Following the ring road

Day 1 – A night flight and a wet welcome to Iceland

Iceland never really seemed to be on anyone’s radar until the last few years.  It was always forgotten.  Some little island stuck up there between Canada and the UK.  The last few years though has seen tourism explode there.  Everyone has heard the stories of it’s beauty and we are flocking there.

It is the last stop on my way home to Canada.  I take a night flight from Heathrow and arrive in Keflavik at almost midnight.  On the descent in I see the faint greenish glimmer of the Northern lights and it awakens a growing excitement inside me for the adventure ahead.

I have booked a camper with GO Iceland car rentals http://www.goiceland.com/campers/ and I have to walk a short distance from the airport to their office.  It’s raining, the kind of rain that comes at you horizontally and feels like a hundred little needle pricks on your skin.  The wind makes it hard to walk.  I’m tired and ready to find a place to curl up and sleep. The guy at GO Iceland seems tired too but he is very helpful and answers all my questions.  I am nervous about driving a camper around a country I don’t know.  It is a manual transmission and it has been a long time since I have driven one.  It’s dark out and the weather is crazy.

160
My GO Iceland Camper

He sets me up with everything I need, gives me a brief orientation of the camper and I’m off.  There is supposed to be a campsite in Sandgerdi where I plan to park for the night. Thank goodness the camper has a GPS.  I pull out of the airport, a little rusty on the clutch and onto the main highway.  The darkness seems impenetrable.  There are no street lights.  The wind is blowing me around on the road and the pelting rain makes it hard to see.  I drive for a while, following my GPS.  It brings me through the small town of Sandgerdi and then I turn off the main road down a gravel one.  I can see waves crashing up over the side of the road to the right of me.  It’s still raining hard and I can’t see much in front of me.  The gravel road is poorly maintained.  It has large potholes and I’m worried about damaging the camper.  I slow down to a creep.  The GPS is telling me to take a left turn.  I follow it down a small bumpy track.  I see some cottages.  There are a few lights on.  There is nothing else here.  I don’t see a campsite or a place to check in.  I am tired and all I want to do is stop driving for the night.  I finally give up looking and pull into a drive way.  The cottage at the end is in darkness.  Hopefully there is no one in it.  I park and settle in for the night.  I feel grubby from the flight but there is nowhere to wash or brush my teeth.  Once I am comfortably in the back of the camper in my sleeping bag I have to pee.  Frick.  I climb back out into the cold and rain.  I pee in front of the camper.  The wind carries it, whips it and flings it back at me.  Great.  I’m too tired to care at this point and jump back into my sleeping bag. It is almost 2 am.

IMG_5058
Inside the camper

A little more info about GO Iceland campers: You can rent several different kinds, I chose to rent the smallest one available that sleeps 2 people.  It is a manual transmission and uses diesel fuel.  They have several options for insurance while you are there.  I chose to pay for full insurance so I didn’t need to worry and because I didn’t know what to expect from the roads.  The campers are equipped with the following:

· Sleeping room and seats for 2 people. Double bed (140 x 200 cm)
· Two Sleeping bags linen and pillows.
· Heating system for cold nights. (this only runs for an hour off the battery though)
· Chairs & camping table.
· Camping Gas & Griddle.
· Pots, Pans, dishes and cutlery.
· Free Wi-fi & GPS navigation system.
· Radio/CD/MP3/USB.
· Unlimited km/miles & CDW Insurance.

There is also lots of storage room under the bed frame for bags and food etc.

Day 2 – The blue lagoon, Reykjavik and the ring road

I wake up early and look outside.  No one has noticed me yet.  The weather is slightly less crazy but the wind is still savage.  I’m cold and still groggy from lack of sleep.  I start the camper and head off to find fuel, groceries and my bearings.  Back in Keflavik I find a bakery that sells coffee.  Nothing else seems to be open. I have 2 coffees before I can face the day again.  The weather is not looking like it is going to cooperate anytime soon.  I decide to head to the blue lagoon where I can soak for a while and hopefully have a shower before I drive to Reykjavik.

150
Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavik, it takes me about 20 minutes to drive there from Keflavik.  You can see the blue waters right from the road as you drive in.  I am lucky enough to arrive on a day when it isn’t packed and they allow me to enter without pre-booking. There are numerous options available and I take the cheapest.  It costs me 40 euros.  I change and head out into the lagoon.  The wind and rain buffet my face but from the neck down I am cocooned in the warm healing waters.  It is a great place to chill, unwind and relax after the late flight and stresses of last night.  I stay a while and before I leave enjoy a shower and make use of their facilities to make myself look presentable for Reykjavik.  It is about a 40 km drive on to Iceland’s capital on a beautiful highway.  I don’t stop long in Reykjavik as I don’t know my way way around and I get lost just trying to find a place to park.  I stock up at a grocery store with some basics for camping and plan my drive to my next destination on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

01
Along the west South West coast

I can’t help but feel disappointed in the weather as I drive.  I find a few places to stop and take pictures, including the famous Kirkjufell, but it is pretty near impossible with the wind and rain to get any good ones.

It only takes me a couple of hours to reach Olafsvik on the Pennisula.  I run into some heavy fog at one point and some steep inclines.  I am feeling more comfortable with the camper now and despite the weather am beyond stoked to actually be here in Iceland.  The rain hasn’t stopped and I find the tourist information centre in Olafsvik to check into the campsite.  There are basic facilities – a wooden hut with washrooms, sinks and a cooking area.  There are a couple of other campers parked with people glumly snuggled up inside waiting for the weather to change.  I decide to take a drive towards Snaefellsjokull National Park. I only get a little way down the road and see that it really requires a 4X4 vehicle.  There are large ruts and potholes and the rain is making everything slick.  As much as I want to explore I decide to turn around and not take the risk of getting stuck or damaging the camper.  I find a small takeout diner in town for supper, not much selection but it will do.  I am realizing Iceland lacks good restaurants and coffee shops outside the Capital. Back at the camp site I curl up and try to sleep as the wind whips us around for the second night.

Day 3 – On the road again.

I already feel like I have missed most of the West coast of Iceland due mainly to the weather.  I feel the need to push on though, to get out of the weather system.  I originally had wanted to hit up the Westfjords – in particular in order to see the Puffins and Dynjandi waterfall.  I decided though that it would cause me to rush the rest of the trip and I wanted to be able to enjoy the drive, not be on a time restraint.  I later found out the Puffins had already left anyway and I wouldn’t have been able to see them.  I eat whatever I can find for breakfast and manage to find a coffee at the gas station.

I have no real plan for today other than to drive and see how far I get.  The further inland and North I get the better the weather gets.  Finally there is no rain and I can enjoy the drive.  The road is in great condition and I am smiling as I lean back and plug my Ipod in.

DCIM100GOPROG0010126.

I make it as far as Akureyri.  Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest City but there are only about 18,000 residents.  It is a lively little city though – think cool cafes, good restaurants and a handful of art galleries. Akureyri is nestled at the end of Eyjafjörður, Iceland’s longest  fjord (at 60 km).  Large container ships and cruise ships speckle the harbour.  I find a campsite and settle in for the night.  This one is busy.  People are huddled in the kitchen area preparing supper and exchanging stories.  I shower and exhausted settle into my bunk to catch up on some sleep. Tomorrow there are cool things to see!!  I can’t wait.

Day 4 – Waterfalls and walking on the moon

I wake early and creep out of camp before anyone else is awake.  I fill up at a gas station and grab a rather gnarly tasting coffee before turning left past the harbour and out of town.

The sun has decided to shine today and it is a beautiful drive towards my first anticipated stop – Godafoss.  Legend has it that in the year 1000 a local chieftain decided that Icelanders should adopt Christianity and threw all his statues of pagan gods into the waterfall – hence it’s name – waterfall of the gods. 

03
Godafoss

I arrive with a smattering of other tourists.  I set up my tripod for some pictures and then just sit and enjoy golden hour.

image

After Godafoss I keep heading East.  As I get closer to Myvatn lake the landscape changes drastically.  It is how I imagine driving on the moon would be.  I stop at the Namafjall Geothermal area and walk around, amazed at the huge bubbling mudpots.  There are a lot of tourists here. 

05
Namafjall
03
Walking on the moon

From there I head up to Krafla, one of Iceland’s most spectacular and active volcanoes.  I take a short walk around the edge of the Viti crator with its beautiful blue water.

08
Viti Crator

A quick drive back down the road leads me to the parking area for Leirhnjúkur Lava Fields. Think steaming sulphuric terrain and lava scorched landscape for as far as you can see. You can walk 20 minutes to get to the edge of the area, or if you have time, it’s worth spending an hour or two wandering the trails that go right through the heart of it.  With weird textural formations, sweeping views across the caldera and few tourists, this is a magical chance to walk in an active volcanic area.  No life grows here and there is an otherworldly feel to it. I walk slowly and take lots of pictures.It is like nothing I have ever seen before.

1211

Next on my list is Dettifoss.  I keep heading east on the ring road and then North on a secondary road to the access point.  It is a half km or so walk from the parking lot to the waterfall and I’m not sure what to expect.  You can hear the roar of it a long time before you see it and as I round that last corner it literally takes my breath away. 

DCIM100GOPROG0030221.

I stand there in complete awe as thousands of tons of water crash 45 metres into the long canyon below.  The spray kicks up as far as you can see.  It is the biggest waterfall I have ever seen.  As I stand there is is like all my worries and cares thunder over with the water and disappear below.  It is a feeling of complete calm.  I don’t want to move from here.  Eventually I get up and take some pictures but nothing can capture the immensity and feeling of just standing there on the edge, in the middle of the nothingness watching all that water.  I look around to see if everyone else is feeling what I am and I think that they are.  Wow Iceland, you really know how to deliver.  I think everyone should come here just once.  If you come just once you will always want to return.  It has that essence of greatness and wildness you want to hold onto.

DCIM100GOPROG0030215.

I wander down to Selfoss which is just a short walk upstream. It is smaller but just as beautiful.

There is nothing around here as far as restaurants or food or campsites so I get back on the road around 5 and carry on.  I’m not sure where to stop for the night.  I want to see the Reindeer but heard they are tucked away in the highlands at this time of year and it would take a 4X4 and a lot of searching to find them.  So I guess the Puffins and the Reindeer will have to wait for my next trip.

29
The ring road stretching across Northeast Iceland

I end up driving all the way to Egilsstadir for the night.  The campsite is right in the middle of town and isn’t too crowded.  I stock up at the grocery store and pay for a shower.  The sunset is beautiful and I sit outside enjoying the last light before curling up into my bunk.

Day 5 – Icebergs

I find a coffee in the morning, fill up and drive on towards Hofn.  The weather has changed again as I get towards the south coast.  It’s raining and the wind is blowing.  The road conditions also change.  I hit a patch of the ring road that is not paved, it is gravel and not well maintained.  I pass by little houses and villages and wonder how isolated these communities must be in bad weather.  I slow down to save any damage to the camper and stop a few times to take pictures. 

18
Somewhere on the Southeast coast….

The road climbs steeply at one point and then disappears into a large tunnel.  I stop in Hofn and find a hotel that serves breakfast.  It is cold and still raining so I go in and enjoy a hot coffee by the window.  It is a quiet, sleepy town and the harbour is full of quaint little boats bobbing on the waves.

I fill up again here and carry on towards my next stop – Jokulsarlon.  I have seen many pictures of the iceberg lagoon and have heard how spectacular it is but somehow it still manages to amaze me.  As I get closer I can see the towering blue icebergs off to the right of me.  This is a busy place, there are buses full of people.  The weather is gross, sideways rain and howling wind.  I put on all the sweaters I have and my rain pants and stomp off for a look.  You walk up over a little lip of land and there they are – huge blue icebergs just floating around in this big lagoon.  People are lined up on the side taking pictures. 

22

I stay at Jokulsarlon most of the day.  There is a break in the weather and the sun shines through at one point giving us a glimpse of the Glacier far off on the horizon. Hundreds of sparkling icebergs, blue blue waters, white clouds and the slowly changing colours of sunset.  It is a magical moment.  Iceland continues to surprise around every corner.  I think it must be one of the most beautiful places on earth, despite the weather.  I wander down to the beach on the other side of the lagoon and play on the giant icebergs.  So cool, so very cool.  A fellow photographer offers to take some pictures for me and we chat for a few minutes.25

People are always in awe that I travel alone but I honestly think it is the best way to do it.  You go at your own pace and have interactions with strangers that you may never have if you were in a group.  You gain so much confidence in your ability to survive and adapt and see the world through your own eyes and not someone else’s.  You recharge, you let go of all the things that bog you down in life.  You come here, to these beautiful places, to worship something greater than yourself.  To see how small you really are in the big scheme of things.

It’s getting dark and I try to find somewhere to camp for the night.  I head about 4 km West and then north up a rather rough gravel road to Breidarlon, which has similar landscape but is much more remote.  I take some sunset pictures reflected in the crystal clear waters and then seeing that there are already a few campers parked here for the night decide to  move on.  I find a pullout further down the road where I decide to stop for the night.  I brush my teeth with bottled water and settle in for the night.  A few vehicles pass but otherwise it is a quiet night. 

Day 6 – Fjadrarglifur and Vik

I feel like I am going too fast around the ring road.  That I must be missing a lot.  That I need to slow it down. I guess that is one downside of traveling alone – You are a lot more hesitant to take that gravel road or go off exploring incase you get lost or stuck on your own.

I have no coffee this morning and I crave it.  I somehow miss the turn to Svartifoss and don’t realize until I have gone too far.  My next stop is Kirkjubaejarklaustur where I do manage to find a coffee and some breakfast.  From there I look at my map to try and figure out how to get to  Fjadrargljfur Canyon.  I am amazed and happy to see that I am the only one here this morning.  I grab my pack and camera and head up.  I spend a while taking pictures and just enjoying sitting on the edge, looking down.  It smells like fresh rain and I welcome the crispness of the morning.  There are no words to ruin the moment, just peace stretching out and flowing like the river.

27b

From here I head to Vik.  Some friends had been here a couple of years ago and so I have a good idea of what to expect and what to see here.  I check into the campsite and am finally able to do some laundry.  There is a gas station/cafe across the road where I stock up on food and water.

Vik is a peaceful seafront town with tall cliffs, dramatic black sand beaches and lively bird colonies. A quick drive around the other side of the cliffs brings you to the off shore black stacks, known as the Troll Rocks as well as some very cool basalt rock formations in the cliffs, worth a few pictures. 

33
Basalt Columns at Vik

A little info on the campsites in Iceland.  Most of them have pretty good basic facilities – showers, washrooms and a cooking area with burners and sinks.  I didn’t book in advance and had no issues getting a spot.  You can also wild camp in Iceland as long as you respect the environment and clean up after yourselves.  I didn’t shower much in the 2 weeks I was in Iceland but somehow it didn’t matter.  I also only did Laundry once as it was hard to find facilities. Most campsites cost about 15 USD and sometimes showers are extra.

37
Campsite at Vik

Day 7 – Glaciers and the DC-3

Today I start out early as there is a lot I want to see today.  I head to Solheimajokull glacier first.  There is a cafe here where I have a coffee and breakfast before I walk down to the Glacier.  It towers off to the North, riveted with crevasses.  It reminds me a lot of the Columbia icefield in Canada.  There are tours you can take to walk up on it but I just walk up as close as I can and take some pictures. You can’t help but have a tremendous respect for the sheer size of it.

nga

One thing I wish I had done was plan a trek or trip into Landmannalaugar and Porsmork.  Next trip I will.  You need serious 4X4 to get in there and usually have to go with a tour group of some kind.55a

I have done some research on an old plane wreck somewhere near Solheimar that I want to see.  Apparently it is a United States DC-3 and it crash landed in 1973.  Everyone on board survived but the wreckage was left there and has now become a hot spot for tourists and photographers. It is hard to find if you don’t know what you are looking for and I found really good directions online from the expertvagabond.com

I find the road on the left and park my camper, not wanting to risk driving it down the road, which is more of a barely marked trail through a vast field of dirt and black sand.  It is cold and windy so I bundle up and grab my backpack and start walking.  It is supposedly about 4 km  in to the beach where the plane lies.  After about a km I wonder if I am crazy to be walking in and hoping that I have read the directions properly and that I won’t end up lost in this unpredictable landscape and weather.  I keep going and eventually happily spy some campers parked in the distance.  I don’t see the plane until I am up close, it is hidden behind a sand dune.  There is a group of people milling around the plane, snapping pictures and climbing in and out of the fuselage.  I join them and then wait for them all to leave so I can get some solitary pictures. 

53d

I play around for a while and then walk back.  I meet a couple walking in on the way back who must have the same doubts I did and peppered me with questions.  We exchange information and then head off in opposite directions.

54a
Inside the wreckage

I am glad to get back inside my camper and crank the heat before heading back onto the ring road.  Next stop – Skogafoss!!  It  lives up to the hype.  You can walk right up to it and also walk around to the right and up a short trail for a birds eye view.  

58aThis is also a prime tourist spot but a random lady in a red jacket provides good scale for my pictures.65

After spending some time here and snapping A LOT of pictures I move on.  Seljalandsfoss is not far up the road from Skogafoss and is just as beautiful.  You can actually walk right in behind the waterfall  which makes for the most spectacular photos at sunset.

78

I decide to camp here for the night and find a good spot to set up camp.  The campsite has an enclosed cooking area with a few benches so I huddle in with a few randoms strangers in an attempt to warm up.  I get chatting with an Australian man who has been biking and sailing the world for 10 years.  I envy his freedom but am amazed at how he can get around Iceland on a pedal bike in this wind and rain.  We hang out for the afternoon and explore another hidden gem – Glijufrabui.  You would miss it if you didn’t know where to look.  We walk through a little tunnel and shallow creek while simultaneously being drenched in spray in order to get to it.  Definite waterfall overload.  I must of snapped several hundred pictures.

70

We both really want to see the Northern lights and make a pact to wake each other if there is a show tonight.

Around midnight I hear people talking and look out.  The sky is alive with dancing green lights.  I wrap up and climb out of the van to set up my tripod for pictures.  I debate whether to go and wake the Australian man but feel like me crawling into his tent in the middle of the night might be slightly inappropriate so I don’t.  There is something about being awake and outside in the middle of the night.  I don’t know how to describe the feeling but anyone who has laid on their backs in the grass and watched the stars or Northern lights knows what I’m talking about.

130

Day 8 – The golden circle

I leave the campsite fashionably early as usual and head west and then North, inland to Geysir and Gulfoss.  Known as part of the golden circle these are spots that most people visit when they come to Iceland.  Definitely more people here but I enjoy them despite the crowds.  There are cafes full of delicious food and gift shops so I take advantage of them to purchase gifts for friends and sit out of the cold for a while.  Gulfoss is another spectacular waterfall, well worth the drive.

fall
Gulfoss

 I try to drive further inland from there but there are signs warning rental vehicles and non 4X4 vehicles not to go any further, so I turn back.

80
End of the road for rental vehicles

From here I head to Pingvellir national park.  This place has everything to offer.

pingvellen
Pingvellir National Park

The Silfra fissure, known as one of the top dive sites in the world is here. The Silfra fissure is actually a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents, meaning that you can dive or snorkel right where the continental plates meet and drift apart. Silfra is the only place where you can dive or snorkel directly in the crack between two continental plates. The underwater visibility in the Silfra fissure is over 100 meters, which creates an underwater experience that will rarely, if ever, be surpassed. The water is cold (2°C – 4°C year round ) as it is glacial water from the nearby Langjökull and this water is filtered through porous underground lava for 30-100 years until it reaches the north end of Thingvellir lake, seeping out from underground wells.

145
Scuba divers in the Silfra Fissure

When you go to Þingvellir you can clearly see the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates in the cracks and faults that traverse the region. You can walk through the biggest crack  – Almannagja.

147
Inside Almannagja

Not to be outdone, there is of course another waterfall in Pingvellir National Park -Öxarárfoss.07

I spend the night at the campsite in Pingevellir and find some soup and crackers for supper.

Day 9 – Back to Reyjavik

I head to Reyjavik around mid day and explore the city a little more before setting up at the city campsite.  It is packed and busy and to be honest a little sketchy feeling.  I have seen everything I wanted to see in Iceland, besides the west fjords, which will have to wait for another trip.  I still have a few days to kill before my flight so I drive around the south coast, check out the town of Selfoss and then stay in a hotel in Keflavik for a couple of nights so I can do laundry and sleep well before my flight home.

It is bitter sweet that my traveling days are almost over.  I am tired and looking forward to seeing friends again and sleeping in a comfortable bed but I am also sad that I have to go back to reality and work. There is no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing, to take this time out and re-evaluate life, to create memories and experiences and to see parts of the world some people only dream about.  So if you are wondering if you should do it, risk it all, I say YES.  Just do it.  You will never regret it.

141a

Thank you for stopping by and I hope this is helpful to any of you planning a trip to Iceland,

till next time,

Taymar

On the Via Alpina trail

The Via alpina spans 8 countries and stretches for 5000 km from Monoco to Slovenia.  My hike took me through 5 of these countries. This is my story.

Map

Day 1 – Chamonix (13 km)

_66A5859 This is were it all starts.  There is no turning back now.  No time for regrets or second thoughts.  I’m about to walk across the Alps alone and I have no idea what to expect.  I hoist my pack onto my back and leave the hotel room.  It is already hot and it’s only 08:00.  I feel unprepared.  Sweat is trickling down my front and my pack is unbearable. After a few hundred feet I wonder if I can do this.  I turn left out of Chamonix and head up to the Brevent ski lift, my pack swaying hideously behind me.  23 euros and I have a ticket in my hand.  I join the line of people anxiously waiting for a ride to the top. I feel like a rookie and am certain I look like one as I awkwardly fumble my monstrous pack into the cable car.

At the top I beeline it to the washroom to sort my self out and adjust my pack.   When I exit I see the para-gliders are already in the air, circling, huge colourful birds suspended above the Alps. I stand there and watch them for a while envying their freedom, their weightlessness.  I then turn and fix my eyes on the trail that leads me up and away from civilization.  Para

Most people plan a thru hike well in advance.  Not me.  I made the decision after a miserable experience in Morocco and subsequent tourist overload in Spain.  I wanted to escape to the “wilderness” to go where I always go when I need to get away and reconnect with myself.  The Mountains.  Some of my family were worried and tried to talk me out of it.  They thought it sounded dangerous and crazy.  A supportive Aunt and Uncle and a good friend reassured me and helped me with last minute planning and advice, for which I will forever be grateful.  It is nice to have someone in your corner, rooting for you when you are not even sure yourself if you are making the right decision.  This was my year off. It needed to feel right, it needed to be life changing.  It depended on me making the right decisions.

I had no time to send away for the maps I needed, but would come to realize that the best tool I had was the guidebook I downloaded from the Via Alpina website http://www.via-alpina.org/.  This became my hiking bible and when I didn’t have the maps I needed (which was most days) it kept me on track.  (This website has tons of helpful tips and information for anyone interested in hiking a substantial section of the trail).  My plan was to follow the red trail to Switzerland, take the green one across and then join back up with the red one in Liechtenstein.  I had originally wanted to follow the red through Italy but had been informed that the trails were not well maintained and much harder to follow through the Italian section.

DCIM100GOPROG0030191.

The trail continues up from Le Brevent, through the pass at 2368 metres and back down the other side. My body adjusts to the weight of my pack.  Mountains stretch out before me as far as I can see.  I pass a couple of hikers and am then alone in the silence. The only noise is that of my own thoughts.  I am no longer walking away from something but towards something. The destination isn’t important, just the journey itself.

My first experience of the alpine mountain hut system is at the Refuge de Moede Anterne.  A four hour hike in from Chamonix.  By the end of my trek I would come to love and appreciate every single one of these huts.  A place of rest, a place of friendship;  little huts that would, one by one restore my faith in the goodness of humanity.

_66A5972
Refuge de Moede Anterne

Every hut is different and this was one of the busiest.  Facilities are basic.  Dorm rooms with bunkbeds, communal showers and toilets and large dining areas.  There is usually a trough with running water to refill your water bottles and you can also request a packed lunch if wanted.  I found that granola bars and fruit were enough to keep me going during the day. I stocked up whenever I passed through a village with a store.  The refuges serve supper and of course wine.  Lots of wine, and a hearty breakfast in the morning.  To me it was a no-brainer to stay at these instead of carting a tent around.  I can only count a handful of times when I actually had to share a dorm room with other people and I hiked during high season.  After a long day of walking it was nice to be greeted by a friendly face, a cold beer and a good meal.

Day 2 – Salmon in Salvagny (15.2 km)

_66A6043
Looking back at Mont Blanc from the Col d’Anterne

Day two takes me up the steep ascent to the Col d’Anterne and then back down through changing landscapes, past sheep herders and a lone Ibex to the Alfred Wills hut. I stop for a breakfast of strong coffee and cake and watch a helicopter drop in supplies.  One would think the ascent would be the hardest part of the hike right?  Wrong.  The descent is the most painful.  This day was no exception.  From 2257 metres to 600 metres in a matter of a few km.  Everything hurts.  My knees, my hips, my toes where they jam into my boots at every step.  I stand by the backpack I chose to take (an Osprey Ariel 65).  Made and contoured for women it is comfortable, sturdy and has lots of room, but for the first few days the sheer weight of it dug into my collarbones, producing painful blisters.  This I remedied by wrapping towels and duct tape around the straps for added padding.  This of course added to my general sweaty, dishevelled, hobo like appearance in comparison to the stylish Europeans in their crisp white hiking shirts and tiny day packs.

_66A6047
These sign posts became both a pillar of hope (yes, I’m going in the right direction!!) and a source of despair (what!! I have 6 hours of walking left to go??)

The second night is spent in the village of Salvagny in France.  I stay at the Gite Auberge de Salvagny.  The owner is extremely helpful and accommodating.  He directs me into the village where I can stock up on food supplies and enjoy lunch in a cafe by the river. Supper is Salmon in dill sauce and he is worried it isn’t up to “Canadian” Salmon Standards.  Which it most definitely is.

 

Day 3 – Biting flies and Thunderstorms (15.3 km)

There are days on the trail when you don’t want to be there.  Every ounce of you wants to give up and go home to a warm bed and hot coffee.  Today is the first of these for me.  I have developed blisters on my feet.  Large painful ones.  I now hobble instead of walk. Leaving Salvagny the trail branches off and up through thick forest. It is here I am attacked by what I can only describe as a swarm of biting (maybe horse?) flies. Picture me: blistered feet, monstrous back pack swaying, trying to run from them, flailing my walking stick, yelling into the woods.  Great chunks of skin are missing from my arms. They are unforgiving in their hunger.  Next up is a sketchy section through a gorge requiring some clever maneuvering and climbing down rusty old ladders while trying to gauge if I am still on the right path.

Once through those obstacles the path flattens out and I enjoy some easy walking along the river bank before a seriously fierce thunderstorm hits.  Thunder, lightning, hail and heavy rain. Luckily I am close to the town of Samoens and run for shelter. Not before I get soaked.  It hits me then how scared I would be if I encountered one on a high mountain pass.

_66A6129

I look for maps for the next section of the trail in Samoens.  No one sells them.  Meh, who needs a map anyway right?  I push on without one.  The trail up to the next hut is long, steep and in places overgrown.  I hike for miles without seeing any signs.  I am terrified I am going the wrong way and will have to find shelter with the cows for the night.  There are more biting flies.  I can’t stop to eat or drink because of them.  The trail is slick because of the storm and I fall several times, knocked off balance by my pack.

One foot in front of another.  That’s all it comes down to today. When I finally crest the last hill and spot the refuge at the end of the day I am overwhelmed with thankfulness.  The Refuge Tornay-Bostan is about the most basic of huts but the welcome is warm and the food surprisingly delicious.  I pop my blisters and hope they will somehow miraculously heal by morning.  Tomorrow I have no map and I have to walk 18 km on badly blistered feet.

DCIM100GOPROG0080232.
Enjoying sunshine after the rain and a hot tea at Refuge Tornay-Bostan.

 

Day 4 – Into Switzerland (13 km)

I have only one thing on my mind this morning:  find a town and take a rest day.  My feet are in agony.  I’m not sure if my boots are too small, my socks are the problem or my pack is simply too heavy.  I sit down and pull out my guidebook.  The next town is 2 days away.  WHAT.

I push on for the French/Swiss border.  It is a perfect day.  I pass a couple of other hikers and am again alone.  You think about everything when you are out here, disconnected from the world.  At peace.  You find what is important to you.  You feel closer to God, to nature, to who you really are.  It is a place of great healing, of letting go, of looking forward.

The border is a mental pat on the back to myself.  Well done.  You made it this far. Country #2.   Switzerland is even more beautiful than I imagined.  The most luscious green hill sides generously sprinkled with yellow, white and purple wild flowers.  Bovines with huge bells dangling from their necks, acting out their own little musicals in front of me.  Quintessential swiss chalets perched high above the valley.  I wonder who owns them, if they ever get sick of waking up to that view every morning.

_66A6176
French/Swiss border – Col de Coux

I find a little mountain hut in the hamlet of Baume instead of pushing on for Cabane Susanfe to try and give my feet a rest.  There is some kind of festivity going on. A band is playing, people are sitting around enjoying each other’s company and children are playing.  It is a nice scene.  I sit and take it all in.  People are so friendly in the alps, so kind, so welcoming.  Every day there is a new smile, a warm face, a new friend.

I am given a bed for the night – my own room with a fluffy white comforter.  It is heaven.  Pure heaven.  There is a communal shower with the curtains hanging haphazardly.  There is a dude in the stall beside me and I realize after I am already soaked that I left my towel on the sink.  I can’t reach it without getting out from behind the shower curtain.  I start to panic. The bathroom door is open and a bunch of male hikers are milling around in the hallway.  I do my  best to wrap the curtain around me and step out of the shower to retrieve it.  It is awkward and does little to cover me.  I sit down to a lasagna supper beside the same men an hour later.

_66A6226
Cantine at Baume

 

Day 5 – The Encel Pass (15 km)

A steep start to the day.  I am envious of the hikers I see with little day packs.  It must feel so good.  I bet they don’t have blisters.  I hit my first tough mountain pass after about an hour. Ropes and chains are secured into the rocks to help you pull yourself through the really sketchy sections.  With a heavy back pack and a walking stick it proves challenging.  At one point I look over and see a white cross on the edge of the cliff where I can only assume someone fell to their death.  A reminder that time is limited and life is precious.

IMG_3906.jpg

I stay at the Auberge de Salanfe for the night overlooking the bluest of lakes and the jagged, snow capped peaks of the pass I had just walked over.  Getting early starts in the mornings  proved good for 2 reasons : first of all I was able to enjoy sunrise and solitude on the trails and secondly I was able to relax in the sun and rest my weary feet by mid to late afternoon every day.  The Auberge is packed.  It must be a popular spot for overnight hikers.  We are like sardines in the bunkbeds.  I am seated next to 2 single male hikers for supper.  They don’t speak a word of English and I know about as much French but somehow we manage to keep a conversation flowing over soup and Lasagna.

Some days the loneliness gets to me.  I feel so distanced and disconnected from my family and friends.  I wonder what they are doing.  I crave a good coffee.  My own bed.  The emails and well wishes I do get spur me on.  I am thankful for the ones who don’t forget me, who encourage me when I want to give up.  Who remind me who I am and why I am doing this.

Day 6/7 – To Martigny and a rest day (19 km)

I am in pain.  Serious pain.  Every step sends a jolt through me.  My feet can’t take much more of a beating.  I swallow pills to try and numb it.  I have a long walk ahead of me.  It is a long and winding descent from Salanfe to Salvan.  It is beautiful.  I pass a campground and a tiny village of perfectly kept chalets.  There is a waterfall cascading down the hillside.  I find a little cafe in Salvan and stop for a coffee.  I can see there is nothing here in the way of a hotel or pharmacy so I limp on to Vernayez, another steep descent.  I find it to be much the same by way of facilities. I want to cry.  Martigny it turns out is my closest option for a hotel and pharmacy.  6 km out of my way.  I can’t get anything out of the locals as to bus times or trains so I walk the last dusty hot 6 km along the highway into town.  I splurge for a semi comfortable hotel room and scrub the last week of dirt and sweat out of  my clothes in the sink.  I fall asleep, exhausted.  My feet are rubbed raw and new blisters have developed.  That was the longest day yet.  19 km.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0336.
Martigny

The rest day is a success.  I find an antibiotic cream for my blisters, some inner soles for my boots and walk around in flip flops for the day.  Life is good.

 

Day 8 – The wrong trail and some new friends (18 km)

The trail today is unforgiving.  I manage to jump on a bus back to Vernayez and start walking from there.  I look for the trail but can’t find it amongst the paved streets and houses of Vernayez.  I do a big convoluted circle around town before I find where it leaves town and soars straight up into the morning fog.  It is wet. It is cold. I am grumpy. I want to be back in that soft bed where my feet don’t hurt.  The climb goes on for hours until I finally arrive at the deserted Sex Carro cabin.  The cabin is a marker for me – I am going the right way.  The morning fog has lifted slightly by then to reveal the glimmering white peaks behind me.  I can smell the earth, that smell after it has rained.  Petrichor.  That smell that tells you everything is alive again. Refreshed, cleansed, rejuvenated.  Standing there on a mountain top with the swirling fog and the first rays of sun piercing through and the petrichor.  It was all worth it.  The struggle, the climb, the pain.  Much like the trials in our lives, when we come out the other side.  It’s always worth it.

I can’t find any trail markings or sign posts.  I scout the area and finally find a rock with the red and white via alpina marking on it.  I follow it until I reach a second.  It seems like this is the only legitimate trail but it is overgrown and seems to lead back down the insanely steep hill I just climbed up.  I have no map.  I have no other option but to follow it.  It wind arounds, undulating, down and then back up. It is narrow and slippery and I fall multiple times, sliding into the wet grass.  I curse the via alpina in my head.  Finally it curves back around and I find myself an hour later looking across at the Sex Carro cabin again.  A few hundred feet above it is sign post I had been looking for.  I have just wasted an hour and precious steps on my sore feet.  I am so mad at myself.

I have a decision to make. It is getting late.  I don’t want to turn around but I am unsure how long it will take me to walk to the next mountain hut.  I don’t want to be on the pass when the late afternoon storms hit.  I choose to surrender to the fate of the mountains and head up towards the pass.  There is no way I am going to climb that section again tomorrow._66A6366

I reach the Col Du Demerce and see the hut snuggled in the rocks below.  It turns out I am their only visitor for the night.  The hut is looked after by a really sweet french family who immediately welcome me into their evening.  We drink coffee and play card games while trading language lessons. Later that night some of their friends from Martigny hike up.  We eat supper together, dipping great chunks of bread into cheese fondue and drinking some of the best wine I have ever tasted.  Rumour is it never makes it out of town because they drink it all locally.  One of the couples has a little daughter who tries so hard to have a conversation with me in English.  She sings me a Beatles song.  Moments like this are what it is all about.  They turn a bad day into the best day yet.  All it takes is a kind heart, a human touch, a selfless act. Restoring my faith one by one, these people of the Alps.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

We watch the sunset together, my new friends and I and later on I stand out under the milky way and a million stars and think how lucky I am to be here._66A6151

 

Day 9/10 – Demecre to Godey (34 km)

I am sent on my way after a breakfast of freshly baked chocolate buns and a huge cup of coffee.   The best start to the day.  I wave goodbye to a family I will probably never see again but who I will also never forget.  The trail today is spectacular.  It weaves in and out of outcrops of rock blanketed in thick green grass.  The early morning sun plays with the shadows as it creeps higher into the sky.

I am feeling stronger, my feet are healing.  I see my second ibex today. We eye each other suspiciously on the trail and go on our separate ways.  He, the graceful one, dancing across the scree and ever downwards.  I, the awkward stumbling human climbing ever upwards. _66A6396

The descent to Pont du Nant is steep but punctuated with snow deposits, waterfalls and boulders so large I think maybe Fred Flintstone lives here.  The auberge at Pont du Nant is beautiful, a little log cabin nestled in the valley.  I eat, I shower, I sleep.

The trail on to Godey is a little more forgiving.  Once I hit the plateau at Le Vare it is easy walking.  The guardians of the hut call out to me, curious as to where I am from and where I am going.  Fog rolls in across the plateau, making it hard for me to see the trail.  I squint ahead trying to spot the tell tale white and red paint markings.

_66A6425.jpg
Refuge at La Vare

The fog sticks around for most of the day, causing me a period of minor panic when I get off track.  I hike on, through the Pas de Cheville and steeply down into Godey where my bed for the night awaits.  Again I am greeted with kindness and patience for my stilted french and hand gestures.  I sit beside an elderly couple at supper who translate the menu for me and make an attempt at conversation.  Their English is much better than my French.  I share a dorm with 8 others tonight.

 

Days 11-13 Gsteig, Lenk and much needed rest days (19.7 km)

In the morning I wait for breakfast with some rather feisty elderly ladies who are doing jumping jacks in the parking lot.  I love how many old people there are on these trails and how full of life they are.  As I am telling one about my blisters she chimes in that the best way to prevent them is to line your boots with sanitary pads. We laugh at the thought of it and swap trail stories until breakfast is ready.  Generally people are impressed when I tell them how far I have walked and that I have more weeks ahead. It makes me feel better about the state of my feet and the fact that my pack is 3 times the size of theirs.

It is a long day of walking.  There is another section through the Porteu des Etales where there are ropes and ladder to assist the climb.  I feel like I have accomplished something when I make it through without falling.

DCIM100GOPROG0060454.
Porteu des Etales

I don’t look pretty.  I am sunburnt.  I am sweaty.  I haven’t done laundry in too many days.  My hair is a mess and I have no makeup on but I feel better than I ever have.  I embrace the freedom, the fact that I am alone.  I have no one to worry about, to answer to.  The pace is mine.  The day is mine.  It is a long trek on to Sanestch.  I catch a glimpse of the Tsanfleuron Glacier but am too tired to walk closer.  I stop for lunch. It is a tourist area.  There are lots of people and busses.

DCIM100GOPROG0040434.

The mountain drops off from the barrage de Sanetch, providing a steep descent down to the village of Gsteig. I find a room at the Hotel Baren and enjoy a solitary shower.  I spend the evening sitting outside with a beer, watching the locals go about their business.

The next morning I take the bus and the scenic train to Lenk for my rest days.  Hotels are expensive but I find a reasonable one.  They do my laundry for me, oh to have clean clothes again!!  I find a hiking store where I purchase some new and very expensive inner soles for my boots.  They are my last hope.  I look after my blisters, eat a good meal and fall asleep.  The next day is also a rest day.  I spend it swimming at the swanky Lenkerhof Spa.  I don’t even care how much it costs.  It is bliss.  A swim, a tan and a huge salad for lunch, it is just what I need.

Day 14/15 – Lenk to Kandersteg (28.2 km)

Lenk to Adelboden proves to be a relatively easy jaunt, up and then back down.  It starts to rain and by the time I reach Adelboden it is pouring. The fog rolls in.  I don’t care.  I feel great, my feet are finally healing and I am happy to walk and enjoy the ever changing scenery.  Adelboden exceeds my expectations.  What a nice town!!  I reserve a bed at the hostel and walk into town in the rain to eat lunch and window shop.

DCIM100GOPROG0040483.

 

Addelboden to Kandersteg starts with a very foggy morning.  The first part of the trail is forested.  The damp earthy smell of the forest calms me and makes me feel at home. I walk through undergrowth heavy with water from yesterday’s rain and continue up until finally all I can see is fog in front of me.  A few moments later the sun breaks through and I am awarded the most amazing sight.  I am looking down on a sea of fluffy white clouds, a patch of azure sky and a row of jagged snow covered peaks jutting up from the horizon.  I can hear music.  At first I think I am hearing things. There is singing, voices like angels.  It is beautiful.  I walk towards it up the trail and come out at a clearing.  There is a shepherd tending to his sheep and a small wooden hut. Somewhere a radio is playing.  The angelic voices.  I smile and wave hello.  He eyes me for a moment and then waves back.

The fog closes in again as I make the slippery and cold ascent to the Bunderchrinde pass at 2300 metres.  The whole time I am thinking about how much I really want a bowl of soup.  How much further to a bowl of soup?

DCIM100GOPROG0060562.
Bunderchrinde Pass

I fall and roll my ankle badly on the way down the other side.  For a moment I wonder how long it would take for someone to find me if I had broken it.

I find my bowl of soup in Kandersteg a few hours later.  A  big bowl of hot tomato soup.  I check into a cheap hotel and it is early enough that I have time to explore the area.  I can see a waterfall in the distance.  I feel the need to stand beside it.  Bush whacking to a waterfall in flip flops seems like a good idea at the time but in hindsight wasn’t my best move.  I fall multiple times, stub my toe and cut my hand but I somehow make it up there and stand beneath it for a long time.  I enjoy that moment of time standing still, of not having to be anywhere but there.

DCIM100GOPROG0010579.

 

Day 16 – A fairytale, the highest point on the Via Alpina and Griesalp (14.5 km)

“Then she began to breathe, and live and every moment took her to a place where goodbyes were hard to come by.  She was in love, but not with someone or something.  She was in love with her life, and for the first time in a long time, everything was inspiring”  r.m.drake

_66A6585
Lake Oeschinen

Pictures don’t do this place any justice.  It was like walking into a dream. If fairies really existed I think that this is where they would grow their wings.  A little piece of heaven on earth.  A turquoise lake kissed by the morning sunbeams, cascading waters and snowy peaks.  It can’t get any better.   It is a welcome respite from the steep climb ahead.  Hohturli pass is the highest point on the Via Alpina at 2772 metres.  It is a long and steep 3 hour hike up but well worth the view.  I relish a hot cup of tea at the top, in the sun, overlooking the Bluemlisalp glacier.

DCIM100GOPROG0150688.
Hohturli Pass

The descent to Griesalp is equally steep and hard on the knees.  I am lucky enough to score a dorm room to myself again for the night and I eat supper with two young guys from the Netherlands.  They are spending a week hiking the trails in the area and they speak English.  It is nice to have a conversation without hand gestures.

Day 17/18 – Rained out, Lauterbrunnen and the Eiger (17.8 Km)

I wake to pouring rain.  It is relentless.  I eat breakfast huddled with a bunch of hikers that are just as disappointed as I am to have our plans skewed for the day.  It is decided that climbing the pass is too dangerous in the present conditions so we make a plan to travel together to Lauterbrunnen and pick up the trail from there.  A long bus ride, followed by several train connections gets me to Lauterbrunnen.  The town is packed with holidayers.  I am told tomorrow is Swiss day.  I manage to secure a room for the night and try to enjoy the sea of people.

I set off early in the morning.  This is prime tourist territory and I’m not ready to share my trails with them.  It has to be one of the most spectacular areas of Switzerland though, and I can see why they come here. The trail winds up and over the mountain, through a couple of small towns, following the Kleine Scheidegg railway.  At the end of the line there are the token cafes and gift shops and a view of the famous trio:  Jungfrau, the Monarch and the Eiger.  I am beyond excited to be here.  The fog rolls away to give me a glimpse of the famous peaks.  A huge crack sounds through the air and a large chunk of snow and ice breaks free from the side of Jungfrau and falls into the depression below.  I stand in awe.

You can pay an exorbitant price to take the train to the top of Jungfrau and enjoy a coffee in the cafe there.  It wasn’t in my budget but I could imagine the enviable views.

DCIM100GOPROG0050750.
Jungfrau

I follow the Eiger trail across the top.  This is probably the most pivotal moment of my entire trek.  I can literally reach out and touch the North face of the Eiger.  It is a moment that makes me feel so insignificant, so small beside such a giant.  At the same time I feel so alive, so grateful for the experiences that have brought me here, so brave for having made it this far on my own two feet.

Eiger
The North face

The trail meanders down through green meadows, past more waterfalls and into Grindelwald, again following the curve of the railway line.  Grindelwald is also alive with summer tourists.  My night is spent at a hostel where a crowd of young girl guides have the monopoly.

DCIM100GOPROG0120812.
On the Eiger trail

 

Day 19 – To Meiringen (22 Km)

I have been on the trail for almost 3 weeks now.  It doesn’t seem that long. Time has passed quickly, my feet have healed and I feel strong, healthy, happy.  I am glad to head out of the tourist area and into a quieter section.  The day starts with a steep climb to Grosse Scheidegg and I am happy to see a place at the top that serves coffee. It is all downhill from there into the valley.  The landscape has changed again.  It stretches out in front of me, mountains on either side providing shelter to the scattered homes on the valley floor.  The trail plays hide and seek with the woods for a bit and then follows the river down to Rosenlaui.  Of all the steep and scary sections I have been through I choose this section, a flat well trodden piece of the trail to wipe out on.  I go flying, propelled by the weight of my pack.  I roll a couple of times before coming to stop by a tree stump.  I sit up and survey the damage.  My walking stick is a few feet away in one direction and my water bottle in another.  I have a small scrape on my hand and a gash on my knee.  Blood tricks down my shin.  Nothing is broken.  I start laughing, amused at how I must have looked somersaulting through the air.  I brush the dirt off my legs and carry on.  I find a small creek a bit further down the trail where I can wash the blood off.  It is a long way down to Meiringen from there and I am happy to check into a hotel for the night.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0836.
Looking back at the Eiger from Grosse Scheidegg

 

Day 20/21 – Engelberg and Linthal

DCIM100GOPROG0020851.
Planplatten

I use the cable car to get to Planplatten as there is no way I am going to make the 29 km my guidebook has laid out for me today.  It is a good place to start.  The trail follows the ridge line for several kilometres before dipping down into Engstlenalp.  It is another perfect morning, one without clouds and I am able to enjoy the stunning vista as I set the pace for the day.

15
Engelberg

Up through the Jochpass and down into Engelberg,  I pass quite a few day hikers and families.  It seems I am getting further away from the whole “wilderness” experience and further into busy tourist areas.  I think about adjusting my walk accordingly.  A small meal of soup and salad in Engelberg costs me 31 francs.  The next day I hop on a train to Linthal.  It takes 4 hours and 2 changes but there I am, back in a secluded little village ready to climb my next mountain.

DCIM100GOPROG0010845.

 

Day 22 – Elm and an encounter with a mountain man (23 km)

I am on the trail by 7:30, excited to be away from the crowds and curious as to what lies ahead.  By mid morning I am off track.  I have followed the wrong path.  It dead-ends in a cow pasture.  I start to panic a little.  I don’t have a map.  There seems to be no way around.  I back track a little and am about to head back down into the valley when the strangest little man appears over the ridge.  He is shorter than me and is wearing hiking boots, a very small pair of underwear and a belt.  I have no idea where he came from and why he has no pants on.  We startle each other.  When I recover and to stop myself from laughing I ask him if he knows where the trail to Elm is and if I am heading in the right direction.

He invites me into his hut (after putting some pants on), speaks in fluent English, offers me a drink and shows me on his map where I need to go.  Again I am blown away by the kindness and generosity of the people I meet here.  I guess he wasn’t expecting a sweaty lost Canadian woman to show up on his property either.

Once back on track it is a very long and hot hike up to Richetli pass and down into Elm.  The guesthouse in Elm is modern, clean and comfortable.  I enjoy a glass of wine on the patio and sleep well.

_66A6977
Farming in Elm

Day 23 – Sargan (21 km)

The trail leading up to Foo-pass is well maintained, which makes the steep climb bearable.  It meanders up through sweet smelling forest.  Waterfalls cascade down the steep cliffs to my right and I have to keep stopping just to take it all in.

_66A6982

After the pass the trail runs through a narrow ravine down to Fooalp and Weissmann.  Weissmann is a pretty little village, complete with wooden chalets, brightly hung flower arrangements and locals who seem content to be in no rush.  A perfect place to stop for the night.  The guesthouse however is closed and I have to take a bus down to Sargans.  After days of clean mountain air and solitude the exhaust fumes, traffic and crowded streets are repulsive to me.  I decide against walking to Vaduz the next day as the trail would take me along the highway.

Day 24 – Into Liechtenstein (12.5 km)

I arrive in Vaduz by bus and right away decide it is not a place I want to be either.  I stock up with water and food at a grocery store and find the trail leading to Sucka, the next destination in my guidebook.  The trail rises sharply above Vaduz castle and into the forest, the shade giving me some respite from the heat.  I find my accommodation easily in Sucka and settle in.  I sit down to enjoy a bowl of soup outside and soon get chatting to a local lady named “Louisa”. She owns a holiday cottage close by and her husband is working.  She suggests we go for drive up to the next town so she can show me around.  “You are my guest” she says and goes on to pay for my ski lift ticket and for my coffees in the cafe at the top.  She is a true trail angel and an amazing woman.  She runs an NGO in Sri Lanka and has adopted and raised two boys.  A great example of someone who has plenty in this life but uses it to give back and help others.  I will probably never be able to repay her kindness but she will be remembered.  She tells me to look for her on the trail in the morning, that she will be waiting with coffee.

_66A7010
Sucka

 

Day 25 – Austria, 2 new friends and the end of the hike (20 km)

I leave early and am in a good rhythm by the time I reached Silum where I can see Louisa, a tiny speck, outlined in front of her cottage below.  She is waving.  I have too far to walk today and I feel bad but I have no time to stop.  I wave back earnestly, hoping she won’t be offended and then I turn right, up and over the mountain.

I soon find myself on the Furstensteig path.  Once considered dangerous, the exposed parts are now secured by steel wire ropes and balustrades.  It is scary and thrilling at the same time.  I inch along, stopping to take pictures every few feet.  The urge to look down overwhelms me and when I do my stomach drops.  I am thankful for the few hikers I can see ahead of me, for some reason I don’t want to be alone on this trail.

DCIM100GOPROG0030922.

 

I meet a man called Reno on the path.  He strikes up a conversation about the size of my pack.  When I explain to him that I have walked from Chamonix he is taken aback, impressed, apologetic.  We walk together along the next ridge and exchange stories.  I leave him at the fork in the trail as I head down and he continues on.  I can tell he is sorry to see me leave.

I miss the turn for my mountain refuge unknowingly and stop at a small hut to ask directions.  It is busy with hikers drinking beer.  An older couple smile at me. “You lost?” asks the man.  I smile and turn back in the direction I came to check the last sign post.  My hut is a half hour walk backwards. How could I have missed it? Frustrated, I consult my guidebook and decide to push on for Feldkirch even though it means another few hours of walking.

_66A7067

Back on the trail I see the couple again.  They spot me and stop.  They are curious.  He is Italian and she is Austrian.  They don’t speak any English and I don’t speak any Italian or German.  Somehow we manage to communicate through odd words and hand gestures for the next hour and a half.  We stop at the next mountain hut,  eat a late lunch and have a beer together.  They are trying to ask me something but I don’t understand.  They find someone who speaks English and he translates:  “They are asking if you would like a lift to Feldkirch with them” he says “Their car is just down the mountain, not very far.”  My face lights up  “tell them YES!!” I say.

It is starting to storm when we reach the car.  They drive me to Feldkirch and stay with me until I find a suitable place to stay for the night.  I am so thankful for them.  I wonder if it is the mountains that make the people here so kind.  I like to think it is. Mountains have that kind of power.  To change people for the better.

I go over logistics that evening.  It appears the trail follows the road and civilization for the next few days through Austria.  Road walking and staying in towns is not what I imagined this hike to be.  I count the days and realize too that if I am going to see more of Europe and still have days on my visa for Iceland that I need to wrap this trek up.

I decide to catch the train to Obersdorf the next day, to do some day hikes and then make my way back towards the UK.

DCIM100GOPROG0020950.
Obersdorf

I feel sad that today is my last day on the trail.  I decide right then that I will return.  To trek the Italian and Slovenian sections.  It has been everything I hoped it would be and more.  I have learned so much about myself, my ability to adapt, my strength and my weakness.  To own only what is in the pack I carry and to not need anything else.  To go on when I think I can’t.  To slow down and enjoy each moment.  To throw away prejudices and preconceived ideas.  To find joy in the small things.  To see that the people of this world are still inherently good.

until the next adventure,

Sincerely

Taymar