All posts by wandererya

The Manta Dive

Oh… an unexpected blue sky and tropical sunshine… that’s a promising start.

Ishigaki is one of the most popular diving sites in Japan and famous for manta watching.  Philippe had high hopes to see a manta or two : ) but April is not the prime manta season but they are still seen once every other dive.

Our friendly and efficient B&B host recommended a good dive shop which was available for a dive with only two of us.

The first dive was offshore from the Yonehara 米原 beach. Yesterday I did snorkeling at that same beach and the water was so crystal-clear that I could see butterflyfish and other colorful tropical fish just few meters off the beach.

After managing a back-roll-entry from the boat (no problem for Philippe but a little challenging for me), there was lots of fish hovering over the tennis court sized “Ginger corals”. Our guide pointed out tiny, adorable and transparent 5 clownfish babies.

On Ishigaki there are two Manta viewing sites, “Manta City” and “Manta Scramble”.  On our second dive the boat headed for Manta City. There was a bit of queuing as not more than five boats are allowed to dive at the same time not to disturb mantas.

Under the maximum 25-meter deep water are several small and large coral hills and narrow channels in between. Manta usually appears on the top of these hills to “clean their bodies” and divers wait at the bottom. It was a complex geological underwater formation and interesting to dive around, a bit like hiking in the water.

While waiting, we dived around these hills and watched marine animals hovering and hiding in narrow channels. We also sighted a beautiful tortoise resting on the seafloor. It let us watch for a while and then swam away gracefully into to the deep blue.

Time is up and our guide signaled us to surface. No Manta today : (

Once we got on the boat and dropped our tank, our guide who was still in the water suddenly popped his head and shouted to us, “Manta is there!”

Philippe and I quickly grabbed our snorkel and jumped back into the water. And there it was… a large manta (around 3 meter) is gliding away not far from our boat. Magnificent!

Philippe was all smiles on the way back  : )

The Purity Diving Team

Mt. Maapee

Our second hike on the Ishigaki Island: Mt. Maapee.

It has a modest height of 230m with two hiking paths to the top: the longer one takes 45 minutes and the shorter one just 15 minutes! Sounds more like a stroll in the park. The local recommended the short one because the longer path is not clearly marked.

Its distinctive rocky peak is visible from far and we wondered how we can get up there in mere 15 min….

After missing the first sign, we reoriented ourselves and arrived at the real trailhead via a dense forest management road curiously observed by a wild pheasant.

From the beginning it was quite a climb in the dense forest and bamboo bushes but with the ropes we  got up easily. Soon, we found ourselves getting out of the forest and on the rocky top.

From here there is  a breathtaking 360-degree view of  Ishigaki Island! The dense green forest flows down to  the emerald blue water and the peninsula stretches out to the north.  Several hikers came and went, and we stayed on a long time,  perked on the rock gazing at the mesmerizing panorama.

At the top of Okinawa, Mt. Omoto

I know that Okinawa is a water sports activity destination, but a passionate hiker like myself can always find a place to hike up to :  )  So today we have decided to go up to the top of Okinawa, Mt. Omoto at an impressive 525m!

When we started walking, a young Japanese man came down and warned us that it was a lot steeper than expected. After a short while, we started climbing up in the dense, humid tropical forest, which reminded us of Bali as well as Yakushima. Beautiful butterflies, trees tangling with other plants, enormous ferns…

Combing through the low bushy bamboo was a bit of work and Philippe was somewhat annoyed by catching all the cobwebs above 180cm which the slightly smaller Japanese hikers before us kindly left behind.

After around one hour, we arrived at the top of Mt. Omoto, 525m. Despite this modest height it is the highest peak in the entire Okinawa!

From the top we had a sweeping view of the long stretch of the Ishigaki island and the turquoise blue bay of Kabira. Amazing!

Griesalp to Hohtürli

Via Alpina, Section 13 – Part 1

Griesalp (1408m)  – Bundalp (1840m) – Hohtürli (2774m) – Blümlisalphütte (2840m) – Oeschinensee (1593m) – Kandersteg (1176m)
16km, 1550m up  and 1750m down

Today is one of the hardest hikes on the Via Alpina route, almost 1,400m up to the highest pass of this trail (2,774m). The Via Alpina has a total of 14 passes.

Unlike yesterday, today the sun is out and the blue sky smiles at us.

After a hearty breakfast, we’re ready for the big day!
Leaving behind our beautiful, cozy hotel, we went down to the village center. Not that we wanted to go down but the route does not give us a choice. The center is nothing more than a bus stop and a couple of hotels. Like us a bit earlier, many hikers were getting ready for the next stretch.

Crossing the river, the climb started on the other side of the valley. The first stretch was through the woods. Several hikers were on the trail as well.  A bit later, we walked through pasture land and passed a couple of farmhouses to finally reach a restaurant at Bundalp (1,840m). It looked enticing, but too early to have a break, we skipped it and continued.

At this time I told Caroline that we had gone up roughly one third of today’s ascent, only another 1,000 m up to go. Not sure whether it was encouraging or discouraging…

A little bit later, the imposing Blümlisalp Massif and the Blümlisalphütte appeared on the hoirzon, today’s highest point as well as our lunch destination. The hut seemed to be sitting on the boulder, majestic, far and away.

It was very sunny and it seemed a popular route, with a lot of hikers on the trail.

The steep slope was criss-crossed with many paths.

We looked up to the hut on the boulder under the blue sky often. What a fantastic sight! The more altitude we gained, the more of yesterday’s path we could see on the opposite side of the valley, even the Sefinenfurgge pass, yesterday’s highest point .
I always love seeing the  travelled route and pass of the day before. It helps me to understand the exact geography of the area. It is like creating your own 3D map in your head.

The rugged Gespaltenhorn (3426m) and Gespaltenhornhütte at the foot were also visible.  The dutch couple we met the day before went into this direction. That route  seemed not funny….

After we managed some narrow path on the ridge, the famous steps to Hohtürli appeared. The stairs seemed to wind up endlessly.

One step after the other. Luckily no one was coming down and we did not need to cross other hikers on those narrow steps.

The last stretch on the stairs looked vertical! The sweat was streaming down on my face while I was concentrating on the steps ahead of me,  not looking at the steep slope going down several hundreds meters.

After some hundreds of steps, I reached at the top of staircase and Caroline came up just after me and smiled, when seeing the hut in front of us. Done.

Finally at the Hohtürli (= the high small door), 2774m. We made it!

Via Alpina Rotstockhütte to Griesalp

Via Alpina Section 12 – Part 2

Rotstockhütte (2019m) -> Sefinenfurgge (2612m) -> Griesalp (1408m)
10km, 600m up and 1500m down

After a night at the mountain hut, we woke up early. Every time someone went to the out-of-the house toilet at night, the wooden floor squeaked and the noise prevented us from a good night of sleep… We were nevertheless warm inside the hut and Caroline told me that the sky at night was amazingly starry!

Despite the lack of sleep, I was in the fresh morning air and happy to be in this fantastic alpine environment.

The breakfast tactics were simple. Absorb as much energy as possible in form of bread, cheese and hot chocolate to happily keep walking until our final destination Griesalp. There isn’t any restaurant on the way.

Today’s program: 4.5 hour of hiking including a serious 1,200m downhill stretch.

Leaving the hut behind, many other hikers were heading our way. A Dutch couple, three American men and two Swiss women steadily were climbing up the steep path. We could see the Schilthorn (2970m), famous for 007’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. From afar, the Schilthorn seemed to fall off from its own edge.

Looking back in the direction of our overnight hut, the northface of the Eiger with the Eigergletscher Station showed off its glory. Last year, I was standing at that station, admiring the Eiger peak.

On the way we stopped many times to rest and were delighted when Caroline spotted a steinbock high up on the slope!

The impressive peak in front of our hut, which we believed to be called “Rotstock” (in fact it was called just “Horn”) turned out to be sphinx-like from the other side.

From here, the uphill got quite strenuous. The  green meadow changed to  the slippery scree-covered steep slope.  Just up and up!

We finally reached the Sefinenfurgge Pass (2612m), which was a very narrow pass.  We were rewarded with a sweeping view of the Kiental Valley.  It was all of a sudden getting cloudy and the cold wind was blowing over the pass.  After enjoying the view for a short time and saying a goodbye to the Eiger and Jungfrau, we tightened our shoe laces to prepare for the long descent.

And not only was it a long descent but a super steep one with 45-degree steps!  It looked like going down to the hell….

Nevertheless, I was grateful to those who took pains to make these wooden steps. Without them, we would have slid down this unfriendly scree slope…

Managing downhill steps, we jig-zagged on the moon-like surface. Other peaks and glaciers started appearing on our left side. This rugged landscape was forlorn and awe-inspiring.

After a while, the terrain changed to a more greener and friendlier surface.  As Caroline is an Ikebana master and familiar with flowers, I had a pleasant little lecture on alpine flora.

Caroline was getting tired with going down 1200m, which is quite normal. So the moment we found a good-size rock to sit on,  we made a stop,  looking at the other side of the mountains and contemplating which pass we are going through the next day.

We were both happy to arrive in the early afternoon in Griesalp, a quaint hamlet, and to put our feet up at our old, beautiful hotel.  It’s such a luxury to have a good hot shower and our own room for two, instead of no shower and sleeping in a room with 15 other hikers…..

Sitting at the terrace comfortably and having tea, we watched many hikers coming down. They as well seemed exhausted after a serious day of decent…

At dinner we shared a table with a solo hiker from Fribourg, Gido. Caroline coincidentally went to high school near his school and as it is often the case, we had a very enjoyable talk with a fellow hiker.

VIA ALPINA, Grütschalp to Rotstockhütte

Via Alpina, Section 12 – Part 1

Grütschalp (1520m) -> Mürren (1638m) -> Bryndli (2133m)  to Rotstockhütte (2019m), 10 km, 600m up

Back to the Via Alpina Route!

Last October I finished roughly half of the route (the Via Alpina is a trail of a total of 370km) and have long wanted to come back and pick up from where I left.
The image of shining Eiger, Mönch and Jüngfrau have been lingering in my head since then and was excited to come back to this magnificent region.

Today I have a new hiking companion for next three days, Caroline, who is in the same calligraphy class and as well an Ikebana teacher.

Arriving from Zurich by train, we wandered around the small, but pretty village of Lauterbrunnen, teeming with Asian, American, European and Middle-Eastern tourists.  The narrow valley was sandwiched with imposing mountains and it already gave me an Alpin feeling!

We saw an impressive, tall waterfall from the train station so we decided to go and see it – the 300m-high Staubach Falls.

We hiked up to see the waterfall,  walked through the tunnel and kind of watched it from behind. But we got out of it completely wet and had a good laugh looking at each other.

Then we took a cable car from Lauterbrunnen (802m) to Grütschalp (1520m)  to gain 700m in altitude,  to start for a relatively easy hike for the first day.

The trail from Grütchalp to Mürren (4.3km) is easy-going and scenic with fantastic views of Mönch and Jungfrau mountains (unfortunately Eiger was hidden behind the clouds).  On the way we stopped for a nice lunch break at the restaurant terrace with a great view for the Bernese Oberland mountains.
The sun was shining and, surrounded by awesome mountains, I was all smiles having lunch with a good friend!

After going through busy Mürren lined with restaurants and hotels and a short walk on the asphalt road, a real hiking path started, leading into the verdant forest.
The Lauterbrunnen valley was opening up under us and after passing a charming and lonesome farm, all of a sudden it became a very steep ascent leading around the rocky mountain of Bryndli. The valley was 1000m below us, I tried hard not to look down and just concentrate on my steps…

After this challenging climb, to our relief, the trail became even and relatively easy.  As we went slow during the first half, the afternoon had almost gone while the hut still seemed rather far away!  At this altitude the air cools down quite a bit in the evening, so we rushed into the hut as we finally got there.

Caroline and I were happy to arrive at the hut at around 5:30 pm. Finally what we thought to become an easy-going walk, turned into a rather serious hike.

At dinner we shared our table with three friendly Americans from New York and Washington. One studied Zen and Japanese so we had an interesting talk over a typical Swiss dish of Alper Macaroni with apple mousse…

Via Alpina, Grindelwald to Wengen

Via Alpina Section 11

Grindelwald (1034m) – Kleine Scheidegg (2061m) – Eigergletscher (2320m) – Kleine Scheidegg – Wengen (1274m)
21.4km, with 1300m up and 1050m down

The breakfast place was full of Indian and Korean tourists. Maximum calories intake again and off I went for another sunny morning.

The sun was up above the mountains and the sky was crisp blue, but the path skirts at the bottom of Eiger and in the complete shadow of the massive Northface,

The yellow hiking path sign says 4 hours (of course, up!) to Kleine Scheidegg.  I told myself, well, it is one hour shorter than yesterday.

I met two middle-aged German hikers who were also heading for Kleine Scheidegg.  Looking at the imposing Eiger Northface and eyeing the mountain train passing by, we went steadily up to Brandegg.

After a while, the path turned to the car road and we continued on. Soon I realized that I needed to turn somewhere to get to Alpiglen and took a wrong path : ((
I debated myself if I should cross uphill to the official path or go back. My GPS map showed there was a small stream in-between (in general it means going steep down and steep up) and the forest looked dense. It was too risky.

I was upset with myself because the official path passes the “Eiger Trail” which I was interested in walking.  The two Germans behind me also missed a turn and came up just behind me. After looking at the map for a while, I decided to keep going on this rather boring car-road till it crosses the official hiking path.

In another half an hour or so I finally came out of the forest to the open field where the car road turned to dirt road and finally met the hiking path. I was face to face with the massive rocky Eiger Northface! There a large board shows several Eiger summit routes. The Northface looked vertical and it made me wonder who wants to go up there!

After around three hours from the start I was standing at Kleine Scheidegg (2061m).  The Kleine Scheidegg was in the full sunshine and buzzing with tourists who came up by the mountain train.  I thought of eating something warm at the station restaurant terrace (only one which was open), but soon I moved away escaping from the noise and the crowd.

Going up a little further, I found a quiet viewpoint. I had a stunning view of the Eiger, the Mönch and every other mountain in the area. I had my bread and snacks, fully taking in the fantastic scenery with bliss.

It was still past noon and I decided to go up to Eigergletscher (2320m), which is one hour away.  I hiked up already 1000m today and I could have said it’s enough for today, but it was too bad to leave this wonderful area so soon and go down to the valley.

Massive Eigergletscher (Eiger glacier).

Eiger summit looked close!

Near the Eigergletscher, I met a friendly woman who was about to do the Eiger Trail.  I chatted with her and thought of doing this today, but it was already at 14:30 and I needed to go down the valley.  Oh well, next time! I have another good reason to come back to this treasure hiking land.

After watching the Eiger Trail and the woman who was walking that path for a while with envy, I finally started to go down to the other side of the valley.  The view was again spectacular. I looked back many times to see Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The postcard beauty of Eiger and Mönch with the red Jungfrau mountain rail.

The truly amazing four days of Via Alpina!  It was like in a dream.

The next section goes over a 2600m pass and November is getting too late for this.  I have to do the rest of Via Alpina to the next year.

Via Alpina, Meiringen to Grindelwald

Via Alpina, Section 10
Meiringen (595m) – Grosse Scheidegg (1962m) – Grindelwald (1034m)
23km, 1530m up and 1095m down

After making sure breakfast would provide a maximum of energy for the day, I briskly went out into the fresh morning air and walked through the town of Meiringen.  It is now low season and not many tourists were on the street.  For the same reason, there was no more buses heading for Grosse Scheidegg, so I was told by the hotel personnel.   Therefore I had to abandon an idea of taking a bus and gain some altitude, and had no choice but to walk up 1500m for 5 hours using my own leg power  : (

The snow-capped pointy tip of Wetterhorn was visible above the town and I was already  all smiles!

Crossing the town and leaving a village, a hiking path next to the farmhouse started uphill. It was gradual uphill and crossed the car road many times. It was early in the morning so there was almost no traffic.

Walking on the precipice,  I arrived at Reichenbachfall, a small gorge. When I tried to look at the waterfall (no gushing water, though), I noticed a memorial for Sherlock Holmes. Apparently here he was “killed” by his enemy in the story of Arthur Conan Doyle. For a moment I  was full of reminiscences for my teen-age time as a avid Sherlock Holmes reader.

Looking back from there, I had a good view of Meiringen and yesterday’s walk from Planplatten, which was shining in the sun.

In two hours or so the pink-walled traditional-looking, beautiful Rosenlaui Hotel appeared alongside the road. Around there the road was frosted and I had to be careful not to slide and fall on my face (or back).  By this time, more cars with bikes on top started coming up the road and they were also slowing down on the slippery road.

It had an early winter feel.  Walking through  a rather dark forest, all of a sudden the tip of the snow-covered Wellhorn and Wetterhorn appeared.  It is always a mesmerising moment to see shooting mountain peaks.

Soon the mountain’s gigantic rocky face became closer and closer and the path came out to a rather large pasture. The cold wind was blowing and I hurried to put on my gloves and warm hat, which I had never used till this moment.

A view of Wellhorn (3191m) from Gschwantenmad (1304m).

I walked along the river and crossed the stream back and forth. I could see the light blue sky up in the cold air,  but this side of the mountain was completely in the shadow and it was too cold to stop for a break.

After Schwarwaldalp (1458m), the path was going on the side of spectacular rocky Wellhorn .

After 4 hours of serious uphill, finally I got out into the sun! Everything was in the sun and it was warm. I felt as if I am in a complete different world!
I estimated another hour to reach Grosse Scheidegg and sat down on the bench for a well-deserved lunch, enjoying the sunshine. Several bikers were passing by.

Feeling better,  I made the last uphill effort (later a downhill of 1000m was waiting today but I decided not to think too much) to Grosse Scheidegg.

A view of Wetterhorn from Grosse Scheidegg (1962m)

Standing at Grosse Scheidegg, I could see the other side of the pass, the town of Grindelwald and Eiger’s soaring northface.

I enjoyed the fruit of my 4-hour, 1500m ascent and basked in the sun for one hour,  with amazing 360-degree view: Schwarzhorn, Wetterhorn, Eiger, Kleine Scheidegg…
A young, friendly Swiss couple was also sitting near me and kindly offered a Swiss chocolate to a foreign-looking tourist hiker (i.e. me) and we chatted for a while about the mountains and the (wonderful) life in Switzerland.

The descent was supposed to be easier, but, as usual, it seemed never-ending!  However, the sun was shining and the view of Eiger and Schreckhorn (4078m) was absolutely gorgeous!

A view of Schreckhorn…

Going down to Grindelwald (1034m).

After 1500m up and 1000m down hike, my feet were tired but I was simply delighted, embraced by the view of breath-taking Bernese Oberland mountains.

Via Alpina, Engstlenalp to Meiringen

Via Alpina section 9
Engstlenalp (1834m) – Tannalp (1974m) – Tannsee – Planplatten (2255m) – Reuti (1061m) – Meiringen (595m)
21km, 890m up and 2120m down!

A beautiful morning in the mountain. How wonderful it is to wake up to the snow-covered mountain peak view from the window! The Wetterhorn was already shining in the sun.

Good morning, Wetterhorn!  Good morning, Titlis!

A quiet walk from the mountain hotel. No one was on the path and I am smiling to myself to be able to walk with a magnificent view. Soon it lead to a narrow, uphill path to Tannalp, with a Wetterhorn view ahead!

After going around the mountain, I arrived at a quiet, charming village of Tannalp, with a white church. It seems to be off-season and the mountain hotel/restaurant was closed.

Soon to Tannsee, a mirror-like lake. It was a wonderful, lonesome early morning.

From the Tannsee, the path branched out, one to another lake Melchsee and the other uphill. My path was, of course, the uphill one and I started climbing up.  Higher up, I could look down the Tannsee as well as the shining snow-covered Mt. Titlis and the path I walked yesterday.

The ridge walk started, with the valley 1000m down. Lots of up and downs.


After a series of several small peaks, I came to the highest point, I thought… From there, however, I saw today’s real highest point, Planplatten (2255m), further and higher : (

The path looked dangerously traversing on the flank of the mountain. I told myself, oh well, if it is too scary, I can stop and come back. Fuelled by lunch and snacks, I took a deep breath and started climbing. Still I was completely alone on this path.

Successfully managing my fear and the path, one hour later I arrived at Planplatten, a large ski station.  The gigantic ski lift installation appeared all of a sudden, strangely out of place and in sharp contrast to my lonesome, middle-of-nowhere path from Tannsee.

Some workers were working on the ski-lift for its winter season preparation. I stood at the summit and watched all the directions. This place calls itself “Alpen Tower” and apparently one can see over 40 peaks. I was busy looking at the Bernese Oberland mountains, Brienzersee and its area where I walked as part of my Jakobsweg route…. Truly amazing views!

It was a long way down, but I enjoyed fantastic views of the mountains and lake,  beautiful farmhouses along the path and the forest of Muggenstutz dwarf (a Swiss folklore).

After 2100m downhill (!) I was happy to put my feet up in a hotel of the charming town of Meiringen.