Sunday, July 21, 2013

Europe Trip: Day 2

Checking out the lower slopes of the Eiger - via a road and a very steep, but paved trail

The flight to Newark was unremarkable except that it left nearly an hour late. Our connection was tight and I was worried we might not make it, but they made up most of the time enroute. When we landed they were already boarding the plane to Zurich, but we still had time to get some food. Our plane was a Boeing 767 in a 2-3-2 arrangement. Homie and I had our seats together on the right side of the plane. Built into the headrest in front of us was a video system that had 200 movies, music, games, educational programs, etc. It was quite nice. I watched Zero Dark Thirty and about half of the Hobbit. Homie watched a program on Marion Jones, learned some German (he's now our translator), played trivia, and hangman. We both did our best to sleep and put a solid four-hour effort, netting us about 20 minutes of sleep. At least that's what it seemed. I felt like I changed position every 1-2 minutes. 

After some effort, we bought train tickets to Grindelwald out of an automated machine. It was confusing which train to get on, but after finding an office with an agent, they printed out a schedule for us. It would have been helpful if that was printed out with the ticket. The trains in Switzerland are all electric and they are quiet and smooth as silk. You can hardly tell when they start moving, as they accelerate so gradually. We changed trains in Bern and again in Interlaken Ost. We arrived in Grindelwald just before 2 p.m. This is 6 a.m. Colorado time, as we are now 8 hours ahead. 

Before the trip I got a pair of LaSportiva Explorer high tops. These are a soft boot with sticky rubber on the bottom. I scrambled Seal Rock in them and then did the Taylor/Andrews glacier loop to try them out on steep snow with the super light Kahtoola K-10 crampons. They worked well and this was our boot of choice for the Eiger. Homie couldn't find these boots locally, so the day before we left we went over to the LaSportiva office/warehouse and they set him up with a pair of boots, gratis. That's great service. Kahtoola shipped me an updated, more secure pair of crampons that arrived the day before we left as well. Unfortunately, I thought they were prizes for the race and left them behind. The ones I used on Taylor should work well for me. I also talked to my contact at Deuter and got an Alpine Guide Lite 32+ pack for the trip. This pack seemed to have the best mix of lightness, capacity and utility for alpine climbing. I'll be testing it out on the Eiger in a few days. All of these sponsors also donate generously to the Rattlesnake Ramble. If you haven't signed up yet, do so!

Before leaving the airport, I had to sample the Swiss culture via a coffee at a local cafe. I believe the name of the place was Starbucks. Actually, I only went there before I had brought my Starbuck gift cards. Alas, US cards don't work in Switzerland and I had already ordered the coffee, so I did something I said I'd never do: pay for a Starbucks with my own money. And it was 8SF (more than $8!). Oh well, it helped keep me alert in getting to Grindelwald. It takes two calendar days to get to Grindelwald and about 24 hours of continuous travel via bus, plane, and train.

I booked us into the Grindelwald Mountain Hostel for Sunday night, just so we'd know exactly where we were going on our first day here. They have a free shuttle service from the train station to the hostel where we had a private room with a sink in the room. It's rare in Europe to get a bathroom in your room. We were paying $125/night ($62/each) for a tiny room with a sink. Switzerland is not a cheap place to travel, but it is the only country with the Eiger…

When we got here we hiked up to Brandegg, which is just a train station and a restaurant for all I could tell. You can bike here and we hiked on entirely on a very steep (too steep to ride) paved trail. It was about 1600 feet above Grindelwald Grund, where we are staying. Grund is at the very food of the Eiger. Grindelwald is actually a few hundred feet up the other side of the Valley.

After checking into the Grindelwald Mountain Hostel we hiked up to Grindelwald to Grindelwald Sports (three uses of Grindelwald (now four!) in the same sentence!). Here we talked to Johann who gave us all the beta on the Eiger. Conditions were great for the Mitteleggi Ridge and the weather report was promising. There was afternoons storms forecasted, but hoped to be in the huts by then. He talked us out of our plan to descend the West Flank as "too dangerous. No one does that." and into descending the South Ridge - what the guides use. This goes by the Monchloch Hut and requires you to take the train down from the Jungfrauloch station, which is the highest train station in Europe and a very cool location, complete with a carved ice cave. He also said that it takes him 12 hours to go from Grindelwald to the Mitteleggi Hut and he knows the way. The crux of the entire climb is between the Ostegg hut and the Mitteleggi Hut, where the climbing is 5.8. He said that section takes 7-8 hours alone. So, we've decided to do the climb over three days, staying one night at each hut. This is probably wise since we are still going on just two hours of sleep from the plane trip over. We'll see hard tonight, but we are still alert here at nearly 11 p.m. 

Later that night, while I was in the gear room I ran into a thin guy. He looked at my shoes and says, "How do you like the Helios?" "I love 'em," I say and ask him, "Have you run in La Sportiva before?" "Run in them? I run for them!" I told him that I ran for Sportiva as well and he asked if I did the Eiger Ultra Marathon race the day before. He did and finished in about 16.5 hours for the 100 km course with 6700 meters of climbing (22,000 feet!). His first name is Sean but everyone calls him "Run Bum." He knew Ian Achey and Everett, my contacts in Boulder at La Sportiva.

We had a pizza for dinner, and packed for the next day. The gear barely fits in our small alpine packs, but it will be enough to sustain us over three days, thanks to the huts. We'll get one breakfast and one dinner at the Mitteleggi Hut, but nothing at the Ostegg Hut, where we'll likely be alone. We need to carry food for the rest of the three days and are cutting that pretty short. I can't believe I'm headed up the Eiger already, but the weather and conditions are a go and we have to jump on this chance. So, no more updates until at least Wednesday. Cross your fingers for us. Game on!

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