Notes from our trip through the Alps, Summer 2004

From late July through mid-August, Alex and I were in Europe on a long-delayed trip through the Alps, with a few extra days at the end in Vienna. We have way too many pictures -- about 250. If you have a fast connection or a lot of spare time, you can see a good many of them in Alex's PowerPoint slide show. (12 Mb)

I have posted some of those pictures here (higher resolution versions are available for those truly interested). Also, there are links to other websites with information about the places we travelled and, especially, the places we stopped. If you leave to visit those external links, please don't forget to come back!

The hiking part of this trip is a tour called The Great Alpine Traverse, offered by Wilderness Travel. That link provides an overview including a little map.

Mt Blanc

We spent three nights in Chamonix. On our first full day we went to the wonderful Alpine Museum, which has relics from early ascents and tributes to fallen guides.

For a better look at the big mountain, we hiked up to the Chalet du Lac Blanc, among the Aiguilles Rouges, with our new companions. On our way we encountered a rare family of ibex.

Mountain ibex.  Click for larger picture.

The trip across the mountain the next day was pretty impressive, even though the "up" part was done by cable car -- to the Aiguille du Midi, then across the Glacier du Geant to Heilbronner Point and down to Mt. Frety, followed by a pleasant ramble down towards Courmayeur. The Giant's thumb is the peak on the far right in the picture below, for other "armchair" climbers, with Les Grandes Jorasses on the high ridge behind. From there the skyline stretches north toward the Aiguille Vert and Les Drus.

From the gondola.

Around the Matterhorn

We spent one night in Aosta, then a day hiking along the supposedly level Grand Balconeta del Cervinia. Alex is pictured there with the Matterhorn (possibly not obvious from this, the Italian side). Then a night in Cervinia, a cable car up to Theodul Pass, lunch at the hut at Gandegg, and down to Zermatt for the night.

This was our first real time in Switzerland, and with it a new currency and less chance that someone might expect me to converse in a non-Germanic language. Zermatt is a wonderful, ancient village with some very modern ideas -- there are no internal-combustion vehicles, except maybe for the garbage trucks. A couple times each day, school children drive a little herd of tiny two-toned goats from one end of town to the other -- a distance easily covered in a quarter hour, as we did the next day on our way to the train station and the Glacier Express to St. Moritz.

The Matterhorn from the Grand Balconeta.  Click for larger picture.

The Engadine

We didn't stay in St Moritz -- nearby Pontresina is toney enough, and slightly less exorbitant. Even so, I have heard our hotel, the Walther, referred to as "reassuringly expensive." It's worth every schilling. The Walthers themselves are engaging hosts, and the chef, though we never met personally, is an idol of mine. Here's a link to the Hotel Walther website. There are links to webcams from nearby ski areas and other points.

We were lucky enough to be in Pontresina for Bundesfeier, the Swiss national holiday, and to watch the fireworks and to be invited to a picnic organized by the hotel (entailing a walk up to Lac Languard but saving us the hike that the others took up the Morteratsch Glacier).

We were able, again through the miracle of the cable car, to join the group for the evening at the Diavolezza Hut, a sophisticated oasis amid spectacular scenery in the Bernina Alps. There's a wonderful gallery of pictures and links about this area on a page by Paul Lechner, and here is a panorama from the summit of Mt Pers that I took at sunrise, including a somewhat clever way to identify some of the local features. Considering how much time I squandered on it, you really should give it a look:

The view from Mt Pers.

Back to the lowlands, and a bit further down the Engadine, we spent a couple of nights in the village of Guarda, at the Hotel Meisser (their website).

Approaching Tarasp castle

One of the attractions in the neighborhood is the old castle at Tarasp (begun in the 11th Century, renovated in the early 20th by an industrialist). We were lucky on our tour to get to hear the famous pipe organ (3,000 pipes, 42 registers, if I got that right).

The picture on the right is from near the top of the castle. We had eaten a picnic lunch at the end of our daily hike, just beneath the tree in the middle of the photo.

From the castle.

In and About the Tirol

Another day, another hut -- this time the famous Jamtal hut, just across the border in Austria. Here's a picture I took the next morning on the trail down to Galtur -- the hut is below the snow in the middle of the picture:

Down the trail

From there we drove across Tirol to Lofer, just on the edge of the province of Salzburg

The view from our room.

There are wonderful publicity photos of this splendid little town and the surrounding area at, plus a number of live webcams, including one outside our hotel, Das Bräu.

Lofer's main street

The next hut, the Kärlinger, just across the border in Germany, is accessible only by foot, so we hoofed it up through the Steinernesmeer to the Ingolstäter Hut for lunch, Amid the sea of stone Forget Me Nots

through meadows of tiny wildflowers (I think there are six kinds in this picture)

then down a steep trail on the other side

Into Germany

There's been a hut at Funtensee, a little hanging lake at the very tip of Bavaria, since 1879 -- and in fact you can see a photo of the 1890 version at the Jubilee page that's a jump from the Hut's main website.

The current facility and name date from 1910, with a major addition in 1938. This is the only hut we visited on a weekend, and the place was packed with happy families, many with young children. This was also the weekend that there was no hot water. With the idea of travelling light, we had packed with the intention of not showering, so in a way it worked out just fine.

The hut was at one time supplied with the help of mules, but now food is brought in by helicopters. Doing without the luxuries of, say, Diavolezza, made this a somewhat more authentic "refuge" experience.

The Kärlinger Hut

Kärlinger Haus

The next day, our trail ended far below on the shores of the beautiful Königsee, and in fact our hiking ended there too. A biergarten lunch, a boat trip across the lake to Bergtesgaden, and then a ride to Salzburg. The trip to this point, you may have noticed, is designed to avoid crossing borders by automobile; but now we're back to the world of freeways.

The Kärlinger Hut


We spent one fairly lavish night in Salzburg, with an elaborate farewell dinner accompanied by live performances of music by favorite son W.A. Mozart.

I always enjoy finding pictures of municipal buildings to send back to my old co-workers at the City Attorney's Office. In Salzburg, that means a visit to the Mirabelle Palace (at left in the picture), and something for my friends to contemplate as they prepare to move to their "new" city hall, the "old" Pacific Northwest Bell building.

Mirabelle Palace and some of its gardens.  Click for larger picture.


Im Palais Schwarzenberg.  Click for larger picture.

In Vienna, of course, we had a palace of our own. We stayed at the Hotel im Palais Schwarzenberg. Begun in 1697, after the end of the Second Turkish Seige, bearing the stamps of both the famous architectural Hildebrant and Erlach families, named for and still owned by the family of one of the heroes of the Battle of Leipzig (1813), the palace today makes room for both the Swiss Embassy and an elegant hotel.

In this picture the palace is just out of sight at the other end of its 18-acre park. Standing by this little pool, apparently seldom visited, there is a wall at your back separating the grounds of this palace from those of the one next door, Lower Belvedere (same architect, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt). In the picture below, taken from Belvedere, the Palais Schwarzenberg is the building in the middle with the red roof. In fact, you're looking in our window, the third from the left at the top.

Toward Schwarzenberg from the Belvedere

Vienna -- birthplace of the croissant, adoptive home of chocolate, the Waltz King's capital. We arrived by train and spent three days exploring the city. Many of its treasures we just stared at from the outside, but a number of museums beckoned us in, including the Clock Museum (which still has the works of the first clock installed in the Stephansdom and a number of pocket sundials and other astronomical instruments); the collection of ancient musical instruments (a professional interest of my own); an exhibit about Austrian writers at the section of the National Library in the wonderfully baroque Prunksall; and, on our last day, the MAK, the Museum of Applied Arts.

I would have been willing to stay on, but other duties called. We're back home, and you can write to us at the "Mail" link below. Provided you haven't waited too long -- we're off to Antarctica in January!