Thursday, May 31, 2007

Vosges, vanquished

Lac Vert

I am going to attempt to keep this one short, for I am actually making a vague attempt to make some money here.

So, this one will be nearly as picture heavy as the last, but considerably less wordy. However, I'm still going to make you read to the end before providing the link with more photos.

Amynah and I were kindly invited by our new friend Sami the Finn (who, for purposes of my blog, I will always refer to as Sami the Finn because it makes him sound like a mobster, instead of the metabolic researcher he is) for a 16-kilometer hike in the Vosges, Alsace’s answer to the Black Forest.

ON Saturday, when I made my packing decisions, it was 32 degrees, and I was wilting in the heat. Not wanting to sweat to death, I therefore decided to pack a long shirt, in case it was cooler in the hills.

On Sunday, it was 16 degrees and overcast in Strasbourg. As we drove closer to Munster (home of the stinky cheese) it started to rain. As we got closer to Col Schluct in the hills, it started to pour, plus a stiff breeze kicked in. By the time we reached the trailhead on top of the mountain, it had graduated to a deluge, with a full-throated, icy wind as accompaniment.

Which way do you think the prevailing wind goes here?

Fortunately, there were four competing restaurants on top of the hill (not a village – just restaurants. It’s France – they’re required by law every two kilometers, whether there’s a population around to support them or not) so we popped in for a coffee and tarte aux myrtilles. Here matters became awkward – it was insane to turn back after a 120 km drive, yet none of us wanted to continue. On the other hand, Sami the Finn didn’t want to let us down, and we didn’t want to disappoint Sami the Finn. So, once the rain had reduced its ferocity to a level where it wouldn’t strip a man of his flesh in five minutes, we set out.

However miserable we felt walking into the swaying and dripping trees, we couldn't have been a miserable as the crew of Scouts trooping out. The poor kids had gone to sleep the night before with sun burns, but woke up in a Bible story. Their misery didn't stop them - each and every one - greeting us with a weak "bonjour" as they passed us on the trail, thus forcing us to respond in kind. Really, an all-inclusive "bonjour" from the first in line would have been fine.

In the end, it wasn’t so bad. The trees cut the wind considerably, and the rain eventually stopped entirely. Sami lent me a fleece, rescuing me from certain freezing death. Soon, we were both snapping photos like crazy – the area is a natural reserve with many rare species of plants (not that I think we saw any – I’m not a botanist).

Lunch Lake (no, not its real name)

At the first of what was supposed to be three lakes we stopped for lunch at a ferme auberge where I had artisinal apple juice (remarkably good) and mashed potatoes and – to my regret – a quarter wheel of Munster cheese. Hiking with a quarter wheel of Munster cheese in you is about as pleasant as it sounds (“A post-prandial sleepiness," said Sami the Finn, impressing me with his second-language facility until Amynah reminded me that as a metabolic specialist “prandial” was just jargon for him). Amynah had an omelet – the only foodstuff on the menu that had no pork (though who knows – maybe they made it with hog-eggs).

The rest of the hike was fairly smooth – it started by sending us over three peaks of about 1200 meters each but most of the rest was through grassy pastureland, complete with grazing cows.

Bonjour, mesdames!

The very last bit (which, we are all convinced, was not supposed to be part of the trail) got a little hairy and added an hour to our time. It sent us along a cliff edge with unreliable looking rubber hoses for support. Not particularly relaxing, considering how wet and slippery everything was, but it did take us through a mini-ravine with it’s own warm and lush microclimate. It reminded me a bit of Costa Rica.

Sami the Finn

More photos (though not nearly as many as I took) are here.
Oh for Pete’s Sake – I say short and write nearly 600 words. I will attempt to exercise restraint in my description of our upcoming adventures with Amynah’s former supervisor and our planned trip on the Black Forest Steam Railway.

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