Attractive Nuisance Removed

P1400553The world’s an ever-so slightly better place now because our WIS crew removed an attractive nuisance from the Needleton Trailhead at the Silverton Narrowguage Railroad stop.

This outhouse was probably installed in the 50’s when Needleton town site with it’s few remaining cabins was less of a popular train stop than it is now with almost 10,000 backpackers disembarking at this remote trailhead.

IMG_8002The Weminuche Wilderness area wasn’t designated until 1975 an the Needleton town site is still an “in holding” within the 488,210 acre Wilderness, meaning it’s still privately owned.  Of course the Silverton Narrowguage has it’s right-of-way thru the wilderness as well it’s possible to breech the Wilderness restrictions of “Only primitive forms of travel – foot travel and stock animals – are allowed in Wilderness. This includes motor vehicles, bicycles, wagons, hang gliders, carts and any type of motorized equipment, including chainsaws”.  So the wheelbarrow in the photo was legal just on that tiny parcel at the outhouse and train stop. We brought all our tools in the narrow-gauge train boxcar.

Our plan was to de-construct the outhouse in order to preserve the barnwood exterior and possible sell it to someone to benefit the San Juan Mountain Association, however once we took a few boards off we were more certain of it’s provenance and little value.  Nevertheless, we still had to pack out the entire structure so we kept the lumber in as much original state as possible.  Tipping it over, proved expeditious to it’s disassembly.

P1400556P1400562It only took 50 minutes for us to have it apart and another 45 minutes to pull all the nails.  After we broke up the concrete base we burned the shingles and scrap wood in the 4 foot iron base. Then we filled the holes and adjacent depressions with the broken up concrete and numerous wheelbarrows of rock, before we set to “naturalizing” the site.

IMG_8004This process took us five times the amount of work, because we had to find a source of easily transportable dirt, not to mention rocks, plants, duff and gravel to give the mound a unobtrusive natural look.

We camped up river overnight and came back the next day to finish off the project and ended up removing three large fire rings and naturalizing them at the same time.


IMG_8002If you’ve read this far, it’s worth showing at couple more photos since this started out with removing 4 large trash bags of trash that had been thrown down the seat.  And what the load all bundled and bagged up looked like for the baggage car home. It was fitting that we took on this project during the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.IMG_8006



The crew was pretty satisfied with the results.



DejaVu Passage thru Durango

IMG_7955Joe and Helen Berry made a quick passage thru Durango this week en route to California and should be back through here in a week. We spent the first day catching up and doing a little mac’ing out.  Helen had been here visiting Rita several years back, but this was the first trip for Joe since his family vacations of his youth.  They let us show off the town by visiting an artists street fair, walking downtown thru the gauntlet of tourist shops, and driving the rim for an overlook of our compact community.

IMG_7972Rita and her new beau came for dinner and we recounted old times from Tarpon Springs. Joe & Helen go way back with Rita, as she was there when DejaVu was conceived behind the Tarpon house. Rita lives in Durango now, and the Berrys in Canada when they aren’t on their beautiful cat in the Bahamas.




Mexican hurricanes brought a low pressure area to the San Juan’s so we had to delay a trip to Silverton by a day, which gave Helen and Joe a chance to tour Kurt’s boat currently hauled in a local yard. The master shipwright gave Kurt lots of sage advice and tips he graciously accepted.


We wanted them to see some of our heritage homeland and past projects up in Silverton so we chanced the weather and headed north in a squall.  By the time we got to Animas Forks and the restored mining town structures, the weather was just fine.  Elevations above 11,000′ didn’t phase the the sea-level mariners a bit, and when the clouds lifted they got to see the San Juan’s famous changing of the colors with the iridescent yellow and red aspens and scrub oaks.

IMG_7980Joe got into photographing some of our mining and railroad history while we toured the restored buildings of Animas Forks, high above Silverton.

After a tailgate lunch on the 4Runner in the high country, we made it back just in time to catch the Silverton narrow gauge train back to Durango. Joe shot another 100 photos on the downwind run.

IMG_7988IMG_7957We sure look forward to their layover on the way back.  Stanna wants Joe to tweak the flying shuttle on her loom just a little more, and we’d like to show them another couple days of this wonderful country.  We sure enjoy it when you all visit us in our undisclosed remote location.



Urban Hiking


With all day to explore several towns and a Swiss train pass to travel between places we still managed to get in almost ten miles a day visiting castles, and walking the waterfront of Lake Geneva. Our first day off we actually traveled back to Zermatt where we finished last year’s Haute Route hike. It seems bizarre to zip around on a few trains and a cog railway just to go to lunch, but with the rail pass you can travel anywhere in Switzerland on buses, trains and some gondolas, so why not have lunch in Zermatt? The Matterhorn wasn’t as glorious a view as last year’s cloudless sunny day, however it’s fun to notice and see the changes taking place.


The Chateau du Chillon in Montreux was a favorite site on Stanna’s 2012 trip and impressed me as well this year. Unlike other historical structures, one could visit almost every nook and cranny of this 1200-year-old many-leveled castle, from the dungeon to the ramparts. The castle was far larger than it appeared from the lake bank where it was situated on a toll road “pinch point” between the mountain slope and waters of the lake, because we spent over three hours wandering thru the reception halls, bed chambers, wine cellars, chapels and quarters.



Most interesting was to learn that the Count (the highest local nobles of the times) only spent three days in most of his castles, traveling continuously with his entire retinue around his realm in order to maintain his authority. Seeing and learning about the way they transported every item of their household from clothing to dishes. As many as three hundred carts hauled everything in trunks which were carried up into each castle where staff setup bedrooms, hangings, bathtubs and the lot.


Another interesting fact was what was required of the locals each time the royals showed up. They had to fete the group for their entire stay, providing everything from firewood (1000 carts-full), 100’s of animals for meat and literally tons of other food stuffs (a list of which would fill our largest supermarket several times over). Of course each castle housed the local bailiff or constable who collected taxes for the region, generally consisting of in-kind goods, which were audited with each of the royal visits.


IMG_9149.JPGStanna’s special day was celebrated with a lakeside dinner and chocolate dessert and we learned that Wiesbaden, my German heimatstadt in the 70‘s, was only 4 days 7 hours and 30 minutes hike from Montreux.



Rather than zip back to Geneva on the train we choose to walk along the lake to the next town, Vevey, where we ran into a memorial to Charlie Chaplin who happen to live here many years. Interesting contrast to see the opulent and grand chateaux lakeside compared to the farmers’ huts and homes in the mountains. Even the cities and urban towns had some agriculture within the city limits although most the lakeside crops were vineyards.


Another great trip to Switzerland.

“Home Thoughts from Abroad”

What we like most about traveling is the constant thought, discussion, comparison and even research (thanks to instant access usually nightly to the Internet via iPad) that we involve ourselves in. The cultural, economic, infrastructural, construction style and method, domestic and commercial ways that are different as well as those that are the same.


Almost every construction site is a place to pause and ponder, “what would McKenney think about this…?” Half timber construction is everywhere in the mountains, scaffold techniques and requirements that would warm the hearts of TSA-emboldened OSHA inspectors, copper rain gutters on the steep snow- and ice-prone roofs, not to mention 300-year-old buildings serving contemporary needs.


Public transportation we know surpasses ours, but we spend continued hours realizing, or better speculating, why the Swiss have theirs working like their renowned clocks. Trains that depart shortly after regional buses arrive, even buses that leave minutes after gondolas descend. It all makes perfect logical sense but to see and experience it work is not only convenient but inspiring. Just the stable of bus sizes ranging from intracity 3-car articulated buses to the 3 or more sizes of ubiquitous Post buses deployed in rural and mountain communities. There just isn’t a need for a car, and when there is one the size of a Rav4 is large.


Construction and transportation are easy comparisons but we get challenged by population distribution, GDP, percent tourism provides to the ecomomy, ethnic diversity, ownership of the alps and fascination with why mountain bikers strap their helmets on their handlebars riding the tortuous uphills trails, how it is that families are still farming right within towns, even to the point of mowing and raking the grasses down those steep slopes around their homes. Or even why public restrooms have blue lights.


What’s finally occurred to me is that even if Switzerland and Colorado were equal sizes in population, GDP and geography (which they aren’t quite), the difference is that Switzerland’s federal taxes go directly into funding infrastructure within it’s borders while Colorado’s federal tax contributions go to a much broader national budget. If Colorado had that 15 or 20% of it’s Income as tax to spend on infrastructure we might afford trains, eduction and roads like Switzerland. Or we might see more soccer fields downtown with parking underneath for the adjacent stores.


There are still plenty of things I like better in the states. It’s just fun to think how two western cultures do things differently and yet how many of the things are the same, just with different logos or labels.

Last pass


The climb over the last pass and descent into Adelboden was anti-climactic probably because we’ve become jaded looking at “Swiss calendar” views of snow-capped peaks, vibrantly green alps and micro-sized villages and towns down in the valleys. This is only said in the context of remembering to pull out the camera to capture still more views of our hike along the Via Alpina.


You’d think in an eight hour day of hiking and using a digital camera that we might be taking hundreds of photos a day, however the truth is we have to make ourselves stop and record that moment or view. Wanting to share photos on the blog helps and some of you know that we use our extensive travel photo library (numbering almost 20,000 photos) as a random collage screen saver on our computers and Apple TV. So we know we’ll enjoy the Swiss alp farmhouse juxtaposed with a Paradox cockpit scene almost daily.


Looking back, whether it be months and years later, or simply up from the micro-viewed valley town at the end of the day, does give one a sense of accomplishment you don’t seem to garner while you’re trekking along one foot in front of the other.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, Stanna admits that she “pass-ed out” on this trip. On the next-to-last climb she got about half-way up to the pass, decided conditions were not right for her, and hiked back down to get bus & train transportation to that night’s village. And for this final pass, she train-ed and bus-ed to Adelboden then climbed up half-way to meet me coming down the pass on that side. She says it was the best 10.8 francs she has spent in Switzerland.


Murren to Grisalp


We had a great stay at the Blumental Hotel in Murren. Another classic vintage hotel and this one even had internet. Many of our hotels have had balconies and this one looked out over the narrow carless street of Murren and further to the walled cliffs rising to more of the Bernese Oberland’s highest mountains.

One thing that surprised us at dinner in the hotel was that almost every table had English speaking guests. Enough Anglophiles that we got into conversations with several tables which wanted to know about our hike, since they overheard us talking.


Shortly after tasting the creamed carrot soup we knew we were in for a treat. All of our hotels have reservations made with the half-pension plan, which includes dinner and breakfast along with our room. We really like this concept, especially after coming in from an all day hike, where we don’t have to make a decision about where to go to eat and then what to chose from the sometimes bewildering menus. Many of the fancier hotel restaurants actually print out an evening dinner menu for the half-pension guest, so along with the phalanx of silverware and display of glassware one can have fun translating the fare.

AccuWeather promised “Mostly Sunny” for Murren but that must have only been accurate above the the fog and clouds. The almost 4,000′ climb to the pass only gave hints of the wonderous peaks flanking our rise in the clouds. Part of the trail was called the “North Walls Trail” and had 2×3′ interpretive signage from each vantage point detailing the first ascent routes on each wall, when and by whom.

This pass was one of the highest we encounter on the Via Alpina and the fog and low hanging clouds made it the least exciting, almost joy-less in a viewless fog shrouded 4,700′ descent. Oh, and the 7% chance of rain was correct if you don’t count drizzling the last two hours down to Griesalp. And in case you’re curious, there were 261 steps off the back side of that summit. Straight down into the fog.

Bernese Oberland


Day 3 of 5 days hiking across the heart of the Bernese Oberland and it’s pretty wonderful even with the throngs of tourists to rival the Grand Canyon south rim. Hiking the Via Alpina routes us up and over three major passes (we added a day at Grindelwald, where we climbed 5,350′ to Mannlichen just to keep our legs fit and mostly to reminisce back 42 years), so we don’t see or hike with too many folks until we reach a train or gondola terminus at the top.


Selecting a few photos of the 48 that I just took today becomes problematic because they’re hard to choose and review on a mobile device let alone edit them with filters or photoshop. The classic of the three in the center of today’s hike is the Eiger. I learned today from Stanna that Eiger means ogre in German and the Monch is defending the Jungfrau from the Eiger. Today not all three were visible at the same time and fit in the viewfinder. Check them out in Google Earth 3D or on the map above.


The transportation infrastructure in this area is remarkable taking literally thousands an hour up the various mountains. We were the only ones we saw trekking up the mountain. (See Stanna on the trail as we pass under one of the three cog trains an hour that wend their way up hundred year old rail beds). A number, lets say a tenth of a percent, do hike down some portions. And we did see five old men trying to get “younger next year” cycling mountain bikes just as we approached the pass.


One paraglider passed us going down above the Lauterbrunnen cliffs. He said he’d “only have to rapel 7 meters [thru the trees to the edge] before I can launch”. Paragliding has been a frequent sight in the skies along our route, as roads, lifts and access make launching for 5-7,000′ elevation flights easy. Looking down to Lauterbrunnen will give you an idea of his flight path.


Each time we come thru villages there’s plenty to stimulate discussion whether it’s Swiss construction, marveling at cutting grass on 45+ degree slopes with tractors or just the abundance of gardens and geraniums festooned like bunting from every house’s window box planters.



Since Rosenlaui was so remote and back at least a century we didn’t have wifi, nor access to the weather. Good thing because within minutes of starting up the hill to Grosse Scheidegg we had to don our rain gear once again and it’s better to be surprised and acquiesce rather than stifle your dread. Actually the two different days we hiked in the rain have been almost enjoyable. Not really cold and not much storm, just steady light to moderate rains. Our ultralight rain gear is more than adequate, for those of you wondering how our 3 oz rain coats work.

Not many photos just a few climbing up to the pass before the rain and a couple after on our descent into the Grindelwald valley.



After the rain clouds subsided we started getting glimpses of the Wetterhorn and even the Eiger itself. Wish you could see all of it with us, but this foggy shot will have to do.


Maybe this 3D Apple Map screenshot will give you a better feeling for the alpine setting.


Rosenlaui Hotel and Ballenberg

Last year on the Haute Route the grandest hotel was the Weisshorn Hotel, of which we wrote effusively. The Rosenlaui Hotel was built about 150 years earlier and has been added onto once a century since without losing any historic authencity. For example, the second floor of each adjoining addition is one long series of salons, parlors, banquet hall, library and living rooms each bedecked with period furnishings, lighting and antiques still in service.

Our room is a suite in the original building on the fourth floor with chaise longue, marble topped dressers and wash basin stand with pitcher and towels. Having just read the best seller, The Goldfinch, whose descriptive narrative details period Persian rugs to coffered oak ceilings, I won’t begin to venture guesses on the provenance of our furnishings. Let’s just say it’s the first time I’ve felt comfortable living in a museum.



And speaking of museums, we took another lay day and visited a 300-acre historical village of Swiss homes, huts and heritage assembled at a place called Ballenberg. Stanna visited it a couple years back with the ladies’ Swiss hiking tour and wanted to ensure I got to see it as well. Not sure when this project began, probably less than twenty-five years ago. Preservationists have taken all sorts of historic examples of real authentic buildings, no matter the size or complexity, and disassembled them insitu and transported them to the Ballenberg hillside setting outside Brienz, where they totally reconstructed them as they were, gardens and all.


Not sure all the interiors are intact, but they’ve managed to teleport the furnishings, clothing, tools, animals, herbs and culture along with the structures. Various 21st century craftspeople populate various trades, from rope making (a 100′ narrow shed), cheese making, homeopathic medicine (including working gardens of all those contemporary herbs), saddle and harness making and on and on.

We have hiked thru alps, villages and towns where we see all these buildings and Monday we got to look inside to see what it was like to live in them. The first thing that stands out is the massive stoves most of the houses have; from as early as 1500 they were cooking in a central hall or kitchen room on a variety of wood fired cooking spots and each of these stove spots connected directly to a massive tiled box in the living quarters. Here they hung their clothes to dry above the heat source and dried their boots beneath it.


What surprised us further was that many of these homes, which often times shared walls with their livestock, were actually duplexes: two-family homes where the central hall/kitchen area was common and each family would have their living quarters on opposite sides. Ballenberg had homes and farmhouses from all the regions of Switzerland, thru most of the centuries back to the 1300’s, as well as those huts and houses which a farmer would utilize from the valley to mid alp and on to the summer residence high up the alp where they kept the herds and made cheese in the highest alps.


Of the trades that they featured, the pharmacist was most interesting because they showed several examples of farms that raised and processed all manner of drugs, potions and remedies, along with the grinders, presses, torts and distilleries. Not to mention the extensive gardens currently in production with all the herbs, plants and roots that constitute the raw materials. Also there was an entire hat makers home: transported walls, roof, stairways, from attic to basement with all the gear, machines, jigs, forms necessary to fabricate hats ranging from straw to felt.


As with all our “days off” it was a ” busman’s holiday” because we walked for five hours around, up and down thru all these grounds, structures, gardens and pens. A great fun diversion only a bus ride down the mountain, a train ride to the next town and a bus ride out to the encampment. Actually it’s really fun to zip around a country on public transportation that runs like clockwork meshing bus and train schedules with very little standing around or inconvenience, because they all connect with each other.


Striking as the day was, learning about how the Swiss people have lived thru the past millennium, it was even more interesting to come back to our own accommodations and realize we are staying in a 380 year-old working 48 room hotel that was every bit the museum we’d just been visiting.



Did we mention that Sherlock Holmes died in Meiringen? At the Reichenbach Falls just a few minutes from the center of town. And that he was on his way to stay at the same Rosenluai Hotel we’ve stayed. The town has capitalized on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s epic story of the legendary hero’s demise, or suspected demise, struggling with his arch enemy the villain Dr. Moriarity. There are statues, streets, bars and restaurants, plus the same English Church featured in his works which has been converted into a museum by the Sherlock Holmes Society.

Guess I’ll have to read the story too.

Engelberg to Meiringen

Sunday’s pass was completely different from the day before. Aerial traffic could wend its way up to the summit for a treat in curvey turns, while the Jochpass itself was rife with hundreds of people but no roads. We’ve begun to approach the resort portions of the Via Alpina and the Bernese Oberland in specific.

Rising out of Engelberg are numerous lifts and a gondola ferrying folks up to the Titlis Glacier year-round ski area and all sorts of hiking trails descending both sides of the Jochpass. Arriving at the base (yes, we did choose once again to knock off about 3,000′ of first-thing climbing) there were already eight tour buses parked in the gondola parking lot. The line for the smaller gondolas had no less than 100 people queued up but fortunately was moving really fast.

Most people chose to start their hike at the first stop, whereas Stanna and I took one more chair lift to a more remote summit. The lake we passed accessing that second lift had a postcard perfect reflection of the mountains and cumulus sky. Here’s hoping the photos turned out.


If you’re worried we’re wimping out, we got in almost 14 miles and nearly 7,000′ of downhill. Stanna is reading Kev’s guide and titrating her endurance. As it was, with only 50 minutes stopped time the whole day, we just managed to arrive in Meiringen in time to catch a Post bus to our hotel. The hike included lots of sunny mountain views, waterfalls and long looks down to the valley below. About midday we could see the back side of the Bernese Oberland massif which is the home of the Eiger, Jungfrau and their brethren.

Check out all cow bells above the door and windows.

I’d chanced to check online about our next accommodation and luckily I noticed it was about 9 miles out of town. What the Google Map didn’t emphasize was it was three hiking hours up the mountain toward Grindelwald. The last Post bus saved making a long day interminable. We were’t sure what to expect this far up a single lane road that the Post bus had to use it’s famous Post Horn bugling around sightless wall to wall curves. Oncoming cars pulled sharply to the edges or backed up to turn-outs to let the Post Bus through.

What a delightful surprise the Rosenlaui Hotel turned out to be.