Sunday, 6 July 2008


We've been a bit quiet lately as we were on holiday last week. We had wonderful week of hiking in the Swiss Alps. Our intention was to get some proper mountain running in, but we found the gradients a bit too steep - doing 700 metres over a 5km distance is on average much more than we'd expect to do in the TransRockies (and those stretches in the Rockies that are this steep will also have to be trekked rather than run). Also it seemed like ages since we actually had a "holiday" rather than a "training camp" - so we eased up a little to recharge our batteries. Initially the aim was to get some altitude training in - but to be honest the hiking trails didn't go above 3000 metres hence there wasn't any noticeable oxygen depletion to test us. We did, later in the week, go up to 3700 metres - where the going was tough, but mainly due to the gradient and the thick slushy snow...the lungs seemed fine.

Below is a short summary of our achievements and adventures each day.

Saturday 28th June
Still half-asleep, we were up at 3am for our 6.20am flight from Heathrow to Zurich. With only a slight delay before take-off we were in the land of cuckoo clocks and chocolate by 9am and had plenty of time to drop our bags off at the fly-rail counter, apparently they'd follow on to the hotel behind us later in the day. In the UK, 4 separate train journeys with minutes between connections would be treated with a great deal of cynicism, the Swiss version of events, however, we a totally pleasurable experience. Zurich Airport to Lucerne, Lucerne to Interlaken Ost, Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen and finally Lauterbrunnen to Wengen all ran completely to time and the ever-changing scenery was fantastic. The climb up into the mountains was breath-taking. All in all we were in pretty good shape by the time we got to Wengen.

We just chilled for the rest of the day and discovered the mega food prices as we went out for Pizza.

Sunday 29th June
We got kitted out expecting to run from Wengen (altitude 1300 metres) to Kleine Scheidegg (altitude 2000 metres) but the gradient was too steep to run. Doing a fast trek in the very hot sunshine had Jo's heart rate in the BT2/DPT zones hence we wouldn't have been able to push to a run without wearing ourselves out. So we completed the 6km fast trek and savoured the amazing views at Kleine Scheidegg - looking up at the north face of the Eiger. Awesome - truly awesome.

Eiger - North Face

Once we got our breath back (from the views - not the trek) we had lunch and then headed downhill to Grindelwald (altitude 1000 metres).

Nice view from restaurant - Kleine Scheidegg towards Jungfrau

We ran quite a bit of the 10km as we wanted to get as much downhill running training in as possible - it uses a totally different set of muscles. The Swiss Alps seem to be very popular with Japanese walkers - who were incredibly friends...especially when you took the time out to say "konichiwa" :)

We treated ourselves to ice-creams and then headed back to Wengen via the train. We again discovered food is very expensive in Switzerland - around £40 for the two of us (no alcohol, no starter and no desert!)

Monday 30th June
On the previous day Jo had used her trekking poles to hike up to Kleine Scheidegg. I had borrowed these for the downhill to Grindelwald - I wanted to find out whether I felt comfortable actually running with them rather than just using them for hiking. I discovered I felt fine running with them so we got a 2nd set of hiking poles for me in the morning.

We took the gondola up from Wengen to Mannlichen (altitude 2200 metres) and then fast-hiked down to Kleine Scheidegg (6km).

Top of Mannlichen

We continued on up from there to the Eigergletscher (a train station at the foot of the Eiger, at altitude 2300 metres). On our return to Kleine Scheidegg (total loop 5km) we treated ourselves to another ice-cream and then ran down to Wengen (6km) - in the pouring rain. I ran with my hiking poles and eventually Jo realised it wasn't so bad running with the poles. It's good to know that when we're in terrain which requires a constant switching between hiking and running that we can keep our poles out and run with them rather than having to shrink them down attach them to our backpacks every time we want to run. Incidentally our backpacks were pretty heavy all week...we'd pack them with about 4-5litres of liquid each, some food, some extra clothing layers and I also had my digital SLR and it's lenses. So I reckon the packs were between 7-10 kgs each.

Easier way of coming down??

That evening we went to the Victoria hotel for dinner - and were flabbergasted to be told they charge for tap water (£2 for 1 litre) - so we left no tip :P

Tuesday 1st July
These days I am rarely ill, but sleep deprivation and hay-fever joined forces and forced me to take this day as a very easy recovery day, especially since our legs were really feeling it from the downhill running. The sleep deprivation was partly my own fault - I kept reading late (ish) because I was hooked on the (Sir) Ranulph Fiennes autobiography (Mad, bad and dangerous to know) - but mainly it was because (with our windows open in our hot Sunstar hotel room) we kept getting woken up in the middle of the night by inconsiderate morons walking on the main (traffic-free) street - the worst being a group of Brits screaming and swearing at wonder most of the world doesn't like us British. The hay-fever I can't really do anything about - every July I encounter a 2-3 week period of intense hay-fever (drugs only help a little). Sometimes going abroad helps (escaping from whatever pollen is affecting me) but not this time, if anything my hay-fever was worse in the Swiss Alps.

So, after spending a small fortune on medicine, we decided to walk down to Lauterbrunnen (altitude only 800 metre) and then spend the rest of the day travelling via trains and gondolas. The walk down to Lauterbrunner was actually harder (steep and monotonous) than we wanted, but we had a nice relaxing day walking around Lauterbrunner and later in Murren (via gondola) - although Jo wasn't too happy when she threw (and lost) her sunglasses into a 100 metres we spent a while in Murren looking for a new pair of sports sunglasses!!!

New sunglasses!!

The weather was great as it had been most of the week so far - the rain when it came was usually confined to the evening and nighttime hence generally we stayed dry on the trails.

Wednesday 2nd July
Wow - what a great day! We took the train to Alpiglen (altitude 1600 metres) and trekked the Eiger Trail (7.5km up to Eigergletscher). The trail takes you right to the foot of the Eiger - cutting across the scree slopes of the north face. No wonder so many climbers want to climb it (and so many fail and die) as it really is an awesome mountain that mesmerises you - not for me though, I'll keep my feet firmly on terra firma!!

Eiger Trail

After the Eiger Trail we walked down to Kleine Scheidegg for lunch (and more ice-cream) and then trekked up to Mannlichen, taking the gondola back down to Wengen.

Thursday 3rd July
Today the weather forecast was for rain - lots of rain. The forecast was spot on - we took the train down to Lauterbrunnen and hiked up 6.5km to Murren (altitude 1700 metres).

Gloomy weather towards Murren

The hike was mega steep - sometimes the gradient was a 1:1 (one foot/metre upwards for every one foot/metre forwards, i.e. 45 degrees), and rarely did it get any better than a 1:2 (1 up for 2 forward, i.e. 22.5 degrees). When we got to Murren the heavens really opened up and we were faced with torrential rain so we found shelter in a cafe and had some tea and food. We then trekked down to Lauterbrunnen and then continued back up the other side of the valley back up to Wengen (4.4km) - getting to the hotel in time to avoid the 2nd spell of torrential rainfall.

Friday 4th July
Our last full day in the Swiss Alps was reserved for a trip up to Jungfrau (the "Top of Europe"). We took the train up (via Kleine Scheidegg) - it passes the Eigerwand station (carved into the rock of the Eiger) from where most climbers would get off and tackle the north face (avoiding the "boring" first few hundred metres). Eventually we arrived at Jungfrau station (altitude 3500 metres), well above the clouds.

Damn - should have brought our snowboards!

The views were amazing - we were surrounded by snow and ice as far as the eye can see (the views to the other side of the Eiger - the greener/warmer valleys was blocked by cloud).

Jo, surrounded by snow

The Jungfrau peak is actually just above 4000 metres, but it's not possible to trek to it, so we trekked to another smaller peak at 3750 metres. The trek was considerably longer than it looked (snow has that sort of affect on the visuals) - it was about 3.5kms whereas it looked as if it was a few hundred metres!! The going was quite tough - it is difficult to know whether the it was hard because of the altitude or whether the ankle deep slushy snow and gradient had more to do with it. We did however cover the distance in the same sort of speed as we had managed at much lower altitudes (e.g. the Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg trek) hence I'm inclined to think the altitude wasn't a factor (this time).

Top of Europe!!!

Back a bit more please!!!

At the end of the trek there was a nice restaurant - well the seating area was nice with great views, but the food was, erm, interesting. We both ordered cheese on toast (mine with egg - which Jo hates) - we thought it's nice and simple and everyone (surely) knows what cheese on toast should look like, right? Wrong!!

What we actually got was a bowl of melted cheese - with a sloppy slice of bread at the bottom (no idea whether it was toasted) and mine had a fried egg dumped on top. How truly disgusting - it was like soup - except it was all melted cheese. We could feel our arteries clogging up with each sip/mouthful - we gave up after a few spoonful. To make matters worse each dish was about £9 - I would have preferred to just set light to a £20 note!

So just be careful what you order in Switzerland - and remember they have a sadistic point of view when it comes to pricing everything!!

Anyway we headed back to Wengen and a well earned slap-up (proper) meal. The next day we packed and said our goodbyes to the mountains and headed back home via their great train system.

Since we've got back we've been a bit slow getting back into running properly. Jo's got a tight calf muscle - and I'm lacking a little in motivation. I had a couple of really good runs at the start of the week - but they were short and fast (11km in 1 hour and 8km in 42 mins). Really need to get in a couple of 20km+ runs to get back into the distance game. Hopefully we'll kick start this weekend and burn of some of that Swiss chocolate we've been stuffing ourselves with (don't expect any weight reduction in my next training summary!!).

(BTW: If you want to see the rest of our Switzerland photos then feel free to dive into my photo album website -


Blogger Georgie B said...

Wow.... what a great week of Blog entries. I enjoyed the verbeage a lot. I wish I were able to take a week out of the 100 degree Dallas, Texas weather to recharge my batteries. My training is not going nearly as well as I would like in this heat.

You both look great and are very apparently, leaner than you were in your original Blog photo... well done !

14 July 2008 at 00:48  
Blogger Trail Goat said...

Looks like a great time in the Alps! Your training for TRR seems to be going well, too. I'm getting more and more excited about the race and have started hitting the treadmill for some long "uphill" runs.

16 July 2008 at 14:20  

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