Finished Via Alpina

We’d read a David Sedaris piece in the New Yorker about his addiction to his FitBit, never imagining it would be something we’d enjoy.  With his humor you never quite know where the humor steps beyond the reality, especially when he was talking about quadrupling that 10,000 step benchmark recommended for daily health.  (Click on the link if you want to enjoy his FitBit exploits). Funny thing is, it isn’t too hard to double or even triple that benchmark goal on a day’s hike, when you’ve got all day, plus a lunch of salami, bread and cheese. 

All the reviews written about the Apple Watch say there isn’t a “killer app” out yet but every geek comments on how they’re getting far more exercise, because like with the FitBit buzz when you hit 10,000 steps, they get a similar feeling when the Watch reaches it’s target. There’s a lot of focus and emphasis these days, besides our not so subtle encouragement to get outside, to increase daily exercise.

At the end of each day, and truth be told often times during the day, we’re eager to read just how many steps we’ve logged.  Our goal hasn’t been to set any step or mileage records, just to finish each day’s hike with enough pleasure, visual memories and energy to do it again the next day. And now we’ve happy to say we’ve hiked the Via Alpina across Switzerland, as well as the Haute Route.

What’s  astonishing is what thirty days’ hiking amounts to in steps.  Here’s Stanna’s FitBit log for the last month


Younger Next Year.  Trouble is we probably ate all those calories calculated by the algorithm as well. Especially when we celebrated with a large pot of fondue and mountain of meraguine. 


Back on the Via Alpina

Last year we hiked the Via Alpina from Sargans to Adelboden about 225 miles before we had to return home to Durango.  This year we’re finishing the Swiss portion of the trail, four more days to Lake Geneva.

It feels good to be “thru hiking” again, going from one town to another, always over a pass, which gives you not only grand vistas into and from the next valley, but a sense to accomplishment when you see that last pass way off in the distance.

The elevations are a bit lower than earlier in this trip but the daily ascent and descent are just as dramatic. We’ve been averaging about 12 miles a day, when you count getting around town before and after each day’s hike. It’s real interesting to compare all the digital “steps” devices we have (iPhone Health apps and Stanna’s FitBit).  Stanna’s FitBit and my Health app seem to agree most of the time, and to give you an idea they are often both a couple thousand over 30,000 a day when we get in 6 hours on the trail.

The last several nights we’ve been staying in very small (5 to 7 room) hotels where we are the sole guests. We like these places better than the larger hotels primarily because of their character and because they’ve managed to remodel older structures into very comfortable accommodations.  This also forces us to search for an evening meal, rather than the half-pension meal provided by the hotel (always very good to excellent) and we’ve lucked out each time finding wonderful meals even though they aren’t four-course.

So far we’ve only hiked two days with less than two hours each of rain. It’s been unusually cool and often cloudy, however this has made for very pleasant walking and hardly detracts from the scenery.  Only two more days to Lake Geneva and then we will be finished with the hiking portion of the trip.  Knees, ankles, shoulders and waists are holding up well, despite the abuse. Sure wish we could share the experience “live” with you.

We’ll spend the 17th in Zermatt again for our requisite fondue and meringue  binge.

Swiss National Park

 Unlike the U.S., Switzerland only has one National Park, however it’s easier to understand because it has about a sixth of Colorado’s land mass. (Population is ~8 million to Colorado’s ~5 million). Just think of Estes’ Rocky Mountain National Park as a sole comparison to Switzerland. Rocky Mountain National Park is six times the Swiss park.

Established in 1909 and added on to several times it serves as a preserve for a number of animals that had earlier been hunted to extinction. Somewhat like our Wilderness areas they prohibit any human changes to the region and more prohibitively restrict all access to very few specific trails (leaving the trail is verboten). They even have designated rest stops, where yellow topped posts cordon off a half-football field for lunch stops, prolonged resting and viewing wildlife.

It’s not quite like Estes Park where herds of elk hang out in meadows, but it is possible to view Ibex and Chamois in their natural settings. We got the feeling it was more like their home and we were on parade up and down those specific trails.

Five days was our schedule in the park with one loop, one two-day trek with a stop at the only hut in the entire National Park, another single day loop and then an exit over and out of the park thru a Middle Ages mining district. 

  Their park is quite popular and this is where we’ve seen the most people hiking the same trails as us. One remarkable thing we learned was that their are very few English speaking hikers and even fewer Americans visiting the park. 

  All signage is in three languages and none of them are English; if there is a fourth it’s Romansch.  Fortunately my German has served us well.

Bernina Express

Hopefully you’re not viewing the above map on your mobile phone because it’s worthwhile expanding this photo and looking at the beautiful depiction of the eastern Switzerland’s mountains. We had a couple of days of inclement weather and took advantage of them by visiting a glacier up close and then the following day taking a ride on the Bernina express route from Pontresina over Bernina Pass into Italy.

This map by the way, shows almost everywhere that we’ve been for the first two weeks of our trip here in Switzerland. We stayed in Maloja in the top right-hand corner for four nights doing day hikes out of that region and then moved to Pontresina in the center of the map and did day hikes out of there, as well as the glacier and the train trip to Italy. Now we’re down in the lower left-hand corner and the Swiss national Park.

The featured Highpoint in this area is being able to see the 4049m peak called Piz Bernina. And one of the many advantages of staying the Pontresina hotels is being given an Engadiner transportation pass that allows you to take the trains, buses and gondolas in the entire region. We had planned to take an easy hiking day by visiting the Morteratsch Glacier from the Diavolezza gondola. There are several short hikes up on top with views of the several other glaciers, however when we made it through the low hanging clouds to arrive at Diavolezza we found 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow on all the trails we planned to hike so we limited ourselves to very short excursions and lots of photo opportunities. We got our daily mileage in by hiking the valley all the way back to Pontresina rather than taking the train.

It’s here we saw the long white pillows shown in earlier post where we asked you to guess what they might be. I guessed that they were covering 6 feet of snow so that they would have an early start on the ski season but in fact are preserving the glacier, covering two to three meters of the glacier.

The Bernina Express is just one leg of a private railroad system the runs throughout this eastern portion of Switzerland’smountains. This particular route made me think of the comparison between the Durango Silverton narrow gauge as it passes through a similar distance of wilderness in the San Juan Mountains. This route is not through wilderness as it passes through a number of small villages and even towns but it does go through some spectacular scenery and goes over a 2900 m pass, with views of all those peaks and glaciers not to mention precipitous views of valleys. This route has one remarkable featuring where it turns underneath itself as shown above in the photo. We ate our salami, bread and cheese on a park bench in Italy and turned around and came back on the same route and I’ll say it was far less tiring then the round trip on the Durango Silverton narrow gauge.


We saw one of these going over the Surlej Pass and then several up at Diavolezza cable car station near Morteratsch Glacier today.  My guess was close, but still not quite right.  A local Swiss set me straight.

Give it your best guess.  These tarps are at about 10,000′ adjacent to ski areas.


Three Headwaters

Maloja in the upper Engadine valley, just north of the Italian border in eastern Switzerland, has as one of its attractions the hydrological wonder of harboring three distinct watersheds. These local tributaries eventually run into the Danube, the Po and the Rhine and flow into the Black Sea, the Meditterean and the North Sea respectively.

This trip we’re trying something new, basing ourselves in a locale that accesses multiple mountain trails.  The first of our stops is in the Val Bregaglia which is just south of St Moritz and the Swiss National Park.  This valley is historically noted as being part of an early Roman trade route to the north.  It is also noted for some of the earliest Swiss winter tourism and specifically a couple of notable figures like Nietsche and the Italian painter Segantini.

We hiked 13 miles of the Roman trade route to the Italian border the first day, the whole time questioning and conjecturing what they possibly needed from the north.  Later we found from a map that they brought glass all the way from northern Germany as well as tin, iron and gold from southern Germany.  We took the post bus back to Maloya.

Schnitzel with mushrooms, bouquet vegetables and buttered noodles was the reward for our efforts.  We did learn the Romans carried several pounds of grain, hard tack and considerable amount of bacon for their rations.  Not sure if they enjoyed dark chocolate after dinner like we did.


The next couple days we hiked in different directions, one day up long Val Fex with hanging glaciers at the top and a couple of picturesque resort hotels accessible only by horse-drawn carriage.  A hike around the Silsersee took us high up on one side giving us views of the craggy mountains and the lake below which lies between Maloja and Nietsche’s summer town of Sils Maria.

In each day’s hike we traveled through tiny mountain-side hamlets and even smaller alp farms with their famous chalet-style huts and rock and timber barns.  Just a reminder, the word “alp” refers to those high meadows up in the mountains, not to the mountains themselves often called The Alps.

Swiss Bound

IMG_7345Off on another “Birthday Hike” in Switzerland.  The kitchen “gear” scale has been utilized full-time this week paring down weights of containers, tops, shoes, etc.  Since we only tote day packs it’s tight when some of us have 3 pair of shoes, but if you average the two packs we’re still within the 10# range.

Itinerary this year is more varied, with us exploring the eastern Switzerland National Park initially, and then finishing up the Via Alpina between Adelboden and Lake Geneva in the western portion of Switzerland. And a bonus side trip to Belgium.

We’ll try to blog along the way – photos don’t get formatted or aligned – but we should be able to write and record as we go along.  Caution: there will most likely be some food-p0rn since we like to enjoy some of those meals and dishes several times by looking at them over and over.

SatelliteYou can always see where we are by clicking on our Spot Location on the blog main page, and we recommend changing the view to Satellite in the right-hand corner of the map.ArrowTracking

If you can’t get the blog main page because you’re viewing on a mobile device, the URL is here.

Spot Gen 3Spot is a GPS location beacon that records our track every 10 minutes.  We’ll try and keep it activated each day we’re hiking.  Weight 4.5 oz.  House guest, web cam and Roomba will be watching home.

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.