9/15/09

Europe in July!

Now that I've moved back down to Anchorage, and gotten into the swing of the busy school and skiing schedules, I finally have some time to tell stories about my fun trips and adventures this Summer and so far this Fall.

The big news and best stories have got to be from my awesome trip to Europe this Summer! I took an over-the-pole flight from Fairbanks to Frankfurt, Germany to visit Steffi for three wonderful weeks in July. Steffi grew up and lives in Kr√ľn in Bavaria near Garmisch about a 10 minute bike-ride from the Austrian border; i.e. right smack in the Alps! She was home for the Summer with her parents who generously let me stay with them in their beautiful home in small-town rural Germany.

Steffi and I spent about half of our time in or near her town meeting her family and adventuring in the local mountains. We went biking through expansive alpine valleys, hiking up dramatic winding trails, sport climbing awesome limestone crags, and we even went canyoning down a steep narrow creek.

We spent the remainder of our time road-tripping in Steffi's parents' VW Eurovan. To anyone who has yet to road trip in a camper van, it is one of the best ways to travel! The van was an early 80's vintage pop-top tricked out with a loft, stove, bed, fold out table and plenty of room for bikes and gear. Compared to all of the little sports cars on the Autobahn and steep winding mountain switchbacks, it was a little slow, but it chugged along like a real trooper. About halfway through the trip we dubbed the van "Howard" or Howie for short because it had enough character that the anthropomorphism stuck. Man I love that van... We drove to Lago di Garda in northern Italy, over to Pontresina in the Swiss Alps, and later to the Dolomites for a bit, climbing, hiking and playing the whole way.

The first day I was there was one of the coolest hikes I've done. I slept as late as I could, about 4am, and we took off to hike the Zugspitze (the highest peak in Germany) once the sun came out. Eventhough it is the highest peak, and there is a little glacier in the upper valley, the Zugspitze gets so much traffic that it was really quite tame. Tame but beautiful. The first part was wide winding gravel trail with steps built in, then it narrowed into a deep canyon where we hiked through man-made tunnels in the rock, then it opened into the upper valley, crossed a small moraine and a snow field before we got the the really fun part. The last hour of the climb goes up pretty steep rock walls, but there are ladders built into the rock and an inch-thick cable handrail the whole way. What Fun! Kinda scary, but as long as you hold on, it's really no big deal. My mom probably wouldn't want to go, but Steffi and I had a blast.

We were hiking with small daypacks in running shoes, and felt totally prepared for the climb which took a total of about 5 hours from the car to the top. The craziest part is that the people we were passing on the way had HUGE packs, heavy mountaineering boots, harnesses, slings, tons of brand-new climbing gear, and spent several DAYS on route, staying at hotel-like lodges along the way! Lots of inexperienced mountain people everywhere. I guess all of the german city people make pilgrimages to the "top of Germany" and pay guides to take them on the expedition up the wide trail to the hotel at the top. Yep, there's a gigantic ski resort with $1000-a-night hotel rooms at the top and 2 trams to take you up and down. Definitely a different scene than I'm used to, but I gotta say, it's not too bad to have a fresh espresso at the summit of a long climb! We actually ended up having to take the tram back down to avoid thunderstorms. It would have been sketchy to be on the rock wall hanging on a huge cable with lighting coming down...

Anyway, that's just one of the many awesome stories from that trip. I'm sure I'll go back next time I can buy a plane ticket.

We did a sweet training run through these rocky spires in the Dolomites.

Driving Howie down the scary Italian switchbacks wearing my bavarian farmer's hat.

Trying to fit in with the locals in the tourist town on Lago Di Garda.

They drive crazy in Europe. It took me a long time to get used to the speed, and the narrow narrow roads.

Alpine valleys filled with cows are everywhere. Definitely adds to the charm.

We hitch-hiked down a pass in the Dolomites with our roller skiing gear so we could get a good training session climbing a couple thousand feet of switchbacks.



Steffi on lead on a fun multi-pitch route across the valley from her house.

Taking a facebook-fodder glory shot. The valley behind me is where Steffi grew up. Little towns of 2000-3000 people every few kilometers.

The upper valley of the Zugspitze. This is my favorite mountain photo from the trip.

Steffi on the "via ferrata" climbing near the top of the Zugspitze.
"This is easy with a ladder!"