Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Bucolic day of...

hiking before the storm. 

After a mellow respite in Champex, Switzerland (my favorite town so far), it was time to hit the Haute Route once again.

Today's ramble was mostly downhill through farms and valley villages. It was a slice of everyday Swiss life. I watched Grandma and Grandpa farmer rake fresh mowed clover. A school bus let out behind me. The kids shouted joyously as they ran past. A noisy quarry was busy crushing boulders or moving them about. Industrial strength sprinklers watered the fields. Black cows mooed about. I walked by the front and back yards of Swiss citizens. No one gave me a second glance. It was reminiscent of the Camino de Santiago minus the Pilgrims and frequent bar/cafe social stops.

This is my chill break before three stages of extreme hiking. Here's a few brief descriptors from my cue-sheets. "The most sustained uphill section of the Haute Route." (5,577" of climbing in 5.5 miles. OY!) "The going is particularly rocky and barren." And my favorite "Today is the toughest stage." 

My accommodations will be huts too. Yech! 

From my New Zealand Hut experience.

With flashbacks of New Zealand's backcountry dorms boogying in my head. (NZ's huts were similar to Chinese opium dens minus the drugs). I Googled my upcoming Swiss huts. 


My first shelter got Chicago's Waldorf Astoria reviews. (*****). The second not so much. Out of eleven TripAdvisor reviews, seven rated the crash pad "poor to terrible." There's mentions of bedbugs and non-potable water too. The shack has only two toilets, two showers and two urinals for 59 occupants! Triple OY! 

Let's say I'm not excited about Hut # 2. 

AND... the weather forecast is skunky! Today's warmth will give way to rain, wind, lower temperatures and more rain. I'm thinking this is a meteorological event related to Hurricane Harvey. ((Which we all know is Obama's fault). 

So now, I'm lying horizontal in my hotel room in Villette. It's a non-quaint newish town with loud multilane traffic. I'm not inspired to take a gander about. I'll conserve my strength for the hikes and huts that await me. 

Though I'll  save some energy for tonight's Happy Hour. I have my priorities. 

Cheers! See you on the other side.
Jeff

Last photo: This wasn't the sexy French maid i envisioned from my previous post.



Monday, August 28, 2017

Biglier version of I stand...



Humbled by the Alps. 

My buddies who really know me will never ask "Jeff! Let's do this hike. It'll be challenging!" They know what my answer will be. "Hell! No!" 

I'm at the stage of my life where the biggest daily challenge I want to face is finding the "ON" switch for my coffee pot. I don't seek challenges. I'm a closet wimp. I want to breeze up passes because I trained for them. I like easy. 

That being all said, I'm physically suffering from the onslaught of the Alps. In my four days of hiking here, I've accumulated 17,191" (5240 meters) of uphill. That's 3.25 miles of ascent. OY! No wonder I'm  fatigued and cringe at the thought of a no-elevator third floor hotel room. 

All the tromping I did in Colorado's High Country failed to ready me for the sheer steepness of the Alps. I might as well have sat in an Iowan cornfield reading Harlequin Romance novels, munching on Bonbons, all washed down with gooey chocolate milk. I thought I came prepared!





I discovered on these four days of hiking, my three stages of extreme physical activity. Within fifteen minutes, my cotton t-shirt is just-got-out of the washing machine wet. In thirty minutes I'm exuding an "Eau de Sambur" scent. It's definitely not an expensive cologne. In an hour, I'm taking intermittent breaks to scrape the grit and grime off my tongue. Between the steep terrain and the exertions, I'm dragging that particular body part in the dirt. As the Aussies say, "this is hard Yakka!" 

Odds and ends musings: 

Upon meeting backpackers coming in the opposite direction, I notice they wear hollowed-eyed, vacant, Prisoner of War looks. I dare not ask them how's it going. Their personal countenance says it all.

A word about the trail conditions: In my past, I've heard "alternative facts" about the physical state of the Alps paths. From what I was told, I envisioned groomed and manicured tracks. I fantasized about seeing scantily clad French maids vigorously sweeping the trails with old fashioned corn brooms. Sigh! That's not the case. The trails are every bit as rocky, rutted and rough as the ones in America's wild places. (Maybe worse). There's no daydreaming on these hikes. You really must watch your step. 

A note about the trails vertically: I'm sure many of you think I'm over-embellishing the difficulty here. Unto those I say, "Au contraire!" Yesterday, I was hiking at eye-level to ground dwelling blueberry bushes. I managed to pluck a few anti-oxidants off before my next stumbling uphill step. 

So how am I doing? My legs have the feel of over-cooked spaghetti. My resting heart rate is averaging 10 beats/minute more than BTA (Before The Alps) time. Every once in a while, my heart forgets to work. Huh? Arrhythmias! While my energy output has gone Mount Everest, my appetite has taken a leave of absence. I'm losing more weight. At this present rate, I'll arrive in Zermatt the equivalent poundage of two Nalgene water bottles. 

The demographics here: Most of the trail's users are European or Asian. Senior citizens (like me) are an exception instead of the rule. My fellow Americans aren't prevalent at all. I did notice a few smirky Canadians with maple leaf flags attached to their packs. I suppose it's their snarky way of saying, "We're still in the Paris Climate Accord! Please don't compare us to our Southern neighbors. Eh?" Those hockey loving Canucks might add (since they are all so civil and polite) "We're sorry your glaciers are receding. Maybe you can make more beer with the melt water while you still can. Eh?" 

I'll sum up this lengthy post with this: A few days ago, I sat outside a cafe at the Col de Balme. This mountain pass serves as a border between France and Switzerland. (No Wall, no Border Patrol). From a proprietress as ancient as the Alps, I purchased an overpriced cheese sandwich (minus the cheese) and a half liter of water. I took my humble bread and water meal outside and looked into Switzerland for the first time in my life. I got giddy and began to laugh out loud. These mountains are whooping me! This is nuts! 


Then I calmed down and realized if Hannibal (the Carthaginian General) was able to get 40 elephants over these passes, I should be able to get my solo Jewish butt over them as well. 

It's all good.

Keep looking in, the Alps are amazing...

Cheers!
Jeff




Sunday, August 27, 2017

I stand humbled...

by the Alps. 


My hiking buddies who really know me never ask, "Jeff! Let's do this hike. It'll be challenging!" They know what my answer will be. "Hell! No!" 

I'm at the stage of my life where the biggest daily challenge I want to face is finding the "ON" switch for my coffee pot. I don't seek challenges. I'm a closet wimp. I want to breeze up passes because I trained for them. I like easy. 

That being all said, I'm physically suffering from the onslaught of the Alps. In my four days of hiking here, I've accumulated 17,191" (5240 meters) of uphill. That's 3.25 miles of ascent. OY!
No wonder I'm  fatigued and cringe at the thought of a no-elevator third floor hotel room. 

All the tromping I did in Colorado's High Country couldn't prepare me for the sheer steepness of the Alps. I might as well have sat in an Iowan cornfield reading Harlequin Romance novels, munching on Bonbons, all washed down with gooey chocolate milk. I thought I came prepared!


I discovered on these four days of hiking, the four stages i experience from all this strenuous activity. In fifteen minutes, my cotton t-shirt is just got out of the washing machine wet. In thirty minutes I'm exuding an "Eau de Sambur" scent. It's definitely not an expensive cologne. In an hour, I'm taking intermittent breaks to scrape the grit and grime off my tongue. Between the steep terrain and the exertions, I'm dragging that particular body part in the dirt. As the Aussies say, "this is hard Yakka!" 


Now a word about the trail conditions: In my past, I've heard "alternative facts" about the condition of the Alps paths. From what I was told, I envisioned groomed and manicured tracks. I fantasized about seeing scantily clad French maids vigorously sweeping the trails with old fashioned corn brooms. Sigh! That's not the case. The trails are every bit as rocky, rutted and rough as the ones in America's wild places. (Maybe worse). There's no daydreaming on these hikes. You really must watch your step. 

A few days ago, I sat outside a cafe at the Col de Balme. This mountain pass serves as a border between France and Switzerland. From a proprietress as ancient as the Alps, I purchased an overpriced cheese sandwich (minus the cheese) and half liter of water. I took my humble bread and water meal outside and looked into Switzerland for the first time in my life. I got giddy and started to laugh out loud. This is so nuts! 


Then I realized if Hannibal (the Carthaginian General) was able to get elephants over these passes, I should be able to get my ass over them as well. 

It's all good.


Keep looking in, the Alps are amazing...

Cheers!
Jeff




Thursday, August 24, 2017

The People Talk...

funny here and other first impressions.

I'm now in Chamonix, France where English is a second language. That's OK.  I'm so deaf  even if the locals were speaking my only tongue, I wouldn't hear them anyway. So I smile like an old docile clown and shake my head yes or no to make my point. If that doesn't work, I just smile until they feel sorry for me and figure out what I want. Most of the time, I'm successful. 



Today, I woke still groggy from a Jet-lag hangover. For me, the feeling manifests itself as having an out-of-body experience. For instance : This morning I cracked open a raw egg at the breakfast buffet. Silly me, it was a do it yourself hard boiled egg station. There was a vat of boiling water next to the tray of eggs. Somehow, I left out an important step in food preparation. 

After eating, I decided to see if I could decipher the  hiking directions sent by Alpine Exploratory Guide Services. They are written in the British English language which is more than a continent away from the American English language. On today's amble I figured out  I just need to follow the signs. That's my kind of hiking. Cut to the chase. Who has time to read when they are hiking! We're BUSY! 


Now I'm optimistic I won't make the Le Monde's front page news for getting farblondzhet (Yiddish for lost) in the Alps. Thank you Alpine Exploratory. 


The Alps are steep. It was a 4,400 foot climb to Lac Blanc in a scant 5.5 miles. 

Humidity lurks in the Alps too. In Colorado's dry high-desert climate, people don't age, they desiccate. Here there's plenty of nature's moisturizers. Sweat! No wonder, the only wrinkles I noticed were mine. 


Ahh, but the mountains themselves are cut-your-finger jagged. Islands of rock poker through the thick glaciers. Yet, people and ski gondolas climb up them. Simply amazing. 

My first impressions? So far, so good. Although I might have caught a bug in transit. OY! 

√† votre sant√©! 
Jeff




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Final Resting Place...

will be on Mount Sneffels. (14,150') in Southwest Colorado.


My brother Mike owns a hand written set of directions on what's to become of my estate, and my ashes. The instructions are specific on where to place my four-six pounds of gray powder. (Mostly granulated bone).  One third of me will be spread facing east toward the rising sun. (I'm a morning person) The rest will be scattered toward the San Juan Mountains. I want a wind blown perspective of all those luscious acres of Federally-protected Wilderness Areas. It's all about the big views. 



The San Juan's are the most dramatic, steep, rugged and wicked-wild mountain range in Colorado. The Sangre de Cristo's mountains are close, but lack the depth and breadth of the San Juan's. The San Juan's possess more real estate to get lost in. I've been exploring the area for about 40 years, but barely broke the surface. 



My summer game plan was to hike heaps of Colorado. On a daily basis, I pushed this senior citizen body into dependable shape for my upcoming Alps journey. There, I'll be ambling the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.  I'll be ascending 5,000'/day on many of the stages. That's the equivalent of walking out of the Grand Canyon a few times a week. I'm pleased to say, mission accomplished. I'm feeling healthy and fit. I'm lean but not mean. I'm ready.


It's been a soggy summer in Colorado, more reminiscent of a typical Seattle winter. It's green, flowery and buggy. There was a stretch where I thought mud and mold would digest Barley the Van. Yet, I felt happy to be in the State which adopted me in 1978. 

During this sojourn, I thought a lot about things. There will come a time when life in Barley the Van won't be possible. I'll have to settle down. I think my next to last resting place will be in Southwest Colorado. By that time, I'll be looking up at the views instead of gazing down from the peaks, passes and basins. As for now, I'm not ready yet. There's that one-way ticket I have to Europe. 


Who knows what my future or the World's will be? 

Which brings us back to the start of this post. Who will deposit what's physically left of me on Sneffels? 

I'm hoping Keith and Justin Sambur (my nephews) and maybe a few others who liked me will deposit my remains. (You guys better stay in shape to haul me up there!)  It'll be OK for them to anoint me with a Double IPA. I won't need to stay sober for the scree-lined descent. I'll be staying up there. 

All these photos were shot in the Centennial State. Thank You! Colorado for giving me sanctuary here. 

The last photo is me on incredible Mount Sneffels. Note the measuring cup in my hand. I want my nephews to get the portions right. 

Next stop...
The Alps.
Follow along, this could get interesting.

Cheers,
Jeff

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shame on the Rio Grande Forest for allowing...


cattle grazing in  the South San Juan Wilderness. 


Today, I had the displeasure of hiking up the "Three Forks" Trail to the Middle Fork Trail toward Conejos Falls. I read a brief route description from John Fielder's "Colorado Wilderness Areas" Guide. Mr Fielder didn't mention the cattle-caused degradation of the trail's condition.  I suppose being a Polly-Anna sells more books. I'm no Polly-Anna so I'll say it. The trail sucked. The cattle vandalized the terrain as much or more than logging or mining roads would have. Unlike those mindless bovines, a Civil Engineer considers drainage issues. 

I muddled through ankle to calf deep mud and muck. At times, the trail was a 12-15 foot wide path of primordial ooze. Instead of a "Thread Lightly" code of ethics, the cattle prefer to "Thread Heavily." When those grass-eating terrorists grew tired of getting their hooves wet, they created new trails. The meadows and forests are braided with new paths. John Muir, who coined the phrase "hoofed locusts" (in reference to sheep) would have had a stroke if he hiked the SSJ Wilderness. 

Need I remind you, from the Wilderness Act of 1964. [Wildeness] is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life is untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." 

Sure, an "alternative fact" lawyer can say, "Well, there no mention of cattle!" My retort? There's no mention of chickens, pigs or goats either.  The intent of the Wilderness Act isn't to allow wonton destruction of what the Act is trying to preserve. 

I'm a retired city firefighter who once fought forest fires for the USFS. (Bighorn and Pike NF). I have a degree from the Syracuse College of Environmental Studies and Forestry. ((Class of 1976). I'm well read in the tales of Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, David Brower and Edward Abbey. They all understood the basic belief (in verifying degrees) of Land Stewardship. 

Rio Grande National Forest! You are flunking Land Stewardship 101 by allowing cattle to graze in a so-called Wilderness Area. The Rio Grande's powers to be are selling out to the Sage Brush Rebellion, the Old West mentality and the Cliven Bundy constituents. All for a measly $1.87/AUM. (Animal Unit Month). 

I understand many of these cattle grazing permits have been grandfathered in. The cattlemen had the right to run their four-legged wrecking crews on Federal Land prior to the SSJ becoming a Wilderness in 1980. Still this doesn't seem right. Face it, cattle grazing on Public Lands is Federally Funded Welfare. 

My last photo sums up how I felt about today's amble into the South San Juan Wilderness. It was light on inspiration and heavy on steaming piles of cow poop. It was the shits. I know that's crass, but more so is making a mockery of one of the best Congressional Acts in our Nation's Conservation History. 

Come on folks! You can do better than this!

Let's make our Public Lands better for our future generations.
Jeff Sambur

PS. This blog and photos have been sent to the Rocky Mountain Region Forest Supervisor, the Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor and the Conejos District Ranger

Copies have also been sent to the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club of Colorado.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"If I had one more low gear...

I would have driven up that hill!" 

Is the quote I eavesdropped upon in the Moab Diner a few years ago. 

The driver's Jeep Jamboree compadres nodded sagely in agreement.


I thought to myself, "how weird is that!" It would be like me saying,  "If I had another Clif Bar I would have summitted  that mountain." Except, I would be relying on myself instead of a machine. 

While I was spying, the Diner's customers was a 50/50 blend of hikers/mountain bikers and 4x4 vehicle aficionados. It was easy to spot the difference between the two antipodal recreational categories. The 4x4 gang dawdled over weak mugs of Mormon-made coffee while the "Silent Sport" crowd wolfed down their breakfasts of pancakes or veggie omelettes. The no-fossil fuel contingent wanted to beat the heat and the crowds. The drivers were  loitering until their mob showed up. No rush! 



Lately, I've been spending time in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. In my humble yet knowledgeable opinion, it's the most scenic part of a State famous for scenery. The San Juan's are Da Bomb! 

Back in the day, miners struggled up the gulches, creeks and mountain basins in search of a Motherlode of valuable minerals. Their trails remain. I use them. If the miner's dig-a-hole-here hunch was correct, rudimentary roads were built to move the ore to nearby settlements. The 4X4 crowd use those roads. 

On my way to two trails ensconced in a few Wilderness Study Areas. I had to drive my high clearance Barley the Van on miles of not quite 4x4 nor two-wheeled drive road either. (More like Three-wheel drive!) I was jounced and juggled around. I felt like a dryer sheet in an unbalanced laundry load. On one narrow stretch of dirt, crumbly rock walls lay on one side and a river-built chasm on the other. There was no margin of error or room for two side-by-side vehicles.

 People drive these roads for pleasure! I don't get it!



On my hikes, I'm fueled by coffee, veggie omelettes and a still high dose of testosterone. I off-gas water vapor and CO2. I sweat a lot too. When I take a misstep, scabs and scars are the results. (If I were a hemophiliac, I would have croaked long ago). It's the price I pay for being an aggressive hiker.

In contrast, the Motor-minded crowds fuel up on whatever they eat and plenty of gasoline. The Jeeps, ATV's, OHV's and motorcycle dirt bikes off-gas CO2 and water vapor too. BUT!  (From Wikipedia) There's carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion, hydrocarbons, (properly indicated as CxHy, but typically shown simply as "HC" on emissions-test slips) from unburnt fuel, nitrogen oxides (NOx) from excessive combustion temperatures, and particulate matter (mostly soot). No Bueno! 

When a Rough Roader takes a misstep, they can score a dent or scratch. No bleeding except for their wallets. A really bad misstep could cause a tumble down the above mentioned chasm. But Man! What a ride! 

At the end of my day, it's Happy Hour. I tip back an IPA while gazing at my bounty of photos. Sometimes I get a warm, fuzzy feeling (other than from the High Test brews) 
knowing I earned those views with Good Ol' American Sweat Labor. This makes me smile. 

I'm not sure what sense of satisfaction the Varoom-Varoom contingent receives during their Happy Hours. However, there are two things I'm sure of.

1) That Dude would have driven up that hill if he had one more gear.

2) I always carry an extra Clif Bar to reach that summit. 

Enjoy the photos. I earned them.

Cheers!
Jeff