Fürenwand Klettersteig: Big Wall Big Fun

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Author:  Pete
Location:  Fürenwand Klettersteig, Switzerland

Sunday afternoon in the mountains!  Drove an hour south to Engelberg where we usually ski in the winter.  The encompassing valley is rife with steep walls and just south of town is an area called Fürenalp, which has a tremendous klettersteig.  The day started with a little bit of cloud cover, giving a moody atmosphere.  Miranda and Leonie hiked the approach to the base of the climb and then took a grandparent-approved cable car to the top for their own hike.

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Klettersteigs, also called via ferratas, are protected climbing routes found throughout the Alps.  Climbers ascend a cliff face through odd mix of aggressive hiking, usually scrambling on all fours, easy-grade rock climbing, and precarious navigation of hammered in re-rod holds for hands and feet.  You’re always clipped into a large gauge cable bolted along side the route with two specialized carabiners.  A fall might leave you a little scraped up but the burly cables will keep your tuckus on the mountainside at least.

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It had rained the night before so the rock was wet, making the 2,500 foot climb feel even more spirited.  Our friend Jen knows the route well and introduced me to the climb.  There’s some incredibly wide open space up there; you’re a thousand feet above the valley floor on sheer rock that would be really difficult to climb.  That’s what makes the klettersteigs so neat.  It allows easy access parts of a big wall that would take a good deal of time, equipment, and logistics to climb.  Klettersteigs do away with all that fuss prohibitive for a Sunday afternoon hike and dump you right into the good stuff.  Exposure!

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It wasn’t just us yahoos up there; locals young and old were out climbing too.  I was glad.  As things got progressively wetter up the crag I started to feel like we might have underestimated the conditions.  The hammered-in holds and smearing foot placements became slick.  None of the locals seemed to mind the literal waterfalls through which we followed the route.  On some sections of rock without features to cling there are U-shaped holds to stand on and grab like a ladder.  Other sections have only straight bar out of the slick rock which makes me queazy.  The long lost simian in me kicked into gear and I overgripped until my hands hurt.

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Just before the top of the climb a suspended ladder arches past some overhung terrain.  You can see it at the top of the photo.  The ladder swayed in the breeze; the bars still slick with precipitation and hand sweat.  I kept reaching for my chalk bag where I store my confidence when I’m rock climbing.  Should have brought that thing even just as an emotional crutch.

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At the top of the climb, once off of the God awful ladder, we unclipped and walked a short way up to the cute Swiss chalet that adorns all Alpine hiking peaks.  Miranda made it back from her hike and we had lunch and cider with an incredible view of the glaciated mountains.  Leonie was all smiles on the way down in the cable car and made quick friends out of our fellow passengers.  Mountains, friends, and fun!  A great Sunday!

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Swiss Winter Wonderland

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Author:  Pete
Location:  Europe

Past the chilly months in a winter wonderland that is the Alps.  Coaching the school’s ski team kept me happily on the slopes and learning the best places to find powder.  The school has its own chalet in Wengen, so we were there often, as well as other little mountain villages like Zermatt under the Matterhorn.

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Miranda looks more and more like a real pregnant lady every week.  Maybe it’s good that we ease into parenthood.  It still doesn’t seem real yet.  It’s all fun and games until someone’s water breaks.  We do get a lot of nods from passerbys.  Everyone seems to smile at us knowingly.

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Miranda and I feel well loved.  We’ve had a small army of family and friends make the pilgrimage from all over to come and see us.  I think everyone is worried we’ll drop off the radar again once there’s an infant in our midst.  Miranda’s brother Casey and his buddies Mike and Stacy came for a week of rowdy fun.  We drove up to Munich for some historical tavern-crawling.  In the Munich Hofbrauhaus they only serve liters of beer!  Let me reiterate, beer is served only in liters!  Back in the Alps we went night tobogganing down kilometers of tooth-chattering, unlit trails.

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Miranda’s other sibs, Adam and Becky, came to see us too.  We piled in the car and drove over the mountains to Italy.  Venice during Carnival was full of energy.  The gloomy weather made the ambiance even better, swirling around the plague masks and the elaborate costumes.  Back Swiss-side we jumped on the slopes and spent a day battling gravity.

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Not to be outdone, Liza, Felix, and Jovia came down from Frankfurt a couple of weekends this winter.  The idea was to hit the slopes together, and although we never hit great snow, but we did have a great time with them.

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My folks came in on a European baby-flyby trip.  We went up hiking in Engelberg as the spring thaw relinquished the slopes to the grass.  Paragliders soared like clouds of bees.  I’m salivating to get my kit over here.

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Also our climbing buddies Ben and Elizabeth came from Abu Dhabi to see us.  We used to climb twice a week when we were teaching in Chile.  It’s been three years since we last climbed together and it was so great to be back on the crag with them!

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So that was our flood of friends and family!  It’s so wonderful to spend time with everyone, especially after being off radar for several years.  Although it’s sad to part ways at then end, Winnie the Pooh’s words give me comfort.  “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  How lucky we are indeed.

 

 

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Great Barrier Island and Auckland

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Author:  Pete
Location: Great Barrier Island and Auckland, NZ

After a few rainy days in Kiarara Bay we sailed north, out of Port Fitzroy around a jutting headland to Katherine Bay.  Ashore, just inland of a quiet, sandy beach we found a parthenon of massive tree trunks arching out of the ground, thick branches full of air rooting plants.  A dozen rope swings fabricated from heavy ship line hung like .  Didn’t take much coercion to get us launching off branches, stretching climbing muscles that have been dormant for some time.

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Katherine Bay was beautiful but rolled all night, and not in the good way.  The next morning we sailed fast under twenty knots of wind back around the headland, returning to Kiarara.  The short, costal hops between bays and islands have been enjoyable.  Most sailors start their sailing careers in costal waters.  We missed that part and went straight offshore.  I’m seeing the error in our ways.   The next day we hiked Mt. Hobson, a six hundred meter peak, four hours uphill BOTH WAYS!  At least that’s how it felt to our coddled legs.  The trail was stunning, crossing rivers and gorgeous, and winding through rain forests where the few remaining Kauri behemoths strained to seed offspring and repopulate the area after the huge logging boom of the 1800’s.  The view from the top was breathtaking.  We could even see our little boat!  Sometimes that’s disconcerting; if you see it floating away there’s a four-hour downhill slog to go get it.

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Sailing south along Great Barrier Island, we staged for our jump back to Auckland and were escorted by a pod of dolphins.  Later, anchored in Bowling Alley Bay, another pod showed up, cavorting and jumping.  We donned wetsuits and joined them.  The cloudy water made for a spooky experience with our streamline mammalian cousins.  They were obscured in the occluding murk until they were close enough to almost touch, then they’d veer off, laughing at our aquatic immobility.  Let’s see who’s laughing when you’re on the beach, Flipper!

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Sailed eight hours back across the Hauraki Gulf.  Miranda and I wrestled a Kingfish aboard part way through the trip.  I already had some fillets in the refrigerator from spearfishing in Bowling Alley Bay, so we let him go.  

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Parked the boat in front of Auckland.  The anchorage is exposed and a little choppy from the ferry wakes, but it’s got the best view in town.  On the rainy days in Port Fitzroy, I designed a part for the engine control panels on SketchUp and 3D printed them at the public library.  They worked out so well and cost nothing to print that my brain has been constantly thinking up new things to design and build for the boat!  They created a monster!

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Found a safe spot up river to leave our baby for a couple days when we go to the job fair.  Had one last good sail to stretch her legs before a week of lounging on a mooring off the Beach Haven wharf.  Sit, stay, good Tayrona!  No parties while we’re away!

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