Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

July 16, 2014

Via Ferrata L'Escale, France

Our travels have taken us to Spain from Austria and now back again, in a rather futile chase of paragliding weather.  We did fly in Spain, but mostly we just escaped a week of some really terrible weather in the Alps.  That's worth a lot, even of driving.

But it's almost always sunny on the southern coast of France, so a via ferrata there is a sure bet.  Especially this one, literally just up the hill from Monaco, we had views of the Mediterranean from high on the rock.

From the description, this ferrata seemed a little difficult, but since I was reading in French, even the translation was a little quirky.  I asked myself "how hard could it be?" and we gave it a go.   Finding it was easy, it's a relatively new route which climbs up and over a tunnel in the road going up to the medieval village of Peille.  The old town is clinging to a hillside with tiny little walking streets and a lot of charm.   Signs in the village led to a pub called L'Absinthe, where they rent equipment, sell you a 3 Euro day pass for the via ferrata, and speak passable English to be able to explain the equipment, yay!  (Incidentally it's possible to climb this route at night, from 8-10 pm with headlamps).  That would be fun....

The route began at the bottom of town with a couple of swinging wooden bridges and some vertical bits.  Then comes monkey bridges and some tricky vertical sections.  At a few points it's possible to escape if it's too hard and take the walk of shame back to the village...but we kept going.  The route even goes through a small cave at one point, before heading straight up a rock.   Then there were a couple of options, one being a rather long net made of cables to climb up.  Super fun.  

At that point, two routes went up, and since we couldn't read French, I chose what looked like the more difficult of two options (actually I didn't realize there was an easy option until later, much later).  Luckily by then it was too late, and we had sweated our way up some very overhanging sections where it was all we could do to keep going to a point where we could rest!  It felt more like lead climbing and not via ferrata even if we were just climbing up metal bars....  Definitely the hardest section of via ferrata I've ever done.

The end of the route was a pretty cool Tyrollean Traverse, also known as a zipline.  It was Jim's first attempt at one of these as we had rented pulleys from the bar so we could do it.  Yippee, I love zip lining!  Actually it felt pretty easy compared to the harder sections of the course.  And, then it sprinkled just as we finished, no harm done, and it was nice to cool off a little.  Better than exposed on the rock, the cables get really slick when they are wet.   It's a quick walk back to the village so a very user-friendly route.  I think they call these sport routes, rather than the ones in the high mountains that help you get up to a summit or something.  Virtually this whole via ferrata was visible from the town or the road, so anyone can watch climbers clinging to the rocks.  It's pretty nice that way, and very accessible.

July 14, 2014

Europa Panoramaweg Hike, Austria

Jim and I have racked up some miles hiking lately.  Over 60 in the last 10 days or so.  I guess the terrain in Austria just begs to be walked, and so we keep on going.  There are cable cars to the top of almost every hill anyone would want to get to the top of, so it's amazingly easy to get up and get hiking.

Lonely Planet's Walking in the Alps describes two walks above the town of Matrei in Osttirol.   The short one gives views of up to 63 peaks over 3,000 meters.  That's a lot of high mountains!    And a pretty short walk, actually, however panoramic.

We choose to continue on to the longer walk, the Sudetendeutscher Hohenweg, which climbs along a ridge line with yet more great views.  Then it ascends further into very alpine terrain up to over 9,000 feet, where there was a lot of snow left from a very snowy winter and spring.  The weather held pretty good for our hike and it wasn't even too windy at the pass.  Luckily not, as the descent was alongside cables on a rock face and then down some steep snowfields to a hut.  I, ah, love running on snowfields, but stepped into a deep footprint during one section and slid a few feet on my stomach!  No worries, it was warm out and we had a good laugh.   Jim couldn't drag the camera out fast enough to catch me cleaned snow out of every pocket!

The wind was howling by the time we got to the hut, which was about halfway through the route.  The place seemed deserted and we kept going downhill.  From there it was a long descent past lots of waterfalls into a narrow valley.  The trees in the bottom, amazingly, only seemed to be growing out of the large boulders, but not out of any bare ground!?!

The marmots and cows didn't seem to mind and just watched us walk by.   And then the trail just kept going and going and going.  The town below us was VERY tiny, and the rain showers kept getting closer. It did rain, enough to stop for waterproofs, but it didn't rain much and the sun even came out again.  By that time we were sheltered in the trees on the descent and it was refreshing.   I must admit that we were pretty tired by the time we finished another 20 mile day.   The last few hours were all steep downhill on gravel and then paved roads leading back down to Matrei and our car.   A very amazing place to hike, though...a true panorama of snowy peaks in every direction.   Maybe next time we will hike up and take the cable car down?

July 12, 2014

Weissee Via Ferrata, Austria (or maybe not)

A beautiful day in Austia, just a little too windy to paraglide.  Or maybe a lot too windy!  Luckily, the hiking map of the area showed a via ferrata just up the road and cable car from the hotel, above the Weissee.   The cable car started swinging from the wind about halfway up, and we realized it was really windy.  We also realized the via ferrata was closed, clearly stated on the information board for some unknown German reason. (I couldn't read understand anything but the CLOSED part).  It probably would have been really windy and cold up there anyway, sunny or not!

So instead we took some hasty views of the cold lake and the glaciers above it, and started walking down the valley where it would get less windy and warmer.  We hoped.

On the way we got to walk over a cool curvy dam, and found some nice waterfalls.  And it did get quite warm at the bottom of the valley, after we had hiked a long ways down.

I hope the via ferrata closure is temporary as it looks like a fun one going just above the green water (still a few icebergs hanging out in it also!

July 10, 2014

G Force Training!

Well, we may have just been the first Americans and Argentinians to visit the new G Force Trainer in Germany!   When doing a spiral dive in paragliding, it is possible to pull a lot of Gs and potentially that could cause problems with G force.   So on a rainy day in Austria when we couldn't fly, we drove up to the G-force trainer to see what we were capable of.

Most of our group participated, with varying results.  Some folks felt a little sick after just a few spins, understandably as just watching the machine spin around from my chair was a little urpy.  A few that had never even done a spiral turn before found an amazing capacity to withstand Gs, taking the trainer all the way up to 7 Gs without feeling any ill effects.  Including 69 year old Josefina from Argentina!

I was expecting to have no problems with Gs (why I don't know), but instead found myself seeing fuzzy at 5.5 Gs, and totally losing my vision at 6.5 Gs.  The term is "blacking out" meaning I couldn't see a thing, but I wasn't unconscious.  They are clearly two different reactions, and even with no vision I was able to fly the machine and do everything I needed to (except see).  Vision returned quickly after I slowed down, and those kind of forces were more than anything I could do in a paraglider, luckily!  

The instructor was interested to know that I was a long distance runner, and said that might explain why I couldn't withstand the pressure, as my blood pressure was probably lower than normal.   To pull the high Gs it is better to be a pumped up weight lifter!    We all had fun anyway...even if we all felt by the end that we had been riding rollarcoasters all day!

July 8, 2014

Pinzgaur Spaziergang Run, Austria

I liked this hike with Jim so much that during (yet another) rainy day in Austria, I did it again, this time as a run.   The path was totally saturated with rain and looked mostly like a stream bed.  My shoes were soaked in no time, and there was a little fresh snow on the tops at about 2200 meters.   The low clouds gave some very interesting views, and the final 8 miles of the 18 mile run were all downhill.  I love running downhill!

Even a few cows walking through my little village as I got back to the hotel :)

Run 'til the cows come home!

July 5, 2014

Schmittenhohe Hike, Austria

We are here in Austria for a while now to do some Paragliding.  Unfortunately the weather doesn't look great for flying, but luckily there are tons of other outdoor activities to keep us busy.   On one such unflyable day, we concocted a plan to catch a bus from our little village into Zell am See, where there is a tram up to the top of a large ridge.   From there, we hoped we could hike along the ridge and then back to our village of Uttendorf.

This tram up to the Schmittenhohe is one of the main paragliding launches in the Pingau valley, known as the XC highway of Austria.  Large XC flights are made from here and other nearby launches.   But not today...we set off hiking along terrain we hoped we would soon see from a bird's eye view.   The route along the ridge is called the Pinzgauer Spaziergang.  That's a mouthful but it only means the Pinzgau Valley Panorama Walk.   The ridge itself isn't that high, only about 6,000 feet, but the views we had of the main ridge of the Alps to our south were amazing.

The hike itself isn't too strenuous, just long.  It stays on the south side of the ridge and sticks to the contour lines, so it doesn't go up or down toooo much.   The ridge tops at times were several hundred meters above us, but our eyes were drawn to the south and the snow covered mass of the Grossglockner massif,  at 3,798 meters almost twice as high as we were hiking!

I kept exclaiming that our ridge looked like Scotland, it was amazing.  There were little bogs and some heather; ponds that were filled with still, dark water; and bright green rounded ridge tops with just a touch of rock here and there.  It really was eerily similar.  Then I started thinking of caveats.  It's warm out (we were hiking in shorts and t-shirts).  It's not windy.  It's not raining.   Our feet are dry.  There's no knats.  So maybe not really the same...but it was close enough I think I just saved Jim a trip to Scotland someday, where he could have looked at hills eerily similar to this, while standing in driving rain with wet feet while dressed in full rain gear and dodging puddles.    Anyway.

If you don't want to hike all the way down to the valley, it is possible to  divert to the north after a while on the ridge.  Then it's possible to do a one-way hike to the Schattberg lift over the town of Saalbach, and then catch the bus back to wherever from there.   But I always prefer to get back to where I started on foot if possible, and we continued along the ridge until we were over the town of Uttendorf.   There are multiple ways down to the valley and we picked one through a muddy forest track that eventually got down to a gravel road.   The switchbacks continued for miles, but through thick forest and it was just as nice as the views from the ridge top.   A little warmer though...I had thought it was going to rain in the afternoon, but all we had was bright sunshine and a small shower in the distance.  Perfect.

We reached Uttendorf in the late afternoon after 20 miles and about 8 hours.

Looking down on Zell am See from the tram

A friendly foal on the ridge 

July 1, 2014

Via Ferrata Tre Cime de Lavaredo, Italy

Visiting the Tre Cime again was a blast from the past.    My very first trip to the Dolomites was to here, let's just say a long time ago!  Back then,  I didn't know the word Via Ferrata and didn't realize how many cool routes were hidden in the cliffs.  

The Dolomites are always stunning, whether in clear blue skies or when they are teasing the views with clouds drifting around the base.   We had to survive a little rain overnight, as usual, but finally got a good day to go explore part of Italy.

Around the Tre Cime there are four great routes, too many to do in one day, and it's hard to choose.  For more information, see the book Via Ferrata of the Italian Dolomites: Volume 1.   We decided to climb the route behind a large hut called Cime Locatelli, reluctantly passing up the another route through tunnels under Monte Paterno.

Ladders on the Via Ferrata
The peak we climbed is just a finger of rock called Torre Toblino.   There are two routes to the top,  the northern side a little more difficult, but with great views and some exposure.  That's normally the way up.  The route back down is hardly a ferrata, just a lot of cables to help walk down the steep eastern slope.  These routes are called MISUR 2 and MISUR 3 in the book mentioned above.  Either way you get up, the views are amazing from the small peak, in every direction.  We even stopped on a ledge halfway up for a sandwich.  There's nothing like being clipped into a cable sitting over thin air to get the appetite going!

These routes were created during the Mountain War of 1915-1917, and Torre Toblino was used as an Austria observation post.  The soldiers could only climb the routes under cover of darkness, using wooden ladders.  I'm sure that was a little more excitement than we had using new iron ladders and solid protection!   Many of the newer via ferretas owe their existence to this region and this war creating the need for such wartime inventions, and it was cool to see one of the originals.

This was Jim's second via ferrata  (I may have given him too hard a one for his first!) and he enjoyed this one a lot more.   He even started talking about gear which means he's getting hooked on these things!  But I'll stop talking now and let the photos speak for me...what a fabulous day for views of the Dolomites!
Cimi Locatelli hut with Torre Toblino in the background

Monte Paterno in the distance
Still a lot of snow left!