Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rolling Green Meadows...



Lots of them! The bucolic meadows keep rolling and rolling in the Italian Dolomites. The meadows are called "Alms" in this part of the world, and the Alms that you see in this photo are part of one grandaddy Alm called Seiser Alm. Seiser Alm, (the Alpe di Siusi in Italian), is the largest high elevation meadow in Europe—and we get to hike across it every year.

If you join our Italian Dolomites Trek, then you'll enjoy this view on your first hiking day. The first day's hike is a loop that begins in the medieval hill village of Völs am Schlern (Fié in Italian). The hike climbs through forest and meadow, passes a pretty lake and tops out at a Tyrolean farmhouse/restaurant at Tuff Alm, just in time for an Apfelstrudel, a coffee, or beer depending on your mood.

Following a bit of relaxation, with eye-popping views of the Schlern mountain from the restaurant deck, the hike turns back into the woods and descends to a Tyrolean forest house for a sampling of schnapps, sweets, and/or a home-cooked meal. Another sun-drenched deck slows the hands of time before the trail descends again and leads to the view in this photo. Continuing downward, we pass castles, orchards and innumerable Tyrolean chalets before checking back into our hotel beneath the ramparts of a 14th century tower. 

If you like this day, then you'll love hiking day #2 on our Italian Dolomites Trek. We spend the morning hiking through grassy meadows, then we leave the pastures behind and climb above tree line for some serious mountain hiking. 

Click here if you'd like to read more about the Italian Dolomites region. 

Image by Chris Pranskatis

Friday, April 11, 2014

Foto Friday: Peak Bagging Scotland!



The nice thing about peak bagging in Scotland is that you don’t need a bunch of gear to do it. Many of the peaks are accessible to everyday hikers. Just load your day pack with a few essentials and hit the trail.

In this photo, Daniel Sundqvist stands atop one of Scotland’s Munros. Named in honor of Sir Hugh Munro, a Munro is any mountain with a height greater than 3,000 feet (914.4 meters). Click here to read our previous blog about Munros and mountain hiking in Scotland.

If you’re an avid hiker, then you’ll love peak bagging, or “Munro bagging,” as they call it in Scotland. Some of the locals, calling themselves “Munroists,” actually try to hike as many Munros as they can in their lifetime. There are 282 Munros in Scotland, and, as of 2009, 4,000 people claimed to have bagged every peak. (They call it a “compleation.”) There are also 509 Tops and 221 Corbetts. A Top is a secondary peak over 3,000 feet and a Corbett is any distinct peak greater than 2,500 feet (but less than 3,000). Some people try to climb all of these too!

The Scottish Mountaineering Club maintains a full list of all the Munros, Corbetts, and the hill walkers that have compleated them. Check out their site, it’s a worth a visit.

We don’t have time to bag every peak, so we’ll take in some of the most famous climbs during our Scotland Highlands and Islands hiking tour. It's worth mentioning that we do NOT offer this trip as a self-guided version. So, if you’d like to bag some Munros then please join our guided hike. Daniel Sundqvist will lead this trip, and we have four spots left on this year’s tour.

Note: While many of Scotland’s Munros can be summited by the average hiker, some require a bit more skill, and all require a basic level of fitness to start. No matter which peak you summit, there is no excuse for going unprepared. Always be prepared for inclement weather and carry enough gear for unforeseen circumstances. Remember the old adage, “You can’t cheat the mountain!"

Thursday, April 03, 2014

FAQ: What is the difference between 1st and 2nd class Swiss passes?



Question: When traveling in Switzerland, what is the difference between 1st and 2nd class rail tickets?

Short Answer: First class tickets offer more legroom and a generally quieter experience. And, if you buy 1st class tickets on a Swiss boat, then you’ll typically enjoy upper deck seating with phenomenal views.

Long Answer: It must be said that 2nd class tickets are perfectly fine. Second class seats are clean, safe, fun and they’re less expensive than 1st class seats. That said, the majority of people that travel through Switzerland do so in 2nd class, so 2nd class seats tend to see more wear-and-tear, and are sometimes more crowded, than 1st class seats. This varies by region and train. On some trains, the difference between classes is negligible. On others, the difference is more noticeable. On all the trains, however, the upholstery and carpeting tend to be a bit nicer in 1st class (less wear-and-tear), there’s more legroom, and it’s usually easier get a seat by your self (or with your friends). One caveat: First class seats can be quite crowded with business types during intercity rush hours.

So, should you splurge on 1st class tickets?

That’s your call. Having traveled both for many decades, we have to admit that 1st class offers a more comfortable experience. If you value quiet time to yourself, you like the extra legroom, or you’d rather be surrounded by businessmen than families, then by all means, go for 1st class. If you’re on a budget, you don’t need absolute quiet, or you’d like to mingle a bit more with the Swiss public, then choose 2nd class.

Note: Smoking is not allowed on any Swiss train.

It’s also worth stating that traveling by train in Switzerland is NOT like flying. Second class seats have plenty of legroom. You won’t feel cramped just because you chose the less expensive option. Also, we almost never have trouble finding seats in 2nd class. The 2nd class cars are just generally busier and more full than in 1st. Again, this varies by train, region and time of day. In some cases, you might have an entire 2nd class car to yourself.

Regardless of what you choose, you’ll have a wonderful time traveling through Switzerland. The Swiss Travel System, which includes trains, buses, boats, funiculars, trams and cable cars, is one of the most efficiently run transportation systems in the world. It is also, in our opinion, one of the most fun.

Photo: View from the train to Grindelwald, Switzerland. By Chris Pranskatis.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day Tripping: Visit the Fairytale Castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau



If you subscribe to our e-newsletter, then you recently read about our Bavarian Tyrol Trek.

We also gave a nod to Nueschwsanstein, southern Germany’s most popular castle. Just over two hours from the finish of our Bavaria hike, Neuschwanstein makes an easy day trip or one-day extension after the tour.

For today’s blog, we thought we’d show you a few more photos of Neuschwanstein and of Hohenschwangau, the often unknown and underrated castle that sits next door.

A little background:



Neuschwanstein is THE castle that people imagine when they think of fairytales and sleeping beauties. It’s one of the most photographed buildings in Germany, and it’s been featured in countless magazines, books and films. It’s also widely believed that Neuschwanstein inspired the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, but building the castle wasn’t always “magic.”

King Ludwig II started construction of the castle in 1869 and he racked up a sizable credit card bill while doing so. The Bavarian government eventually deposed the king, so the castle was never finished. Interestingly, while the outside of the castle looks complete, many of the interior rooms remain totally bare.

You can tour the interior of the castle, but since so many of the rooms were left unfinished, the tour ends pretty quickly. For princely furnishings, however, look no further than Hohenschwangau, King Ludwig II's childhood home which lies next door.


The two castles sit in close proximity to each other. King Ludwig II spent his childhood in Hohenschwangau, (above), then tried to out do his parents by building Neuschwanstein. In actual fact, Neuschwanstein was just one of King Ludwig II's many elaborate building projects, some of which were never finished.

Both hilltop castles warrant a visit, but beware, 1.4 million people visit these castles every year. This is tourism at its finest.


Our recommendation: Visit the castles, just so you can say that you've seen them. Both tours are relatively short, but after standing in line for one, you probably won't feel like doing another. If nothing else, shoot photos of Neuschwanstein's exterior, then tour the interior of Hohenschwangau to see how the Royals lived during the 1800's. The Marienbrucke (Mary's Bridge) is a great spot to grab the Neuschwanstein photo that you see in so many magazines. Grab your photos, take a tour or two, then wander around the Alpsee which is the big lake to the south of the castles. Pack a lunch, or stop for refreshment at a lakeside beer garden. If you have extra time, and you're feeling extra historical, than visit the Museum of Bavarian Kings which is also nearby.

Before you go: The Hohenschwangau Ticket Center is the go-to source for ticket prices, maps and tourist info.

Travel: Bahn.com is the main site for the Germany's railway system. Doing a quick search from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (the finish of our Bavarian Tyrol hike) to Hohenschwangau, yields a travel time of two hours and six minutes with an 8:04 departure and 2 changes. A more convenient departure (no changes) leaves at 9:40 but lands you at the castles just shy of noon.

From Hohenschwangau, it's just two and-a-half hours back to Munich.

Images: by Chris Pranskatis

Friday, March 14, 2014

Backcountry Skiing at the Opus Hut



Ryder-Walker guide Daniel Sundqvist recently took some guests to the Opus Hut (11,675 feet) above Ophir Colorado. He was actually working on behalf of our sister company, Telluride Mountain Guides, which offers backcountry guiding at our home base in Telluride, Colorado.

The Opus Hut is an off-grid backcountry lodge situated in the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. With its comfortable amenities and tasteful architectural touches, the hut feels very European. Even better, the Opus Hut provides first-rate access to some of the best backcountry skiing, mountain biking and hiking in the region. 


 Here's the first of our crew skinning up to the Opus Hut.


From the hut, it's just a few powder turns to paradise.


Grabbing more fresh lines.


The Opus Hut is completely self-sufficient. Solar power and two wood stoves provide warmth, while a wood-fired sauna steams away the day's fatigues. The hut also provides comfortable bedding, running water, and a meal plan upon request.

In this photo, our guests are VERY happy with the day's powder skiing and, equally important, the aprés-ski soup!

Contact Telluride Mountain Guides to go backcountry skiing in southern Colorado. For more info on the Opus Hut, visit opushut.com

Monday, February 17, 2014

Q&A: Guided vs Self-guided Hiker’s Haute Route



Question: “Does the self-guided Hiker’s Haute Route follow the same itinerary as the guided version?

Answer: The guided Hiker’s Haute Route is two days longer than our self-guided version. It wasn’t always this way. We extended the guided itinerary by two days for 2014. The extension allows us to explore a remote section of trail between the villages of Champex and Arolla.
 
Put another way, the guided and self-guided itineraries are identical in every way until day five. The guided trip transfers to the village of Verbier while the self guided trip transfers to Arolla. The guided trip spends two nights in remote huts before descending to Arolla to pick up where the self-guided itinerary passed through a couple of days before. Both trips follow the same route from Arolla all the way to Zermatt.

It’s worth noting that self-guided trips can run at any time during the summer, but we don’t usually schedule them during the same dates as our guided tours.

Additionally, we are happy to add the two-day extension with hut stays to any self-guided itinerary for an additional supplement. We can also add a three-day extension from Zermatt to the village of Saas Fee at the end of the trip. This extension carries hikers across the famed Grächen Höhenweg and offers views of Switzerland’s tallest peaks to the south and the legendary Berner Oberland region to the north. The extension also includes a simple inn, a four star inn and a dramatically situated refuge.

Our recommendation: Upgrade the simple inn in Saas Fee with a Relais & Chateaux gourmet retreat. You’ll want to set aside the entire evening for your sybaritic experience!

All totaled: A self-guided Hiker’s Haute Route can easily reach 15 days in length with add-ons. Without add-ons, the self-guided trip is ten days long. The guided trip is a twelve-day tour.

Give us a call, or drop us an email to plan your next adventure.

Image: Hiking to the Forcletta pass (2874 meters) with the Matterhorn in the background (right). Hiker's Haute Route, Switzerland | By Ken Fuhrer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!—Rock, Snow and Romance



The Delicate Arch means many things to many people, and for the young couple in this photo, it represents the beginning of a new chapter—the start of a new life.

Look closely at this image, and you’ll see a man on bended knee asking for his girl’s hand. Ryder-Walker guide Ken Fuhrer and his guests stopped to admire the view during our Arches & Canyonlands hiking tour when the two hikers appeared and the guy suddenly went down on one knee.

It is no surprise that this gentleman picked the Delicate Arch to profess his love. The scenery alone is enough to make a person melt, with the red Entrada sandstone contrasting perfectly against the white, snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains.

When we look at this image, however, we see more than just a good view. We see harmony and the joining of two parts to create a more perfect whole.

It may not seem apparent at first glance, but the Delicate Arch actually consists of two parts. Red Entrada sandstone forms the base and pillars of the arch, while rock from the Curtis Formation makes up the bridge. A long time ago, there was no arch, only layers of sand and muck. The layers eventually fused, and today, sculpted, weathered and eroded by time, the formations endure, creating a unique whole and something beautiful for all the world to enjoy.

We don’t know what happened to the couple in this photo, but we hope that their relationship, like the Delicate Arch, stands the test of time and leads to something special. We wish the same for our blog readers too. Wherever you are, and whomever you’re with, we wish you love in the great outdoors, and an infinite world of possibilities.

Happy Valentine’s Day!