Friday, April 25, 2014

Hiking to the Rifugio Alpe di Tires (2,440 meters)—Dolomites

That little white house in the distance is called the Schutzhaus Tierser Alpl (Rifugio Alpe di Tires in Italian), and it’s our home for the night on Day #3 or our Italian Dolomites hiking tour. 

Here’s a closer look.

Many guests have gazed upon that tiny red roof, excited about the promise of a hearty meal, refreshing drink and comfortable lodgings after a long day on the trail. 

The day begins with a short transfer by van and cable car. This is the view as we hike past Tyrolean farmhouses and into the Sciliar-Catinaccio Nature Park. The big mountain in the photo is called the Sciliar (2,563 meters) (Schlern in German). The snow-capped peaks of Austria stand to the north, while the tallest peaks of Switzerland occupy the horizon in the northwest.

The trail continues through flower-filled meadows and passes a Tyrolean chalet that serves delicious coffee, schnapps and home-cooked snacks. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. The coffee and Apfelstrudel top off the tank before we switch on our climbing legs and spend the next few hours switchbacking above tree line. Here’s a view from the top of the hill.

Again, those peaks in the distance lie in Austria. You can also see where we started in the morning. There’s a small village called Compatsch about two-thirds of the way up the photo.

From this vantage point, it’s a rather quick jaunt to the Rifugio Bolzano (Schlernhaus), a veritable castle in the sky and our lunch stop for the day.

The interior feels like a German beer hall meets Italian climber’s hut. It’s comfortably rugged, the food is delicious, and the beer comes in tall steins. It would be very easy to settle into this place and have one beer after another. 

The trail calls, however, so we eventually leave the Bolzano Hut and spend the afternoon with views like this:

The jagged peaks in the left side of the photo are part of the Rosengarten Group (Catinaccio in Italian).  This region is called the “Rose Garden” because the limestone formations glow with a pretty rose color in the evening light. The pinkish hue is one of the defining characteristics of the Italian Dolomites.

Finally, we arrive at the Rifugio Alpe di Tires (2,440 meters), grab some hot showers, drink a few schnapps, and find a cozy table reserved especially for us. It’s worth noting that the Rifugio Alpe di Tires is a sophisticated mountain hut. The sound of the espresso machine greets hikers as they stroll through the door. Wind and solar energy provide power for the hut, while books, games, and a fully stocked bar ensure a comfortable stay. Guests can also purchase homemade cookies and cakes, postcards, and souvenirs. They even sell rain ponchos in case your outerwear unexpectedly dies. 

Here’s another shot of the hut.  

The hut owners, Stefan and Judith take awesome care of us! They've become family.

And finally, a view that many people will never see. RW guide Ken Fuhrer shot this image while climbing above the Rifugio Alpe di Tires. 

We don’t climb up here during our regular hiking tours, though it’s something we can do upon special request. Rather, the normal hiking route follows the winding dirt road on the left side of the hut. Next stop, the village of Selva—“The Jewel at the Foot of the Dolomites”—Day 4 of our Italian Dolomites hiking tour. 

Bolzano hut by Porter Teegarden. 
#1-5, 7 and 11 by Chris Pranskatis
#8-10, 12-14 by Ken Fuhrer

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!

Get outside and enjoy this beautiful planet!

Photo: Horses of the Italian Dolomites | By Ken Fuhrer 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rolling Green Meadows...

Lots of them! The bucolic meadows keep rolling and rolling in the Italian Dolomites. The meadows are called "Alms" in this part of the world, and the Alms that you see in this photo are part of one grandaddy Alm called Seiser Alm. Seiser Alm, (the Alpe di Siusi in Italian), is the largest high elevation meadow in Europe—and we get to hike across it every year.

If you join our Italian Dolomites Trek, then you'll enjoy this view on your first hiking day. The first day's hike is a loop that begins in the medieval hill village of Völs am Schlern (Fié in Italian). The hike climbs through forest and meadow, passes a pretty lake and tops out at a Tyrolean farmhouse/restaurant at Tuff Alm, just in time for an Apfelstrudel, a coffee, or beer depending on your mood.

Following a bit of relaxation, with eye-popping views of the Schlern mountain from the restaurant deck, the hike turns back into the woods and descends to a Tyrolean forest house for a sampling of schnapps, sweets, and/or a home-cooked meal. Another sun-drenched deck slows the hands of time before the trail descends again and leads to the view in this photo. Continuing downward, we pass castles, orchards and innumerable Tyrolean chalets before checking back into our hotel beneath the ramparts of a 14th century tower. 

If you like this day, then you'll love hiking day #2 on our Italian Dolomites Trek. We spend the morning hiking through grassy meadows, then we leave the pastures behind and climb above tree line for some serious mountain hiking. 

Click here if you'd like to read more about the Italian Dolomites region. 

Image by Chris Pranskatis

Friday, April 11, 2014

Foto Friday: Peak Bagging Scotland!

The nice thing about peak bagging in Scotland is that you don’t need a bunch of gear to do it. Many of the peaks are accessible to everyday hikers. Just load your day pack with a few essentials and hit the trail.

In this photo, Daniel Sundqvist stands atop one of Scotland’s Munros. Named in honor of Sir Hugh Munro, a Munro is any mountain with a height greater than 3,000 feet (914.4 meters). Click here to read our previous blog about Munros and mountain hiking in Scotland.

If you’re an avid hiker, then you’ll love peak bagging, or “Munro bagging,” as they call it in Scotland. Some of the locals, calling themselves “Munroists,” actually try to hike as many Munros as they can in their lifetime. There are 282 Munros in Scotland, and, as of 2009, 4,000 people claimed to have bagged every peak. (They call it a “compleation.”) There are also 509 Tops and 221 Corbetts. A Top is a secondary peak over 3,000 feet and a Corbett is any distinct peak greater than 2,500 feet (but less than 3,000). Some people try to climb all of these too!

The Scottish Mountaineering Club maintains a full list of all the Munros, Corbetts, and the hill walkers that have compleated them. Check out their site, it’s a worth a visit.

We don’t have time to bag every peak, so we’ll take in some of the most famous climbs during our Scotland Highlands and Islands hiking tour. It's worth mentioning that we do NOT offer this trip as a self-guided version. So, if you’d like to bag some Munros then please join our guided hike. Daniel Sundqvist will lead this trip, and we have four spots left on this year’s tour.

Note: While many of Scotland’s Munros can be summited by the average hiker, some require a bit more skill, and all require a basic level of fitness to start. No matter which peak you summit, there is no excuse for going unprepared. Always be prepared for inclement weather and carry enough gear for unforeseen circumstances. Remember the old adage, “You can’t cheat the mountain!"

Thursday, April 03, 2014

FAQ: What is the difference between 1st and 2nd class Swiss passes?

Question: When traveling in Switzerland, what is the difference between 1st and 2nd class rail tickets?

Short Answer: First class tickets offer more legroom and a generally quieter experience. And, if you buy 1st class tickets on a Swiss boat, then you’ll typically enjoy upper deck seating with phenomenal views.

Long Answer: It must be said that 2nd class tickets are perfectly fine. Second class seats are clean, safe, fun and they’re less expensive than 1st class seats. That said, the majority of people that travel through Switzerland do so in 2nd class, so 2nd class seats tend to see more wear-and-tear, and are sometimes more crowded, than 1st class seats. This varies by region and train. On some trains, the difference between classes is negligible. On others, the difference is more noticeable. On all the trains, however, the upholstery and carpeting tend to be a bit nicer in 1st class (less wear-and-tear), there’s more legroom, and it’s usually easier get a seat by your self (or with your friends). One caveat: First class seats can be quite crowded with business types during intercity rush hours.

So, should you splurge on 1st class tickets?

That’s your call. Having traveled both for many decades, we have to admit that 1st class offers a more comfortable experience. If you value quiet time to yourself, you like the extra legroom, or you’d rather be surrounded by businessmen than families, then by all means, go for 1st class. If you’re on a budget, you don’t need absolute quiet, or you’d like to mingle a bit more with the Swiss public, then choose 2nd class.

Note: Smoking is not allowed on any Swiss train.

It’s also worth stating that traveling by train in Switzerland is NOT like flying. Second class seats have plenty of legroom. You won’t feel cramped just because you chose the less expensive option. Also, we almost never have trouble finding seats in 2nd class. The 2nd class cars are just generally busier and more full than in 1st. Again, this varies by train, region and time of day. In some cases, you might have an entire 2nd class car to yourself.

Regardless of what you choose, you’ll have a wonderful time traveling through Switzerland. The Swiss Travel System, which includes trains, buses, boats, funiculars, trams and cable cars, is one of the most efficiently run transportation systems in the world. It is also, in our opinion, one of the most fun.

Photo: View from the train to Grindelwald, Switzerland. By Chris Pranskatis.