Hiking Weekend

I did a lot of hiking this weekend.
Yesterday, I drove out with Catalina to the River’s Edge ultra. I had a friend running it so I wanted to go out and cheer him on. And it was a new ultra so it would be nice to see. I would have liked to run it, but a test run last week left my quads unhappy with me, so I figured I wasn’t ready for an 80km run yet.
When we got there, it was raining. The drive had had pleasant weather, but that didn’t last. Fortunately, the rain didn’t either. After twenty minutes it was over, and I got to see my friend come in at the end of one of his leg’s.
After he went off, we took a pair of walks in the area. It was quite beautiful. Unfortunately, I think I have damaged my iPhone camera, so the pictures I took all have a streak across them.
Today, we drove out to Elk Island to see some bison. This is a prelude to eventually eating part of one. We saw some wood buffalo on the highway before we arrived at the park.
We asked the information guy for some suggestions on what to do there. Usually Bison Loop Road is a good place to sight them. And we were looking for a two hour hike and he gave a suggestion of the Shirley Lake trail.
The Bison Loop road didn’t provide a good sighting, so we continued on the Shirley Lake Trail. That trail looked a little long at 12.5km. So we decided to start with the Simmons trail, which was a subset of the larger trail and only 5km long. We could then decide to extend it if we felt like it.
At about 3pm we started. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at the map closely enough, and we started on the Shirley Lake trail by mistake. Part of the problem was that the park assumes everyone will go a certain way on the trails, and so if you go in the wrong direction, the signs are all behind you. This will be important later.
We only realized we were on the wrong trail after half an hour, when we met some people going the other direction. They also mentioned that there were a lot of bison 12km ahead, on the Tawayik Lake trail. Because Shirley Lake trail and Tawayik overlap, except that one is 16.5km.
So, with that in mind, after an hour, we turned to continue on Tawayik instead of staying with Shirley Lake. We wanted to see bison! And after several hours of hiking, we encountered them. When the trail went between Tawayik Lake and Little Tawayik Lake, the forest changed to plains, and there was a herd of about 50 bison laying about on the trail, acting like they owned the place.
We took pictures and avoided them, although the alpha was a ways from them and seemed a bit upset at our presence. We didn’t have a problem though, and we parted amicably by going off what might laughably be called “the trail” and circling around the herd.
However, we never really found the trail again. It wasn’t clearly marked, and it assumed we were going in the other direction. So the trail we eventually found had actually been made by bison with no sense of a goal, so it ended abruptly. With no easy way to find the trail, we headed back to the lake and stayed close to it and headed in the general direction of the end.
Thankfully it wasn’t wet, but there was grass that was higher than us. It was a slog at times, and annoying with the knowledge that the real trail was probably close by, but we had no way to find it without going dangerously cross-country, and the map was not helpful. At least the iPhone map gave us a direction to head.
We did get back to the parking lot at around 7:30, when the sun was already setting behind the trees. There was a very nice path going into the trees too, clear as day. I wish we had known what we were going to do at the start and headed in that direction to begin with.
On the drive home I noticed that the moon was in the half phase. Which struck me as odd, since it was full last night. Oh yeah! The eclipse.
There was a large group of people on Bison Loop Road. We joined them and took some pictures. But it was cold, we were hungry, and it was late. We drove home, keeping the moon in sight as much as possible, until it was completely gone, replaced by its blood version.

Flying Home From Geneva

I got an email this morning asking me to check in for my flight. Internet wasn’t great, but I was able to get in. Oddly, there was no seat assigned for the Geneva-Montreal leg. And the flight was delayed by fifteen minutes. When the Alpybus got me to the airport they said they would assign me a seat at the gate. I think the delay had something to do with them being unable to organize the seats.

I said goodbye to my friend, who will now wander the mean streets of Geneva; I gave here the best advice I could and it sounds like she will be go to the U.N. first.

I got through the Duty Free without issue. Oddly, I did not pick up anything. With the Canadian dollar so low, I didn’t really want to get any alcohol that I probably will never drink. I know, that is out of character for me. 

At the gate they took my boarding pass and said they will assign me a seat when they can. I made the request for a window seat, but I would be happy with just being on the plane. I waited quite awhile, napping a bit. I’m more tired than I realized. Eventually I heard my name and I got my seat.

Business Class!

So this is how the other half lives. I do not have a window seat; when you are living in the lap of luxury that no longer seems important. They have already handed me an orange juice while the lower classes board. They tried to pawn some sparkling wine off on me, but I knew better.

And they’ve handed me a lunch menu. We haven’t even taken off?!

Appetizer: Balik salmon and lemon dill shrimp with fennel salad, zucchini, apricot chutney and caper apple. (I don’t care if I’m allergic to shrimp, it is going down.)

Salad: Mixed greens with carrot julienne and tomato served with balsamic vinagrette. 

Main Course: I have a selection of four to choose from

Chimichurri lamb chops accompanied by Rosemary jus, mashed potatoes and vegetable peperonata.

Chicken breast presented with morel sauce, rösti potstoes and mixed vegetables.

Salmon fillet offered with chive sauce, wild rice and a vegetable medley.

Orecchiette pasta served with light lemon sauce, Ed pepper and leek julienne.

I’m going to have the lamb. If “Airplane!” Has taught me anything, you don’t have the fish.

Selection of cheese: Tilsiter, Taleggio and Reblochon served with crackers

Choice of Desserts: Swiss chocolate, macadamia nut and vanilla ice cream with chocolate garnish.

Fresh seasonal fruit.

I must say, this is very nice.

I’m now going to listen to the preflight announcement, put on the swanky, noise canceling headphones, Take my boots off, lift my feet up so it will feel like I’m on a couch, and then watch a movie.

Living th dream!

2015-9-8 12:35

Rest Day on Chamonix

We went from the hotel to the hostel this morning. After we had checked in, and got our pass for all the cable cars, we did a short hike to the Cascade du Dard. It was only half an hour, and then we stayed in the cafe there and had a pleasant lunch. The weather was beautiful today, so it was a great time to just chill in France.

We then took the bus back into Chamonix and then went up the Télécabine de Planpraz. That took us up a good height, but I had been there before and it was nothing new. Then we went up the next cable car from there, the Téléphérique du Brévent (2525m) and there the view was amazing. We had gone to the top of the mountain and were seeing the other side. A spectacular wilderness and you could see so far away. This was better than all of the views for hiking the TMB. Which was somewhat depressing. Especially since we could see good chunks of the TMB from this new vantage point. Some clearer than when we were on them. Stupid bad weather.

We then went down and crossed town to go back to the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi (3842m). We had been there before we went on the TMB, but it had been at closing and we had missed going into the glass booth that hung over the edge. I had thought there would be better uses of our time than to repeat a cable car, but this was worth It. For one, the sky was much clearer and we could see things we hadn’t before; the peak of Mont Blanc was clear and seemed very close, despite being 1000 meters above us. The glass booth was okay, but it did let us get up even higher for the views.

My only regret is that we didn’t go to La Flégère today. It would have been nice to see the scene of my defeat. But, for some reason, it was closed today.

We just had a nice meal back at the hostel of tomato salad and salmon lasagna. This hostel seems to have only four people staying here. One woman was still here from before we had left; she still remembered me as I have a reputation now for eating a lot of salad.

Tomorrow I get up early and catch the bus back to Geneva and my flight home. This has been a good vacation. It could have been better, but I have enjoyed it.

2015-9-7 20:56

“Fifth” Day of TMB

Of course the weather would be beautiful today. We were even in the perfect place to go up to the Fenêtre d’Arpette. However, I would like to quote the guidebook:

Many people consider the traverse of the Fenêtre d’Arpette to be the highlight of the Tour of Mont Blanc. Some await this stage with eager anticipation, while others view it with trepediation, but everyone agrees that it is one of the hike’s most unforgettable moments. The long climb up the rugged and barren Val d’Arpette to the narrow notch of the Fenêtre d’Arpette, a sabre cut in the high rock ridge, leads to an even more spectacular descent overlooking the magnificent Glacier de Trient.

That all sounds well and good, but the facts are that we would start at 1627m and climb to 2665m, before descending to 1280m. My energy has been drained by all the bad weather. That does not sound doable.

The mountain has failed to keep its promise. I tolerate horrible climbs in return for beautiful views. When three of the four days do not provide the scenery, there is a failure in the social contract.

So, we had a half hour hike back to Champex and then we bussed and trained to Chamonix. Some of the views from the train were equivalent to Tour scenery. We got an adequate hotel for a reasonable price. And having a relaxing day made me realize how tired I have become. Stress and cold do not help my energy level. Being able to sit and listen to a lederhosen band without worry is probably what I needed.

2015-9-6 17:50

Fourth Day of TMB

It started so beautifully. We awoke in Courmayeur in a nice hotel. It was sunny out, and we only had a short hike today, just over one mountain. We had even found a bus that would take us to Arnuva (1769m) to start the hike.

Well, it may have been nice in Italy, but it wasn’t in Switzerland. And that bad weather was pouring over the Grand Col Ferret. As soon as we were out of the bus, the wind was strong and it was cold. The bus ride had not been good for my friend, so we had to wait awhile for her to recover. Then it was slow going up. It took us an hour to get up to Refuge Elena (2062m). There we stopped for some lunch, and we got back into the game.

It took us anothe hour and a bit to climb all the way to the top of Grand Col Ferret (2537m) and the wind was howling the entire way. It was snowing too. We were in the clouds so there was no view to enjoy. We got there around three, which means we spent a total of 24 hours in Italy.

Going down it was wet and miserable. We warmed up in La Peule (2071m) where they were attempting to have a fire going in the refuge. Then we continued down, past Ferret and into La Fouly (1593m). We were just in time at a quarter to seven to catch the last bus that would take us to Champex.

This is where things went worse. Last night, I had looked for a place to stay. The website for planning hiking Mont Blanc listed only one place with space in Champex, so I had paid a deposit to guarantee we had a place to sleep for tonight. That was Relais d’Arpette. I later discovered that there were other places with room, but by then I had already paid.

Unfortunately it was not actually in Champex. The bus took us to the edge of town, and in French told us which way to walk. There wasn’t anything there. We were cold, tired and hungry. I phoned the place and discovered it was a half hour hike. We were not happy.

Fortunately they sent a car to pick us up. But this place seems to be catering to people hiking, and is on the trail to the hardest hike of the whole trail.

We are tired of hiking. The weather has been lousy. All the effort would be okay if we got some good scenery out of it, but that has only happened on one day. This is no longer worth it. We are going to travel back to Chamonix and get a hotel there so we can have some nice memories of this place.

2015-9-5 21:40

Third Day Of TMB

Yurts are cold. This is true. However, it was a very comfortable night. They gave us a lot of duvets and blankets. It was nice being in stuff so soft. But my head was cold, so I should have worn a toque while sleeping.

When we got up, we had breakfast. Today was beautiful. Finally. There were a few clouds, but overall we could finally see the views we had been working so hard to earn. We left late, and then climbed up even higher. Once we got over the pass, it was a long downhill to Les Ville des Glaciers. That took about three hours. A half hour later we got to Les Mottets. The place was packed already, but I went in and cancelled my reservation. It was too early to stop on such a nice day.

Then up, up, up for the Col de Seigne. It took about two hours of solid climbing to get there, but we were able to cross the border into Italy. It became a special challenge to keep going because there was a tour group of 15 people right behind us. You don’t want to let that pass you or you’ll never get ahead of them.

The views down into Italy were great, and it was all downhill. We even got a car ride from some nice people for the last half kilometer.

We learned that Italy is in the middle of a dumb experiment. They are stopping all bus service in Courmayeur and surrounding villages for September until December. As part of our plan to do this hike involves skipping boring parts and using the bus, this is suddenly becoming expensive. Even our taxi driver acknowledge it was dumb, even if it is helping him earn even more money.

We didn’t even try to go to a hostel. We’ve been burned too much on that. So instead we went to a hotel. It was somewhat hard to find as we were using a local to phone for us, and one of the first that had vacancy was charging €1,100 a night. Which is a little steep. But we have a nice one now with a raging river just outside.

2015-9-4 23:42

Second Day of TMB

Well, today was epic. Good in some ways, terrible in others.

We got up early in Refuge de Truc. Breakfast was bread and jam with a choice of hot beverage. We also ordered a picnic lunch which gave us access to some fruits and vegetables that were sorely lacking in our diet. Of course, my watch band broke right as we’re heading out, but I’ve “repaired” it with some duct tape.

We got on road by about 8:30 and headed down to Les Contamines. There I was able to visit a bank; with our new plans, we were spending more time in Euro zone and less time in Swiss zone, so I would run out of Euros at these places that were cash only. You don’t want to argue with the guy that has shelter when you are on the side of a mountain.

Then we hiked up, up and more up. It was about time we started crossing paths with the UTMB and it was interesting to see the difference in daylight. Unfortunately it didn’t last. As we got above Le Balme, the clouds rolled in. At times you couldn’t see more than 50 meters. I could honestly say the view under the full moon of the UTMB was better than these views. But we continued on, because there wasn’t much of a choice. The rain that happened above Col de Bonhomme wasn’t welcome.

The entire time I was getting stressed. We didn’t have reservations for the hostel we were heading to, Croix de la Col de Bonhomme. So I wanted to get there as early as possible to maximize the chances of getting a bed. My friend was slowing down and stressing me. I eventually figured out part of the problem was a lack of energy on her part and force fed her some SportBeans. That helped a lot.

We crossed the summit, and the weather cleared a bit. We could actually see mountains and, dare I say, a view. And there was the hostel, perched lovingly on the side of the mountain. I descended and then met true terror. I entered the common room and it was completely filled with people. A quick check confirmed, the hostel was fully booked. And a phone check of the next hostel two hours away confirmed that it was booked solid too.

The proprietors weren’t happy about us being there, but they did offer a grudging solution that we sleep on the floor of the common room. It was the same offer a party of six got. It was better than nothing. And it gave us a chance to take a shower (without hot water) before dinner. Dinner was bread, beef stew, polenta, some cheese and a piece of light cake without frosting. It was very nice after the stressful day. There is no electricity in most places here. I think they get their power from solar energy and today was not a good day for sunlight. Dinner was by candlelight, making me very sleepy.

And at the end of dinner, we found out that they had discovered room for us. So tonight we will be sleeping in a yurt outside. I’m not sure this is an improvement, because it is warm here and cold outside. I’ll let you know tomorrow.

2015-9-3 21:25

First Day of TMB

When I was young and visiting my grandparent’s farm in Denmark, there was a nasty plant in the area. It didn’t look like much, but if your skin touched it, burning pain. I had forgotten about it until today. Because today I discovered that same plant lives in France. So if you go off the beaten path on the TMB while wearing shorts, you may encounter some.

We got up early for our first day of trekking, but as we are wont to do, we didn’t get off as early as we would have liked. It didn’t look promising when I woke up; it was so cloudy/foggy that I couldn’t tell if we were in the mountains. We missed the train we wanted, so had to wait an hour for the next one, but spent a pleasant while by a small lake, where my friend went wading. Then we got the train to Les Houches, spent far too long trying to find a grocery store to get a lunch for later, then took the cable car to Bellevue. 

The hike would have been more impressive if we could see anything. Occasionally the clouds would part and we would see the hint of something awesome. But we never got the postcard pictures. That said, we were far more likely to look at the view, because it was always changing. The clouds would accentuate different parts of the scenery.

We crossed a suspension bridge (1760m), climbed up to the Col de Tricot (2120m), then down to Miage (1570m) where I encountered hostile plants and a dead cow. Then up to Le Truc (1720m) where we came upon the Auberge du Truc where we are spending the night.

It is rustic here. There are no power outlets that are accessible. No showers. Two toilets without lights. A dorm style sleeping arrangements that I think I’m sharing with about 20 others. We did borrow buckets and used them to soak our feet in cold water, which made us look ridiculous, but cold water heals a lot of injuries. And although my quads were feeling better this morning, all the down part to Miage has made them, flare up again.

Dinner was nice; carrot soup, macaroni, an omelette, some of the FRESH cheese they make here, and a Creme Brûlée. It also had a nice fireplace which really helped warm me up. It is cold in the mountains. I’m typing this while sitting next to it,

We changed plans for tomorrow. It seems obvious we won’t get to Les Mottets, so I hopefully moved the reservation a day further away. It is hard to tell when there is no internet access here, and I’m using expensive foreign cell service.

2014-9-2 21:00

Recovery Time in Chamonix

My friend, Catalina, arrived yesterday. We had planned to start hiking around Mont-Blanc today. That did not happen. I was not looking healthy; limping, swollen ankle. So we have delayed our departure by a day. We will try tomorrow. I’m already feeling better, but I still get tired easily. Hopefully that will go away.

It is fairly good that we didn’t depart today. It is wet and miserable here. Not ideal for hiking. We have equipment to deal with that, but let’s be honest, it is nicer to hike in good weather.

We hit the ground running yesterday. As soon as she had gotten in, we set out for Chamonix. The hostel had given us a pass for the tourist attractions, so we took the cable car to Aiguille de Midi. This is way up on Mont-Blanc, and if you were so motivated, you could take all the way to Italy. We didn’t go that far, because it was late, but we got to hang out on top of a mountain. Not the highest point in the Mont-Blanc massif, but still two miles up from Chamonix.

Today we didn’t rush either and took an old train, train du Montenvers, up the mountain and visited a glacier, la Mer de Glacé. The rain made it a bit depressing, but it was still nice. There was an ice cave with a bunch of ice furniture. They had a crystal museum that displayed all the crystals that have been found in the area. Which after careful research, seems to consist entirely of Quartz. That was a let down.

The plan tonight is to go to bed early and be ready for the hike tomorrow. We will be cheating a bit and taking a train to a good starting point, and then a cable car up. But after that, we hike.

On a personal note, I am feeling a little more down about my run. I keep thinking what would have happened if I had ignored the helpful people and just walked from there on. I probably could have gotten to the aid station and gotten cooled down, then just a downhill run to the end. But, at the time, I didn’t have the energy to put up a fight. But it is what it is, and you can’t change the past. I don’t think I’ll be doing any more ultras. I’ve done enough of them.

2015-9-1 19:00