR and the route of the volcanoes!

So how does one go about planning a challenge of a lifetime? (number 4 and counting)
Over the course of the months between now and the day I go I will be blogging about different aspects of planning a challenge. What considerations there are? Choosing kit... making plans B,C..X for when things don't go as planned. Where do I start? And so on!

But Firstly a bit about the route I have chosen and why I think it will live up to being 'A Challenge Of A Lifetime'.

I found the route on a fantastic site called It seems to live up to everything I ask for from a journey and more. The route itself is only 900 miles.. off-road and mainly double track. I disgarded the singletrack option, reasoning that I had done enough 'hike a bike' to last me a few years. But did that leave enough of a challenge?

Well .... I am going out of my comfort zone as it will be the first ride in a non english speaking country... Spanish and the local dialect of Quecha are spoken. English may be fine in the big towns but this ride goes mainly through tiny mountain villages where English will not necessarily be understood. Item 1 on my to do list... learn a bit of Spanish.

Secondly... although the route is only 900 miles (compared to the whopping 2400 of Route 66 for example) it is at considerably more altitude than any of my other rides, even the Tour Divide. With the highest point at just over 15000 ft it is a good 4000ft higher than previously cycled by me!

No bears this time (I think... research on that not yet done) but packs of dogs are a distinct possibility and I think I would rather face down a charging Grizzly than face hordes of (possibly rabid) dogs!

A description of cycling in Ecuador goes like this :-

The first two Spanish words you learn will be "bajada" and "cuesta." A "bajada" is a downhill and a "cuesta" is the opposite. Between these to words, the former will quickly become your favorite. The Spanish word for "level" you will not need to worry about. In other words, mountain biking in Ecuador alternates between tormenting cuestas and extreme bajadas. 


That aside... my plan is as follows...
Ride the 900 miles, including transfers to the route start and from the route end, in 3 weeks. Then in my final week... go and climb the Cotopaxi volcano. (Just to finish me off!) 
Cotopaxi is a proper climb. Done over 2 days and requiring crampons, ice axe and ropes, it reaches 5,897 m (19,347 ft) which is only 2000m lower than Everest... like I said... a proper climb! 

That's my plan.. well Plan A at least! 

So given that the route is already laid out for me... thats a lot of work done... leaving me time to fill in details.

Filling in the details starts with a list. This list is comprised of lots of parts... equally important to the final outcome.

They are as follows:-
Country specific stuff... things like checking which currency they use... which immunisations to get... if I need a visa... which areas are NOT SAFE... which of the local wildlife do I have to be concerned about... what language... credit cards or cash ? Weather???

Travel Specific stuff
Travel insurance (does it cover biking in remote areas) SPOT tracker subscription.. Emergency numbers... flights... transfer to start and back from finish... when to go???

Route specific stuff
What towns/villages do I go through... where can I camp/stay... where resupply is possible... how far in between resupply... water availability... distance to cover each day in time allowed... type of climbs... type of roads... 

Kit specific stuff
Which bike... which tyres... what spares to take... how to transport bike... which camping kit... which clothes... 

And that's not the whole list!!!

So as you can see... there is a whole heap of stuff to think about and plan. That is part of the fun!

And then there is training!! In all honesty... I hate training... but some needs to be done. Over the winter I had little enthusiasm for my bike or cycling in this country and so now it is officially summer.. it is time for me to get my fat arse in gear... lose some weight and gain back the lost muscle and lung capacity. Its going to hurt... big time. 

So keep an eye on my fb page One Challenge At A Time for all the planning updates.... subscribe to this blog.. and sit back and relax whilst watching my plan come together...

Lets go on another journey!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

A fitting end... full circle

Day 6... our blowout day... leave everything on the mountain was the plan. We had originally planned to walk the Europaweg and cross the Hängebrücke (suspension bridge) but the heavy winter snowfall was lingering and the impassable high paths prevented us from completing our original plan. Day 3 had seen us trek up a part of the Europaweg including some very dodgy cliff hanging steps. Today we would attempt to get up to the bridge... not knowing if the way would be blocked or the bridge shut.

We set off full of optimism... our aching muscles now used to being beaten into submission.. at least until we reached the turnoff for the alternate bridge path. To say it was steep would be underplaying it. We discovered that the path without rocks was worse than that with as it stretched the achilles to breaking point. It was difficult to take any rest as you would inevitably be standing on an incline with all weight bearing down on one ankle joint.

Up and up the path wound without respite for what seemed like hours. But as we looked back we realised how high we had gone in a very short mileage. It wasnt that we were incredibly unfit... the path was just that tough.
We reached a place called Kreuz... called thus because of the huge cross standing on the top of a point. Assumably it had been helicoptered in ... either that or chapeau to the chaps/chapesses that had hauled it up.
We stopped there ... on a grassy slope to eat lunch. Frankly it was one of the most picturesque lunch stops ever. The sun was beating down... the wild alpine flowers were just coming into bloom and from our vantage point we had access to many of the bigger peaks... hidden from view lower down. Particularly fascinating were the mounds of glacial ice which looked poised to topple.

However the walk wasnt going to walk itself... so somewhat reluctantly we left the idyllic and back to the hellish steep climb. Every bend promised a flatter path but didnt deliver. We encountered our first walkers.... who whilst bounding downwards... as opposed to us crawling upwards... informed us that the bridge was open and the other side was steeper. Great! It put a spring in my step for the next 10 steps before my poor overworked legs screamed enough and settled back into the plod of before. Eventually we reached the top and a signpost to the bridge... 30 minutes.

As we were walking I kept an eye on my altimeter and mileage... watching one speed upwards whilst the other ticked slowly.

We reached a hut ... and then 10 mins later were standing at the bridge.

For the record ... and to explain why it hurt so much...
We had climbed 2100ft in just about 3 miles.
Thats an average gradient of roughly 35%. (Feel free to correct if wrong... the maths was done whilst body and mind was under duress)

We stared at the bridge... it was pretty high. Worse than that... it swayed with the wind...
Worse than that was the sign informing that 30% ish of the bridge had been built from materials from the old bridge.... Great... just Great!
Worse than that was the fact that the floor was grated and not solid and therefore provided a fantastic view down to the ravine below.

All in all it looked pretty scary!

We edged out... ladies were deffo not going first in this instance...
Hands were firmly on the railings on either side.
'Dont look down' said Paul... which meant we instantly did.
Not pretty

The further towards the middle of the bridge the more it swayed with us walking across. Add to that the wind which gusted more and more the further away from the protective mountain we got.

The photos taken in the middle of the bridge were taken with a little reluctance... hands off railings... dont drop the phone... dont move around too much... you get the gist!

Once the obligatory photos were taken... we hotfooted (slowly walked to avoid swaying) it across the rest of the bridge... hitting terra firma with a sigh of relief.

Hopefully the way downwards was clear because there was no way we were going back across that bridge!

The way down was marked as a blue alpine route which generally means narrower paths... even steeper gradient and more rocky terrain...and it didnt disappoint. About halfway down it was the knees that were crying enough and we longed for a bit of uphill. (Oh the irony)

Once we got back into Randa... we took the longer... wood walk... which included some uphill ... just to finish us off. We had come full circle today and ticked off another of our objectives. It was a fitting way to bring a close to this holiday.

We both kinda grew up in Switzerland and leaving it does sorta feel like leaving home.
With one more night in our extremely uncomfortable tent to ensure all muscles seize up... the journey home tomorrow will be a long one. We have a plan to break it up though.
You have to leave somewhere in order to come back and one adventure has to end so that another may begin... but it would be nice to stay in the Swiss bubble a little longer!


The power of nature

Day 5 began in a slightly more chilled fashion. This was going to be an easy day ... ready for the big blowout Thursday.. our last day here.
We got up pretty late... tested out our various aches and pains in the walk to the shower... declared ourselves fit enough for an easy 'by the river' walk and set off.
The first little bit through the forest challenged our slightly broken joints.
Just as well its an easy day huh

We passed the Europaweg signs with ease... we have done that one and strolled down towards the town of Randa... we reached the river crossing.... or where there had been one to discover that the bridge... steel girders and all had been torn from the mountainside by an avalanche. It was not the first sign we had had here. If the lower reaches of the mountains... even into the valleys had paths and bridges torn out... it was little wonder that the upper reaches were deemed impassable. We had struggled over tiny snowpacks in comparison to the monsters that hung above our heads.
If anything has been shown to me this week.. it is a reminder of the forces of nature and how man can build and try to tame it with bridges... roads and houses... but in the end ... all one can do is cling on and hope that the destructive power of nature will pass by you... in some cases by only inches.
Paul said that it was a reminder of the cycle of life... there has to be destruction for renewal to begin. All too true.

So we went down the slope... and found a lower path which led to an undemolished bridge. Of course we couldnt resist a little rock clambering and came up to the edge of the end of the avalanche... bits of bridge everywhere and the ice still a foot thick with the water gushing out from underneath it.

We then continued on the path... down into the town of Randa... a very quiet town... no people... or shops. Some of the older chalets were decorated beautifully as a reminder of times when this wasnt a tourist trap valley. The slate roofs now coloured with moss and lichen blended into the rugged landscape perfectly.

We found the path on the other side of the river and dutifully followed it... ignoring signs for Domhütte (blue route) and Weißhornhütte (undoubtedly impassable) and stuck to our easy day plan. Go us!

Having decided our goal was mileage rather than vertical feet we were aiming for 10ish miles... we continued on by the river.. noting all the places washed out by Avalanche. We came to a sign for St Niklaus. Lets go that way.... regretted instantly as the footpath went straight up. Immediately we came across signs... fallen trees blocking our path .. ignored and stepped over as usual. We continued ip and it wasnt long before the first snowpack came into view... we clambered down the slope... around the bottom and back up to the path. Here we go again!
Several snowpacks later the path wound down back to the river path that we could have followed. To be honest the path after that was rather dull... it just steadily went down the valley. Miles down that would have to be climbed back up...

At nearly 7 miles with aching feet and legs we called it a day and turned round to head back. On our way we saw the Hängebrücke (suspension bridge) perched high above the valley floor. That part of the mountain looked clear of avalanche chutes and below the main snowline. Given that our original plan had included a traverse of this monster bridge a plan formed for tomorrow. We could at least climb up to it... even if the bridge was shut it would be a good climb. Perfect way to end the week here.

And so we crawled back to the campsite for a cold coke and a good game of cards... with my head filled with what tomorrow might bring.

Deffo no easy walk in the morning we agreed... lets go out on a high!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Europaweg wanderings

Day 4

Easy walking day....
Our nights sleep was punctuated by tossing and turning to get comfortable so we awoke fairly late... but that was ok as today was an easy walk day.

Eventually we set off from the campsite to the start of the paths just to the left of our tent. The signs were to Randa (the town just down the valley) following the river and to our delight Europaweg... the path we had been planning on Day 2 but got told it was shut. Well this bit wasnt shut. Following a confirmatory look from bro, no other discussion needed , we set off ... uphill!

Uphill doesnt really describe it. Right out of the bat the gradient was tough. We worked out that it was an average gradient of 33%. I.e hurt.

As we slowly worked our way up the mountainside... the fallen trees quickly became evident. The first time we came to one that blocked the path... we called it sign number 1. The first sign that the path may not be passable at some point. So we stopped and turned round....

No of course we didnt! We clambered over it.. ignoring sign 1. The gradient didnt let up at all but it was the kind of path that you had to concentrate on... steep slope... slippery rocks... tree branches... roots... the obstacles kept coming. Being the nice people we are... we cleared several of the obstacles from the path... for any future walkers... and more importantly for us... in case we were forced to come back down this way.
The path got narrower as it wound round the mountainside... the drop to the left getting steeper and steeper. The views though got better and better because for every 0.1 of a mile we were gaining a huge amount of feet. The snowpack which we stumbled onto early in places was melting nicely... causing several bits of the rocky path to be stream like. .. one place the path had eroded to the point where it was one foot in front of the other... sign number 2!

And so we continued up... the legs holding up nicely considering the gradient.

Then we reached a precipice... only in switzerland that just meant hammer some steps in with a guide rope anchored. Unfortunately the guide rope was on the mountain side and not the drop side which meant both of us were holding onto it for dear life.

I do not want to come back down that!

We continued up and shortly came to a nice little flat clearing with a big overhanging rock. I made a mental note of it as a place to shelter should the weather turn. At the moment the sun was out and scorching... in the mountains it can turn in an instant... the clouds were starting to drift down from the high peaks and they looked a little rain cloud like.

Slightly further on... the snow blocked the path..
Sign number 3

Its doable and so with one hand firmly wedged in the ice we kicked out snow steps and used the bracken as footholds. The hands froze quickly... becoming fairly numb. We edged our way round that and continued upward. Scrambling over wet rocks... up muddy patches... and around more downed trees... signs 4 5 and 6.

Another snowpack blocking the path... this time easy enough to scramble down.. around the bottom and back up.
. We kept going... in hope that we were close to the top and we would find a sign for Tasch with gentle sloping downhill... anything but go DOWN those steps.

Then came a larger snow pack... followed swiftly by another... the path now gone under the snow...
Paul scrambled over the first 2 to have a look at the onward path... his feet sunk quite a way into the snow and on others the snow came out from underneath him. His hands frozen from digging them into the snow. He stood at the top of the ridge...

Its doable but I dont think the next bend is!
I followed in his footsteps (literally) to see for myself. Essentially we could have got over the next bit and maybe the next bit... but the snow packs blocking the path were becoming more frequent... there was no signpost to Tasch and our agreed turnaround time of 3pm was fast approaching... and the cloud was closing in....

All in all the signs were now coming so thick and fast that the choice was being made for us.

So reluctantly ... with those scary steps in mind we headed downwards... having put grippers on our shoes for the bits that were bad enough uphill but could be terrifying on the downhill.

We took one last look at the spectacular view... noting how far we had climbed up... 1000ft in a very short space of mileage.
Not bad going!

I thought this was our easy day!!

The way down.. aside from the occasional slippy hairy bits was easy enough to negotiate...
In no time at all we were facing the steps... downwards. We stopped to gather the nerves and sat down... feet resting on a tree branch and took in the view. Packs of ice hanging over the edges of the mountains looking as if they were ready to fall .. the sound of the water rushing down the mountainside... and still far below.. like toys the cars on the road.

The wind was picking up and it was getting cold and looking like rain.
Keen to negotiate the steps before the rain fell... we plowed onwards.

In actuality... although it wasnt great teetering on the edge of a precipice... it wasnt as bad as we had thought going down and soon cleared that obstacle. The rest I would say was a stroll compared to what had gone before... apart from the fact that the constant down was playing havoc on knees and ankles! The last bit hurt more than any of it!

We strolled into the campsite just as the rain began to fall...
Good timing we said!

Easy day tomorrow??


Broken bridges

Day 3 started out with the effects of Day 2 still very much lingering... broken bodies. Sleeping in the car, whilst having been a good idea the day before with the rain pouring down, was not in hindsight the best in overall terms.

I awoke feeling a bit strange... my breathing was really quite laboured and try as I might I couldnt slow down my breathing and catch my breath. I felt like i had when I had a chest infection in New Zealand... unable to complete a sentence without gasping for air. Being a nurse... with no adult training whatsoever... all kinds of weird and wonderful explanations arose. I woke Paul up with the words... I feel funny... I cant breathe properly. To be fair... he did look concerned even though he doesnt do mornings very well.
My phone has an app where you can check your saturations (amount of oxygen in your blood)... 94% ... so I wasnt dying. Better get up then.
I got out of the car and started walking towards the shower block... immediately I felt better and my breathing returned to normal. It was very strange indeed!

So because my breathing had normalised all the other aches and pains from the day 2 adventures seemed minor in comparison. The blisters... aching hamstrings... knees ... back.... the list goes on. It had been a hell of a walk.

The weather in the valley had completely closed in... it was lightly snowing and no mountains could be seen above the cloud.

Paul had survived his fall with nothing more than a slight bruise... a few scrapes and torn trousers but his list of aches and pains were as extensive as mine.

So given that... the weather... and the need for a slightly less adventurous day .. we decided to drive out of the weather and find a walk elsewhere. As we drove down the was a sign for Grächen... a place I had taken my step kids to quite a few years ago. In my head it had a few flattish walks. So we drove half way up the mountain and parked in exactly the same car park we had back then. The same gentleman came out for payment and he didnt look any older.

We set off up the path ... towards the chalet we had stayed. This path had stayed in my mind due to its extremely steep nature. 'It leads to a flat path at the top' I said to Paul.. hoping my memory served me correctly. I was sort of right but the path carried on up for a lot further than I remembered. We were walking up through recent snow and stopped to put on the crampon like grip things for our shoes. They certainly reduced the slipping and sliding somewhat.

We followed the path to Zum See... a small lake I remembered well. By now the skies above us had cleared a little... revealing the mountain tops to us whilst keeping them closed off to those down below. We were above the cloud line and way into the snow line. We followed the path to the lake... enjoying the bit of flat path. Our legs were now warmed up and the stiffness was beginning to wear off.
Therefore we decided to head up a little and followed signs to Seetlehorn.. a mountain I had climbed years ago. Given what we had encountered yesterday at a much lower level I knew Seetlehorn would be impassable... it was tricky enough in the dry with bright sunshine but we headed up gaining a few hundred feet in a very short space of time. We got to another flattish path ... the wasser weg or water walk. It wound its way through the forest... the smell of pine pervading everything.

Even at this lowish level.. well below 2500m .. the damage that the winter had done was very evident... and the clean-up process hadn't really begun here... meaning that we were regularly scrambling over fallen trees.

Given the experiences of the day before perhaps we should have taken the fallen trees as a sign re the path ahead. But even if we had ignored that... the sign posted on a tree... something about a bridge.. and impassable... should have stopped us. But we carried on.
It was a lovely path... some bits of snow with animal tracks in... some rocky bits to scramble over... but in the main.. flat. Along the way there were signs that (with my rudimentary German) seemed to be extolling the virtues of water... the sounds it makes and basically how you can get closer to the true meaning if nature...
A nice sentiment.

We passed an old avalanche chute... when Paul's eagle eyes spotted a family group of chamois on the rocks. I think it was the same place I had seen them all those years before. We stood there for a while watching them... they were unconcerned in this intrusion... presumably hugely confident that they could bound faster uphill than we could!

We continued on ... and came to a metal bridge. Now this bridge had been there for years but had seen better days. To say it looked precarious would be an understatement. The metal railings on the drop side were twisted and in some cases broken completely.
You go first said Paul
Cheers bro

So holding on to the intact side I inched across... not totally confident that it was truly anchored in place.
1/2 way across... Paul said
'Where are you going from there??'
Pointing to a gaping hole slightly beyond the end of the rickety bridge.
He had a point.
Where there had once been another bridge... and I can confirm that because I had stood on it years ago..
there was now a large gap with debris all around above and below. Clearly whatever had tumbled down had done so with enough force to take the bridge clean away!

Unfortunately this meant i had to go back across the rickety bridge with paul standing safe at the other end.

Just as i reached him... he pointed out one of the bridge supports which had been twisted by some great force. Glad i hadnt seen that before going across.

So back we went... properly reading the sign this time... it did say impassable.

The views most of the time were blocked by the forest but at one point we were standing with a view of the top of the matterhorn... couldn't see the rest of it. Usually its the other way round!

We followed another forest route towards Niedergrächen and then curved back round to Grächen hitting the town at the bottom and therefore meaning another climb up back to the car.
Given that we had felt pretty broken the day before.. it was an all round reasonable effort.

We went back and immediately put the tent up... wisely determining that another night in the car would finish us off. Air beds blown up and then after a quick food trip.. back in the tent for an evening of cards...

Easy day tomorrow right bro!
Yup.. came the reply

Sunday, 13 May 2018

We didn't die... Therefore it was an adventure!

As we staggered back to the campsite... putting one weary painful foot in front of another.. Paul (my brother) made a strikingly accurate observation...
 today had just about everything...
Elation... disappointment... pain... suffering.. up ... and more up... scorching sunshine... gale force winds... pouring rain

But before I get into that... let me set the scene.
Me and Paul set off at 02:30 .. bound for the place that both of us long and love to return to. A normally chilled laid back guy.. Paul transforms in the mountains of Switzerland to a determined peak bagging... adventure seeking daredevil... or just someone for whom the line between CraZy and Life-threatening becomes occasionally blurry.

Neither of us had slept more than a couple of  hours... me in the day after my night and Paul after a long day at work... so somewhat tired we finally ended up at the campsite after a solid 19 hour travelling day.

Although Paul had stated that he was going to be grumpy... he actually proves a good travelling buddy so much so that when we got to the campsite and attempted to pitch up in the dark... rather than getting grumpy and cross with each other... we were close to rolling around on the ground in fits of laughter.

This laughter continued as we attempted to make ourselves comfortable in a tent with little protection from the cold hard ground. We sounded like we were 90! Ouch my hips... my knees... im too hot... too cold etc etc until eventually after all that... the tenth wind ran out and we conked out.

The forecast had been dreadful for this week and the rain fell regularly through the night but when i woke (cos my feet were ice blocks) I poked my head out to see bright blue sky and sunshine beating down in the valley. Unfortunately for Paul it was only 7:30 and so I spent the next hour badgering him to get up so we could pack up and set off for the Europaweg ... our intended mti day walk. Eventually after Paul had slowly stumbled up and gone for a shower... and returned to find he had conveniently missed the packing up... we hefted our rucksacks... tent and enough stuff for a couple of days and all eventualities onto our backs...

They were HEAVY!

Still.. we had made a plan and we weren't going to go back on it now.
So we set of down the road ... walked to Tasch and jumped on the train to Zermatt (no cars allowed)
First stop information buro

We are going to walk the Europaweg I said to the lady behind the counter.

She opened her eyes wide and slowly shook her head...
Its shut... closed... impassable... too much snow... too dangerous... everything over 2000 meters is shut!
OH !! Plans disappeared faster than the avalanches had covered Zermatt this winter.

So what now??
We shook off the disappointment and decided to salvage the day... found a signpost and picked the longest walk on it... lets go

2 mins later... reality of Swiss walking  hit us squarely in the face... especially when neither of us had done much training recently...

1/2 way up the steep road .. still in Zermatt... it was time to sit down. My legs felt like lead and my heart and lungs were on fire...

We eventually reached the start of the path... many stops later... to see it winding its way up the mountainside and by winding I mean 45 degree slope up... steep sharp bend.... 45 degree slope up... steep sharp bend...
Add to that but I was dehydrating with every step. Prepared as we were for cold miserable weather... hot sunshine took us by surprise and the layers quickly came off. Unfortunately every time we stopped to take off a layer... we had to take off the 30Kilo rucksacks... stuff the layer in... and then heave it back on again. It was exhausting.
My legs were not playing ball and the stops were frequent.
All the stops did mean that we took in the views which were stunning and we did see the matterhorn in all its glory... clear of cloud (very unusual!). In the time I had taken out my camera... the cloud was almost back over it again... but still!

Any people we met... were going down... having taken the sensible option of train up.. walk down. Of course we had dome it the hard way.  It was excruciating at points... foot in front of the other... achilles screaming... hamstrings tweaking... knees groaning. It was almost like the re route again! (See my documentary!!)

As we crawled straight up the mountainside and time ticked on... plans began to change! Its only day 1... lets not totally break!  Train down became the new plan... just as soon as we could find the station.

After another interminable series of up and bend and with a few 'steps' thrown in we finally reached the station.
With Swiss timing precision we were on a train down within minutes... droppng back down the 2000ft that we had gained in just over 3 miles.  All that climbing with 30 kilo rucksacks... no wonder it had hurt!! Given the fact that everyone else we had seen was walking down and with only daysacks... i think we actually did rather well!

Once back in Zermatt... frankly we just collapsed into a pizza restaurant! But another plan was forming as we rested our aching bodies... why not walk from Zermatt back to our campsite further down the valley. It would be mainly down we reasoned and although the sun had disappeared behind the clouds... it was still warm and reasonable.
So that became our new plan and we headed down the road.
There must be a path off the road we reasoned and sure enough... up to the left climbed a path.
Up again!
A part of the path as it levelled out was covered in snow and avalanche debris.. fallen trees and the like and maybe this should have given us a clue... but it didnt... or at least we ignored it... clambered and slid part of the way down the snowslope (in a controlled manner) before picking up the path on the other side.

The path undulated nicely... not too much steep up or down and above the train tracks... it was a good path...

Well until we got to a few fallen trees blocking the way... and by a few... I mean a lot! Off came the rucksacs and we clambered and ducked under and over.... then through more and tighter spaces. Paul reccied ahead...

Yeah its doable... just

So we clambered and scrambled a bit more and came to a dense patch of trees.... forced our way through... and found the path once again.
Search for the Pink Alpine Elephant complete! (That's where we go off piste on a 'path' that probbly isnt a path... get a bit lost ... scratched... banged up... only to find that the path was near us the entire time!)

We still didnt take this as a clue and continued on... the path carried us on top of the railway tunnels and snaked along the mountain side.

The avalanche chutes were still full of snow... hovering precariously...melt tricking from the underside of the snow packs... and there we were jaunting underneath. The path was often covered by the snow and alternate routes were found... occasionally by sticking our hands deep into the snow as holds and tiptoeing on the edge across....

Fun... yes... slightly risky... yes.... still alive...yes
Then its an adventure!

The next chute we came too blocked the path so completely that we backtracked slightly to find a part of the slope to scramble down... we picked our spot and clutching roots and boulders inched our way down... I was in front and watching my steps... when I heard a crash and rocks falling and turned round to find Paul .. on his back... head downslope ... grind to a halt just next to me...

OUCH... he said in a typical paul understated manner. I could see a gash in his trousers and wondered aloud if his leg was broken...
Dont think so....
Can you wait bear?
We will see!

He clambered to his feet... put his weight on his leg... and found it didnt buckle...
No break...

No head injury either as he had managed to twist as he fell so the rucksack took the brunt.

Thats one way to get down the slope!

I dont mind if its me... but it scared the shit out of me that paul might have done some real damage... so as we wondered over to the snowpack we were trying to get round... paul went up and peered at the waterfall coming off the edge and tumbling down the mountainside.

Its doable... he said!

Apparently there was a (only slightly wet) path wide ledge that we could cross over and then scramble up the rocks on the other side....

Errrr nope!
No No No

I admit that if by myself I might have done... maybe... but my big sister responsibility kicked in and there was no way I was going to let him try it. He had already gone down once and this was a worse potential one!

Its doable... he kept repeating...

Mainly i think cos we were fairly close to Tasch and therefore not far from our campsite and to turn back now meant a walk back up the path... back over the avalanch chutes we had crossed and back through the fallen trees...


Reluctantly we turned back
As we did so suddenly the wind picked up significantly..
Catching our large heavy rucksacks and making it hard to stay upright... then the wind died away again... but only because the clouds were tumbling over the mountaintops and began to unleash a multitude of water!

We started walking again and Paul suddenly rememvered a bridge across the ravine to the road... yup... there it was... but can we get to it! A little further on... having the advantage of a different viewpoint... Paul noticed a wooden ramp ... down the edge of the train tunnel. We leaned over...
There was another path!
Could this be the path to the bridge... was this the way we had supposed to have gone??
We followed the ramp down to the path and despair turned to elation as we realised that this path was our salvation from having to walk back the way we came.
We hotfooted it over and stood... victoriously on the road. Now it was just a short hop down to Tasch and then a little further to the campsite!

The rain however didnt want to give us too much time to celebrate and it began bucketing it down. Add to that ... after all the exertions... entire body ache had taken over and so the walk... which should have been a stroll... turned into a nightmare of each body part taking turns to complain. It was not pretty... but with one foot in front of the other... we made it... threw the rucksacks down... and crawled to the restaurant for hot chocolate (me) and beer (paul)

Siezed up!

We sat in the car to warm up and dry off.

Thats enough talking for today sis
Yup... I wholeheartedly agree!

So as i write this blog... its still raining and neither of us have the will... or the muscle power to get up and re-pitch the tent!

What a day!

Was it painful?
Was it scary?
At times .. yes!
Did you die?

Then it was an Adventure!