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.