Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Berner Oberland Ramble: The second of two new trips for 2007



Last week I wrote about the Engadine Summit Series, one of two new guided trips for the summer of 2007. This week, let’s look at tour number two, the Berner Oberland Ramble.

The Bernese Oberland region epitomizes the classic image of Switzerland. High, glaciated peaks and vertical rock walls soar thousands of feet above lush meadows filled with the world's happiest and most beautiful cows. Pastoral culture is alive and well, and myriad hiking trails wander past cuckoo-clock chalets surrounded with magnificent gardens. As hikers ascend to the high alpine world of the surrounding peaks, their views extend over Europe's most famous mountain scenery, including the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Through all of this, little slat-seated cog railways chug, red cable cars ascend, airy funiculars slide, and bright yellow post buses wind their way and blow their characteristic three-note horns on the mountain curves. Even if you choose not to hike, you can have a fabulous time riding all the conveyances built for the convenience of tourists and hikers in this spectacular region.

Many of our past hikers have expressed an interest in spending more time exploring the fairy tale villages that made the Berner Oberland famous. In reality, our standard itineraries leave little time for anything more than hiking, eating and sleeping. (Yahoo!) This year we thought it would be fun to offer a less strenuous counterpart to our more challenging itineraries. The result is a tour that explores the Berner Oberland region at a more relaxed pace. The Berner Oberland Ramble appeals to hikers who desire less strenuous hiking days and more time exploring the unique culture and history of the region’s most charming villages. Hikers who desire a more strenuous hiking tour through the Oberland should consider the Eiger Trail.

Like our standard itineraries of the past, we centered the Berner Oberland Ramble around the classic alpine villages of Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren. Also like our traditional itineraries, the trek wanders beneath the world famous summits of the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and the numerous glaciated giants of the Lauterbrunnen valley, above which Wengen and Murren are perched. If you want all of the scenery with less work, then this trip is for you. Even more, we’ll stay in superior, and classic, Bernese inns that our clients have raved about for decades. Unlike most of our treks though, we’ll stay in each village for two nights (except Meiringen) allowing for a more leisurely approach with less packing and unpacking.

Here’s a daily breakdown of the tour:

Itinerary

Day 1 Travel independently by rail to Meiringen. Meiringen is a classic alpine village and is the gateway to the Grimsel region, one of the wildest in the Alps. Meet your group at seven o’clock for a welcome orientation and dinner.


Day 2 We’ll hike over the Grosse Scheidegg, beneath the towering limestone walls and spires of the Wetterhorn (the "peak of storms"). Look behind the Wetterhorn at the fabulous summits of the Finsterarhorn, Schreckhorn and Fiescherhorn, then ahead to the massive 6000 vertical-foot wall of the North Face of the Eiger. Enjoy the care and attention of the excellent staff and kitchen at our quietly located hotel in Grindelwald.

Day 3 Today we’ll enjoy a beautiful walk through high alpine meadows and then around one of the Alps’ most picturesque lakes. We’ll enjoy the superb panorama of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau just across the valley. Return to Grindelwald inn with plenty of time to explore the village.

Day 4 Ascend to the Kleine Scheidegg beneath the North Face of the Eiger. Kleine Scheidegg is the location from which the famous Clint Eastwood movie, The Eiger Sanction, was filmed. We’ll enjoy lunch at a high mountain restaurant then traverse beneath the Lauberhorn to a conveniently situated cable car that carries us down to Wengen. For the next two nights we’ll rest in one of our clients "all time favorite" establishments in a quiet sector of Wengen, one of Switzerland's most quaint villages.

Day 5 We’ll enjoy a varied day hike beneath the numerous waterfalls that cascade from the peaks into the pristine Lauterbrunnen valley. More than seventy-two waterfalls surround the valley and some tower more than 1000 feet in height. (See photo below) We’ll enjoy lunch in a classic Swiss Berghaus before returning to our Wengen inn and an exquisite dinner.

Day 6 We’ll wander deep into the head of the Lauterbrunnen valley, passing perfect farms and tiny hamlets. We’ll enjoy lunch in the lush, remote farm of Trachsellauenen before ascending to Murren through the wild and beautiful Sefinen gorge. Murren offers eye-popping views from its perch on a high hillside, directly above the Lauterbrunnen valley. The hotel terrace looks straight across to the Schwarzmonch and the Jungfrau peaks. Overnight in an excellent family run hotel on the "high street" with some of the best views in the village.

Day 7 Ascend to the Schilthorn. From the Schilthorn we’ll enjoy one of the finest panoramas in the Alps. History buffs will enjoy the story behind the Schilthorn, made famous for its role in the James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Return to Murren inn by cable car with plenty of time to enjoy the town.

Day 8 Depart. It is possible to meet same day flights out of Zurich.


Tour Profile

7 Nights/8 Days
Hiking up to 6 miles
Ascents up to 2000 ft.

Accommodations
7 nights charming first class country inns

Ground Transportation
From Swiss Point of Entry to Swiss point of exit

Breakfast and Dinner
Daily

All lifts and cog railways
As appearing on itinerary

Tour Dates: July 23 – 30, 2007

Tour Cost: $2785 per person double/$3085 per person single

Gateways
Zurich
Geneva
Munich

Please contact Ryder-Walker if you have any questions regarding the Berner Oberland Ramble or any of our tours. See you on the trail.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Engadine Summit Series: The first of two new trips for 2007


We developed two new trips for 2007, the Engadine Summit Series and the Berner Oberland Ramble. Here's a quick glance at the Engadine Summit Series.

We believe that the Engadine is among one the most beautiful places on the planet. Peter Walker recently wrote, “Combine the physical beauty of the mountains, with the culture and color of the villages, and you have an experience awaiting you that should not be missed.”

We’ve organized many trips to the Engadine over the years but in point of fact, the standard Engadine Trek, without amendments, is still one of the least strenuous tours that we offer. This year we thought it would be exciting to design something a little different from our traditional trek, and the result is a tour that spends more time on the trail AND is a bit more physically engaging. In short, the Engadine Summit Series appeals to hikers who desire two things: More time on the trail and less time spent moving from hotel to hotel. We still offer the traditional Engadine Trek, but the Summit Series will surely delight those hikers that want a more challenging tour.

Two of our head guides, Daniel Sundqvist and Ken Fuhrer, designed this tour as a more strenuous version of our traditional Engadine Trek. Furthermore, they developed the name of the tour, Summit Series, in order to underscore the basic purpose of the trip, which is to enjoy the many mid-height, yet un-glaciated peaks that the region is famous for. If you like to climb or bag peaks, then this tour is for you. In addition, and just like our standard tour, we stay in many of the superb hotels and inns that our clients have grown to love over the years. Unlike most of our other treks though, we stay in almost every village for two nights at a time, thereby offering more time to enjoy our favorite establishments and cuisine. We will also offer two hiking options each day in order to cater to individual desires.

Here’s a daily breakdown of the tour:

Itinerary

Day 1 Travel independently by rail to Zuoz. Zuoz is unique among the villages of the Lower Engadine. It is the first vantage point from which you can see the high glaciated peaks of the Upper Engadine. It is also a village, that while ancient and rich in the finest architecture of the region, sees virtually no tourist traffic. Tonight we’ll stay in a marvelous, old world hotel, centrally located on Zuoz's main street.

Day 2 Enjoy a warm-up day to one of our favorite high mountain huts above Zuoz. The views of the Palu and Bernina massifs to the southeast are superb. Descend near the old Albula Pass road to La Punt or Chamues-ch for transport back to Zuoz. Return to Zuoz hotel.

Day 3 A short bit of train transport will deliver us to one of the Upper Engadine’s greatest attractions, a funicular with arguably the finest vista in the Alps. From the top station, we’ll traverse to the east along a rocky bench, to reach the summit cone of one of the highest summits in the region accessible to hikers. Coincidentally, there is a refuge just a hundred meters from the top. Here they serve superb soups to complement the otherworldly views. Descend to Pontresina and a warm and welcoming inn in a quiet section of the village.

Day 4 Our itinerary for today's hike takes us out of the village of Schlarigna, made famous as the finish village of the renowned Cresta Run, perhaps the world's most famous bobsled course. We hike into remote and rarely traveled terrain behind the summits of Las Tres Fluors and beneath the rocky Piz Ot. Descend to Samedan for bus or train transport back to Pontresina. Return to Pontresina hotel.

Day 5 The day begins with a gentle ascent up one of the Alps most pristine "U" shaped valleys. Carved out by glaciers over the millennia, this valley cannot fail to delight. We’ll hike all the way to the head of the valley where a charismatic hut has been fancifully placed right on the edge of the moraine adjacent to a quickly receding glacier. Traverse back through a notch to return to the main Engadine valley for bus transport to idyllic Sils Maria, and another superb old-world hotel.

Day 6 Numerous summits are accessible for hikers from Sils Maria and we will choose among them for today's itinerary. From these peaks we begin to see into the wild and spectacular Val Bregaglia to the south. Massive granite walls emerging from lush green lower valleys on the Italian border, characterize the Bregaglia. Return to Sils Maria hotel.

Day 7 We’ll travel one of the regions most rarely visited areas but on magnificent trails. High above the Val Bregaglia we’ll ascend to a pass above our final destination, Soglio, one of the most charming villages anywhere. We’ll descend to Soglio through numerous rustic, but active tiny farms and hamlets. Enjoy your last night in Soglio as you watch the alpenglow embrace the granite spires of the Bregaglia while dining on local specialties. (The very top photo offers a small glimpse of the sciora range towering above the quaint little village of Soglio).

Day 8 Depart. It is generally not possible to meet same day flights out of Zurich.

Tour Profile

7 nights/8days
Hiking up to 12 miles
Ascents up to 4500 ft.

Accommodations
7 nights charming first class country inns/old world hotels

Ground Transportation
From Swiss point of entry to Swiss point of exit.

Breakfast and Dinner Daily

All lifts and cog railways
As appearing on itinerary

Tour Dates: July 31-August 7, 2007

Tour Cost: $2800 person double/$3100 per person single

Gateway
Zurich


Please contact Ryder-Walker if you have any questions regarding the Engadine Summit Series or any of our tours. We’d love to hear from you.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sold Out; The August 2007 Secret Swiss Valleys Guided Tour

This just in: The Secret Swiss Valleys guided tour, scheduled for August 10-17, 2007, just sold out. We still have space on the first tour though, July 12-19, 2007.

Please contact us for more details, or visit our website for the 2007 schedule.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I would like to hike the Alps: When is the perfect time to go?



A woman recently asked me to recommend the absolute ideal 4 weeks for hiking in the Alps during mid June to mid October. I almost told her that the ideal week would be the one that includes free airline tickets. I knew though, that she would still want to know WHEN the best time to receive those free airline tickets would be. It’s a popular question that I answer regularly and reluctantly, since I liken the process choosing the best chocolate bar. Every month is great. Even more, one person’s standard of measure may not equal another’s and only a fool would try to forecast mountain weather. However, I am not afraid of a little Tom Foolery, so here is a simple breakdown of each month, with the advantages and disadvantages of each.


April and May

Advantages: This is our favorite time to explore the desert regions of Arizona and Utah. OK, it’s not Europe, but it is our backyard and a marvelous place to explore ancient ruins, stone arches, canyon labyrinths, soaring spires, desert wildflowers, pictographs and petroglyphs. Can we say spring break?

Disadvantages: If the snow gods blessed the Alps, then this month is off limits for hikers without snowshoes because the high alpine regions are still buried in white. The month of May also means off-season even without snow too, and the alpine accommodations that we typically rely on are closed. We couldn't organize a tour through the alps no matter how hard we tried.

Recommended Tours: Arches & Canyonlands

June

Advantages: Relatively quiet trails during the first part of the month and wildflowers toward the end, (depending on snow pack). Snow capped peaks offer a splendid backdrop against lower valleys exploding with water and life. June can be very sunny.

Disadvantages: The weather can still be cold and hikers may encounter frozen snow pack at higher elevations, especially during the early part of the month. Accommodations, restaurants and lifts may also be closed until the middle of June depending on the region.

Recommended Tours: The Dolomites or the Engadine during the early part of the month; everything in the Alps afterward.

July

Advantages: Everything is open and the wildflowers should be in full bloom, depending on the previous winter’s snow pack. Days and nights are typically warmer and many of the high alpine passes should be free of snow. (Glaciated regions excepted)

Disadvantages: The trails start getting busy. Accommodations in Italy can be difficult to find for independent travelers after the middle of month. Rain clouds loom on the horizon.

Recommended Tours: Everything in Europe. Large, independent groups should try to avoid Italy after the middle of the month, or consider multiple night stays in each village.

August

Advantages: August 1, the Swiss National Day. This is a great time to see a bit of Swiss culture. The weather can be very warm and pleasant.

Disadvantages: August 1, the Swiss National Day. This can be a hard time to find accommodation in some villages. (We’ll try though). August is also the busiest month during the summer. Thunderstorms may test the raingear.

Recommended Tours: Everything in the Alps except Italy for self-guided travelers.

September

Advantages: The people of Appenzell wear traditional clothing as they lead the cows down from the high pastures. Hikers enjoy cooler days and quiet trails. This is a great month to get back into Italy and this is also a great time to explore the peak color season of the Alpine Southwest in Colorado.

Disadvantages: The weather can turn cold in a hurry and snow is a distinct possibility. Many of the accommodations, restaurants and lifts begin to close by the middle of the month depending on the region.

Recommended Tours: The Telluride Trek and everything in Europe through the middle of the month. Explore the Engadine through the end of September without a problem.


October

Advantages: We can only offer the self-guided Engadine trek, so the choice is easy. Very quiet trails and villages offer a very relaxing experience.

Disadvantages: The restaurants and lifts may be closed. Snow is a possibility (though not always a bad thing) and hikers may have to stay on lower trails.

Recommended Tour: The self-guided Engadine Trek


For those who don’t fit into summer: You may want to consider skiing or snowboarding from village to village. Please visit our sister company, Alpenglow Ski Safaris for more details.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Read about a new topic each week!

Join us each week during the fall as we write about a specific topic that pertains to the exploration of alpine environments. We may simply talk about one of our special hikes, or jump into deeper concerns like choosing the right equipment or dealing with medical emergencies abroad. Heck, we may even talk about Italian coffees. Likewise, we invite you to contact Ryder-Walker if you know of something that you would like us to share with the rest of the hiking world at large. We always enjoy good input.

See you online!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Season Wrap Up: What do we do now?


Eb-dee eb-dee eb-dee ebdee- That's ALL FOLKS! The last day of the Alpine Southwest tour through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado brought an end to another wonderful hiking season in the U.S. and Europe. Of course, we’ll continue to hike in our spare time, but the guided hiking season at Ryder-Walker is now officially closed for 2006. However, our self-guided travelers continue to hike through Switzerland and a few won’t even return until the end of October. Gasp! Isn’t October a little late for the Alps? Yes it is, and we wish our travelers luck. In point of fact, the Engadine region of eastern Switzerland offers many options at lower elevation that typically remain snow free until late in the month. Therefore, we still have time to organize a last minute self-guided tour through the Engadine for anyone who’s interested. Please be advised though, that many of the high passes may be closed because of inclement weather.

Please contact Ryder-Walker for more information.