Saturday, June 17, 2006

Albert Heim, I'll give you a piece of my mind

After several hours of slogging through knee-deep, wet snow in capri pants, Kacey wrote a song at 2000 meters:

"Can't feel my feet, arms are startin' to burn,
Do we know where we are? Did we take a wrong turn?
Still tryin' to find ole Albert Heim,
Can't wait to give him a piece of my mind!"

I would quote the rest, but it had some choice words that would threaten the PG-13 rating of this blog site.

So, the backstory: these are the photos of a mountain hike leading up to the SAC Albert Heim hutte. Alpine huts, or huttes (pronounced: hoo-tahs) as they are called in Switzerland, are located throughout the region with over one hundred huts nestled throughout the mountain backcountry. Typically, the huts are fashioned from stone, but they're always made with exacting Swiss precision and their own caretaker, called a Hutmaster. Now before you think being a Hutmaster is nothing but sipping hot cocoa in the lodge, consider that during a single weekend, they will often provide a home-cooked meal and cot for up to 80 hikers.

Back to us: though it doesn't look it from smiles on our faces, getting to the hutte was tough. To start, we were completely unprepared for the snow. We're not talking just a couple inches to dampen the soles of your shoes, in places, we were trekking knee deep in wet snow. Hey, in Memphis we barely get snow in Winter, much less in late June. So, Kacey begins the hike in capri pants and me in a breezy golf shirt. Second, the hike should have taken around 6 hours, but it took two full days -- on the first day we missed a sign on the way up, hiked 7 hours in the wrong direction and ended up having to turn around and race the sun back to Realp, a town at the bottom of the mountain. Thankfully, we arrived just before dark (we later learned that dark on the mountain means -2 degrees Celsius, certainly not cozy).

At first we blamed the Albert Heim Hut master for our misfortune, "He should have told us in the email that this trail wouldn't have worked," or "C'mon he didn't prepare us for this much snow!"

But once we arrived at the hutte the next day, we realized that we had only ourselves (or Coy, depending on your perspective) to blame. We didn't plan our trip adequately. We failed to consider the fact that Switzerland had had a very long winter that would affect trail access. We didn't exactly follow the advice of the Hutmaster's email.

I screwed up.

Though, in the warm, sunny, comfortable view of hindsight, I suppose getting lost in the mountains for 7 hours isn't so bad. In addition to the unexpected, but spectacular views, we learned some hard lessons about the necessity of reading your map, asking directions (before you start), and not underestimating the effect of snow on the trails.

Here's a picture of the side of the hut at 2500 meters (about 8,200ft) over sea level:

and an even better shot of the Hut at this link:

So, to end, I post my new rules for hiking:

1. Don't wear capri pants in the snow
2. Not only buy a map for 25 swiss francs, but use the map
3.. Plan ahead (about things like route, sunscreen, flashlights)
4. Bring a cell phone (this is actually all that saved us from sleeping out on top of the mountain at -2 degrees Celsius. Its funny, in Switzerland the things work almost everywhere)
5. When locals look at you funny when you say you are hiking to the hut in a golf shirt, probe further...
6. And finally, bring a girl cool enough to follow you for 16 hours in the snow in capri pants

(Inset: Kacey giving me a piece of her mind)
Later, a much sunnier, and warmer, Kacey can be seen accepting her membership to the Swiss Alpine Club at the Albert Heim Hutte, see post below.)


kkm said...

Chama--did you forget which continent you were on?!?!? yer not in Vz anymore, pana! whew--i am glad we get to read this story on your blog and not on the front page of the New York Times. i can just see it now "Naive Americans Now Alpine Popsicles"! If Henry James were alive maybe he'd have modeled his tragedy after you, altho i think that death by malaria is a little more romantic than death by hypothermia... en fin, stick to those rules yer hubbie has decreed and i think you'll be fine!! ;)

kkm said...

oh and be sure to read my replies to Pierre's comments on my blog!

BethieG said...

So I guess the part of the Alps you guys were in was a little less well paved than our adventure together mere weeks before. I do remember seeing the snow-capped mountains as we walked and ate and strolled and snacked and am feeling that perhaps they were indeed best admired from afar. Seeing the smiling pictures it is hard to imagine what you guys really went through, but I suppose when in hel*(modified for PG-13 rating) no one stops to take pictures.

Pierre Schlomo Presley said...

In defense of dear Coy, the signposts were awfully confusing. And he put up with me really well...even when I shouted "This is NOT fun!" I'm glad we went and I will still follow him anywhere in the world!