Monday, August 3, 2009

Home at Last

Well, we are all home (except for Sam and his dad, who are visiting England at the moment). However, our ride back wasn't exactly the smoothest.

We left the scout centre at 9 AM to catch a 2:30 PM flight and caught the bus to the train station. Once there, Mr. White bought tickets. While he was doing that, the train arrived and we had to hold the door open for him for about a couple minutes. We then took the train to Spiez, where we had a 7-minute wait before we were to get on the 9:54 train to Bern. However, an announcement came telling us that the train was delayed 15 minutes. That was a bit of an issue, since we only had a 9-minute wait at Bern for the train to Zürich Airport. Then the 15-minute delay became a 30-minute delay. At that point, we decided to take the 10:24 train that would go straight to the airport. At 10:20 or so, a different train to Bern arrived, but at that point we decided it was better to wait the 4 minutes for the Zürich train. Well, 4 minutes passed, and the train didn't show up. At around 10:40 or so, a train headed to Brig stopped, let its passengers off... and discontinued its service. While this was going on, the usual automated announcements that were being translated into English became announcements with lots of static presented only in German from the person in the station-house. Evidently, the problem was so bad that there wasn't a prerecorded message about it. Finally, the 10:54 train to Brig arrived, and we finally took it after waiting for a few minutes. It was only the second train to leave the station in an hour (as ours terminated at Spiez), despite being a somewhat busy connecting station.

At Bern, we would have to rush to catch the 11:34 train to Zürich, seeing as we were expected to arrive only a minute or two before then. However, when we got off, we noticed that there was a train to the same place that was to leave at 11:02, but was listed as 30 minutes late. Since we decided that there was little chance of us catching the original train on time, we waited for the latter to come. About fifteen minutes later, it finally arrived, and we headed to Zürich Airport.

While on the train, we were informed that it was going directly to Zürich Main Station and stopping. We arrived at about 12:40, just in time to miss the 12:37 to the airport. Finally, at 1:07, a train came and we got on. After waiting about 20 minutes, we were informed that the train was not leaving and that we had to catch the 1:37 from a different platform. We got on that train, and it actually left with only a five minute delay.

When we finally arrived at the airport, it was 1:45 and we had to catch a 2:30 flight to New York. When we rushed to the ticket counter, we were informed that the flight was closed and it was the last one leaving to the US for the day. After about an hour of negotiations, we finally got on planes leaving the next day (though with a $250 per person fee). Nine of us would catch the 10:00 AM flight to Atlanta and the 4:20 PM connection to Washington National, which would arrive at 6 PM, while the other three (with noted eighteen-year-old Chris as adult leader for the group) would catch the 2:30 PM flight the next day and get into National at 9 PM. The McKinleys were going to England on a different flight, so they still made it onto their plane.

Since we had about 20 hours to kill, we found a place in the airport to hang out. We got food from a supermarket in the airport mall, and we searched for things to do. Some of us read books, others listened to music, and some went outside and walked outside of the airport for a while. At around 10:30 we reviewed the trip, and after that, we had full range of a deserted airport. I'll keep the list short just in case the authorities catch a wind of this blog (just kidding), but among the highlights were running around in our sock feet and going the wrong way on escalators. We got a few hours of sleep, while David kept watch of our bags, as there was a homeless person who kept on trying to steal our stuff.

We woke up to people probably wandering why a dozen scouts were sleeping on the airport floor. We got our bags checked and waved goodbye to the three who were catching the later flight in. We had an hour or so at the gate to get food, and then we got in the plane and took off. Unfortunately, there was a large headwind, so our expected arrival time went up from about 2:30 PM to 3 PM. Once we made it to Atlanta, we had to go in a holding pattern for about 45 minutes due to storms on the ground. So we ended up getting off the plane at 3:45 for a 4:20 flight.

Once we got off of the 11-and-a-half hour plane flight, we got in contact with Ms. Armstrong, who had been our point of contact back home. We discovered two things: First, the flight to New York got delayed. The three of us on the plane would miss their connection, and all remaining flights for the day were booked solid. So, instead of spending the night in a hotel in New York City, one of the parents was going to drive up the four-hour journey and pick them up. Meanwhile, our flight to Washington was canceled because of the bad weather (not that we would have made it anyway -- we had to go through immigration, baggage claim, customs, check-in, and security first), and our group of nine was to be split again. Five of us (including myself) were to catch the 5:45 flight to Dulles, while the other four were to take the 7:20 flight to National.

When we got to the gate, there was pandemonium. Practically every single flight on the giant display board was delayed in one way or another. Throngs of people were at the gates, waiting for their flights to arrive. When we went to get our new boarding passes from the gate (since they wouldn't issue them at check-in for whatever reason), we were informed that the computer was saying that the gate had changed. Except that another computer said that it hadn't. Our plane hadn't arrived, so there was no way of telling who was right. Finally, we were told that our original gate was the correct one. Right then, it was announced that our flight was to arrive at another terminal. So we went to the new gate, and we finally managed to take off at around 7:00 or so, and we arrived at 9:00. The other flight to Washington took off at 9-ish, and the New York crew apparently arrived home at 2 AM, a good 47 hours after leaving Kandersteg.

Thankfully, we all eventually made it back safely. It's been fun blogging, and on that note I am going to say good bye. Maybe we'll come back in 2012.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Pictures are up on photobucket, I've been adding them as fast as I can and should be done by the end of the day.


Mr. White's Two Night, Three Day Hiking Extravaganza

This crazy business started Saturday morning with a little prayer or sermon (don't know what you'd call it) from Roger, the camp priest (I believe this would be an appropriate title) from England. He told us that while we were up on the mountains to look around at all of the little flowers, and remember, that even in these vast and enormous mountains, to remember that god cared about every single little one of us. I thought this was a very suiting and good moral to take from it, but I couldn't help but wonder why, if god cared about every single "little" one of us, why he would create such huge mountains for us to climb up (please excuse my sarcasm, I can't help it and for those of you that don't know me, the only thing you need to know about me is not to take me seriously, those of you that do know me, already know this).

After this farewell, we took the train to the next valley over from ours so that we could climb the mountain from the opposite side, and end up at the camp through a series unmanly hikes that I will describe below. In this next valley over, we got on a bus that started taking us up the mountain, it was pretty steep and somewhat scary, but we didn't realize what we were in for until we stopped in a little car park, switched into a bus about half the size of the bigger one, and were told to put all of our luggage in the trailer attached to the back. This bus then took us up what seemed to be little trails that were somehow carved out of a sheer cliff face. We went past a few water falls, one of which was spectacular, and just kept going up and twisting around some of the tightest hairpin turns I have ever seen. Throughout this, three things stayed the same, the solid cliff wall to one side, the dropoff to the other, and my praying that this bus would go ever higher to save me from what was beginning to look like what might be the steepest climbing... I mean "hiking" I've ever done.

This bus finally came to a stop, leaving us with what I remember to be 1300 vertical meters to hike, however it may have been 1500. The trip started with a pretty steady climb that definetly wasn't too bad, but after about 30 min, opened up into a huge field-type area that looked upon a very steep, almost cliff. By this point the troop had split into several groups. Brian, David, Jimmy, and I up front, with Benjin doing the rubber band thing with us (He'd catch up, then fall back, then catch up, then fall back). After that there was Chaz and Mr. White, followed by the rest of the group, and then Mr. McKinley and Robert bringing up the rear, with what would later become the infamous "Robert plod" (After what is known as the kander plod, which is how you are supposed to hike up steep slopes - slow, steady, and with long steps). This new plod stuck out however, because no matter how anyone attempted to change his pace without actually saying "go faster" (and that didn't always work), Robert just went on at his own pace, step after step. Anywho, the hike continued at a very steep angle, starting with a never ending grassy "slope" that was a challenge to traverse, but I also found it fun, because there were so many different paths and chanels that had eroded away that you had to make your own path based on these and it allowed you to vary between doing long, winding switch backs the whole way, going in a straight line up the mountain, or doing anything in between. This then turned into grey, earthy rock that we had to climb up. The rock was soon followed by a patch of snow that you had to walk across, and on the other side, the rock, and everything, turned a very white. This was one of the things that was interesting to me, was the stark and VERY immediate changes from grass to grey stone, and from grey stone to white stone. As the hike went on, the drop to our left became steeper and longer, as did the trail ahead of us. At one point, the "lead group" stopped to take a break, and we started hearing banging echoing around us. After a few seconds, we saw huge boulders rolling down the other side of the valley and dropping as if they were little toys. Needless to say, we were very happy it wasn't on our side of the valley, and the German hikers who we had past a few minutes before, let us know that they didn't want the same to happen on our side when, obviously thinking and knowing that we were stupid, thick Americans, yelled at us when we got to the switchbacks in a very rough English, "No Rocks!!!!", waving there hands like mad. This was telling us to be carefull not to slip or dislodge rocks (which was very easy to do, mind you), that could then roll down and take out hikers beneath us. We finally came to what Mr. White told us would be a "Stairway of death", the same one he sent us a youtube video of earlier on, but found that they really weren't too bad after what we had experienced. This brought us to the top of the mountain where we were able to look over a very clear and beautiful side at lake Oeschinensee (in the same valley as us), and over the other valley that we just hiked up that was covered in a very dense fog. And about 100 meters in front of us, and maybe a meger 15 meters above us, was the BlüemlisalpHütte. We had a small room off to the side of the hut that held all of us on the top bunks, and a bunch of french hikers on the bottom bunks, and believe me, they were the epitomy of the phrase "European 'privacy' " (Lets leave it at that). Anyways, the troop were sacrificed to eat dinner in the table in this room because there wasn't enough room upstairs, and there was enough noise and smell between the 110 hikers upstairs without adding the 13 boistrous AMERICAN hikers in this troop. We had a dinner that was pretty identical to that on the Glacier hike, however no where near as good, and of the three huts we went to, I'd have to say this food was the worst, and the glacier hut was far and above the best. After dinner we did the typical play games and then go to bed.

On Sunday we hiked back down the other side of the mountain towards lake oeschinensee. We were all at the lake by about 11:30 am and proceded to eat either a packed lunch or bought lunch at the lake. Also in order was swimming in the lake in order to get our high adventure patch. The water was extremely cold, but everyone took a dip. We also took a trip to the sledding track, next to the chairlift. This was a track, that looked like a slide, in which you sat on a sled that you could brake and/or make it go faster by putting wheels down. Needless to say, we all had a lot of fun before finishing to go meet our two guides for the hike up to frundenhutte. One of the guides, Hannes, was from Sweden, and the other, whose name I can't recall, but I remember it started with a Han, was from the Netherlands. The hike up to the hut took about 3 and a half hours and all agreed that it was probably the easiest hike for varying reasons, including the fact that the hike the day before was so long and hard. Also, the incredibly long and hard stairway of death that Mr. White promissed us, turned out to be quite a let down because everyone found them much easier than expected and also much easier than remembered, for those that went last year. It seems that a combination of jet lag, and altitude adjustment, or lack there of, was what led to the hike being so hard last time. David promptly left the troop to head back to camp as he apparently has developed a phobia of sleeping in huts. Mr. White, Mr. Donnell, Mr. Youmans, and I went looking for the Geo-cache that was supposedly near the hut, and were very dismayed to find only a bottle with a bunch of notes in that turned out to be very hard to get out. We all thought that this was a very strange and boring Geo-cache and headed back to the hut about 30 min later. On the way back, however, we stumbled upon a pile of rocks with the ACTUAL geo-cache box in it. We left a dollar bill and took a frundenhutte key chain. Back at the hut, it turned out that we were the only ones at the hut, so sleeping arrangements were MUCH better. We played another game of amoeba wars before heading off to bed.

Our final day of this trip was begun with an Ice climbing work shop on the glacier above the hut. We all donned the cramp-on's and ice axes again, as well as a bunch of warm clothing, and went out to a 15-20 foot "Ice-cliff" about half way up the glacier. Here, Hannes created a belaying system so that two people could climb at a time, and we then took turns climbing up the ice. Slowly we shed equipment, so we tried climbing with crampons and one ice axe instead of two, and then no ice axes and only crampons, and finally, several people tried climbing with no crampons or ice axes and most that tried, succeeded! We made it back to the hut around lunch time and got quite a few funny looks about our cold weather gear from the people sunbathing on the porch of the hut. After lunch, we headed back down the mountain and made it to the lake at around 4:00 where a few of us took a 5 minute dip in the lake. We then all went back over to do some more sledding and got 1-2 runs in, and then we took the cable car back down the mountain. We got to Kandersteg with just enough time to shower before the international barbeque which was a great way to end the trip.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday: Chocolate and Cheese Tour

And here's Chris again, talking about his experiences on the Chocolate and Cheese Tour.

The Chocolate and Cheese tour was quite a relaxing way to see Switzerland. The Youmans, Robert, and I got on a chartered coach with a troop from Portugal and a troop from England, neither of which we knew. We had about an hour or so drive to the chocolate factory, past some of the most beautiful scenery in Switzerland. Unfortunately, it had been so warm the night before that we hadn't gotten much sleep, so most of us had a hard time staying awake to look at the mountains.

The chocolate factory produces Nestlé chocolate, which we were surprised to learn is Swiss. It also produces signature Caville chocolate, which contains condensed milk, all from local cows. The first thing we saw, after of course the inevitable chocolate gift shop, was a movie theater, where they showed us old black and white French commercials for the Caville chocolate (the factory is in the French-speaking area of Switzerland). A factory employee told us about the entire chocolate-making process, which is fairly simple and takes about 4 days from bean to bar. They even let us try a raw cacao bean, which was very strong, but not bad tasting. They would make for a decent snack.

We walked past glimpses of the factory floor on the way to the room where we got to taste the final product. This was a room where we could spend as long a time as possible in. They laid out tray after tray of chocolate squares in all of the flavours and designs that the factory made, which was an amazing variety. The line moved slowly past the trays, which made you feel really guilty when you had to stop to try to sample them all. Robert and I had trouble with this, but Bryan figured out an ingenious coping method - he made a stash of chocolate he carried with him through the room! In the end, he tried two of each type. The chocolate was heavenly tasting, of course, in a way that cannot be described in this blog without making you all feel very bad that you missed out.

The next part of the tour was a glance through the old chocolate making machines, one of which was hilariously named "The Clipper". The tour shot us back out into the gift shop, where we all bought armfuls of chocolate for our friends and family - more than making up for what we ate in the factory's eyes.

We had two hours for lunch, which we had in the Swiss town of Gruyére near the chocolate factory. We ate our sandwiches in the rain (naturally it was raining; it is Switzerland) and then decided to check out the H.R. Giger museum. Well, I say decided, but I really mean that I talked everyone else into seeing the museum with me so that I could save money on the ticket. If you are not familiar with Giger, he was the chief designer for the movie Alien. His artwork can be described as shiver-inducing blends of the human body and technology that mess with your internal concepts of body integrity. They also had a guest exhibit from Anne Bertram, who portrayed traditional fairy tales in new, almost horrific visions. All in all, it was quite shocking to see those skulls and gas masks in the middle of a charming Swiss village. The scouts seemed to be deeply disturbed by the museum, but I cheerily purchased postcards for my family. We strolled through a nearby castle briefly, but did not pay for admission as it was time for the cheese factory, which was just down the road.

The cheese factory had us holding a small speaker to our ears, listening to the narrator cow, Cherry, tell us about the luxurious life of milk cows. Sleep and eat, sleep and eat is all they do. Cherry led us through the entire cheese making process, from milking the cows to when they leave the cheese in a barn for five months. We got to see the actual vats where they mix the cheese, as well as the auto-salt bath machine they use to age the cheese properly. After the tour was over, we purchased a small plate of cheese for an exorbitant price from the in-house cheese restaurant. We received about three slices of three different kinds of cheese, which we shared four ways. The cheese was enjoyed in this order, from most to least: Mr. Youmans, Chris, Robert, Bryan.

Apparently we took too long trying the cheese, because a member of the English troop appeared and told us we were holding up the bus. We grabbed the remaining cheese and high-tailed it back to the coach, thus completing our chocolate and cheese tour. All in all, I'd say that it was rewarding, if scarce on the cheese. Four out of Five stars for a most enjoyable day.

Tuesday: High Ropes Park

We woke up today for the final full day in Switzerland. After getting breakfast, we figured out which of us got which activity patches. There are six different patches one can earn while over here for doing different requirements. It ended up being that of our contingent of fourteen people, all but one of us got five patches, while the one exception still got four. (You couldn't really get all six, seeing as it's kind of hard to get the "Snow and Ice Adventure" patch in the middle of July.) We also went over the plan for tomorrow, and then we all headed out to the High Ropes Course.

Unlike last time, in which we spent about an hour on a chartered bus to get the place, we only had to walk about 10 minutes this time around, as they opened up a new place right by the scout centre. We waited for about 15 minutes for it to open, and after that we got about 20 minutes or so of instruction before we went out on the actual ropes. It was divided into four separate courses based on difficulty. Bear in mind that this being Switzerland we're talking about, so what they consider to be easy is typically rather advanced for us in the States.

I ended up going on all four of the courses. The segments ranged from walking across a rope ladder, to 30-metre zip lines, to monkey bars, to one bit where you had to slide across while sitting on a disk which would swing up into a net. The latter one was particularly difficult, as you needed to grab onto the net without letting go (as you end up swinging back and getting stuck in the middle) and without falling off the seat (as it becomes extremely hard to unhook your carabiners from the rope and you have the heavy seat pulling you back). Most of us took about three or four tries before we finally made it across.

After about three hours or so of being several metres in the air, we put away our harnesses and our helmets and we headed to the town, all aching and exhausted. Everyone split up and did their own things -- most people went somewhere to lunch (I ordered a nice Hawaiian pizza at a restaurant) and shopped for souvenirs and Swiss chocolate. We headed back to camp to relax a little and to start packing for our way home.

Since we have to leave at 9 AM, this will probably be the last post I make here. I'll post something on Thursday, most likely (seeing as how we don't arrive at National until midnight, which translates to 6 AM Swiss time). So until then, have fun wherever you are, and while it has been a good time here, I can't wait to get back to a regular American keyboard.

Thursday/Friday: Lötschenpasshütte

Here's Robert with a guest post about his hike up to Lötschenpass.

While everyone else was climbing up to Petersgrat, the Youmans and I went up to Lötschenpass, which was opposite of the mountain everyone else was climbing. We took the van to a nearby valley to a hotel with the oldest German Bible in existence. Our group then started our ascent. The hike went well but started to slow down once we passed the the point at which the vegatation stopped growing. We crossed a small glacier and had lunch near a signpost. The rest of the hike was difficult but we ended up at the hut around 1 PM. Then we hung out and slept for a couple of hours until dinner, and then watched the weather outside go from rain, to hail, to a mix of both, and were glad we got there before that.

The next morning we started our ascent up to Hockenhorn, which was the top of the nearby mountain. The last uphill part basically turned into rock climbing. It was absolutely amazing at the top, and after 10 minutes, Brian and I were scared out of our minds and we all went down. We didn't take the same way down as we did going up, and the other side was a lot nicer. The other side had more fields and endless amounts of flowers. We eventually hiked to a town called Ferden, took the bus to the next town over, and took the train back to Kandersteg. It was a very nice hike we all had a great time.

Some Pictures

EDIT: Blogger is acting weird, so click on the images to view them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Friday: Mutthornhütte Descent

On Friday morning, we woke up at Mutthornhütte, located 2900 metres (over 9000 feet) above sea level. We folded our mattresses, packed our bags, and went downstairs to a breakfast of oatmeal, toast, and hot chocolate. At around 8:00 or so, we ventured outside, put on our glacier gear, and headed off on our descent.

On the way up, we walked the langth of the Kanderfirn Glacier, while on the way down we were to walk across the ice mass and over the Petersgrat (grat is ridge in German). After a couple hours of walking across snow and fixing people's crampons, we made it to the ridge, 3200 metres in the air (that's 10,500 feet for those who still cling to the Imperial system). We later determined that the ridge was part of the European continental divide -- rivers to the north flow into the North Sea, while those to the south flow into the Mediterranean.

The way down to the other side went rather quickly, as the slope was quite steep. We made it to the bottem of the glacier without too much problem, with the exception of a couple falls and someone's crampon coming off. Once we reached rock again, we stopped for lunch and made our way down to the Lötschental Valley. It proved to be quite trecherous, as the path was not very visible and it was a steep slope down. Finally, after about five hours of hiking, we made it to Falferalp, where we caught the bus to Goppenstein and the train under the mountain back to Kandersteg.

That night, we had the International Campfire, which was a series of skits and songs by the various scout groups attending as well as the staff (referred to as Pinkies because of the colour of their shirt). We performed our perrenial favourite skit, "If Your Scoutmaster Ran on Microsoft Windows", this time updated for Vista. It went over very well with the crowd, despite the rain. In fact, while writing this, a couple of people came up and complimented us on the skit.

Right now, most of the troop is at Blümlisalphütte. I'm having to stay back due to the fact that I strained a muscle while Mountaineering on Wednesday. I managed to make it through the glacier hike, though my leg was in pain by the time we reached the bottom. However, I'm hopefully going to be able to make it to the Fründenhütte portion of the hike tomorrow. So the next time I'll be making a post will probably be Monday night.

Thursday: Mutthornhütte Ascent

On Thursday and Friday, we had the first of our overnight hikes. Eleven of us (myself included) went to the the Mutthornhütte, while the other three hiked up to Lötschenpasshütte (see map for locations). Everyone woke up at about 6:30, packed their day packs, ate breakfast, and took a bus to the town of Seldon, which was located about halfway between Fründenhütte and Lötschenpasshütte. We got to look at the oldest surviving German Bible in existence, which dated from 1696, and is in the possession of the oldest person in the valley. After that, we went on our way.

The first part of the hike was rather easy, as we just followed the Kander River upstream. However, as we approached the Kanderfirn glacier (the source of the Kander), we found that we had to get around a steep cliff. So we ended up hiking a couple hours in a steep climb in order to ascend to the start of the glacier, which tired out several people. Once we made it, though, we were treated to a spectacular view of the valley to one side, the massive glacier to the other, and mountains surrounding both.

After a break for lunch, we started to work on crossing the Kanderfirn. Everyone put on their harnesses, crampons (essentially spikes for our shoes to they could grab onto the ice), and got their ice axes on the ready. We were split into two groups, with one guide leading each one. Then, each person in a group was attached to each other by a rope. That way, if one person fell into a crevasse or something similar, the other members would break their fall.

Initially, crossing the glacier proved to be relatively easy. The slope wasn't steep at all, and the crampons provided good footing for the ice. However, what did prove to be a challenge was the fact that it was cold and windy. Several times, we felt gusts of 70 or more kilometres per hour (about 45 miles per hour) blow between the mountains that were surrounding us. Thankfully, though, it was a tailwind, so we managed to get a slight boost to our speed, provided we weren't being concerned about not falling over.

While on the glacier, we got to view the Alps in their full glory. To the left and right were mountains easily reaching over 3000 metres (10,000 feet) high, all composed of nothing but rock and ice. In front of us lay what seemed to be the never-ending Kanderfirn glacier, a huge river of white. Behind us, we could see more mountains in the distance, the valley from which we came too low for us to see.

The trouble with being on a glacier and above the tree line, we quickly learned, is that there is no way to tell how far away something is. We would see a mountain and think that it was only about half an hour away. However, half an hour later, it did not seem like it was any closer. In addition, we were crossing the entire length of the third-largest glacier in Europe, which turned out to be quite a ways longer than we thought it would be.

After a while of easy climbing, we reached a flat spot. There, the melted water does not flow nearly as fast, and so the ice became slush at several places. We had to watch out, as a person would step onto what seemed like a secure spot, only to fall knee-deep into the ice. I myself tripped and fell once, getting the entirety of my pants soaked, not to mention my socks and shoes.

Once we passed that, we ended up crossing what was almost entirely snow. Although this all but guaranteed that our socks and shoes would be soaked, it was a rather nice relief compared to the wet slush that we traversed earlier. Also, at that point, we began to see the hut, though we quickly discovered it was a lot further away than we initially thought it was. After about an hour and a half of what seemed liked chasing the end of a rainbow, we finally arrived at the Mutthornhütte.

When we arrived, we were given some marsh tea and some chocolate, and we got to take off out wet footwear and get settled. Some of us napped, while some of us played Settlers of Catan while waiting for dinner. When it arrived, we got to have all-you-can-eat soup, all-you-can-eat salad, all-you-can-eat pasta, and finally crème brulee for dessert. Everyone eat ravenously, and it was one of the best dinners I had. Then again, we were so exhausted, they could have served cardboard and we would have still eaten it up.

While we were eating, we got to watch a big hailstorm outside the windows. Once we finished dinner, we relaxed a bit and enjoyed being inside and warm for a few hours. At around 9:00, we all started heading to bed. We slept in a room that was lined with two levels of about ten mattresses each. Thankfully everyone managed to have a good night's sleep despite the thinner air (we were at 2900 metres) and the snoring.

I'm probably going to end this post for now, but later on I'll talk about Friday's descent.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wednesday: Mountaineering

First off, sorry for the delay. I ended up not having time on Wednesday to post about what we did, and Thursday night I was in a hut with no chance of Internet access. I'm going to talk about what we did Wednesday here, and in the next post I'll talk about what we did the past two days.

On Wednesday, most of us went mountaineering, which is more formally known as Via Ferrata (Iron Way in Italian). Half of us went in the morning, and the other half went in the afternoon. Since I was slated to go in the afternoon, I spent the morning relaxing and taking care of personal stuff before eating lunch in town. We then gathered at the Allmenalp cable car (which I was later informed was the steepest in Europe) for the activity itself.

From the descriptions that everyone was given, it seemed like we would take the cable car up to Allmenalp, do some activities there, and take the cable car back. Instead, we were informed that we were to climb up and then take the cable car down. The catch is that there is a 370-metre (1250 feet for those who have yet to know how big metric is) sheer cliff face between where we were and where we would be going. And we were supposed to climb up that.

We were all given harnesses and about two minutes of instructions on how to use them, and we were on our way. We had a guide who basically made sure that we wouldn't fall off or anything, but other than that, we were on our own. After a short hike to the cliff, we attached ourselves to a steel cable, and started heading up.

Most of the time, we were going either straight up or at a very steep angle (and in one case, past vertical). While we were secured to a cable that went up the entire way, a fall would still be devastating, as it was usually about 10 metres or so between where the cable was attached to the cliff (and when you fall, you fall to the next attachment). And there were a lot of treacherous manoeuvres. For a lot of the climbs, all we had for foot supports were centimetre-wide bars sticking out about 15 centimetres from the mountain, spaced about two or three feet apart.

However, despite the degree of difficulty of the ascent, the views were completely amazing. We could look straight down and see all the way to the valley, and we got to see the entirety of Kandersteg. Even if we didn't get to climb up the cliff, it would have been worth it just to see the sights.

After about three hours of climbing, we finally made it to the top. We were all rather exhausted (seeing as we only stopped once, as there are few places to stop for a rest period), and we got to enjoy a drink of Rivella at the cable car station. When we took the car down, we ended up sharing it with about six people from a troop that had just gone up and down again without even coming out of the car. While we were riding, it was clear the the scout leader was not comfortable with the situation, though to his credit we were about three people over the posted limit.

That night, several of us enjoyed a disco (basically a dance -- I didn't hear the Bee Gees once), which just proved that some things don't really change between continents. We left a bit early, as we had a big hike the next day, but we still had a good time.

After I take a shower and eat dinner, I'll post about the hike we did yesterday and today, and I'll see if I can get someone to post about the Chocolate and Cheese Tour and the other hike that was going on over the past two days. We've officially gone into high adventure territory now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday: Oeschinensee, Doldenhornhütte

For this guest post, we have Chaz, who stayed back in camp on Monday and had some fun activities of their own.

David, Mr. White, and I went for a day hike. First, Mr. Youmans and we hiked up to the lake. Somehow cement trucks found a way to climb and descend this very steep hill. At the lake, we went for a swim (it was cold). David dealt with this a lot better than any of us temperaturely challenged people were. We desired lunch, but were forced to settle for expensive restaurant food. After this, Mr. Youmans departed back to Kandersteg as we took on another challenge. We decided to hike to Doldenhornhütte (a hut up on an intimidating cliff). As we began, we made a very good pace. We got to the hut in less than the Swiss posted time. WOW! As we climbed we noticed an Alpineweg (translated to alpine trail), marked in blue, as a shortcut to get back from the hut (note: these trails are usually classified as requiring special equipment, training, or guidance). We did not see any snow, ice, or equipment requiring terrain in our observations. We decided it would just take "Balls of Steel" to accomplish. After a quick break of 10 minutes we departed for our decent. We reached the blue trail and embarked on our new adventure. The trail began climbing with the cliff below growing taller and taller (also with about a 700 ft cliff above as well). The trail was not more than a foot wide and sloped sideways about 30-40° downhill. We enjoyed many precarious views, constantly thinking "hmm... it would not be too good to fall right now." We got some good pictures, and continued. This fun trail continued for a while, and then finally ran into the regular trail (also significantly steep). After another hour or two we found ourselves back at home in Kandersteg. I consider this hike a great success, considering we completed every single segment of our hike faster than the Swiss posted times. (Again! WOW!). That is the story of out time.

Thank you for your time,

Tuesday: Hanging Around with Chris

For this post, we have a special guest blogger, "whose blogmanship will take us to new levels of excellence", according to him. So give a hand to Chris, who will talk about how he spent his Tuesday.

While the rest of the troop had to spend what I imagine as a excruciatingly hard day transversing frozen alpine waterfalls, I took a luxury day for myself. At midnight last night, I moved my cot to Uncle Sam's shelter, a charming little quaint fireplace shelter located a reasonable two minutes from our camp site. There, I peacefully read a star trek novel while I nursed the fire to its quietus. Wrapped up snuggly in my sleeping bag, with my recently dried pillow, I drifted off to sleep myself.

I woke up the next morning around eight, and greatly enjoyed being able to roll over and go back to sleep. Such a luxury seemed almost decadent after my five thirty wake-up of the previous day. At eight thirty, I enjoyed the same pleasure, and again at nine.

I finally left my cot around noon time, when I put it in my tent and strolled down to the bus station. The bus took me to the train station, where I began the day's true mission - to search the hamlet of Kandersteg for Internet. The terminal at the train station was broken, so I headed into the town itself. My target was a small shop, suggestively called "internet°point", but first I had to make a CRUCIAL stop.

I continued an hour later, after eating my fill of pizza at Restaurant der Post. The pizza was delicious, thin in the European style. It was a "margherita", which here is a simple tomatoes and basil pizza flavor instead of a drink.

The internet°point did have Internet, at the costly rate of 3.00 CHF per 15 minutes. Whatever. I spent a half hour frantically choosing my classes for my first semester at William and Mary.

My work done for the day, I decided to treat myself to some shopping. Unfortunately, the stores in Kandersteg all appear to sell either sports equipment or Swiss souvenirs, not a single objet d'art. I therefore sat by the beautiful white Kander river and finished off "Star Trek Voyager: Cybersong". The bus back to Kandersteg surprised me by containing the entirety of Troop 1018, but I saved an otherwise tense situation by allowing them to be my unannounced honor guards on the way back to camp.

Camp was restful, which was a relief from my oh so hectic day. I did some birdwatching and relaxing, then played Settlers of Catan with my best troop. I love Switzerland.