It’s raining. More than it’s rained thus far but also, most importantly and worryingly, we are at the foot of the second biggest mountain of our trip – the Dufourspitze. At 4,634m, our next objective is the second highest peak in the Alps and a serious undertaking.
But anyway, what about the last 6 days, hey? I am being rather honest here, it has been tough. Sophie and I have had some ups and downs but it really feels like we’re making progress.
The Gradonna Mountain Resort, a wonderful rest day
After descending from Grossglockner and feasting on schnitzel, we hit the sack only to awake to a very grey and wet morning. Sophie had been awake for an hour and had decided that she wasn’t going to spend her rest day stuck in a tent. Just above us sat the amazing looking Gradonna hotel and, after a little research, Sophie decided that was where we were going and there were to be no arguments. I didn’t even try and think of one.
While we were checking in, the very friendly staff explained that all the food was inclusive except lunch and, as we were off early the next morning, we could have breakfast now. Our eyes lit up, we had already eaten cereal at the campsite but everyone deserves a second breakfast.
We dumped our bags in our beautiful room and got to work. They had everything on offer and we did our best to make the most of the feast; Sophie managed 5 courses before she was finally defeated, including an omelette, pancakes, pastries, fresh fruit, and more.
Today was going to be a well earned day of eating.
This was our first rest day. A day with no aims other than to refuel, rest up, and chill out. We lucked out with the Gradonna as its spa, unlimited food, and novel roof over our heads gave us just what we needed. We ate, we rested, we swam, and we ate some more. It was bliss. We also got to catch up on some emails, a blog post of two, and talk about the adventure so far.
A quarter of the way through and onto Germany
As we headed off from the wonderful hospitality in Kals, we made our way to Innsbruck as a stop off before Garmisch and Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze. Something was off with both Sophie and I, however. Maybe it was the rest day, maybe it was just all catching up with us, but we started to bicker.
A stop off in Innsbruck in a grimey road-side campsite led onto the very picturesque town of Garmisch. Beautiful weather made the camping easier and before we knew it we were waking up at 4am to start up the Höllental Gorge to climb Zugspitze, peak number 3.
This was set to be a pretty straightforward but wonderful day. The climbing is never difficult but the route long and varied. As we set off by headlight, we made our way through the amazing Black Forest and, as the sun rose, into the Gorge itself.
Neither Sophie nor I were ready for what we experienced, it was stunning walking up a gorge with water flowing all around us, walking through tunnels, across bridges, and around cliff faces, enclosed in this awe-inspiring environment.
We came out of the top onto alpine meadows and sunshine, drying us off after the soaking below. I was keen to move quickly and to keep going as I am used to wanting to get up and off routes in good time for safety reasons. Sophie was keen to take our time and get lots of photos. Sadly my grumpiness got the better of me and we spent a good hour not talking to each other.
I have been struggling with it all, the whole Alpine Coast to Coast, as Sophie and I find ourselves quite out of sync at times. When she comes off the bike she is understandably shattered, needs to eat, and get her legs up. I’ve been driving most of the day but am fresh and want to hang out, get things organised for the next day, and generally prepare. This means we can clash and arguments rear up.
We are both working hard to not take it out on each other but it seems it can’t be helped. An hour of walking in silence was enough though and, by the time we hit the moraine below the glacier, we were chatting away.
The route was pretty spectacular.
We headed up over the moraine, up onto a small glacier and then onto a via feratta to the summit. With over 300m of vertical ascent to go, this section was pretty long but we moved quickly and efficiently, topping out 5 and a half hours after we left the car.
The summit of the Zugspitze is a bit of a shock. With 3 separate lifts all leading up there, it is massively crowded and feels quite disappointing after such a remote and great climb. The saving grace of this tourist trap summit is the beer. We were rewarded by a very delicious beer after the climb that, amazingly, was cheaper than a pint in the valley in Chamonix. Not all bad.
We descended in one of the lifts that dropped us off at the awesome Eibsee lake and cast off our sweaty clothes for a swim in the cool waters. What a way to finish the climb.
Onto Lichtenstein and the Grauspitz
Getting down from Zugspitze the easy way meant Sophie could give the next leg of the ride her all. At over 210km in one day, it was going to be a tough one but Sophie felt it was within her reach. We set off early and made our way back through Austria, onto Liechtenstein then through to Switzerland. Though Grauspitz is the highest point in Liechtenstein, we were planning on climbing from Malans, in Switzerland.
The peak is small, in comparison to the others on our trip, and there is is very little information about it. For some reason, no one really climbs it, favouring the easy hikes on the neighbouring peaks. I had it in my head that we would be up and down in 4 or 5 hours and the final ridge, at just a scramble, wouldn’t present too much difficulty.
I was wrong. Grauspitz packed a punch.
After 3 hours of ups and downs on well defined hiking trails, we made it to the end of the line and the start of the route finding. Maybe today would be a little longer. Taking a steep grassy ridge we started to gain some height and, upon getting upon top we were in for a surprise.
Finally we could see the Grauspitz, still a long way away with us needing to climb the Hinter Grauspitz first to get out onto the final summit ridge. Add to that an unbelievably strong cross wind and we were in for an experience.
The ground was not difficult but the exposure was pretty full-on and so Sophie and I stuck close together, making steady progress. Getting near the first summit, I decided that we would do better to contour underneath and not worry about needless climbing.
As we made our way onto the ridge we came across another party. This was a bit of a surprise as, normally, there is no one out here climbing on this mountain. Our surprise at seeing this party was matched by theirs; they were utterly perplexed why anyone would travel to come and climb this mountain. I was beginning to understand.
We carried on and, as we made it onto the summit we saw yet another party. What was going on?! A little chat with this second party and we were excited to hear that the father and daughter were on a mission to climb to the highest point in every European country. The daughter, Michelle, at just 14, had already climbed all the other big climbs in Europe over the last 2 years and they were just ticking off the lower level summits. What an amazing adventure to share with your dad, or for him to share with you!
The gale force winds meant we didn’t hang around and made a quick exit back down the ridge. The obvious scree slopes that descended straight down from the summit enticed me and, without pausing to think, I set off on a much more direct descent back to Malans.
This was a mistake. One I’ve made before. One I hope I don’t make again
There are often shortcuts in the hills but they often cause more trouble than they are worth. This was no different. We lost altitude quickly and it all looked very promising however, a few hundred metres before we reach the valley floor and the ground steepened. Turns out this was not much of short cut. Rather than a long winding path down we then had to start negotiating steep, very loose terrain that was entirely unnecessary. Thankfully we kept our heads together and, with a little teamwork, made it down in one piece.
I really must learn to follow the correct descent paths and not try and carve my own trail..
Onto Zermatt via Andermatt
The climb took us 8 and a half hours in the end and we were pretty shattered by the end. As we cooked dinner in the drizzling rain we decided that we had earned another day in a hotel and the next night, in Andermatt, we would treat ourselves. We were bickering again and we just needed a break from the admin of camping after two weeks straight.
At only 115km, this would be a short day and so we set off after a bit of a lie in. I raced ahead in the car and, upon arriving in Andermatt, was grateful to not be setting up a campsite – the whole town was in a thick cloud just raining persistently. We had a warm bed though!
Once Sophie arrived, she showered and changed and we got ready to go and find dinner. We were still bickering, though, and both of us wanted to sort it out properly rather than just ignoring any larger issues. Though hungry, we sat down for a proper chat about what was going on.
It is difficult, what she is not just trying to achieve but smashing on the Alpine Coast to Coast. I am also finding it difficult spending so much time in the car, setting up and taking down campsites, and then making sure we are safe on all the climbs. It has been taking its toll on both of us and we were just bottling it all up.
There were no problems per se we just needed to be more understanding with each other and feel the other person understands. We vented at, and to, each other, getting of our chest all that had been building up. Though difficult it felt like we made a real breakthrough, clearing the air and making us both feel that we know what is going on with the other person better.
Heading out to dinner we had a renewed spring in our steps, well, hobble for Sophie, and had some delicious Swiss food.
The next day we set off for Zermatt and, arriving at the foot of the Matterhorn and Dufourspitz, it has been a little disappointing. The weather is terrible and, after a spell of stable, dry conditions, we are now stuck indoors. Having learnt from experience, we have forgone the camping in exchange for a warm and dry bed while we wait out this weather, hoping that we can get up high tomorrow. If not, it looks like we could be stuck here for a little while..
Halfway and a turning point
We still have the biggest, most committing climbs of the adventure yet ahead of us but things are looking up. It feels we have broken the back of it. We have some stunning alpine climbs coming up and Sophie and I are really excited to be coming back through Chamonix in a few days time to see friends, stay out our own home, and to climb in our own backyard.
The last week has been pretty tough but, as they say, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I most definitely feel stronger and that Sophie and my relationship is stronger for this.
As we sit in the hotel room, looking longingly at the bad weather, I feel rather sunny inside. It’s all going to be ok.