While our wonderful friends Andy and Daneen looked after Celeste in Unalaska, we went back to work and life in Switzerland, where we’ve been based for the last few years. We said a sad goodbye both to friends and boat (a friend too, of course!) on September 12 and boarded the plane to Anchorage. That was quite a ride!
The little prop plane took off on an empty tank so that we’d be light enough to actually get in the air in the runway’s length. Even still the pilot revved the engines to full rpms with the E-brake on and then popped the brake so we roared down the runaway and lifted off seemingly just yards from the ocean. An hour later we landed at a big runway on the mainland, at King Salmon. After a quick fueling, we took off again for Anchorage and arrived 2 hours later. At 2:30AM we boarded a small jet for Seattle where we landed 4 hours later. All this time in the air gave us a definite sense of how far we’d come with Celeste! We had a bit of difficulty with Delta Airlines trying to get back to Switzerland. . . so ended up taking an Iceland Air flight two days after we were supposed to have arrived in Geneva on the Delta flight.
Finally home in our little apartment, we mostly got back to work. But we did manage to get out into the magnificent Alps for a few hiking and skiing adventures.
The altitude got us a little on our first big hike, up to the famous St Bernard Pass where the long ago the Romans built a road into Gaul. Legend has it that Hannibal crossed into Italy here with his elephants. Centuries later, Napoleon used the same thoroughfare for his soldiers.
That hiked acclimated us, though, so we had a great time hiking the Hohenweg in canton Wallis. Over our years in Switzerland, we’ve been trying to hike across the “spiky bits”, the highest passes of the Alps, from Lake Geneva to Lake Maggiore, about 350km as the crow flies but probably double that considering all the ridges one must climb up and over. Some of the passes are at 10,000ft of elevation; many of the valleys are as low as 4,000ft; and the start and end points are below 1,000ft. So that’s a lot of up and down!!
We’ve been doing it in stages, and the Hohenweg was a segment we had missed. So we took a long Sunday to hike from Grachen (below Zermatt) to Saas Almagell (below Saas Fee). Although the trail itself is well maintained and not too up-and-down, it skirts a precipitous slope, sometimes a sheer cliff dropping at least 1000ft. So it gets your adrenaline going…. But it’s stunningly gorgeous and a great habitat for ibex. Plus the larches were turning their glowing golden color that weekend (September 26).
About a month later, we were able to get away for a few days for a backpacking trip across the border in Italy. We were lucky to be able to do it—usually at that time of year the whole area is meters deep in snow. But we’d had a warm fall and there were even still orange and yellow leaves on the trees. The trip was quite the adventure, involving some disused (hard to find) trails, knife-edge ridges, and one ten-hour day! The vistas there are incredible, and there’s lots of wildlife including chamois and wild boar. And at the end of it, we’d connected all the dots of our big trek!! So exciting!!
The cold and snow came (at least at high altitude) not too long after that, but we didn’t get to ski as much as we would have liked, or as much as we have in years past, mostly on account of work. Neither did we have an enormous amount of snow, although we did enjoy a week of great powder. We still had some great adventures, though:
We managed one or two hikes in the spring once the snow had mostly melted. Despite almost five years in the Alps, we haven’t tired of their magnificent peaks and myriad trails! So much still to explore!