Zermatt 2016

We’ve always tried to finish out Swiss adventures in Zermatt primarily because there is a fondue restaurant that has been a Birthday tradition. As this trip was focused on day hiking so that folks might want to join us this year, we’d allowed three days’ hiking in Zermatt. This gave us an opportunity to take trails that we’d never been on in the past.

Similiar to our tracks in Grindelwald, we basically found trails in the four quardents of the valley and were able to view Zermatt and the Matterhorn from various angles, heights and terrain. Not many folks on the trails like in the other regions, probably because Zermatt offers so many modes of uphill travel – trains, funiculars, gondolas, chairlifts and cabinas.

Zermatt, and viewing it’s Matterhorn, is on the world tourist’s bucket list. Most are here for selfies, DSLR classic photographs and checking off the list, so there isn’t as much interest in hiking per se. Which makes for virtually empty trails despite the tens of thousands visiting town daily.

It had snowed above 8,000′ the days before our arrival, and the first morning our hike was in dense fog and snow on the trails. For only the third time in 3 weeks did we don our raingear. We snapped a lot of Matterhorn photos ourselves, never knowing if this glimpse would be our last.

Zermatt’s heavy tourism makes for intriguing people watching.  As a private car-less community the narrow streets are all basically walking streets. The winning feature was this extremely quiet street vacuum.

It was very rewarding to look from the other side of the valley and see and identify our routes high across the opposite mountains.
We did visit our favorite restaurant for their other fondue speciality before we left.


Murren is one of those “supposedly” car-less villages high up from the valley above Lauterbrunen still in the Bernese Oberland. It’s quite popular for hiking but most famous for it’s gondola to the Schlithorn observation point perched atop Piz Gloria. It’s also directly across from Wengen, another cliff side community accessible only by cog railway.

Back in the 70’s before there were the ubiquitous Swiss trail signs there were only yellow and blue paint stripes on exposed rocks in the alp (remember an alp is the grassy meadow between the rocks, cliffs, peaks and palisades). Three of us were backpacking (frowned upon even then) up from Kandersteg toward Grindelwald, when in dense fog we lost track of our route only to come up on the backside of the massive Schlithorn gondola station and restaurant.  Not sure who was more shocked, us or the few tourist out on the observation deck seeing us appear one by one like apparitions out out the mist.

We hiked thru Murren when we hiked the Via Alpina two years ago and wanted to visit and hike some adjacent trails.  Weather has been outstanding for the first 14 days, but the mountains finally let in a low pressure system of fog and drizzle.  With our UL rain gear we had no problem enjoying a 9 mile hike and 2,800′ ascent. Best was trying out our new zPacks rain skirts, which turned out great: far easier to put on than rain pants and no problem climbing or descending rocky trails.

Forgot Locarno

How could we forget Locarno in the southern lake district of Switzerland. We only took one alpine hike in the area but we wanted to see what the Italian version of hiking was like & it was very rewarding. First I should say that the the train rides in and out of that area are spectacular. They are part of the Glacier Express, an exclusive panoramic rail tour from St Moritz to Zermatt. Although we didn’t travel on the actual Glacier Express cars, we traveled a regional train on the same rails in a different style without white table cloths and waiters, catered service and meals.

Locarno is a truly Italian town; although the Swiss people are educated with three languages there’s hardly any evidence of anything but Italian spoken in this region. It has a true Mediterranean feel, warmth and altitude. Definitely an urban environment, lots of people in high density, but it’s easy to get out of the city and quickly into the mountains which provided great hiking and wonderful views.

What was unique on this particular trip and hike was we got to hike through a number of stone villages and past farm houses. Many are no longer occupied and some are partially occupied with upgraded amenities but all of them are far away from roads with access by trails and aerial tramways in which to get supplies only up to these remote alpine locations.

Saturday night in the main plaza they had a Risotto Rice food festival at which all the hotel chefs created their fanciest risotto rice dishes.  We chose to try a quinoa burger instead.

Here’s our track in case you’re interested.

Lost Track

 I’ve lost track.  Fortunately GaiaGPS knows where we are and what we have done. Thirteenth day of travel and hiking and it’s getting hard to figure what to feature on the blog. Currently we’re in the Grindelwald valley, our fourth day here and we’ve done a number of hikes that we have never done before, several really notable hikes including one below the north face of Eiger and another panoramic view of the entire Grindelwald valley.

I’ve been coming to this valley since 1975 and I’ve never gotten up close and personal with the Eiger north wall like we did this time.  They just recently placed these maps showing the climbing routes, this one the original climb in 1938. Was really fun to look at the map and look at the wall and actually see where a climber may have actually gone and how they get to the top. The current record for climbing this wall is two hours and 20 minutes by a solo Swiss climber.

In many past times the peak of the Eiger was shrouded in clouds like any high peak in Switzerland. This trip we’ve been able to see the Eiger clearly in blue skies which are often called Swiss calendar days. On our third day here we took the panoramic hike high on the northeast side of the Grindelwald valley from Schynige Platte to Grosse Scheidegg. 

With little or no wind, the humidity and pollution from the valley comes up and leaves a little bit of “marine or atmospheric” layer clouding the view, but it is still outstanding. This trail is so popular because they have a funicular train that takes you to the beginning and you can take a gondola off the other end.

Three more days here and Murren and then we’re in Zermatt.

Vals Therme

The real reason we came to Vals was the check out the baths. Daniel learned of the Therme because it is an example of famous Swiss architecture; he has visited & told us that we should visit too.

These several photographs don’t begin to do it justice as we spent over two hours wandering through the various rooms and chambers experiencing a variety of water temperatures, chambers, chimes and scented water before I even thought to take photographs. It must be about a 20,000 square-foot building with more than half of that dedicated to water features.

One dark tiny stone room (with 20′ ceilings – which was the architectural standard) had a low padded bench where you accidentally discover a head rest at one end and you lie down to a bell and chime soundtrack. Anyone familiar with Shavasana could immediately assume the pose and fall into that resting trance some call the corpse pose.

Oh, and then we must have visited the 42* hot water chamber at least four times, between fragrant water pools, the steam rooms in three increasing degrees, or the waterfall massage spouts, to mention a few.

This experience could be the most relaxed I’ve ever been, or at least in 100 years. It was hard to leave one room and explore finding another as they are virtually unmarked and very subtly presented. The mineral waters are so clear and calming you move in slow motion in the waters as well as between the rooms. The entire structure is designed with Vals stone, quarried locally. It’s very hard not to want some of these water features in your own home or at least in your own town.


Here is the link to the Public GaiaGPS https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/d2c6b5406cfd473fc42128935deb336d/ where you can learn more about our track and see other tracks in the vicinity.

Only one hike in the Val’s region.  Posted above is the link to it on GaiaGPS’s website.  This is an experiment to see how this looks on blog.

Another experiment was taking a timer photo on my hiking pole.

You have to look close for the blue phone case on the pole.

The Engadine 

We came back to an area we really liked last year thinking the area needed more trail exploring.  The Engadine is in the southeastern corner of Switzerland, right along the Italian border.  Most of the western world knows several famous places in the Engadine, notably Davos and St Moritz, but we now know it for it’s countless hiking trails. 

The valleys are similar elevations to Durango but the trails lead straight out of a string of villages (some as large as St. Moritz) all interconnected by rail, road and bus. The villages with ski-able terrain above have gondolas, cable cars, funiculars or chair lifts leading up and down the mountains.  Hiking trails network around, down and thru the various mountains above the villages and provide excellent hiking and scenic opportunities.  

One benefit of the Engadine valley is that all the hotels provide a day pass for all the various modes of transport in the region.  So, with your hotel room you can start and stop anywhere in the region, and utilize any train, gondola, bus or chair lift to take you up, down or across the mountains.  The guilt is gone now using a gondola to take us 5,000′ up so that we can hike six or seven miles across and over the mountain, and if we’re tuckered (which hasn’t happened so far) we could exit the trail at a lift station,  bus stop or train station to find our way back to the hotel.  We’ve now spent over nine hiking days in this region and could easily find new places to hike next time.  The only analogy I could put forth would be to imagine free transport along all the valleys sourounding the San Juan Mountains with the added (hopefully never) aspect of gondolas and lifts up to those remote trailheads.

Almost every day on our all-day hikes we talk about how we wish we could share some of these exceptional experiences, which by the way would be more easily accessed than hiking with us in the San Juan’s. Colorado’s mountains are fantastic but this is really a unique experience seeing how this small country has intertwined exceptional recreation with a denser population, not to mention incredible natural resources.

Besides Colorado doesn’t have glaciers like Switzerland.

It’s not to late to join us, we’ll be here two more weeks.

In the Air

Stanna and Linda checking their iPhones and GaiaGPS stats on the last training hike before leaving for Switzerland.  Mountain View Crest at 12,555′ gives a great view of the 14’ers surrounding Chicago Basin.

Views of Ruby and Emerald Lakes are just over the ridge.

Once again we’re going lightweight and ultralight to Switzerland with 13 and 9 pounds in our day packs.  The only thing we check is our hiking poles.

Our Spot track link in the blog should show you where we’re hiking.  Click on the Satellite View for a better image.  Next up food porn from the Swiss tables

Fast Five Solar Days

IMG_5798“Guess I’m outta work” was what the electrician said mid-afternoon Thursday when he wrapped the last solar j-box lugs on the roof.  It was the culmination of an intense week of work and scheduling trying to get this solar array completed before a self-inflicted deadline of September 1st.  He’d wedged me into his already tight schedule thinking it would take about 3 days and we’d finished a conduit run, pulled 150′ of 4 conductor 3 stories, made up a complicated merging of two arrays electrical and tied it into the grid in a little over a day and a half.


Several reasons for the accelerated schedule, besides an ADHD owner, was that we’re leaving for Switzerland on the 1st of September and the rebate deadline with the local power company is on October 1st (which when you’re moving at faux-mach speed was thought to be September 1st).  And you may not have known, as I didn’t until very late in my life, dyslexics are narrow-focused folks.

IMG_5790Close family and friends like Chris, Mike, Will and Kurt put up with short notice, lending a hand or two when the impulse demanded. The electrician, like the roofer, was a required expenses due to this being an HOA installation but we could do all the design, materials acquisition, grunt work and assembly that didn’t require a licensed contractor.

Last step(s) are out of our hands: Electrical inspection and meter change which allows us to throw the double pole breaker reversing the meter, sending 3.5 kw back to the grid.  And of course replacing the usage for the condo.  It’s the right thing to do.

Escalante 2016

P1010957The Escalante Legacy Tree Study lives on, with our most recent trip to the desert duct delivering the Dixie National Forest waters thru the high Utah desert to the Colorado River at Lake Powell.  The Escalante River is said to be “navigable” sporadically during the Spring runoff, but it’s more like a shallow creek most of the year, especially in August.

Mike and I have been lucky enough to be invited to assist Melissa, a research and restoration ecological biologist specializing in Southwest and desert environments, the last two years on the Escalante River, and in the past in the Grand Canyon. The Escalante Legacy Tree Study finds and catalogs those historic trees in the Escalante drainage that meet a specific criteria, not just size. As the GaiaGPS track segment shows, this involves searching both sides of the river banks for qualifying senior candidates.


P1010950Since the access is either down the river along the seldom used animal trails or over the high desert and into the canyon thru steep access, not many get to experience the verdant micro-climate winding thru the desert crust. It took a full day just to get to where we left off last year, route-finding our way to a slot in the canyon wall and bushwhacking down the river bank.


Unusually cooler temps for this time of year made the week working in the Utah desert tolerable and mostly pleasant.  My original plan to not take a sleeping bag was fortuitously amended at the last minute, because the pre-dawn temps were in the mid-50’s rather than the anticipated mid-60’s.  Day-time temps never broke triple digits in the canyon and since we were mostly in the trees and often making repeated river crossings in the P1020070
water, we were comfortable in the long sleeves and long pants necessary for bashing thru the undergrowth. This isn’t a trip that boasts high mileage as the entire goal for the week was to log trees in just a five-mile section of the river.  It takes a full day to search about a mile of river: finding a tree, logging it’s height, distance from and height above the river, GPS location, health, number of stems, girth, and the species (plants) surrounding that granddaddy.

P1020059We spilt up when the river bank is larger than we can see thru the foliage, using coded yodels for communication and then gathering around when we find a living heirloom, each taking a series of recording chores. Melissa managed the most difficult, bushwhacking a direct route to the river to establish distance from the water. Mike and I counted stems (trunks out of the ground), girth and struggled with identifying species IMG_5771surrounding the tree. By mid-day many of the long slender plants started looking very much the same. Pictured is the list of common names we encountered and the code we needed for logging a tree’s vegetative environment. An interesting TED talk describes how plants communicate and share below the ground (worth viewing). We also needed to photograph the tree with ID number, which involved hiking back far enough thru the brush to find a suitable profile.

There are always interesting things to see besides legacy trees.  This river P1020020canyon was home to many in past centuries, just as all the other canyons and deserts of the Southwest.  In one alcove above an early twentieth century cowboy settlement, we stumbled upon an Indian settlement and granary with corn cobs and pottery shards.

A good time was had by all and we look forward to another section of the river next year.

To make sure I don’t bring the same Version 2pair of worn out hiking shoes I did the same gesture I used to do leaving a boat yard in the past. This dumpster was right next to the first ice cream stop out of the desert.




Another Solar Project

Solar detailThis week we’re working on a solar array for our adjacent condo.  The design was easy because we are duplicating what was installed exactly 5 years ago on the roof next door. The only difference is that in 5 years we are able to gain the same wattage with two less panels, 12 instead of 14.  

We’ve contracted with Engineered Solutions for solar, Durango Roofing and Alan’s Electric for the installation because we can’t do this ourselves on the condo complex.

IMG_5727We have been able to assist with the unskilled labor which means procuring the steel, getting the stanchions welded (thanks to Chris George – Red Mountain Equipment), the angle iron up on the roof (thanks to Mike, Christopher, Aiden and Will for their muscle).

This design on a flat EPDM roof is basically a ground mount as opposed to a slanted roof mount, therefore it takes heavier gage materials.  And the EPDM roof material requires a special “boot” to prevent moisture penetration down the 24 posts.

IMG_5744You can see the older array in the background on the adjacent roof. Sealing the boots is exactly the same as patching a dinghy but there is a different liability when it’s on an HOA roof, that’s why we’ve employed licensed roofers.  Fortunately it only took two of them half a day.




Since the roofers finished by noon, we decided to pick-up the steel angle IMG_7072IMG_7075iron and get it up on the roof so that Chris could start welding that same afternoon.



IMG_5752Fortunately the “iron” crew stayed around to help get the wire-free welder up onto the 3rd floor roof as well.  So Chris started and finished the angle iron rails by dinner time.

Thanks to everyone for helping get those rails ready for the solar panels.



C-1 RoofPanels and hardware should arrive this week, but chances are a Utah hiking trip will postpone their installation.

If we’re lucky we might have it all complete by September 1st.



WIS Trip Report

IMG_5707Not all the backpacking trips this summer have, or will, cover as much ground as the Weminuche Traverse posted earlier.  The photo above shows us at Fuller Lake in the late afternoon where we camped at 12,800′ the first night of a three-day WIS trip to the Ice Lake Basin.

This photo alone could foster 500 words about the trip, but this was a WIS (Wilderness Information Specialist) trip and it might fitting to just show you our trip report for those 3-days.  As the detail states this trip had the most “hiker interaction” we’ve ever experienced, mainly because we don’t frequent these hike traffic area as often.  This trip was fun and worth sharing.

WIS Trip Report — Tom Galbraith & Mike Taylor — July 29-31, 2016

Day 1 Drove to South Mineral Creek Trail head. Hiked up Ice Lake trail thru lower Ice Lake campsites, up to Upper Ice Lakes and on to Fuller Lake basin.

Day 2 Hiked up to Diamond Mine site down thru Lucy Mine back along Upper Ice Lake to Island Lake.IMG_5708

Day 3 Island Lake down to Ice Lake Trail and out at South Mineral Trailhead.

Trip stats: 3 days, 15 miles hiking, driving 120 miles

Executive Summary:

There were hundreds of hikers using the Ice Lake trail not just on weekends but on Wednesday (Tom’s wife hiked it on Wed 7/27 and there were at least 30 hikers lunching at Upper Ice Lake and close to 100 on the trail) and Friday this summer. It may be time to consider having/asking WIS volunteers to visit the Ice Lake Basin just as they are encouraged to visit Chicago Basin. The response from all but one of the hikers was “glad to see you up here” to “thank you for being here”. (One solo backpacker didn’t want to hear anything from us).

Trip Report:

  1. South Mineral Trailhead Parking lot was full at 7:30 AM
  2. Talked with 20+ people on the 2.8 mile uphill stretch to Lower Ice Lake Basin
  3. IMG_5703Walked thru every campsite in the lower Ice Lake Basin filling our trash bag with mostly aluminum from firepits, found tent stakes, socks, underwear, stove parts, an abandoned backpack stuck/snagged high in a tree, lots and lots of uncovered toilet paper (only twice associated with feces) and a freshly cut pine bough shelter with nylon cord tightly wrapped around small trees for ridgelines.
  4. Filled the small backpack with our almost 6 pounds of trash and talked father and son day-hikers into taking it down with them.
  5. By this time (noon) we’d seen close to 50 hikers on their way to Upper Ice Lakes.
  6. Checked on one young lady reportedly vomiting along the ledge trail to Ice Lakes. She appeared to be better at lake side, she had eaten something and had 3 liters of water. Declined any help and wasn’t going down until they got to Fuller Lake (Checked on her later in the day, she was fine)
  7. No one camped at Upper Ice Lake but several backpackers had come down as we came up.
  8. Before we left Ice Lake on Friday noon there were over 25 people enjoying the lake. Talking to most groups, they seemed to be either from Grand Junction or Albuquerque.
  9. At Fuller Lake we saw another 18 hikers that afternoon, four groups fishing, only one fish caught and released even though we could see numerous large (12”) and 6”+ fish swimming along the shoreline. Curious behavior (several hours) of a number of fish in shallow flats we thought might be spawning rituals.
  10. A couple from Grand Junction climbed Fuller peak while we were there.
  11. Version 2Saturday was the busiest by far in the Upper Ice Lake basin. By 10:30 there must have been 40 people there with more people streaming over the knoll the longer we talked with folks. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say there were over 100 people who visited Upper Ice Lake basin on Saturday. Several took a dip, it looked more like the beach at Navajo Lake than Upper Ice Lake.
  12. One Denver photographer had pitched his tent Friday night about 40’ from the lake and we advised him of the 100’ regulation.
  13. On Saturday there were five tent camps in the Upper Ice Lake basin by noon.
  14. Almost every group we passed had a question or two about the lake or the area. The most frequent question was why is Ice Lake so aquamarine, turquoise or “tat color”. Next frequent was how to get to Fuller Lake or even Island Lake.
  15. At Island Lake we helped an international couple choose an alternative route down the mountain, rather than climb over the exposed rock between Ice Lake and Island Lake.
  16. Another family was trying to exit Island Lake via the outflow creek ravine rather than on the Grant/Swamp trail the Hard Rock 100 runners use. They were happy to learn there was an easier descent.
  17. After dinner and during a thunderstorm there were still people visiting Island Lake and at least four up on the ridgeline between Island Lake and Clear Lake.
  18. Sunday morning there were well over a hundred people ascending the Ice Lake trail: at least two backpacking groups, one totally overloaded.
  19. IMG_5718We checked a campsite north of the trail on a knoll below Lower Ice Lake basin and found a tent with an unattended fire with 6” and 4” logs burning. After no one responded, we extinguished the logs by carrying them down to a creek. We left a polite note asking them to be more careful in the future.
  20. IMG_5720On the trail down we were alerted to a Hotchkiss family group with an elderly lady experiencing problems getting down and her 16 year-old granddaughter was carrying two backpacks. (They’d overnighted in Lower Ice Lake basin for two nights.) It took a long time to catch them because almost every group coming up had something to say or ask. After learning the ailing lady wanted to walk slowing down by herself we offered to carry her backpack down.  Mike went back up from the trailhead 1.5 miles to check on them once again. He carried a second backpack and stayed with them all the way down.
  21. Just above the “log creek crossing” we found a couple and two young children “scaling hand over hand” 100’ up from the creek crossing having missed the trail to the left of the creek. We blocked that bottom trail with downed trees so others might not choose the “elk trail”.
  22. We counted 91 vehicles in the parking lot while waiting for the ailing lady and about 12 of those switched out, all before noon.

IMG_5716This was the most rewarding day as a WIS volunteer I’ve had in four years as a volunteer. Everyone was happy to see us and talk. The exposure for the National Forest Service was excellent and 6 or 8 of the locals asked how they might learn about the WIS program. We learned late Saturday afternoon there was another “Forest Service” couple on the Ice Lake trail. We suspect it was the Schmaltz’s from Silverton since they’ve adopted that Ice Lake trail, which was in excellent shape. The trail looked liked it had been swept clean, in the lower section up to the log creek crossing. Hardly any micro-trash on the trail, but the trees and hidden spots are alive with TP.

As mentioned above in the Exec Summary, it might be a good thing to encourage more of the WIS volunteers to go up to Ice Lake and give Charlie and Paulette a hand. From noticing and hearing about Engineer Mountain trail the same might apply. The day hiker seems less experienced on those trails than those who visit Chicago Basin, and our help and volunteers might be needed as much on those two popular trails as in Chicago Basin.