Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekend in Paris

We took the TGV to Paris on Friday morning and spent the weekend there with Gary, Sally and Lindley.
Some notes:
  1. The catacombs are closed due to vandalism. That sucks.
  2. The lines to get ice cream from Berthillon on the Ile de St. Louis are insane. The ice cream is good (the salty caramel was *damn* good), but still.
  3. L'As du Falafel is still great.
  4. Restaurant 1, Mon Vieil Ami: Good, but not very good.
  5. Restaurant 2, Itinéraires: We had a very good meal here.
  6. The Hôtel Devillas (4, boulevard Saint Marcel) was not expensive (Euro 90/night), but not great either.
  7. We really need to go spend a week in Paris in a rented flat and do the whole cooking from the outdoor markets thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Calancatal Day 3: Cab. Buffalora -> Sta. Maria

Another well-timed (shortly before 8) start under cloudless blue skies. From the cabana we head up, up through the blueberries and trees to the blocks and further up to the saddle over the cabana. From here along a short exposed bit to the Pass de Buffalora with nice views to both sides. Around the side of Mt. Nomnom and up a bit to the Westgrat. More nice views up and down and into the Calancatal.

Down a steep bit into the next valley (stoneman at the other side already visible), descend some ladders and then do a very steep down along a grass slope. We did this pretty slowly. On the valley floor around to the end, over the top of the Ria de la Ravisc. Nice break on a flat rock at the end of valley and then down the steps of the valley a bit to the other side. Walk along the other wall on a nice path (though with a bit too much wet grass for our shoes and pants) partially under tree cover to the end of the valley. At the tip we head off the path to the very end to enjoy another set of very nice views.

Down to the other side, down down, initially quite steeply, through the woods to a "bottom" where we start steeply back up again to come into the next valley (exit stoneman visible, of course). In this valley we can see the path on the other side coming down from fiarly high up the wall. Goats on the other side as well. Ah well, you have to go up to go down. Up to the end of the valley and then very steeply down into the Aurigliaschlucht (with ladders!). Back up out of the gorge and then another steep scrambly bit down on rocks with chains. Through the goats, who are of course camped out on the path, and then up through the woods on the other side looking for a lunch spot in the sun. Around into the next valley (stoneman visible, but we knew that already) and to the end (it was a short valley). Lunch on a flat rock towards the end. There's not sufficient sun to warm Andrea's cold feet, but a post-lunch chocolate does some good. :-)

On across the blocks to the stoneman. Around the corner through sparse forest and avalanche guards then down, down, down through the woods. Back up a bit to the Rif. Alp di Fora (looks very nice) and then up a bit more to the Pian de Renten. This very nice grassy area marks the last climb of the day (and the trip). From here it's steeply down, down, down, through the woods.

Initially dark woods, then some sunny clearings, then mystic fairy forest with moss-covered rocks. Always down, down, down. Eventually hit a gravel road and then a short bit of real road and then we're in Sta. Maria. We refresh ourselves with cold beverages and then take the bus down to the valley floor and the second bus to Bellinzona.

Another long, tiring, but fantastic day of hiking.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Calancatal Day 2: Rif. Pian Grand -> Cab. Buffalora

It's a reasonably early start for us: after a good breakfast we're underway shortly before 8. Start the day with a climb up to the saddle of the Bedoletagrat over the rifugio. Cloudless skies, nice views all around, excellent morning! After a steep descent we head around the end of the side valley (theme of the next two days!) to an old shepherd's hut and a very nice lake with a small waterfall at the end (Lagh de Trescolmen). We have a long day ahead, so there's no time for a dip in the lake (nothing to do with the fact that it's still in shadow and cold, nosiree!).

From the lake we head up a bit and then along the valley side for a longish stretch that's mostly flat (truly flat doesn't exist on this hike) with a good mixture of path, scree, blocks, etc. Interesting footing at times due to the morning dew on the rocks, nice drop to the valley floor at right, it's excellent. After a while we ascend to the point at the opening of the valley (Bucchetta del Büscenel). There's a hairy bit on the other side of this, so we take a break, have a snack, and take a few pictures.

Around the corner on a path with some very nice views along (and down into) the Calancatal more than 1000m below. Nice broad path so no triggers for Greg on this stretch (yay!). The path leads us around the corner and into the valley containing the Rif. Ganan. Nice views of the valley and our exit on the other side with its stonemen (that's another theme for the hike) from the corner. Down into the valley along the Himmelsleiter, which was great fun to walk and very exciting to look at from afar. Along the valley wall for a bit and then up to the Rif. Ganan. Here we have our lunch break and tour the rifugio (very basic, not nearly as nice as the Rif. Pian Grand). From here one can appreciate the character of the path we just followed. :-)

Onwards after lunch, across the stream that runs down the valley and then a really nice piece of boulder/block hiking. No path here, but the markings are copious and clear. Around the other side of the valley, up to the stonemen on the Piz de Ganan. From here we can see the Cab. Buffalora on the other side of the bowl. Some quite exposed hiking along the valley wall to a small saddle with a view down to the heart-shaped Lagh de Calvaresc. Down, down to the lake. Unfortunately it's in cloud shadow or this would have been a nice rest place (and possibly swimming hole... we're making excellent time). Along a bit further until we find a patch of sun to sit in for a break and snack in the grass.

The last bit is around the end of the valley (of course) and then along the other side for the last stretch through the masses of blueberry bushes to the cabana. This is a great example of the never-ending almost there. :-)

Finally reach the very pleasant and friendly Cab. Buffalora, have our celebratory beverages and settle in for a nice evening. It was a long day, but a very, very nice one.

Aside: There was something about the constant up and down and the repetitive into and out of side valleys that reminded us of Henry Coe. It's never bad to remember Coe. :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Calancatal Day 1: San Bernadino -> Rif. Pian Grand

We finally got a break in the weather forecast, so we opted to return to cursed Graubunden and try the Calancatal trip again. We have our fingers fully crossed on the train and the weather is good from Zurich to Chur. So far so good. It stays good on the long bus ride to San Bernadino. Wow! We're actually going to do this. :-)

Up out of town, past the parking lot where a Swiss army detachment is mustering, past the gondola station, and then through the woods and up the mountain. Plenty of sun, blueberries (!), and nice views. It's a very cool path. Greg ends up changing socks on the way up: the old REI socks have reached the end of their useful lifespan. Up, up, up to above the treeline (but not the blueberry line, those go much higher) with a short lunch break in the shade of the last tree.

Afterwards onweards under the warm sun to the Pass de Passit. At this point the path gets somewhat indistinct, but it's still very well marked so we have no problem finding our way steeply up, up to the Pass de la Cruseta. Take in the nice views then the nice descent into the bowl along with some chains for the self confidence. Around the bowl to the the Bocca de Rogna and then around the corner on some nice stoney paths to our first view of the rifugios above. Up the last bit and then we're there.

Get settled in, air out the huts, have some tea, read in the sun (when the sun is there... the clouds are running around and playing quite energetically), then make dinner and fill ourselves with backpacking food we didn't eat in Romania: polenta with dried mushrooms and soy with beef bouillon. A nice ending to a nice day.

Andrea is quite happy to have had a day with plenty of marmots, but no traces of bears. :-)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Romania: One last day in the Bucegi

Get a reasonably early start and head up out of Sinaia. Past the monastery, somehow totally missing the crazy palace, we eventually end up on the blue striped former royal walking path which leads us in serpentines up the hill. At the shoulder near Cab. Poiana Stanii the signage gets a bit dodgy and we miss the path turnoff. A couple km down the road we have our mistake (which we suspect) confirmed when we run into the red stripe path, which we definitely shouldn't see. Turn back and retrace our steps to the shoulder, find the turnoff, and 20 past it, the path marker. Up hill again on a really nice woods path. At a clearing with a picnic table (!) stop for an early food break. Great views (though a bit hazy) from here.
After a bit we are joined by a stray dog who, very well behaved, sits a couple meters off and watches us eat. As we finish a group of Romanians comes up and says the dog is a "community dog" that followed them up the hill. We head on our way are and joined about 100m later by the dog. She herds us the rest of the way up the very nice path to the top of the massif. She knows the way very well.

Onwards along the top towards Cab. Pietra Arsa, where we plan to stop for a tea. As soon as we catch sight of the monstrosity, however, we turn around and head towards the lift station near Cab. Miorita. We manage to ditch the dog with a Romanian family and go on unaccompanied. After some more walking we take another food break at a nice viewpoint. Here we're rejoined by the dog; she's really good at finding us while we're eating! Our small herd proceeds to the lift station where the four-legged member is left behind and we head down to the Sinaia.

After a post-hike beer in the park, it's a nap and then packing for the trip back home. One last meal at an "Irish"/Romanian restaurant that is pretty uninspired (though plenty loud) and then that's it for the day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Romania: Cab. Omu -> Bran

After a warm and only somewhat loud night we were up and about at 7:15. Fairly dismal breakfast of greasy omelet and stale bread and then it's packing up, bundling up, and heading out into the cold wind. Weather is decent, with high cloud cover and reasonable visibility. Good views of the Fagaras and Konigstein. We follow the advice of the local we had talked to the previous night and head off along the red cross path instead of the red stripe recommended by the Englishman. Along the ridge for a while, past a freshly dead sheep (bear victim), and then down into the impressive and beautiful Gaura valley.
Some nice rock walking and a bit of light scrambling takes us down do the next step in the valley, where we have a chocolate break to restore spirits (there's only so much hiking under a gray sky that the soul can take, no matter how impressive the surroundings). Onwards, ever downwards, past the skeleton of a mountain goat (probably another bear victim), past a good cable-secured scrambling bit and some narrow cracks to the the next step down.
Along, along, eventually reaching an abandoned shepherd's hut on the edge of the woods. From there it's around the corner and up (up? yes! have to go up before you can go down!) through the forest to the La Politie saddle.

From the saddle we head down again through the forest, past more nice bear prints, past people logging and using a horse to bring down the logs (logging in the national park... huh).
Finally reaching the valley floor and outskirts of Bran. Very long (subjective, only 3-4km in reality) walk along the road through Bran until we reach the amazingly touristy center. Luckily we only have to wait about three minutes for the bus to Brasov.

Overall a very nice hike that we couldn't completely appreciate because of the whole weather/gray sky thing. We're pretty mentally worn out by this point.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Romania: Busteni -> Cab. Omu

A day for flexibility (well, another one).

Wake up to views of the mountains and blue sky with poofy clouds! yay!! into the mountains!!!
Over breakfast we decide to take the gondola up so we don't miss the sun if it's short lived. Upon reaching the gondola station (right next to the hotel), we discover that it's closed (we guess due to wind). Ah well. Flex, flex, flex!

On foot along the blue cross route through the valley Jepilor. A really excellent valley ascent with trees and then none and good footing and then one and criss-crossing the stream with its waterfalls and lots of scrambling with chains or cables or just rocks and roots.
Wonderful! Needless to say: lots of height gain. After reaching the top of the massif (1300m up) in about 3.5 hours, the legs were somewhat tired. Onward across the plateau, and past some very nice looking camp sites, to the Cab. Babele where we rest a bit and have some tea before finding a wind-sheltered spot outside (oh the wind) to have lunch. There's a nice, big new sign in front of Babele explaining (in English as well as Romanian... they're serious about this) that camping is now forbidden in Bucegi due to the bears. There are signs about the bears all over the cabana. Crazy.

It's cold in the wind, but the sun is shining. We opt for the direct route to Cab. Omu (since we're obviously not camping) along the surprisingly flat and broad top of the Bucegi. Plenty of people underway. After some really nice hiking in the high wind (full winter gear for Andrea), and a bit more climbing we reach the cabana.
Excellent atmosphere here despite (because of?) the lack of electricity, running water, and heat in the eating room (the sleeping room has a stove). Initially very few people there, but this changes as the evening comes and a couple of bigger groups appear. It won't be cold sleeping tonight, that's for sure, but it probably will be loud.

Over the course of the evening we get to talking to Paul, a Romanian guy who spends a lot of time in the mountains and does some guiding. Paul tells us about the explosion in bear population and aggressiveness that has taken place this year and the problems in Bucegi, Postavarul, the Konigstein, and the Fagaras (less there): the bears have started really going after sheep and aren't afraid of people anymore. Seems that camping is a rather bad idea. Crap.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Romania: Cab. Trei Brazi -> Busteni

After much changing of minds and discussion we set out for some cabana near the Bucegi massif -- it's not quite clear which one yet, we'll play that by ear. The weather is still pretty bad: low clouds and something between very high humidity and drizzle. We pretty quickly ascend to the little peak near the cabana and then head down, down, down in the forest on tracks. Not too much mud (yay!) so we make good time to the road where we turn right and follow for a bit to the turnoff to Cab. Dirham. Now it's muddy again, at times very muddy.
Part of the way is along a truly horrible newly cut dirt road for some resort construction. We continue up through the clouds (low again) in the mud; it's cold, spirit-sapping weather: there should be great views all around but we aren't seeing anything.
We finally reach the cabana around noon and stop for a cup of tea. The nice lady dumps a shot of tuica in, so it's warming and comforting... mmm, sweet, hot, alcohol-laden tea. At this point we decide that staying up near the massif makes no sense, so we decide to head down to Busteni and its tourist office for a weather report and to decide what to do in general.

We head out along the road/track for a bit to a junction and clearing where it takes some looking around to find the path. Down, down, down through the woods (full of crazy mushrooms). After a quick, cold, late lunch break along the way we make it do the Cab. Guha Dirham at the valley bottom. From here it's follow the road (yuck!) to the edge of Busteni. Then into town and to the main street. Of course there's no tourist office and the train to Brasov doesn't leave for another hour+. We decide to just stay in Busteni and see what the next day brings. Not in the best of spirits at this point.

The hotel (Hotel Stella) is a relic from the 70s or 80s that at one time was "fancy" but has definitely seen better days. Still, you can sleep there; and we do.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Romania: Cab. Postavarul -> Cab. Trei Brazi

After a nice omelet breakfast, we head out into the clouds and on our way. The beginning of the day is straight downhill: following the blue cross markings down, across a ski slope, down, down, down through a very dark forest (no serpentines here, it's la directissima all the way). At the bottom of the forest we're out of the clouds but the mud, our companion for the next day or so, starts. Mud, mud, mud to go with our descent. Eventually we hit red disc way markers and end up on a logging road through an area that has been recently logged. hoo boy is it muddy.

Through more dark forest, around the slope (spotting some deer along the way). At some point we start seeing suspiciously bear-like prints in the mud. We spot a very clear bear print just before a climb and occupy ourselves with trying to talk while climbing, hard. Towards the top of the hill we follow more logging road, spot an owl (it is dark under these trees!), and continue for a ways. At some point we almost lose the path, but the lack of constant signage clues us in that something is wrong pretty quickly (the trail marking is normally really, really good). Back up until we find the markers and then onwards through the mud until we reach a somewhat dry spot next to a nice, big, deep hole in the ground (vertical cave!), where we have a break.

After continuing on our way we get our first views of the trip: bits of mountain and valley just before we start down into the valley (Polana?).
At first the going is no problem, but then we enter an area where lots of downed trees (unfinished trail maintenance?) obscure the path. It starts to get tricky to find/follow the path: sometimes we have path without markings, sometimes we have markings without path, sometimes we have neither. At least our general direction (down into the valley) is clear. After some slipping and sliding we eventually find the path down to a stream where the markers vanish completely. At least there's a clear forest track along the stream, also on the map, that we can follow out to the road on the valley floor.

During our walk past the houses on the road we have our first encounter with Romanian dogs (8 or so, associated with one of the houses we walked by)... not at all nice. Continue along the road beside the gurgling stream, past a smaller group of dogs (also not nice), past a group of cows being herded along by their shepherd, to a nice spot beside the stream, where we have our lunch break. During lunch we actually see some signs of blue sky (at last!).

Onwards, past more dogs, cows, sheep, through the Rasnov gorge (very cool!),
further along the road then a turn off to follow the blue and yellow triangle route up the hill. After a bit in the mud we pass a group of guys with a horse-drawn wagon splitting logs. Then it's up, up, up through the woods (where we see another owl, it's not so dark at the moment so maybe he's confused!) to the Cab. Poiana Secuilor. Past the cabana we continue along the road and past a group of cows being herded along to end up at the Cabana (hotel really) Trei Brazi. Here we find hot showers... mmm, hot showers.

Dinner is good with a nice view out onto the changing clouds over the Bucegi massif. We never really see the massif clearly, but tantalizing hints abound.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Romania: Brasov -> Cab. Postavarul

After a night of rain, we get up early to steady drizzle. We make a quick decision to stay in Brasov for another day and go back to sleep for half an hour. At breakfast the drizzle is very low grade, Greg is antsy. There is much discussion and changing of minds before we finally decide that we can't be wimps forever and have to at least try a day of walking in drizzly weather.

The hike starts at 9:50 under clouds, but without real rain. Our destination is the Cab. Cristianu Mare. We pick up our trail (blue stripe, the one recommended by the Englishman seems unnecessarily complicated) on the edge of town and start our climb. The extremely well marked trail leads us up through the woods. Up, up, up is a good way to start the walking with the heavy packs. :-)
We find our pace quickly and enjoy the very nice wooded path under the trees. There's a constant dripping in the tree canopy, but not much makes it down to the ground. Not perfect conditions, but still ok walking. Side benefit: the nice cool temperature makes it quite comfy and not too sweaty. After a good mix of ridge walking and contour following we do a lunch break in a clearing on the ridge. It's too cool and damp for an extended break, but we lunch well and continue on our way.

Throughout the afternoon the weather gets steadily thicker.

We pass the Cab. Postavarul and continue to follow the signs up to the Cab. Cristianu Mare. By now the clouds we're walking through have gotten thick, so navigation has become more difficult. Eventually we lose the path a bit, re-find it, and spend quite a while looking around for the cabana. Unsuccessfully. How can we not find the "one of the best run of Romania's cabanas" (from the Englishman)? It's raining for real now and is getting gross. Finally we head up to the top gondola station where we find out that the cabana is either closed or gone. Which isn't quite clear and our Romanian isn't good enough to probe into details.

We head back down the road to the Cab. Postavarul, which is under construction (bad moment there... are they open?), but open (yay! good moment!). We strip off the wet stuff and set it to dry next to the wood stove, have some tea, and enjoy the dry and warm.

Added while doing blog entry: It seems that the Cab. Cristianu Mare burned down in 2003. Either it was rebuilt somewhere else up on the peak and was just closed that day (we couldn't see anything in the fog/cloud) or there are plans to rebuild or something; the trail signs have certainly not been updated.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Romania: Brasov

City sight-seeing, finding camping gas and provisions,....

Friday, September 04, 2009

Romania: Travel Day

Painless flight to from Zurich to Bucharest, which has a reasonable, though very small, airport. Lots of waiting for the minibus, which drives through the outskirts of town for a few minutes, then turns off on a dirt road and drops us off at a platform in the middle of nowhere for the train into town. The "Schienenbus" gets us to Bucaresti Nord, where we have 30 minutes to track down something to eat and some water before heading out onto the platform to wait for the train to Brasov. After a nice attempt at a scam when boarding (someone leading us to the wrong seats and then asking for a tip), but we eventually settle in for the long, hot train ride. A lot of the way is under construction, so we end up standing still a lot, but eventually get to Brasov with only a 30 minute delay. The bus takes us into town. Unplanned city tour as we try and find our hotel. Eventually, after much sweating, we get there: 12+ hours after leaving home. phew!

Quick change, then back into town for dinner (LP's comment that restaurants in Romania close early certainly didn't apply in any of the towns we were in). We find nice outdoor seating in the (big) pedestrian zone, soak up the Friday evening rush (really), and enjoy some quite good pizza. Atmosphere is definitely South European. After dinner we wander around a bit and wonder at the big concert event on the main square. Then back up to our pensione for a good night's sleep. About the Pensiunea Montana: very nice colorful decor, comfortable room, nice balcony, very cool place.

Romania Trip

We had planned a three week backpacking trip in the Carpathians of Romania, but we ended up coming home early due to high bear activity.

  1. Travel day: Basel -> Brasov
  2. Brasov
  3. Brasov -> Cab. Postavarul
  4. Cab. Postavarul -> Cab. Trei Brazi
  5. Cab. Trei Brazi -> Busteni
  6. Busteni -> Cab. Omu
  7. Cab. Omu -> Bran
  8. Rest day in Brasov
  9. One last day in the Bucegi