Tag Archives: climbing

Zurich city report

The final (for now) city report I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com) is about Zurich. Its one of the most expensive places in the world to live in, but Zurich offers an amazing quality of living, that far outweighs the costs.

Zurich 3

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
Studied at the ETH Zurich.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
6 months, in 2008.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
Lived in 3 other countries before coming to Zurich.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, it is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and it takes a 1 hour flight or a night train to get there from Zurich.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
Switzerland is the most beautiful country in Europe. Period.

Matterhorn

Matterhorn

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
Participated in the SOLA running race around Zurich. Cycled around Lake Zurich. Partied with the Dutch fans during Euro 2008. Climbed several mountains. Actually learned a few things at the ETHZ, too.

Rhine Falls

Rhine Falls

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Excellent.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
Winters are moist, and can be snowy. Summers are warm, with regular short thunderstorms in the evenings.

Zurich 1

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
None that I know of.

Are there any special security concerns?
Avalanches in the mountains.

The Swiss Army is there to protect you, even if it takes a 200-year old mortar

The Swiss Army is there to protect you, even if it takes a 200-year old mortar

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Apartments, mostly. City centre is prohibitively expensive, but public transport is, well, Swiss-efficient.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
Its a fine city for everyone but rather expensive. The price-quality ratio is superb, that is, you get value for money here.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
I guess. Haven’t heard of any major issues.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
The Swiss are not racist. That would imply they discriminate people. They don’t discriminate except between Swiss (=good) and not Swiss (=mwah).

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Lots of cobblestones and steep streets. Public transport and buildings are probably fine.

Sunrise at Uetliberg

Sunrise at Uetliberg

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The Uetliberg rising above Zurich is a wonderful place to watch the sunrise, and then hike along the ridge. The botanical gardens, both the old and the new ones, are lovely spots. The many museums of the Zurich University are quite interesting http://www.uzh.ch/en/outreach/museums.
http://www.spottedbylocals.com/zurich has plenty of other useful tips.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
As a student, I had access to the facilities of the ETHZ, and they are magnificent.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
Everything is available, for an exorbitant price.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available, but its probably cheaper to shop across the border. Germany is only 40 km away, so many people go there for groceries and many services.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Broadly available and accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
A supercar, so that you don’t stand out in the crowd. Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, that sort of thing.

A good bicycle is a valid alternative to a car here

A good bicycle is a valid alternative to a car here

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Yes, they’re fine. Best public transport in the world, no doubt.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
At least a bit of German would be quite helpful. The Zurich variant of Swiss-German is exceptionally difficult to understand, so abandon all hopes to learn German while you’re here.

On the other hand, you can learn kayaking right in the middle of the city

On the other hand, you can learn kayaking right in the middle of the city

Size and morale of expat community:
Huge. Over 30% of the population is non-Swiss.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
Hiking is huge here. For the Swiss, any mountain that does not involve technical climbing is considered hiking, so that includes summits like the Dom (at 4545 m, the 5th highest mountain in Switzerland). Zurich has a lively clubbing scene.

Switzerland has all the hiking you can handle

Switzerland has all the hiking you can handle

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
Buisness, smart casual-plus. Hiking gear in public.

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Excellent medical care is available, but can be expensive. Finding a dentist in Germany is a smart move.

You can leave behind your:
Sense of humor. The Swiss don’t get it.

What do you wish you had known about this city/country prior to moving there?
That I should have moved here sooner.

But don’t forget your:
Alpine skills. And your money. All of it.

Can you save money?
NO!

What unique local items can you spend it on?
Chocolate, cheese, kirch (cherry schnapps) mountain summits (guided ascends), Swiss army knives, watches.

Zurich 11

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
YES!

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):
The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame), Durcheinandertal, both by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Zurich 4

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How to choose a (small European) country

As the term of my contract at the university is drawing to a close, I begin to ponder on the next move. It is by now obvious we need another place to live. Our small European apartment has been a perfect place for the two of us, and we’ve managed very well to make it suitable for a baby, but with two children rapidly growing up it is becoming rather crowded here. We have few wishes – I dream of a kitchen with room for a dishwasher and the wife has always wanted a garden, even if a handkerchief sized one. The chances of finding an affordable place with a garden in a decent neighbourhood in Rotterdam with our current income are… well, not high. Besides, its not that I don’t like Rotterdam, on the contrary, but the air quality here is the worse in all of Western Europe.

Rotterdam is a pretty cool place to live

Rotterdam is a pretty cool place to live

Leaving Rotterdam – but where to?

Since in order to improve our living quarters we would have to find a new town,  I thought “why not tackle bigger issues, while we’re at it?”. There are many plus sides to living in the Netherlands (more about it in one of the next posts), but I would really like to live in a place where you don’t need to look at the calendar to know which season it is. But where to go? And how to decide? I sat down to compile a set of criteria my (our) new home would have to meet. The goal is to apply “Parkinson’s law for hiring”, and to reduce the number of possible places to move to. When applied right, in the end, the choice will be very, very simple.

Van Nelle factory - a Rotterdam architecture icon that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Van Nelle factory – a Rotterdam architecture icon that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

A properly run country

First of all, I want to live in a properly run country. You may ask “How do you know whether it is run properly?”. And I will tell you it is very easy to tell whether a country is run properly. Simple question – is it safe to drink tap water there? I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Turns out, it already rules out huge chunks of the world. All of Africa, all of South and Central America and most of Asia don’t have drinkable tap water. What’s left is Western, Northern and a bit of Central Europe, supplemented with the Anglo-Saxon division (USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the outliers of Asia that only prove how much they do not belong there (South Korea, Japan, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong and Brunei).

With a pleasant climate

Having thus excluded most of the world, I went on to think about what makes a place pleasant to live in. I mentioned the climate, but how to define what makes a pleasant climate? And I am proud to say I found a way to do it – wine! I will quote this passage from www.earthmagazine.org in full, because it illustrates my point so well (emphasis added):

“Are there ideal weather conditions for growing winegrapes? Although no two vintages in any region are exactly alike, growers everywhere would be ecstatic with adequate precipitation and warmth to grow the vine and ripen the fruit, with no weather extremes (like frost, hail and heat waves) and disease. During the dormant period, this would equate to enough soil-replenishing rainfall and a cool to cold winter, without vine-killing low temperatures but with enough chilling to ensure bud fruitfulness the following year. The spring would be free from wide temperature swings and frost, and have enough precipitation to feed vegetative growth. During flowering, the weather would be cloud-free with moderately high temperatures and high photosynthetic potential to allow the flowers to fully set into fruit. The summer growth stage would be dry, with heat accumulation to meet the needs of the variety and few heat stress events. The ripening period would be dry with a slow truncation of the season toward fall, with moderately high daytime temperatures and progressively cooler nights.”

In other words, a wine-growing area has a properly cold winter, but not a bitterly cold one, a pleasant, sunny spring without the wild mood swings the Dutch springs are so famous for and a dry, warm summer, that gently slides off into a cooler, but still dry autumn. Look at this picture below and you will see that wine-growing areas are primarily in places like Southern France, California, and Southern Australia. Coupled with the clean tap water requirement it already leaves us with preciously little places to choose from. For the ease of further comparison I will exclude exotic wine-growing areas like Sweden or Canada – I am sure you understand that is not what I mean by “a pleasant climate”.

World Wine Areas, image by Denkhenk

Where I speak the language

Next, I decided I want to live somewhere I either already speak the language or where I can learn a language that is widely used. This leaves out destinations like South Korea and Slovenia. Not that I am not open for attractive business opportunities from Japan or Poland, but I am trying to find ways to cut down my list here.  I already speak Dutch, English, Hebrew, Russian and a bit of German and Spanish. French is a language that would be extremely useful to learn as there are so many French-speakers in the world, and Italian gets a wild-card for ease of learning (from hearsay) and its usefulness in enabling you to at least understand French and Spanish (again, hearsay). This trims down the list to France, Spain, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, USA, Israel and the German-speaking countries.

In Europe

The choices become more difficult, as all the above are rather attractive places to live in. But one has to make choices. The USA is out for preferring guns over nipples. While Australia and New Zealand are really fun, living there would take me rather far from my friends and family, almost all of whom live in Europe. Again, given the right incentive, I will sail for Australia and never look back, but I would prefer staying closer to the ones I love. I’ve already lived in Israel and its just too warm there for me. What’s left are “just” France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria to choose from.

Close to mountains

If there’s something I love its mountains. Hiking, climbing, canyoning – even just watching mountains makes me happy. Maybe its the years spent in the flatness of the Netherlands that make me want to live within easy reach of a serious mountain chain. And I don’t mean something like the Massif Central or the Ardennes – I mean mountains with glaciers and all. That narrows the options down a bit further – of the mountain chains in the countries that made the short list, only the Pyrenees and the Alps have glaciers. The Pyrenees glaciers are quite small, and since I’m in the business of making choices here, I’ll leave the Pyrenees out for the moment. Its just the Alps then.

Swiss mountain lakes...

Swiss mountain lakes…

And not too far from the family

Coming to think of it, since we’re pretty settled on staying in Europe, it would be nice to live somewhere reasonably close to the family in the Netherlands. That way, we could drive down to visit grandma and grandpa for the holidays, the cousins can come over to us for a long weekend. So not moving away too far – but how far is not too far? My experience is that driving 800 kilometers is about the maximum for a single day without breaking yourself. And there’s a great tool to help with that, called “How far can I travel?“. I’ve filled in “800 kilometers from Rotterdam”, and the nearest place with mountains hits the spot – its Switzerland. Incidentally, its also the country with the highest salaries and the lowest taxes. Cows, mountains and cheese, here we come! The tough part of having to decide where to go has thus being taken care of, all I got to do now is finish my PhD and find a job. Piece of cake.

Matterhorn - a super strong argument for Switzerland

Matterhorn – a super strong argument for Switzerland

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Mont Blanc

A few days ago, I’ve published here part I of the story of my ascend of the Mont Blanc – the acclimatization climb of the Weissmies. The Mont Blanc part has since been published on www.streettrotter.com, and I can post it here as well.

Day 8 – Chamonix

We arrive by the Mont Blanc Express to Chamonix. The forecast is not encouraging – thunderstorms for tomorrow and what comes next only God knows. We manage to squeeze our tent into a spot on the campsite where at least 200 tents are already pitched on what supposed to be 80 places. Almost everyone here have already tried ascending the Mont Blanc or are about to, and it looks more than anything like the circus is in town.

Day 9 – Desert de Pierre Ronde

In the morning, we leave excess luggage at the camping and go to town to rent gear. At the store, the attendant enquires in a thick French accent “and whitch mounta’n arrre you goin’g to climb” “Mont Blanc”, I answer, in the most casual way I can, enjoyng the disappearance of the smug expression from his face. “Oh la la! In thise shoos and with thise crrrampons? C’est no possible!”, and he runs off to sharpen the edges of my crampons. Good thing I didn’t add it was my second 4000’er and that the first was only three days ago. He might have gotten a stroke.

Erik in the Desert de Pierre Ronde, with Grand Colouir in the background

Erik in the Desert de Pierre Ronde, with Grand Colouir in the background

Geared up, we take the bus to Les Houches, 1100 m, the Téléphérique to Belleveu, 1800 m and the rail to Nid dAigle, 2400 m, and step right into the epicentre of the circus. Some 25 000 people (twenty five thousand!) attempt to reach the summit of the Mont Blanc every year (and dozens die in accidents), and the slopes are filled with climbers and tourists. Mothers with strollers, grandmothers with plastic bags, people in shorts and slippers mix with fully equipped alpinists (like us). Hiking up to the base of the Grand Couloir takes us 3 hours of strenious hike through the so-called Desert de Pierre Ronde. Literally this means “desert of the round rocks”, and its a French idea of a joke. There’s not a single round pebble among the mass of jugged boulders there. We camp near the Tête Rousse hut, at 3187 m, pitching our tent between Scots, Norwegians, Poles and Americans. The view of the Grand Colouir is excellent, and we see people climbing up and down and rocks flying (only down). This is the most dangerous part of the climb, and it is advised to pass early in the day, before the sun melts rocks out of the ice and snow. As night falls, the thunderstorm hits, but darkness, pouring rain and lightnings striking the rock face do not stop people from climbing, even at 2:00 at night.

Day 10 – Grand Colouir

As usual, we rise before dawn. The thunderstorm still rages, so we wait until it clears a bit. Around 9:00 we can finally start our ascend. It really is not that difficult (PD+ at most), but… Firstly, there are the steel cables supposed to make it easier to climb. Unfortunately, their fixing points actually ruin good grips and some of the cables have been there for a long time already, so they almost come off. Secondly, many ‘climbers’ do not pay any attention to what they’re doing, including groping a cable someone else is already hanging onto, which on an almost vertical rock face is really hair-raising. We pass safely and by 11:00 we already set our tent in the snow, above the Aiguille du Gouter hut, 3817 m, burying the pegs as deep as possible and lie down to enjoy the view for the rest of the day.

Our tent above the Aiguille du Gouter hut, at almost 4 km altitude

Our tent above the Aiguille du Gouter hut, at almost 4 km altitude

Day 11 – Summit

We rise at 2:30 and by 3:00 we already join the line of people light up by headlamps and sounding like a slave caravan with all that gear clittering. We are plowing our way up the mountain through the immense snow fields at -10 degrees. Nearby the Bivoac Vallot refuge, 4362 m, the first light reveals the hundreds of people lined up to the top like an ant track. Above the refuge the trail becomes a snow ridge, with horrendous gaps on both sides, hundreds of meters deep. The sun rises, lighting up the sea of clouds from below by the most gentle shade of pink for a brief minute, before flooding the sky and the snow by the brightest light.

Sunrise en route to the summit

Sunrise en route to the summit

The last stretch to the top is the steepest, and the wind is at gale force, being on a snow ridge a handpalm wide at almost 5 km altitude is no joke under these conditions. It is so good we took the time to acclimatize, otherwise these last meters would have been a nightmare. By 6:30 we’re at the top, the view is better than anything else in the world, but we are absolutely freezing up here. Clicking photos until the fingers start losing their grip on the camera, and we’re headed down. About 150 meters below the top and a bit out of the wind we sit together and rest for a few minutes. Going down is easier that up, but tiredness starts taking its toll. On the way down we hike up the top of the Dome du Gouter, 4304 m. Drowned in snow, its the flattest of mountains but it is classified as a separate peak. By 9:00 we are back at the tent. Kick off the shoes, put the kettle on and lie down on the matrass outside the tent in the morning sun — WOW!

Erik on the summit

Erik on the summit

Day 12 – down, down, down

Early start, again — we want to pass the Colouir before the masses. At 3:00 we dig out our tent pegs. The wind almost blows us off the mountain with tent and all. By now we’re working together too good as a team. The tent is already packed but it is still pitch dark, so we have to wait for the first light to go down the Grand Coulouir. Erik has already had enough of this and starts to grumble at whoever came up with the idea of climbing the Mont Blanc. I remind him that it was his idea, that shuts him up. Finally, first light, and we fly down the Coulouir in 1.5 hours. Erik releases the tension by screaming out loud at the Mont Blanc. I can understand his relief; it was already his third attempt here, and just this spring he spent a week alone in his tent under the Colouir waiting unsuccessfully for good weather, dodging avalanches. By 10:00 we are already back in Chamonix, where the guy in the gear store is hugely releived to see us back alive and well. We take the Mont Blanc Express back to Switzerland, to Michabel camping, where the tent frame snaps and breaks. A suitable ending to our adventure.

Michael (and a cup of tea) on the summit

Michael (and a cup of tea) on the summit

Camping rules:

‘Wild’ camping is technically forbidden. But authorities generally ignore the campers as long as they camp out of sight, above the tree line, do not leave trash and do not light fires. The golden rule ‘Leave the place cleaner than it was before you‘ was applied by us throughout the trip.

A word of warning:

The Mont Blanc is a serious climbing undertaking that requires a great deal of fitness, a full set of mountaineering gear and preferably an experienced guide. A fantastic alternative to actually ascending the summit is the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail around the mountain. Erik, who has continued climbing since, reaching as high as Mount Everest, would be happy to be your guide on that trail.

A list of GEAR you will most definitely need: 

  • Thermal base layer
  • Fleeces and waterproof outer shell
  • Rigid crampon-compatible boots
  • Glacier-proof sunglasses
  • Helmet
  • Headlight (with spare batteries)
  • Hat
  • Over-gloves
  • Liner gloves
  • Gaiters
  • High-factor sun cream
  • 30 to 50 meters of rope
  • Harness
  • Slings
  • Karabiners
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Deadman/snow fluke
  • Avalanche beacon
  • A snow probe
  • A shovel
  • Garbage bag — take everything down with you!

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My first 4000’er – Weissmies

This is a story about a trip I undertook to Switzerland and France back in 2005. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. A few years before that trip I moved to the Netherlands to study and I was meeting my parents on summer vacations in Europe, so we were to meet in Switzerland. Another goal was to climb the Mont Blanc. On the climbing trip I was accompanied by my friend Erik Ravenstein, who despite being only 22, was already then an experienced climber, havind ascended among others the Kilimajaro and the Akonkagua. This is part I of the story, about our ascend of the Weissmies, which we used as acclimatization and practice for the Mont Blanc. Part II, the story of our ascend of the Mont Blanc, has been published at http://streettrotter.com/.

Day 1 – arrival
Having met in Geneve, we transfer to the Arolla valley for altitude acclimatization. Me and Erik pitch our tent on Camping Arolla, at almost 2000 meters it claims to be the highest campsite in Europe. The parents prefer to go to a nearby hostel, run, like many hostels and campsites in Switzerland, by a Belgian couple.

Camping Arolla (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Camping Arolla (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Day 2 – acclimatization
After a light breakfast, we hike to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges hut, at 2607 m. The climb is a bit difficult, at the hut weather turns to the worse and fog closes in. We descend on the same route, and it becomes apparent that the younger (me and Erik) acclimatize much faster to the altitude.

Day 3 – further acclimatization
Despite warnings by the friendly Belgian hostel-owners (who rahter underestimate our fitness) we go to the Cabane de Bertol hut, at 3311 m. Weather is fair, about 200 m below the saddle there is a small snow field. The hut itself is on the ridge, about 50 m above the saddle, accessed via rock scramble with cables and a vertical ladder. The guide book promises an unforgettable view but all we see are clouds and some hail.

Gliding down from Cabane de Bertol hut (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Gliding down from Cabane de Bertol hut (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Day 4 – to the Weissmies
We move to the Saas-Fe valley, where I rent a helmet and crampons in Saas-Almagell and me and Erik start towards the Weissmies. The most common route to climb the Weissmies is through Hohsaas, and is little more than a glacier hike. The lift brings you there to 3100 m and with an early start you can be back in the valley for lunch. We take the slightly more challenging (and lengthier) approach via Zwischbergen Pass, and at the evening pitch our tent near a creek just above the Kreuzboden hut, at 2400 m.

We start towards the Weissmies (photo: Sergey Afanasyev)

We start towards the Weissmies (photo: Sergey Afanasyev)

Our camp above the Kreuzboden hut (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Our camp above the Kreuzboden hut (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Day 5 – Zwischbergen Pass
Through the Almageller hut, 2894 m, we reach the Zwischbergen Pass, 3268 m. By 15:00 we have already pitched our tent in one of the about 10 stone-built wind shelters on the pass. Right after we set camp, weather worsens, and until the evening its all wet snow, imtermitted with freezing rain. Erik unpacks his brand new crampons that immediately break. Its probably been a while since the Zwischbergen Pass has heard such language. We fix the break using duct tape and it seems to hold (another one for the duct tape!).

Our camp at the  Zwischbergen Pass (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Our camp at the Zwischbergen Pass (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

The Weissmies from  Zwischbergen Pass (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

The Weissmies from Zwischbergen Pass (photo: Erik Ravenstijn)

Day 6 – Weissmies – my first 4000’er!
We awake at 2:30 but the weather is not looking good – fog. Every half an hour we peek out again, but to no avail – the fog refuses to dissolve. Around 4:00 the first climber of the day passes (runs!) past our tent. Half an hour later 4 or five others pass and we decide to try – there are footsteps in the snow and other climbers on the mountain, so we should be OK.
We put our crampons on and start hiking through the snow fields. The first climber has left giant strides in the snow, he must have been flying upwards. Soon the fog lifts, around 3500 m we move from the snow onto the ridge and see that the clouds are driven by the wind to the pass and above us the sky is clear. The ridge is not difficult (PD) but some climbing skills are necessary and absolutely no fear of heigts! At 3850 m the ridge turns into a snow field, which we hike to the top of the Weissmies, 4023 m, for an excellent view on the Saas Fe valley and the Mischabel range. We reach the top at about 9:00, make a few photos and start our descend, which is quite more technical than the ascent and requires belaying in a few places. By 12:00 we are at the tent and by 18:00 down in the valley. We meet my parents and all settle down in a comfortable hut on the Mischabel camping and take rest for the next day, before boarding the Mont Blanc Express to Chamonix and the “main course” of our trip – the Mont Blanc itself.

My first 4000'er - the Weissmies! (Erik on the left, me on the right)

My first 4000’er – the Weissmies! (Erik on the left, me on the right)

To be continued…

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New Zealand – to Doom or not to Doom?

Moung Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom, seen from Oturere Hut

Moung Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom, seen from Oturere Hut

The young couple is ecstatic. They’ve just reached a landmark in their lives and want to share it with everyone in the hostel. They shout in joy: “We did it, we’ve climbed Mount Doom!”. They sing songs of the Shire and dance around the tables. It almost breaks my heart, but someone must do it. Now, while they still have the chance to get things right. I have to tell them.

Mount Taranaki seen from Pouakai Hut

Mount Taranaki seen from Pouakai Hut

-I’m sorry, really sorry to break your party, but you didn’t climb Mount Doom today.
-What do you mean we didn’t? We’ve been there, today, you’ve seen us at the top!
-Well, yes, at the top of Mount Taranaki. It’s a mountain, it’s a volcano, it’s event the same type as Mount Doom – a stratovolcano, but it’s not Mount Doom.

Us at the top of Mount Taranaki

Us at the top of Mount Taranaki

They just stare in disbelief. So sad to see them like this, but I really hope they have a few days left in New Zealand and can still climb Mount Ngauruhoe, which “played” Mount Doom in the movie. Actually, Mount Taranaki “played” Mount Fuji in The Last Samurai, but I doubt that will cheer them up. I do my best to encourage them:

-You’re lucky, it was really good weather today, you could see Mount Doom in the distance. It’s only about 80 km from here.
-So… you mean we’ve climbed the wrong mountain?
-I’m so, so sorry for you. Try to look at it this way – you’ve climbed a real good, high mountain. And you’ve seen Mount Doom. Now go there and climb it.
-We’ve climbed the wrong mountain… It’s not Mount Doom. Not Mount Doom…

The 360 degrees view from the top of Mount Taranaki is astounishing

The 360 degrees view from the top of Mount Taranaki is astonishing. Mount Ngauruhoe is the pointy cone in the middle, the big one on the right is Mount Ruapehu

It’s the only thing they can say. Nobody’s laughing. Everybody in the hostel’s living room understands the frustration of a Tolkien fan who just thought he’s reached another landmark of his quest. Making silly remarks is the last thing on everyone’s mind. I offer them a piece of my apple pie for consolation but the young couple politely refuses. They retreat to their room, to recover their losses and plan the conquest of Mount Doom. Again. I hope they made it. We did.

Us at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a. Mount Doom

Us at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a. Mount Doom

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How many words is a picture worth?

I just came back from a week of mountaineering in Switzerland. The score – 4 broken nails, 3 blisters, countless cuts and bruises, 2 mountains climbed (the Allalinhorn and the Weisshorn). My original plan was to write an extensive trip report. Then I had a look at the pictures and realised words are completely unnecessary here.

Our tent with the Matterhorn at the backdrop

Reflections at the Alphubelsee

The sun also rises (at the Allalinpass)

At the Allalinpass, en route to the Allalinhorn, 4027 m (the pointy one)

Next stop – the Weisshorn, 4506 m

Taking a break on the way to Weisshorn high camp

Hikers under the Weisshorn hut

From the Weisshorn hut you can see 19 peaks of over 4000 meters

The sun also rises (on the Weisshorn East ridge)

Weisshorn – this is the normal route from the East ridge

A climber on the Weisshorn East ridge

Climbers descending from the Weisshorn

Of course, Switzerland is not only mountaineering. On the last day, as I was returning the rented boots and crampons to the store in Zermatt, I got swarmed by what appeared to be a folklore festival. Unexpectedly, I got an express dose of culture into the bargain.

The crowds are gathering for the folklore festival in Zermatt

Toothfairies?

The famous Swiss Guards, I presume?

I can warmly recommend the Attermenzen camping in Randa. Hottest showers ever, and if you outwalk the landlady on the climb to the Weisshorn hut with a 20 kg backpack, you’ll earn her respect and free schnapps at the camping restaurant.

R&R at Camping Attermenzen

It’s a jeep! It’s a tent! It’s SuperVan!

As anyone who’s seen an episode of Top Gear knows, one must exit on a bombshell. Here it comes:

The Matterhorn at sunset

All pictures taken with the Olympus Mju Tough 8010.

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