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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First Father’s Day Expedition

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Author: Pete
Location: Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

For my first Father’s Day, Miranda surprised me with a day in the mountains.  We set out to hike Mount Pilatus, one of the prominent peaks that routinely beckons from across the lake. It’s the dusky shape on the right; Medieval legend has it that a dragon lives in the caves above the tree line.  We set out to see if it was true.  Leonie is old enough for dragon slaying, right?

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Our first experiment with babies and public transport went just fine.  Leonora did fine on the “Worlds Steepest Cog-Train” with it’s 48% grade and ear-popping pressure changes.  Not a problem, just don’t lean too far over the side.  There must have been ten different languages being spoken on by the other hikers on the train, but everyone said the same thing when confronted by sweeping scenery or adorable baby. “Oh!

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From the end of the cog train we hiked a path that hugged the side of the mountain, well maintained in true Swiss fashion.  Leonie slept like a champ in the front carrier, despite some jostling along the trail.  We swapped between carrying baby and backpack to keep the muscle groups and sweat stains balanced.

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We did find some caves and sent Leonie in first to check for dragons.  With no luck we set our sights on one of the three peaks.  We were fortunate to have gorgeous weather and calm winds and our summit was enjoyably attainable.  Although there were a few other hikers at the top, we were the only ones with a baby.  While we’re not sure what that says about our parenting, it was refreshing to be out in the mountains after a few months’ hiatus.

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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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