Tag Archives: Hiking

The Kyoto Trail Hike: Day 1

A two-day hike on the Kyoto Trail (the Kitayama East section) with my mountain buddy Sano-san.

Since I have heard of this trail in Fushimi Inari a couple of years ago, the Kyoto Trail was on my hiking to do list.

I love Kyoto and I have visited it more than 20 times, but walking on the trail will be a different approach to understand this culturally and historically rich region.

The first day: the Kyoto Hitayama-East Trail from Hiei-zan (Hiei Mountain), 690m to Ohara, 215m, Around 10 km

After a one-hour bus and mountain rail ride from the Kyoto central train station, we arrived at the Hiei-zan Ropeway in the north-east of Kyoto. We were the only two passengers on the Hiei Mountain Rail. I felt very far away from the bustling Kyoto, deep in the mountains.

The sky was grey, but I was happy to stand on the trailhead with a good friend of mine. After enjoying a sweeping view of the Kyoto city from the Ropeway station, we started on the mountain path and followed well-marked Kyoto Trail signposts. No other hikers were in sight, probably due to the not-so-great weather.

 

Several temples were scattered along the path and we made a short visit to two peaceful temples.

 

The most part of the trail was well-maintained but we could see significant damage on the trail, caused by last year’s typhoon.  The steep uphill path to Mt.  Yokotaka (767m) was particularly damaged and zigzagging through the fallen trees and the landslide was not an easy task.  We then missed the turn to Mt. Mizui (794m) and instead ended up walking on a completely muddy forest path 😦

 

Finally getting out of the sludge with our heavily soiled shoes, we came to the fork and there left the Kyoto Trail for today’s destination, Ohara.

The path (Tokai Nature Path) to Ohara was also destroyed by the typhoon. So we had to dodge fallen trees and were relieved to finally get out of this forest to the village of Ohara.

 

Ohara is a quiet rural village with several well-known temples, such as Jakko-in and Sanzen-in. These temples are nestled in the mountains and have an isolated and spiritual feeling, very different from the ones in the Kyoto city.  This is my favorite area in Kyoto.

Checking in a friendly Minshuku (Japanese B&B) and putting our backpack down, we made a visit to Jakko-in.  As it was Tooji (the special winter day), we were treated with a bowl of cooked pumpkin in a beautiful room!

After this nice surprise, we walked around the wonderful garden and the temple compound and listened to a part of the epic tale of Heike which belongs to this temple.

We both enjoyed our first-day walk combined with history!

 

More on the Kyoto Trail:
https://www.kyoto-trail.net/trail_course_e.html

Edelweissweg & Wisshornweg (Trift)

Zermatt (1620m) – Alterhaupt Edelweiss (1961m) –  Trift (2337m) – Schweifinen (2503m) – Zermatt
900m ascent / 900m descent
13 km / 6 hrs

After going through beautiful houses with balcony full of cheerful flowers in the east side of Zermatt, we found a path, leading steep uphill to the restaurant Alterhaupt Edelweiss. It perches on the rock above Zermatt, its white building visible from anywhere.

After a refreshing home-made ice tea, the path follows the narrow gorge and its serene stream. Here, there is no gondola nor mountain trains, nothing but quiet nature. That is not so easy to find in an area as developed as Zermatt.

The higher we go, the valley opens up and we see several impressive peaks and glaciers.

After some serious uphill, we arrived at the pink Trift Mountain Hut. I realised that I had been here more than 10 years ago.

We hang out in the wide basin near the hut for a long time, basking ourselves in the warm sun, having our delicious self-made sandwiches (away from the crowded mountain hut restaurant), taking many photos, listening to the hut owner playing the alphorn.

We changed our original plan which was to head back down the same way we came up and continued up a bit to walk a loop.

Above at Schweifinen (2503m), we have a phenomenal view of the entire east valley: Matterhorn, Klein Matterhorn, Riffelberg, all the way down to Winkelmatten where we stay. I was very happy that Philippe suggested this little scenic detour.

From there the path was steeeep downhill!  With Zermatt visible 900m below, we started that long zig-zagging down the mountain. While descending the narrow path I slipped on a tree root and got a mountain gift in form of a blue ankle for weeks…

We were relieved to be back in town to put our feet up…

Hörnlihütte (3260m)

Convinced that Matterhorn is the most beautiful mountain in the world, Yasuko’s birthday wish was to spend a few days in Zermatt. Our friend Patrick was so kind to let us stay at his studio with a fantastic view of that magnificent mountain. We could have sat in the studio just watching that magnificent mountain from the window, but not with Yasuko, of course.

For non-climbers, the closest you can get to the Matterhorn, is the Hörnlihütte, the base camp for the Matterhorn peak ascent. That’s not something one needs to tell my darling twice. So the  birthday wish became a hike, as the weather forecast promised a sunny day. We packed the sandwiches and off we went…

The Hörnlihütte has been renovated a few years ago, is very modern and serves nice and simple Swiss food (Rösti and similar stuff, that is). Every hiker takes that same picture on the terrace with the Matterhorn in the background. Except us, we took many 😁.

We were a bit worried about the descent, as there are some really steep and scary parts, with a ladder, ropes and almost vertical drops of a few hundred meters right next to the secured path. But it all turned out to be quite manageable. We just avoided looking down for too long.

On the way down, Yasuko expressed a wish for her next birthday. The guess is yours…

Findeln Glacier hike & Chez Vrony

Blauherd – Stellisee – Fluhalp – Findeln – Winkelmatt

It started in the complete fog, when we got out of the gondola at Blauherd this morning….

but soon it cleared out and picturesque lake Stellisee reflected the Matterhorn in its water!

Our plan was to do the 5-lake hike but we saw the tempting glacier beyond the lake so we walked up to the moraine which is simply…

… spectacular. Rocks, stones, gravel and sand pushed by icy snow creates moraines of massive dimensions. Nature at work.

A nice stop at the beautiful and well-known restaurant Chez Vrony.

Matterhorn Glacier Trail

Trockener Steg – Hirli – Schwarzsee
7km, not much up and down

This trail is a fantastic walk so very close to the towering peak of Matterhorn. The weather was changing rapidly from grey to shiny blue and then foggy. That change made this magnificent mountain change its face as well.

First, at Trockener Steg, the trailhead, we visited the exhibition about the new Kleine Matterhorn gondola station project. It is an engineering wonder built between 3000m and almost 4000m of altitude where even spaghetti take 45 minutes to be cooked. There was a little demo gondola cord to hang on and pretend. My (Yasuko’s) trial was so miserable, that I prefer to keep its photo to myself : ) But it made us laugh for a long while…

When we started walking, the sky was grey – Zermatt covered by a layer of fog. Pretty to look at it if you stand above the fog…

The atmosphere was winter-like with a calming stillness.

We could clearly see the Hörnlihütte and the path leading to it. Weather permitting, the hike to the Hörnlihütte is going to be my birthday hike.

 

Vilan (2376m) – a hidden jewel in the Prättigau Valley

Älplibahn Bergstation (1801 m) – Vilan (2376 m) – Älplibahn Bergstation (1801 m), 12km

A fantastic summer day with blue sky – a perfect day to go up the Vilan, one of the most impressive mountain viewpoints  in the Prättigau.

A very cute funicular Älplibahn with a capacity of only 8 passengers, operated by local volunteers, took us to the station at 1800m from Malans.

After some steep uphill hike on the ridge (I tried not to look down!), we arrived at the summit and was rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree panoramas!  The entire Prättigau valley in front, the majestic rocky mountain range of Schesaplana, Drusenfluh and Sulzfluh at left, and the wide valley of Chur and beyond. Behind us, the Rhein Valley with the backdrop of the Churfirsten. Simply magnificent!

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View over the Prättigau Valley

With an amazing view, a quaint and historical funicular, friendly staff and nice home-made cakes at the funicular station restaurant, it was a satisfying outing!

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Top of Vilan
Rheintal

The Haute Route – Day 5, August 26

La Châble (821m) – Les Ruinettes (2195m) – Cabane du Mont Fort (2457m) – Col des Vaux (2705m)

Another sunny day!

La Châble is situated just at the bottom of Verbier. In other words, from where we were the mountain stands almost vertical (or it looked like that). 1600m uphill it will be : (

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Walking to the Cabane du Mont Fort

Fortunately there is a way around this: take a cableway to Les Ruinettes (2195m). Sano proposed this to gain altitude and hike from there, and I did not need much convincing…

So early in the morning we were already up above 2000m without any sweat.  From the cableway end station we started walking to the Cabane du Mont Fort. Verbier is a famous ski resort (apparently popular with British tourists) so many ski lifts are here and there. This in general disturbs the scenery, nevertheless the view from there is outstanding. 

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At the terrace of the Cabane du Mont Fort

Arriving at the Cabane du Mont Fort (2457m) around 10 am, of course, we saw Haute Route hikers nowhere yet. On the sunny terrace of the hut, four local elderly Swiss men were enjoying the scenery over coffee. A great place to get together with friends!  Some of them seem to be around my father’s age – I always admire these fit Swiss people.

The view from the Cabane – priceless! A panoramic view from the snow-covered expansive Combin Massif to the Mont Blanc range with the Trient Glacier, and even the Dents du Midi. All these mountains at one go!

After checking into a small cute attic room with only two beds (no need to suffer from other snoring mates!), we went to explore the area and walked up to Col des Vaux (2705m). The terrain is barren like Mars, but with an amazing view. We stopped at the ridge overlooking the Lac des Vaux (Lake Vaux) for our lunch break. A solo German hiker came by and we started chatting about the German politics. A hot topic: Germany/EU saving Greece…

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A view of the Combin Massif

On the way back in the middle of beautiful moor-like meadows we found a great spot, a large rock in the sun. We sat on it, basking in the warmth of the sun and talking. It was still early in the afternoon and we did not need to go back to the hut yet. Nothing to hurry to. Just enjoy the moment, the scenery and the company. Great life!

By the time we were back at the hut the terrace was brimming with many Haute Route hikers. Jean and Robert, a couple from Scotland, whom we met earlier on the trail, joined us at the table. They walked 1600m all the way up here! They are older than we are, but they said,”we made many stops for drinks and no problem it was.”…. Ummm

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With Daniel of Cabane du Mont Fort; shy but a very competent guardien

I have not been to a mountain hut for a long time (Philippe finds it a horror to stay there) and did not expect much about food at the hut. However, the dinner at the Cabane du Mont Fort was fantastic: salad, pasta with accompanying vegetable and dessert. Plenty of food for hungry hikers and very delicious. It seems that only two men were cooking and serving over 40 people flawlessly!  

The Haute Route – Day 2

Argentine, France (1251m) – Col de Balme (2204m) – Trient, Switzerland (1279m)

The clouds were hanging low in the morning. After having a wonderful breakfast at our pleasant Le Dahu Hotel, we decided to go for the lazy option and take a bus from Argentière to Le Tour and from Le Tour a tele-cabin to Col de Balme. In this way, we will save an almost 1000m uphill climb :- )

A bus driver kindly gave us a free ride to Le Tour and from there we hopped on the tele-cabin. It was not exactly cheap (€22 per person) but it was worth it. We could see other hikers walking up and felt a bit sheepish. Yesterday we lost a bit of confidence in climbing up 1000m with our heavy backpacks : (  In any case, we had to go down another 1000m to the other side of the valley to Switzerland. 

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Col de Balme

Once we went up to the Col de Balme (2204m), the sun showed its friendly face for a moment reflecting on the Mont Blanc mountain range. It was magical. Despite the cold we hanged out there for a while, admiring the mountains, taking photos and talking about potential future hiking routes in the Chamonix area. An endless topic. 

Finally, we started heading for the Col de Balme passing the mountain hut.  From there our path was going straight down. Sano suggested that we go left around Tête de Balme instead and I jumped at his idea right away. 

IMG_1238The weather did not look favorable and it would take more time, but seemed more interesting than to just walk down to Trient. Soon it started raining, our complete rain gear got its first show. In the heavy mist we could still see the Lac d’Emosson and the valley dropping into the abyss (kind of), which we saw from the train yesterday. It was scenic with a mysterious-feel to it. On the way we only met a couple of people, French hikers and two more.  After a while the rain stopped and we started serious downhill.

IMG_1244Once we went down to Trient, we headed for our hotel, La Grande Ourse. While we were drying our rain gear outside, two Japanese hikers and their two guides came out after lunch and we started chatting. These older Japanese women were also doing the Haute Route, but in a short and luxurious version, escorted by the guides and a car for hard parts. They were skipping 3 stages and going directly to Lac des Dix afterwards. The Japanese guide who is based in Chamonix told us that we had better not take the Fenetre d’Arpette tomorrow, if there is a thunderstorm warning. He told us that one Japanese hiker was seriously injured recently and helicoptered out from the Arpette path. Now he had me worried.  

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A small village with a pink church

Sano and I intensively debated tomorrow’s hiking route over late lunch on the terrace. In the meantime, more and more hikers in wet rain gear were arriving a the hotel, with a couple of big groups which seem to be doing the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). The first two or three days of our route are overlapping with the TMB  so there were a lot of people in this small village of Trient where only two hotel/dormitories exist!  By the dinner time, the hotel was completely packed with hikers. 

After dinner I walked around this small village. Trient is a quiet and sleepy village but somehow charming.

Setting our alarm clock at 6 am to catch 6:50am bus next morning, we went to bed a bit concerned about tomorrow’s weather…

Wild Pacific Trail – Survival on the Edge

This morning we joined a guided walk on the Wild Pacific Trail,  “Survival on the Edge”,  organized by the Central West Coast Forest Society.

A young, friendly Canadian, Taylor,  who is studying resource management gave us a very instructive 1-hour tour of the coastal old growth rainforest of Ucluelet, the Lighthouse Loop.
The old growth forest in this area is magnificent due to the yearly rainfall of 3.5m. Gigantic trees spread angular branches (sometimes with 90 degree angles!)  to get the maximum sun. Their twisted branches are like arms and they call them “witch’s bloom” (many branches are spread out like bloom). It looks as if the branches were shouting out for sun!

These trees live under harsh environment. Their branches are blown by fierce wind. This area is famous for wild storms and the coast in the area was called “the Graveyard of the Pacific”. There are apparently 500+ shipwrecks under the waters. The trees on the coast are surviving these fierce wind and storm, “surviving on the edge”.

The fallen trees, are also vital to this forest. They become “nurse logs” to help insects and other plants to grow on them. With years they decay, rot and become soil. When the trees fall, it creates more space and bring sun to the forest floor to help new plants and tress to grow. We can understand the amazing ecosystem of the nature here.

Ucluelet promotes “storm watching” for their storm season and I was wondering who would want to see it. When I mentioned it to Philippe, he said he would love it!

Later we went to walk the Ancient Cedars Trail, another part of the Wild Pacific Trail. The trail was graveled and not “wild” at all, but it was a wonderful walk in the pristine forest with gigantic red cedar trees.

Juan de Fuca Marine Trail – Botanical Beach

When we arrived at the trailhead of Botanical Beach, the area was completely fogged in. We hesitated a bit but we went ahead to walk the last part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. 

It was one of the most dense coastal rainforests with 40-50m high cedar trees.  We felt like we were in the deep amazon jungle!
It seems that this part of the coast gets fogged in often and therefore the forest is verdant with moss. This trail had several beach access points and the beaches with full of driftwoods in the mist were mystical and beautiful.  

For this short 3km trail we spent almost 2 hours admiring majestic forest and rugged rocky beaches.

After the walk we had our lunch at a picnic table over the fogged bay view….