sunny days & reindeer friends.

The past few days of fieldwork have been pretty great. Perhaps mostly because today we finished off the point-framing, which was the major work task we had to accomplish while we’re here. After spending the day entering data tomorrow, we’ll be able to head back to the field and collect some other data on particular species of interest, but basically anything we do now is like icing on the cake in terms of research and publishing potential.

The weekend days were brutally cold and windy, although not as cloudy as the last week and not rainy like Thursday and Friday. So we considered that a win. And yesterday we had reindeer visitors!

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That was fun! Reindeer are super cute and super weird-looking. Like many of the animals which are year-round residents here, Svalbard reindeer are a subspecies of a species with circumpolar distribution (this includes both reindeer in Scandinavia and caribou in North America). They are smaller than you’d expect reindeer to be – the smaller ones are the size of a large goat. Definitely not what I remember from my trip to Finland! They are actually the smallest of all the subspecies. Their short little legs only make them look funnier when they run, with their noses up in the air and their eyes bugging out of the black fur around their faces.

Today was special for another reason, mainly, it was sunny and amazingly beautiful! Still a bit windy but simply the nicest day we’ve had. To be able to look down the valley and have it be perfectly clear… the colors were completely different than anything we’d ever seen since arriving here and overall, it was just a remarkable day. After we finished our own work we walked down to a site where they had run the same experiment in a “wet” environment. It was very picturesque but while gingerly making our way over the crumbling boardwalks, built in 2003 with usually just one nail at each end of each board, we were very happy that we work up on the “mesic” meadow site instead.

Here are some pictures from today! Click any photo to enlarge.

 

birthdays & holidays.

Happy fourth of July from the very cold Arctic!

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Friday was one of the colder days we’ve had…. 5 degrees C, which isn’t that cold, but it was very windy. And doing plant surveys (which I’ll post more about some other time) means you’re not moving. If we had been hiking, I would have been in tights and a long sleeve shirt and probably sweating. But sitting there counting plants or taking data…. not so much. I was wearing four jackets, two shirts, tights under work pants, double socks. And I was freezing. Luckily we borrowed a thermos and have been having instant hot cocoa on our breaks, which improves things considerably.

When the sun comes out, the temperature rises several degrees and it’s pleasant. But in our week of working, I think we had a total of maybe two hours where the sun poked through the clouds.

So that was the fourth of July.

The next day was my birthday! We slept late and then wanted to go hiking. There is a series of hikes around Longyearbyen called “Topptrimmen“: each has a box with a logbook, and if you complete all of them in a summer I think you get a little badge or something (I’m not sure, honestly). That is what we wanted to do. So we picked out two places over near the Isfjorden coast which we could do in one fell swoop, and got excited about seeing across the fjord to the big mountains and glaciers on the other side.

However, as we drove, and then started to hike, it became clear that we definitely weren’t going to see anything from the top of the mountain. The cloud ceiling was 100 or more meters below the summit.

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Also, that river that we would have had to cross… Helen and I had strapped our rubber boots to the outside of our backpacks in preparation. My rubber boots, as you can see from the top picture, are all. We crossed all the channels of the braided river quite carefully, gingerly because the rocks are slippery and the last thing you want is to fall into a freezing cold river. But the last channel of the braid was something else. It was brown and angry and fast. It was probably deeper than my boots were tall, although we didn’t try too hard to find out. Mainly, between the slippery rocks on the bottom and the strength of the current, we wussed out. It wasn’t worth getting wet to go up a mountain where we probably wouldn’t see anything anyway. So we crossed back to the original side of the river and continued walking up the valley – named Bjørndalen, Bear Valley. I got a big kick out of this because I work in biathlon where the most successful athlete ever is Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway, one of the most amazing competitors I’ve seen in any sport. Every time I put a Norwegian news article about him through Google Translate, it says, “Bear Valley said…” And here I was in Bjørndalen! Hiking Ole Einar’s namesake valley. (I’m sure it was actually named after polar bears, but whatever.)

Despite not being an epic or difficult hike and having practically no elevation gain, it was beautiful and nice to see around the corner from town for the first time. Cecilie, a friend of my supervisor’s who is actually our age and studying to be a pilot in Tromsø, came with us. It was a good girls-only adventure.

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Side note: hiking with a rifle is a pain in the ass, but a total necessity here. We still haven’t seen any polar bears, which is just fine, thank you.

Other notes from the hike: we saw some Svalbard ptarmigan, or grouse, which were really cool. They were by the exit of an old abandoned mine and at first looked exactly like a chicken. We were convinced that it was a chicken and began wondering, “what are they doing here? they would freeze in the winter!”

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But actually… they are Svalbard ptarmigan, closely related to rock ptarmigan on mainland Norway. They are the only birds that live here year-round! Badass birds.

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The birthday finished up by roasting a chicken for dinner, and then having some raspberry cheesecake pieces from the grocery store. Not too fancy of a birthday, not too exciting, but pretty happy. When you’re on Svalbard, expectations change a little bit. Also, I’m turning one of those random numbers that nobody cares about.

“Do you feel older?” Helen asked last night before we went to bed.

“No,” I said.

 

Svalbard day 1.

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On Friday morning Helen and I woke up very early (separately: her at her aunt’s house in Södermalm, Stockholm; me at my hotel by the train station) and went to the airport. We checked our bags and the giant styrofoam box of soil coring equipment that I was bringing as a favor to a researcher in Uppsala instead of them having to ship it. And then we were off! First to Oslo, then to Longyearbyen.

There were some adventures immediately. When we checked in, we were told we’d have to collect our bags in Oslo and bring them through customs, since we were continuing on a domestic flight from there. Makes sense: I have to do that every time I go to the U.S. (and Norway is not part of the E.U., so it wouldn’t be surprising that things flown from other parts of Europe would need to be examined). So we got to Oslo, followed the signs for “domestic connections” which took us to the baggage claim, and found…. our bags never showed up.

I eventually went to the SAS help counter.

“Hi, we’re flying to Longyearbyen, and our bags never came off the belt?”

“Oh, they’ve been checked all the way through! You didn’t need to collect them here!”

Okay then. Back out – to the departures hall – and back through security. Then, we checked out gate assignment and found that it was in the international hall. So, moral of the story: Svalbard may be a Norwegian territory, but it still counts as international!

I was surprised when we boarded the plane that it was actually a bigger plane than the one we had on our Stockholm-Oslo leg. And it was almost full. I’d imagined the Longyearbyen airport being a tiny thing – maybe like Visby – but that was not the case at all. So we arrived with a lot of other tourists and locals, our bags never had to go through customs, etc. Standard travel, only we ended up in a faraway and crazy place!

We got our rented car – a big black jeep – and went to the university, where we checked into our room in the Guest House. It’s really nice. More space than most places I’ve seen elsewhere in Scandinavia and they’ll even clean it for us once a week! Very cushy, not like I was expecting for Arctic research.

Since we don’t have our polar bear training or our rifle yet (we get all that on Monday), we couldn’t get up to much trouble this weekend. We mostly walked around the town, which is protected from polar bears. You’re not allowed to leave the town limits without a rifle. It was pretty cool though. First of all, we saw reindeer just hanging out…

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But also, that first evening, a lot of lovely scenery.

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And a lot of snowmobiles. More snowmobiles than people here!

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Today, we slept very late (we were both exhausted) and then went to the Svalbard Museum. It’s a pretty cool museum about the history and nature on Svalbard.

Something I learned from Helen’s research that cleared up longstanding confusion: Svalbard is the name for the whole archipelago of islands here. Spitzbergen is the name of the island we are on, which is the biggest one. So there. I guess I should be more specific with my words in the future.

After that we went for a walk along one of the roads out of town. The first challenge: it is nesting season for Arctic terns, and they nest right along the edges of the road. Thus, when you walk by, they believe you are attacking their nests. They fly at you and apparently will peck your head. We didn’t believe this, but began walking and were quickly attacked by birds (no injuries were sustained, but it was scary). We felt like idiots and went back and grabbed a pair of the long red plastic poles which are provided. You can’t use them to fend the birds off – they are a protected species – but if you carry them vertically in the air, the birds can’t fly as close to you and won’t attack your head. They will, of course, still fly pretty close and make a lot of squawking.

I still think Arctic terns are among the most beautiful birds.

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After walking a bit, we came across a sled dog kennel. OMG, so cute.

dogsRight after this, we saw a packed nesting ground for common Eiders. As we were marveling at how many there were – literally, they blend in so you don’t notice them at first but all of a sudden we saw what must have been at least 100 of the birds, hunkered down in the dirt/vegetation – a huge seagull came along. One of the eiders must have gotten up from her nest, because the next thing I knew, before I could even process what was happening, the seagull was flying to the edge of the group, and it had a fluffy thing in its beak, and then I saw it land and gulp down a duckling.

Yes. I saw a seagull eat a duckling. That just happened.

Carry on.

The rest of the walk wasn’t so eventful, just beautiful. We reached the end of the polar bear protection zone and headed back.

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There’s not much to do in Longyearbyen that doesn’t cost an excessive amount of money, so I’m not sure how we are going to occupy ourselves tomorrow. The mountains look amazing, but without our rifle we can’t go hiking. So, we can’t wait until Monday when everything gets straightened out. footer

 

calm before the storm.

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I have to admit that now that I have a PhD position secured, I’m a little bit less motivated about my continuing work on my masters. Am I excited to head north to Svalbard and Lapland? Heck yeah! But the logistics, the thesis-writing, the rule-following, all seem like extra annoyances now. Plus there’s the fact that I’m apparently in for a horrible round of paperwork, since it’s nearly impossible to enroll in a PhD program in Switzerland without a copy of your masters diploma in your hands. That makes it really tough to go directly from a masters to a PhD, immediately – the inevitable paperwork lag really ties you up. Sadly, schools don’t usually print out a diploma and hand it to you at the actual masters defense. Thus, I’m in for a world of pain. I’m looking forward to stability, but realizing that it might not come until a few months after my actual PhD start date!

And in between then and now, I have a lot of fun and a lot of stress to look forward to.

So, I’ve been relaxing in Davos and savoring the last bits of my freedom. Yes, I’ve been working on a manuscript with Julia and Christian – it’s almost ready! – but there’s been lots of fun things, too, from the morning run up Seehorn pictured above to lots of nice breakfasts with Julia. This morning it was strawberries and croissants on the balcony in the sun; a few days ago my parents sent me maple syrup, so we took the opportunity to make pancakes and bacon. YUM. Thanks so much, mom and dad!

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Working on manuscripts probably isn’t most people’s idea of relaxing, but I’m trying to treat myself to a few nice things because we won’t have them for the rest of the summer. We also had a great night out on the town watching World Cup action: first with an Italian colleague (her team lost) and then with all of Davos (Switzerland also lost, tant pis). I got a latte at Kaffe Klatsch, the Davos favorite. I bought Movenpick ice cream. Julia and I drank wine and watched goofy television. I baked banana bread; I made grilled cheese sandwiches. We cut fresh basil into our pasta sauce. I gorged on local Swiss cheese.

My mind is preoccupied trying to tie up a lot of loose ends before I disappear over the precipice for the rest of the summer, but these things are making me happy.

tour de gondola.

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The last few days have been sort of “meh” in some ways. It was foggy at the venue, so the men’s biathlon mass start – which I had been really looking forward to – has been postponed again and again. Yesterday we spent most of the day sitting in the press center getting antsy and waiting for a race to happen. Finally, the women’s mass start went off. The race for gold was totally boring as Darya Domracheva decimated the field for the third competition in a row. But behind her things were still interesting with a good race for bronze. And, Susan Dunklee did it again with 12th place, the best finish ever for a U.S. woman at the Olympics. Go Suz!

In all of the downtime yesterday I worked on a story based on a long interview I did with the International Biathlon Union’s medical chief, Dr. Jim Carrabre. We talked doping and boy, did we ever talk doping. Only about half of the interview made it into the piece, so there’s still more to come, but I think the result (here) was pretty interesting.

However, despite all the outrage about doping, apparently nobody wants to read about the nitty-gritty of what goes on. They only want to read about the scandals that consume previously famous athletes. Because, even though my piece is covering ground that I don’t think other people have covered, nobody is reading it.

At the same time that I published that, my colleague Nat published a funny piece about how much the Norwegians have been sucking in skiing at this Olympics. In an hour, it garnered 1200 reads. My piece had 120.

To be fair, Nat’s piece was excellent. I love it. It’s delicious and gossipy but still built on the back of a lot of real reporting. Go give it a read, you won’t be disappointed.

But it does say a lot about what people want to read. Schadenfreude? Yes, please more! Substantive research on an issue they claim to care about? nah, never mind.

Anyway. There’s a fun story in here, I promise! Two mornings ago we met up with Rob Whitney at the base of our little gondola. Rob is a former excellent ski racer, now living in Anchorage and working as a firefighter. He is married to Holly Brooks, who is competing here in her second Olympics. Rob snagged a job working for NBC as the in-the-box researcher for Al Trautwig, who is announcing the cross country races. So we have someone else cool to hang out with.

Our goal for the morning was to go all the way to the top of the mountains that we can see every day. The mountains are sweet and epic and huge and snowy and white! We had heard a rumor that with our credential – which says “ALL” – we could ride the gondola to the top. Rob claimed to have done “research” about which of the dozen gondolas we would have to take. He said three. We walked up to the train station and tried to get on one.

It was not immediately obvious where it would take us, and the volunteer didn’t speak much English. Rob was trying to explain that we wanted to go to the “tippy top” of the mountain (I don’t think “tippy top” is a phrase they teach you in English 101) and that it would take three gondolas. The guy was getting more and more confused. Finally he handed Rob his smartphone and told him to type his question into google translate.

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That didn’t help much. We decided to just get on the damn gondola and see where it took us. It would be up, after all. So off we went. It took us to the Sanki sliding center! huh.

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Unfortunately, the gondola going up the mountain from there was closed. We could see it extending off up the hill, eventually ending at the “tippy top”, but we couldn’t get there. So instead we did a gondola traverse of the mountain to try to reach another gondola that would.

First, we had to walk and ride past some environmental yuck. Building everything on the side of these very steep mountains has been sort of a shitshow. Things will definitely slide down the mountain. The ski jumps basically already are. One problem is that they more or less raped the hillsides where they are building things, and there are no trees or vegetation left to stabilize the slopes. When it’s snow-covered you can’t really tell how bad it is. But it has been very warm (it rained this morning) and so the snow is melting and all of a sudden, some places look pretty darn ugly.

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But anyway… we eventually got to the bottom of that gondola (let’s keep a tally, it’s out third of the day: down from the hotel, then up to the sliding center, then down this one). We hopped on gondola #4, which took us up to one side of the alpine and freestyle venues. From there we saw another gondola heading up to the “tippy top” of another mountain! Yes! It was turning into a beautiful sunny day and our heads were swimming with what the views must be like from 7000 feet. Yes! We were almost there!

…. except that we were told that we couldn’t go. Only athletes, team staff, or skiers with tickets could go up this gondola. We had missed the boat on buying tickets.

To be clear, this dog got to go up to the top of the mountain, and I did not.

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However, some team staff have a colored “sleeve” that they slide over one arm as their accreditation. It so happens that photographers have the same sleeves, just in different colors. Nat, as a photographer, had one of these sleeves. So they let him on. I handed him my camera and Alex, Rob, and I hung out on the terrace of the ski lodge. The lodge was really nice and had a huge cafeteria, where they were not serving food. We couldn’t even get a coffee. Oh well. The terrace was nice and sunny. Photo from Alex’s instagram:

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The gondola also was the one that serves the “mountain village” athletes’ village, so we got a glimpse of that. It’s definitely, definitely not as nice as the “endurance village” where I visited Susan. Still has nice views though.

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We waited as Nat went up and then down gondola #5. He was definitely grinning when he came back. Later, when I downloaded my photos, I was able to take a little tour of what he had seen from 7000 feet in Russia. You can see into Georgia, which is pretty cool.

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Anyway. Nat came back, and we realized that we were pretty far up a mountain on the wrong side of the valley and that sometime soon we would have to be over at the cross country race, which started at 2 p.m. So we had better get skedaddling. We headed back down gondola #4 and into a little plaza in Rosa Khutor. Still smarting from not being able to get a coffee at that semi-closed ski lodge – if there is one thing that reporters really need a lot of, it’s coffee – we stopped at McDonalds where capuccinos were really quite affordable. The place was hopping. Since he has a real job, Rob treated us. Thanks Rob!

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From there it was up gondola #3 and down gondola #2 (we decided that though ridiculous, this was a better option than walkig back to the train station, since part of the walk has no sidewalks and you have to be on the side of the road with buses and trucks going past…). And in our biggest gamble of the day, we decided to take the giant high-speed gondola which traverses up the other side of the valley. Seriously, this thing is huge. Each car holds about 20 people, although they weren’t filling up. And it moves FAST. Scariest to me, the cable spanned some very long distances, very high in the air. It was absolutely incredible. We don’t have numbers, but we’re guessing that the longest span must be close to a kilometer. It’s insane.

Also insane? The views.

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Yeah, gondola #6 was pretty sweet. Eventually, though, the ride came to an end. We were spit out at a seemingly random mid-station – it was totally weird that such a huge gondola went to somewhere there wasn’t much infrastructure.

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We walked outside and around the wheelhouse, and then had a choice to take a chairlift to the cross country venue, or a gondola to the biathlon venue. Since the press center is in the biathlon venue, it was a no-brainer. Gondola #7!

It was pretty crazy to go back to work after our strange morning of traveling around Sochi by air. I’m interested to know why they built so many gondolas – there are at least three or four more that we haven’t even seen, and a few others that we have ridden to other things. It could be a good way to stay a little more environmentally clean, except that we saw firsthand what they did to the hillsides in order to put these things in. Is it still better than having a road which has to be constantly maintained? I think, maybe so. Not sure. The scary thing is that like the ski jumps, these may have been built on geologically unstable soil, so I wonder how long they will last. The idea of anything happening to that giant high-speed one gives me the willies.

After the race, we took our usual gondola down to the bottom of the venue (gondola #8 on the day) and then walked back to the village, where we took gondola #1 up to the hotel. What a day.

the next and the next and another day.

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From today I have exactly 21 days left in Switzerland before I move to Munich for the fall and begin writing papers.

That’s why I have been a little bit silent: I feel that every day is something that I must seize and make the most of. I imagined that I would spend this summer exploring the country, but in fact I have rarely left this little area of Graubünden. And yet there is so much left to see! I want to climb every mountain, cross every pass, run along the best of trails. Every morning, still, I wake up and wonder, am I dreaming? Is it really possible that I actually live here?

I only have 21 more mornings where I can wake up with this wonder in my mind.

Things are even more complicated because I am getting cracking on my project. Working in ArcGIS, extracting weather station data from the SwissEx platform, learning new programmin in R – it is busy and exhausting. (Do you know anything about structural equation modeling? Please help me!) It feels nice to be using my brain again to try to solve problems – fieldwork is great fun but not always the most stimulating mentally – but when it is sunny out I chafe to be outside using this last bit of time. Luckily this weekend it rained.

Last weekend, I didn’t have all my data yet so I could get out into the mountains without feeling guilty about abandoning my models. I woke up on Sunday to a lot of rain, so I went back to bed for another hour before setting off up the Dischma valley and parking my bike at Teufi. I had a long hike planned in front of me, but I didn’t know exactly how long, yet.

A constant frustration for hikers and mountain bikers in Davos is that there are two lovely, beautiful finger-like valleys extending out of down. One is the Dischma valley, and the other is the Sertig. You can explore either of these valley, but it is difficult to connect them. If you want to hike from one to the other – for instance by linking two well-known passes, Scalettapass and Sertiglass – you either have to take the bus back, or your bike is stuck at the starting point while you are in a completely different valley, or something like that. You get the idea.

Yet as I looked at the map the day before I saw a new trail: it ran from Teufi, which is halfway up the Dischma valley, over the mountains to Sertig, the last stop on the road in the other valley before it turns into trail. Why had nobody told me about this?

So bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I set out from Teufi. Up the steep switchbacks, along a boulder-lined stream pouring down from the peaks, and past Alp Rüedischtälli, pictured at the top. ‘Alp’ is the name for a farm in Swiss-German. It had the tallest and neatest stone walls I have seen anywhere in Switzerland and was perched high above the valley. Maybe I will become a shepherd after I finish my masters, I thought.

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From there the trail continued up a huge, wide-open valley that was empty except for cows. At one point I passed the shepherd and his dog, but that was it. It felt vast and wild, which was incredible since I was so close to Davos proper. I’ve hiked on trails far further into the mountains that nonetheless felt like highways. But here I was, alone in this cavernous basin. That’s what weekends are for.

Eventually I scaled the ridge to the Tällifugga pass, where I did encounter some other hikers. The ridge extends all the way from Jakobshorn, the mountain that juts into Davos Platz and is easily accessible by gondola. The cable cars are always packed and I suspected that unlike me, many of the people I encountered had not earned their vertical meters the hard way.

First pass of the day: I celebrated and ate some wasabi peanuts.

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From there, I assumed it would be a hop, skip, and a jump down to Sertig. It wasn’t. It took nearly an hour to get down, and that is the boring part of hiking. Down down down, trying to go fast and get to the next interesting part.

But I did make a friend on the way down. I turned a corner at 2400 meters and found a herd of horses grazing in the meadows. They were shiny, well-fed, happy and healthy. Just casually munching on the side of a mountain. A few were standing directly in the trail, oblivious that this was a way for people to walk. I stopped and rubbed the face of a yearling Haflinger filly. She was so friendly that as I walked away, she followed me. So I stopped and scratched her ears some more. Usually the cows you find on these mountains are unaccustomed to people, more or less. But the ponies had obviously been ridden and loved all summer, and maybe were out to pasture now in the fall, missing their human company and attention.

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Finally, I was down at Sertig. It was 12:30 and I began to realize the size of the hike I was attempting. I had crossed between the valleys once, the short way; what was left was going around the long way, connecting the two famous passes. It wasn’t going to be short. Just to get up to Sertigpass is quite a hike. I had somehow suppressed this from my mind as I was planning. As I walked up the dirt road along the bottom of the valley, the sun was shining down hotly. I had planned to crest the pass and then eat lunch at the Lai da Ravais-ch-Suot lake on the other side. This was obviously not going to happen. I found myself sitting on a boulder and ravenously devouring my pork and root vegetable handpie.

Soon after that, the clouds that had been sitting just on the other side of the ridge began to drift closer and look a little blacker than they had before. As I hiked the last few hundred vertical meters before the pass, I felt rain drops. I was walking through a huge scree and boulder field, and the rocks would soon become wet and slippery. Three men passed me hiking fast on their way down, and they looked at me like, it’s this time of day and this weather and you are just going up the pass? What is wrong with you? I wondered what they were scurrying away from, and what I would find on the other side.

Indeed, at the pass it was a little blustery. The view of Piz Kesch was BAM! And it was, Bam, Winter. Soon it began to snow and I could see the storm swirling around over the lakes where I had planned to eat lunch. For the second time in a row, it looked like I would not be making it to the lakes. Given the weather, I thought it would be best to hurry along. I still had a lot of hiking in front of me. I was wearing just spandex capris, and although I had another jacket in my small backpack, I had no rainpants or anything warmer for my legs. When you’re moving fast, that’s okay, you stay warm. But the prospects of a few more hours in the rain-slash-snow sounded less than pleasant.

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Luckily, 20 minutes later I had dropped out of the storm and back into the sun, which illuminated the huge Val Funtauna, a valley where I had hiked before with my coworker Gunther when we accidentally took a wrong turn looking for the lakes (that was the first time I failed to reach them). I skirted along the side of a ridge, happy to be heading this time not towards Piz Kesch but towards Scalettapass and home.

But when I reached Scalettapass an hour later, it started to rain again. I looked down the trail and saw wet, slippery rock. I had planned to eat a celebratory chocolate bar in the sun here, happy to be atop my third and final pass. Instead, I retreated into the emergency hut atop the pass and ate my chocolate as the rain battered the windows. Ten minutes later it was definitely still raining, but it wasn’t so windy. I went back outside, bundled up in many layers and my raincoat, and started down the trail. I ran in the places that I could, hoping to cut down on the time I had to spend outside in the rain. But much of the trail was slippery so I had to hike.

It wasn’t the most fun way to end my epic loop, but I enjoyed the scenery of Dürrboden, the end of the road down in the Dischma valley, coming closer. Finally I was on the flat. And then I was at the restaurant.

I was presented a choice: did I want to finish the loop in style, hiking back halfway down the valley to Teufi and my bike, or would I take the bus down? I was exhausted by this point, and decided to at least check the bus schedule. But my choice was made for me: the last bus of the day had left ten minutes ago. Because of the rain and ugly weather and it being a Sunday afternoon, there were only three cars in the parking lot. The chances of hitchhiking were zero. I started walking.

There’s not much to say about the last hour of walking down along the bottom of the Dischma valley. I was tired. I tried running, so that I would get back sooner, but I would stop after a few minutes. The Dischma is remarkable in that it doesn’t seem like it should be that long, but actually it goes on and on. It is the longest of the valleys extending south from Davos, and you remember that when you are walking or biking along it.

Finally, back to Teufi. Three passes, eight hours of walking, lots of weather. The day started and ended with rain. I hopped on my bike and went home.

I was psyched to have discovered the first pass, a new connection between the valleys. Alp Rüedischtälli and the valley behind it are now my favorite place that is easily accessible and close to town. Yet as I told people about my trip, they never knew what I was talking about. (For one thing, it turns out that “Tällifurgga” just means mountain pass in Swiss German, so even though that’s the name of the pass it doesn’t sound like anything specific.) But I’ll go back again.

These are the sort of things you do when you only have 21 days left in the Alps.

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wonderment.

I already wrote about the amazing community at the Guarda workshop. But let’s be honest, the scenery was pretty great too. Here are some of my photos. Click to enlarge.

i got my handbag.

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If you check out the menu bar on the right, you’ll see a new feature: places & travel. I realized that this is basically becoming a travel blog, despite previous incarnations as a skiing blog and a cooking blog – and I became curious about how many places I have blogged from. It turns out, a lot! It was a good reminder of how incredibly lucky I have been in these last few years to be able to see so much of the world – and at the same time how much there is left to see!

For now, though, a few last thoughts on Corsica. As I said, I know I’ll be back! I’d really like to explore the mountains more, because there are a lot of them and they are big and awesome. I only got out hiking on my last morning, and headed up the closest peak to town. It doesn’t even have a name on the map, that I saw, yet it’s a hugely prominent feature rising a bit over 2,200 feet from the sea. No matter where you are in Calvi, you’ll see it. I sent one friend a photo the first night I arrived, and his question was, “are you going to hike up that big rock tomorrow?”

Not tomorrow, but before I left. I faced a conundrum the last morning, though. I had to pack up and check out of my hotel room, which meant that my backpack was full for the flight home. No problem, I thought – it’s just an 8 k round trip, 2,000 feet, how hard can it be? After all, I’ve done a lot of stuff way more extreme than this. It’s not a 20+ mile ridge run mostly above treeline, and it’s not like that time Andrew and I almost got stuck on Wheeler Peak in a lightning storm and then he got altitude sickness.

Feeling cocky, I tossed my camera and wallet into a cloth bag, slung it over my shoulder, and set out.

My foreshadowing here was not particularly subtle, and as you may have guessed, the hike was a little harder than it looked. I started out way down the flank of the ridge so that I could visit Notre Dame de la Serre, a chapel overlooking the harbor. It was beautiful! As you can see below.

The closer I got to the peak, though, the more rocky, ledgy, cliffy, and scrambly it became. Really, it wasn’t a problem… but I probably would have been better off with a pack that was securely attached to me, so I could maintain a center of balance, and also protect my camera better! Yikes! I also didn’t have any extra layers with me and as the weather turned from bright sun to sprinkling rain and back again twenty different times I would get cold, hot, cold, hot, and freak out that my camera was going to get wet. In places the rocks were slippery, and hands and sneakers skidded along, looking for traction.

Lesson learned: even old farts have to plan ahead. Stop being stupid.

It all worked out though, I didn’t get stuck in a storm and I got to enjoy the hike as well as some time at the top taking in the incredible views in all directions: out over the semi-circular bay of Calvi, looking down the peninsula I had run around on Friday, and into the mountains. There were so many of them, just sitting there teasing me.

The plus side of the handbag scheme was that I marched straight down off the mountain, into town, and bought a huge ice cream sundae overlooking the port. Great recovery. It was so much ice cream that I literally felt sick afterwards. Now that’s what vacation means.

Here are the photos from my beautiful wander! Click to enlarge into a slideshow.

A fun, blustery day on the Long Trail north.

Our team suffers from a certain lack of adventurousness in our training, I would say. We rollerski in approximately three places; every once in a while, we’ll venture out for a longer point-to-point, but this happens literally three or four times a year. If we need to do a long run/hike, we go to Stowe and Mount Mansfield. We do the same running workouts around the ski trails or around the lake every week.

So many times, one of us (or even two of us) have wanted to go somewhere new, but the rest of the team, tired from a long week of training already, has argued that it’s too much of a drive, too much of a hassle. I’ve been on both sides of this argument.

Every once in a while, though, we break out of the mold. Today Lauren and I decided that, goshdarnit, we were going to explore the Long Trail going over Jay Peak. It would have been easier to do with support, and with an extra car to make a point-to-point, but no matter; we were going to go anyway, even if it was just a self-supported out-and-back. We were aiming for 3 to 3 1/2 hours of running and hiking.

And so after a 7 a.m. breakfast at the Outdoor Center – French toast, bacon, yogurt with raspberries and dried fruit on top, cantaloupe, tea – we set out in the silver 4Runner, northbound.

When we arrived at the Long Trail crossing on Route 242, it had turned blustery. I was nervous that it was going to be a long, cold hike. But after only 5 minutes of jogging, we were plenty warm and shed our long-sleeve shirts. I was impressed with the trail – while there were certainly some steep, rocky sections, much of it was a nice, dirt path, and the grade was gradual enough that we were able to run in many places. As we rose higher on the mountain, we were able to look south over Green Mountains.

All of a sudden, the trail entered a giant rockpile with two snowmaking pipes on top. After scrambling over this odd collection of items, we were dumped out onto a ski trail, where we could look East towards Jay as well.

We were immediately pummeled by the wind, but we took a few pictures before putting our long-sleeves back on. I think my favorite part about the landscape was the combination of dying yellow grass and fading wooden snowfence. Many alpine ski trails (ahem Stowe, I’m looking at you) are covered in taller plants which need to be bushwhacked. These trails were just soft, billowy grass. With the gray clouds overhead, I felt like I was in northern Britain or something. Or something.

After appreciating the scenery, we crossed the trail and scrambled along the white-blazed rocks that would lead us to the summit.

The wind up here was even stronger. We felt a bit like we might blow away. Or at the very least, our hats might blow right off of our heads. At the summit, clouds seemed to be flying by and there was barely a view. We hurried down, past the summit lodge and back onto the alpine trails, and began to head down the north side of the mountain.

After the trail went back into the woods for a short period, it popped back onto the ski trail briefly, and this is where our adventure began to get strange. There were two trails heading into the woods. Neither showed any evidence of white blazes. We ventured down the ski trail a bit further, but became convinced that this was the wrong move. The first unblazed trail ended at a small pond 100 feet into the woods. The second, well, it was covered in orange tape and warning signs: ski area boundary.

Then the signs got bizarre.

Huh?

The next sign was special, too:

It’s not just the photo…. 95% of the writing had disappeared from the sign. But as best as we could tell, it said, “This is the place that if people get lost they spend the night outside. Is it worth it?”

I felt a little bit like we were in some horror movie: Long Trail Gone Wrong. To make matters worse, the white blazes were very few and extremely far between. We still weren’t completely sure if we were even on the Long Trail or some other weird side spur. But we continued on down the side of the mountain and eventually made it to a shelter, where we saw some other hikers. We knew we were in the right place.

On our way down, Lauren had really slipped on some wet rock and kind of tore up her leg. We both began to trip more. Oops, it turns out we were both really tired! How did that happen? Well, a long week of training, not quite enough sleep, and yesterday when we were supposed to have the afternoon off after a glycogen depletion workout, I had gone down to Stowe and hiked Mount Mansfield with the rowers. Was this the best idea for recovery? No, and my quads and calves were punishing me for it. But it had been a beautiful day and I had needed to fulfill my spiritual yearning for the mountains. Plus, getting out of Craftsbury, with people I don’t spend every minute of every day with, is always a bonus.

Anyway, we passed the shelter and kept running for a bit, then decided we should probably turn around and head back to the car. In our exhausted state, who knows how long it might take us?

Going back up the mountain, we saw an additional sign that really clarified what was going on with this section of trail:

Right! So all those people getting lost were in the winter! Which would explain why they were so concerned, because getting lost in the winter would be a huge bummer. All of a sudden, things made sense. I even hypothesized that maybe the trail wasn’t blazed because they didn’t want skiers trying to follow it.

Anyway, we eventually hiked back up the section of ski trail (my calves were seriously questioning my instructions at this point) and found a nice older couple to take our picture at the top. We got to enjoy the yellow grassiness one more time before jogging back down to the car, where we more or less collapsed. Neither of us wanted to move any part of our body in the near, or distant, future.

It was a great morning, no matter how tired we felt. I can’t wait to try running that same section from the north side, perhaps when I am less exhausted. In any case, we were thrilled to go somewhere new, somewhere that lived up to and even surpassed our high expectations.

Finally, I swear we didn’t try to coordinate our clothes…. we just accidentally turned out matching!

Best vacation ever

So I had the best vacation ever…:

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I got to see Sean's cabin. This isn't it, but it's on the ridge above his land.

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I got to go hiking in Crested Butte. Here, Sean and I posing in front of the Maroon Bells.

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I got to play an ultimate tournament with my team, newly re-named the Lawn Gnomes.

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I got to hike with some great Dartmouth friends: here, Lizzy Asher, Clara Chew, and Dom Winski.

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And I got to get on top of a whole bunch of 14,000 foot mountains! This is Holy Cross, outside of Vail.

A few things could have made it better – there were a few people I would have loved to spend more time with – but nothing can be perfect and I think this is one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was a nice reward for having made it through college.