Sunday, April 30, 2017

A long walk along Le Doubs

After the day of ridge climbing we have decided for a long river and forest walk, contrast program!

It's another beautiful weather day, and warmer than the day before, as we set out from Le Noirmont and head down, down, down through the woods to the Doubs. The last bit of this is along a really nice path past cool limestone formations. At the bottom we cross the bridge at La Goule and pick up a blue and yellow marked path on the French side that takes us along the river; we don't know it yet, but we'll be following blue and yellow markings for the rest of our time on the French side.
crossing the bridge across the Doubs to the French side
The path takes us calmly through the canyon and along the river, mostly through trees, with nice views along and across the river (cool cliffs over on the Swiss side), with a bit of up and a bit of down, completely alone (except for a couple of fisherman we pass at one point) for a couple of hours until we hit the power plant. Here we are back around people. From the parking lot we follow the path up the side of the canyon, past the beginning of the klettersteig, and to the much-advertised "Echelles de la Mort". These were no doubt very dramatic when they were wood ladders used by smugglers, but in their current form they are basically metal staircases: efficient, but not super dramatic. After the stairs we spend a bit of time watching people on the klettersteig (it's got both a long hanging bridge and a nepal wire bridge visible from up here) before setting off and continuing to head up, up towards the top of the cliffs. Onwards we go, still on a nice (blue-yellow!) path through the woods until we come out of the woods near the small house at les Cotes. Here we have a long (for us) lunch break sitting in the soft grass and enjoying the sun and views.

through the trees
After lunch we continue along the path, following the top of the ridge, including a bit of cool narrow path near the Grotte des Moines, past the excellent Belvedere, and then onward to the house at La Cendree. Here we check the time, think about possibilities for getting back (we've been going for five hours and about 15km so far) and opt to continue along the top of the ridge. Aside: there are a bunch of very well marked climbing routes here. We're moving a bit faster now, but can still appreciate how really nice the path is (reminiscent of other Jura ridges: a plateau to one side and steep drop to the other). At the town of Fournet-Blancheroche we head along the road to Blancheroche and then on a path across the fields before starting a steep descent down, down, down through the woods to La Rasse. Now we're on the Doubs again (very wide here) and we follow the flat and easy path along the shore to the Lac de Biaufond, where we cross back into Switzerland.

views from the top of the ridge
Now it's decision time: we can either wait two hours here and then take the bus to Chaux de Fonds to grab the train home or we can walk through an interesting gorge and then up to La Ferriere where we can get the same train home. This isn't a particularly difficult choice even though we will need to move reasonably quickly (we've got 2:10 to catch the train and the signs say that it will take 2:20). Since time is short, we skip the refreshing beverage at the restaurant and continue along the broad, very popular path along the the valley floor. As soon as the path narrows a bit we are on our own and we continue up, and around the corner into the gorge. This really is a great path: the sides are steep, there are cool bridges and raised walkways and mysterious moss-draped trees. The only thing that's missing is burbling water: the stream is completely dry. We continue through the gorge at a good clip, enjoying ourselves a lot, and eventually hit the ladders at the end. These are a bit more dramatic than the "Echelles de la Mort" from earlier, particularly since the second one is a bit rusty! A bit past the Cul des Pres we hit a brunnen (very convenient since we're quite low on water!) where we fill our bottles and refresh ourselves a bit before making the final push. This last bit stretches on for a while: it's been a long day and, though it's a nice forest road, it's still a forest road. Up, up we go the last 200m until we come out in La Ferriere. It's pretty strange to climb at the end of day to a town instead of descending to it. :-)
along the walkways through the gorge
We have made really good time and have ~30 minutes until the train, so we stop at the restaurant next to the station to have some cool beverages and buy a couple of pastries before getting on the train to start the long(ish) trip home.

This was quite a long day, but the character of the hike was constantly changing, the weather was good, and the views were really nice. A very good day!

The track:
The totals: 28.9km, 1160m up, 1090m down

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Arete des Sommetre

We've been talking about this one for a few years but the travel time (2 hours for a Jura trip!) has always stopped us from doing it. Not this time!

On the train to Noirmont we see lots of snow; worrying considering that we are about to do a long ridge. Ah well; we'll just see how it goes.

In Noirmont we walk through town and then down (!) into canyon towards the Doubs. The canyon is in shadows and the temperature is other than warm.  While crossing a field we get a good sneak preview of the ridge - very impressive! At some point we turn off the path and head steeply up to the cliff face where we follow a path up, up to a saddle at the end of the ridge. After looking down the other side (not much to see) we pick a sunny spot and put on the climbing gear. Then it's on to the ridge. As we are leaving another group comes up onto the saddle behind us; we'll just hope that we are quicker than them!
good view of the ridge
 After getting up the step and to the real beginning of the ridge there's a bit of real climbing (even with two bolts!) that's easy but made harder by the cold (stupidly, neither of us has brought gloves with us and the fingers get pretty cold). After that we are mostly in the sun and the going is easier. The ridge is a mixture of walking and scrambling with the very occasional bit of climbing mixed in. Conditions are good - beautiful weather and very little snow left on the ridge - and the route is generally easy to find - there's either a trail or crampon scratches from people doing the route in the winter. Aside from a couple of spots where we have to descend (the first of which takes us much too long to figure out how to do safely) and one or two very exposed bits we don't really need the rope at all. Ah well, it's good practice!
on the ridge
Including a short lunch break we're done with the ridge after 3:45. The last bit has us climbing over the railing onto the peak of the Sommetre, that's always fun. We have another break, eat a bit more, and then enjoy the sun and views before packing everything up and heading back along normal paths to Noirmont. As we're sitting there the group that was behind us comes into view (a ways back) with another group behind them. Easy to imagine the ridge being very, very full on summer weekends!
panorama views from the ridge
Back on Noirmont we check into our hotel, have showers and a nap, take a short stroll, have a very good meal, and then fall asleep.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Up to the Niederhorn

This was the our usual Spring "check the status of the legs" tour. There's still too much snow to do the Niesen, so we choose the Beatenberg and the Niederhorn. We've been here before, but did a different tour that time.

Today we start in Beatenbucht under cloudy skies and take the path up, up, up through the woods, making good time, until we hit the station at Beatenberg. Here we turn left and follow the road until it turns upwards through the woods towards the ridge. Now it's more up, up, up along the ridge, under the trees, through some mud, through some snow, and eventually into a bit of cloud. We take a short snack and water break as we cross the bend in the road that leads to Vorsass, but mainly it's just up, up, up. It's a nice path and there would be, at times, great views, but today there's none of that. Eventually the path takes us to the peak, behind the gondola station. There aren't a lot of people up here, but certainly more than we'd been seeing. We take advantage of the nice wooden lounge chairs up there (empty thanks to the weather and lack of views) and have another short food break. Since we're doing well on time we opt to stop in at the restaurant for some beverages and soup while we plan our route back down.
snow and clouds
After the break we continue along the ridge with no views and more snow than last time, to Oberburgfeld. Here we descend steeply to Unterburgfeld and then turn off to follow the path to the Bireflue. During this descent things finally clear up enough to see some of the view that we've been missing all day. Ah! View! Next on a fun path steeply down through the Bireflue and then more descending (constantly following signs to Beatenberg, which is really long), through Wydi and then down, down, down to Sundlauenen where we get the bus towards Interlaken and the train back to Basel.
steep down through the Bireflue
It was kind of a crap weather day (though it didn't rain on us), but still a good hike and test of our general fitness level: we're doing fine. :-)
The track:
Totals: 14.3km, 1460m up, 1380m down.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Running in the Croatan National Forest

Inspired by how nice (and flat) the trails were the previous day, we decided to do some trail-running.

We really were completely unprepared for this, so we had to pick up a backpack to use as well as doing the usual lunch shopping.

The route starts as the same type of nice trail as the day before: all under the trees, nicely soft, a few roots to dodge.  There are some muddy bits later that require  slowing down to navigate, but nothing too bad. At some point we come out into a clearing and the trail is suddenly somewhat more difficult to follow and overgrown, after the second encounter with  unpleasant thorns we drop to a fast walk. We manage to lose the trail and get to do a somewhat adventurous marshy stream crossing, but afterwards the path is right there.

After an hour we hit a good spot for lunch, so we stop there. Cool snake spotting at the beginning of the break, but after he takes off (before Andrea can get a decent picture!) we find relatively comfy places to sit and  enjoy a good lunch. This is a somewhat longer break than normal and we start back with well rested legs.

It's the same trail back (though better handling of that stream crossing since we don't lose the trail) and then we enjoy another break and chance to cool our feet in the river before hopping back in the car and driving on.

The track:

Stats: 15km, ~170m

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hiking in the Croatan National Forest

As part of a visit to greg's family we spent a couple days in Beaufort NC. We took one of the days to do a hike in the Croatan National Forest, starting in the Pine Creek parking area.

This was a nice hike on an easy path through the woods, along the beach, on walkways across swampy areas, etc. It's easy to see how this path, which is about 40km long and has a couple of places along it where you can camp, could be popular for groups wanting to practice some backpacking. Still, it was early season and we were alone through most of the hike: we just saw a few people on the beach area when we came back.

Noteworthy stuff:

  • We saw some large predatory bird with a nest (and chicks) in a tree right on the water. We didn't see enough of the bird to be able to begin to ID it
  • We did see a bald eagle flying over us.
  • We also had lots of military planes flying over us. The very close proximity of the marine air base is not a net plus for this route.
  • The shelter we passed had a pump which we managed to make work after Andrea found the instructions, but the water was "a bit" too metallic to be enjoyable. Still, having it there would make the backpacking a lot easier.
  • This must be some kind of record for us in terms of the minimum number of vertical meters on a hike this long. :-)
The track:

Stats: 24.7km, ~200m up and down.