Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jeseníky Traverse

Day 1 - September 30, 2013

Jeseníky, mountain range in the uppermost part of Northern Moravia, home of the highest peaks of the region. It is also known for its kosodřevina (Mountain Pine), several areas of rašeliniště (peat bog), and in the winter skiers come to enjoy both downhill and cross country skiing. 

During the summer months tourism is popular here. Visitors come in hundreds. Areas like Ovčárna, Praděd or Švýcárna where the trails are generally easy are overcrowded, but even the harder routes see their fair share of traffic. For those seeking more solitude, fall might be more enjoyable season to visit. The days are colder and often windy but the displays of yellow and red autumn tones are worth the extra layer.

Our trip starts in Sobotín, one of the bigger villages around, where we park our car and follow the blue trail towards junction Na Skřítku, the official starting point of the Jeseníky Traverse. Our estimate of around 4 miles is way off, with all its twists and turns the stage is 7.5 km long. It's an easy going trail, gently climbing through forests where the upcoming fall colors the foliage. 

Arriving at the junction at around 13:00, 2 hours after we left Sobotín. We stop at a local motorest Skřítek (dwarf) for lunch, it's not the best food, but it's all right for quick energy replenishment here in the mountains. At 13:36 we are back on a trail. 

After the initial shock of finding out the half point between here and our destination is still 11 kilometers far we realize the route we are suppose to take is marked green, not yellow and will get us to the same spot in 6 kilometers. And green we follow.

Arriving at Ztracené Kameny (Lost Rocks) at 14:45 we take in first views of the surrounding forests and mountains. Comparing to the mountain ranges we are hiking in Washington State, Jeseníky with its highest point in just little over 1,400 meters could be called hills, but beautiful hills I have to say. 

Jeseníky are known for their ridge runs. Not much vegetation grow in the higher elevations, except for a short pine like bush called kosodřevina or kleč (dwarf mountain pine) and thanks to the lack of tall trees, the ridges usually offer great views of the mountains nearby and into the valleys bellow where villages can be pointed out. 

Soon after Jelení Studánka (Deer's well) junction we hit our first ridge. We are now 6 km away from our destination. Kosodřevina lines the slope to our right, and behind the bushes we see down into the valley. Meadow runs along the left side of the trail. Wildflowers, and they are plentiful during spring and summer, are gone, the grass carries colors of fall. It is a beautiful walk with minimal elevation gain, and if it wasn't for time pressing us, and strong wind blasting into our faces, I would suggest a break here to enjoy the views among which are those of Praděd, the highest mountain of the range which we'll hike tomorrow.

Hotel Figura where we are staying at looks deserted when we arrive at 17:15 after completing 19.5 kilometers. I try to call phone number posted on the door, nobody picks up. The wind is howling, we are freezing, contemplating our alternatives. Neighboring hotel Sabinka is also dark and shows no signs of life. We walk to Ovčárna, the most famous hotel in the area. They are fully booked but offer to call our hotel again, with better luck, and 10 minutes later we open the door to our warm room. 

We return to Ovčárna for dinner of kynuté knedlíky (fruit dumplings), řízek (schnitzel) and some winter warmer drinks from which warm egg nog with rum is our favorite.

Day 2 - October 1, 2013

9:30 is not the earliest start but we only have 15 kilometers ahead of us, many of them downhill. Our day starts on paved road leading all the way to the top of Praděd. It's a walk rather then a hike. In the past there was an option to take a trail on the other side of the mountain but now any pass other then the road is blocked and a sign asking visitors to stay only on marked trails is posted. 

If it wasn't for the fact Praděd is the highest mountain of the range and whole Moravia, and it is possible to visit the platform 73 meters up the tower for views, I would be happy to skip this mountain. Especially on a day when cold wind blasts around in a speed of 20 kph.

The next part of the route slopes downhill. The drop is gentle, and still on paved road but at least we are between trees now, for most part out of the wind. Švýcárna, an old salaš (residence of shepherds) welcomes us at 12:49. Today there is a tourist cottage here where hikers can warm up with a cup of tea or a bowl of soup. We have completed 7 km of today's stage, with only 8 more to gone, we also sit down for a warm lunch.

Following recommendation from an article I read about the traverse, we leave red trail here and continue on blue which should take us through more pristine scenery. We hike through forest, with some nice views. It is a pretty route but on a gravel path, too man made to our liking. When an opportunity arises to switch routes for more trail like path we take it. This pass is much more fun, muddier, trickier with roots and rocks in the way, much more our style. It takes us to yet another junction. Here we decide to reconnect with the red trail. We find it after a short climb. The trail runs the ridge and contrary to the description which called it "the most boring part of the traverse" we enjoy the open, exposed to wind trail with views and several short sections of steep climbing. 

Eventually we start our final descend to Červenohorské Sedlo (Red Mountain Saddle) where we stay tonight. There are two choices here, the cottage and the hotel. We have accomodation booked at the cottage which is significantly cheaper but after seeing the room which consists of five old squeaky beds plus several pieces of very aged furniture from which parts are peeling, and dirty shower at the hall, we make a decision to pay extra for a room at the hotel, and the decision definitely pays off. 

Day 3 - October 2, 2013

Well rested we come down for breakfast which is included in the price of our room. The food is coming and coming. Variety of bread and toppings - cheese, jam, Nutella, butter - tray loaded with fruit, hot item - our choice is from eggs, wiener sausage and smoked sausage, and the hot item also comes with a large plate of beans. One nearly needs siesta after finishing. 

The energy is needed. Today's stage is not only suppose to be most scenic, but also most difficult with a climb of 3 mountains along the way.  It's around 10:00 when we start hiking. Forecast promised a sunny day but the layer of clouds above our heads tell a different story. It's cold, and somewhat windy, and even though we are heading uphill (very gently), we put another layer on.

After a short side trip to Sněhová Kotlina (Snow Basin), place where frequent avalanche activity can be seen, and a short off trail scramble we reconnect with our route; however alternate trail comes shortly, one that leads to the top of Červená Hora (Red Mountain). This trail takes from gravel road to a dirt path, heading uphill among forest of kosodřevina. It's a pleasant climb, not really steep with more and more views bellow us. Today they are obscured by clouds, and only occasionally we see a village or two, but the views we lack bellow are more than generously replaced by beautiful scenes here in the heights. Clouds rise around us, occasionally letting sun rays through. These sun breaks don't last more than 15 - 20 seconds but during the short time foliage of ever present blueberry bushes turn crimson red, and straws of grass bath in golden glow. 

Summit of Červená Hora consist of a small rock formation. While the view down into the valley is still cloudy, we can see a decent distance to the opposite direction where hills stretch and yellow foliage of leafy trees remind us summer is definitely over. 

The temperature is just slightly above freezing, and once we start climbing towards the second mountain of the day Keprník, frost decorates the shrubs and grasses, beautiful white touch added to the mix of fall colors. At 13:15 we reach the summit, rim ice grows from the sign post, and as far as we can see grasses are wintry white. 

Same scenery awaits us atop Šerák, our last summit and westernmost mountain in Hrubý Jeseník. Gladly we slip inside the cottage at the summit to warm up with a cup of tea. Chata Jiřího na Šeráku was built in 1888, burned down in 1893, and was reconstructed the same year. Today the rooms look much different, cozy and warm with modern showers and comfortable beds. This is where we stay tonight. 

People hike Šerák Mountain to enjoy views. We are not granted any, the weather is getting progressively worse and by 17:00 the clouds around the cottage are so thick we can hardly see more than 15 away. So instead of views we enjoy glass of mulled wine, best we tasted along the route, hoping the weather will clear during the night. 

Day 4 - October 3, 2013

It's around 6:00 a.m. when I wake up into the colors of a beautiful sunrise. The sky is clear, there is no trace of the yesterday overcast. View from our room down in the valley is incredible,  excited for the sunny day we start our hike shortly after breakfast. 

The trail leads us downhill and it is so far the most difficult trail we experienced here. Full of roots and steep natural steps our knees get a haul, luckily the path is dry through the forest, and where there is ice in the open areas, the trail easies on its steepness and allows us to get around. 

Obří Skály (Giant Rocks) are the first stop on our way. It's warm and the rocks lure us to little bit of scrambling. 

Back afoot the trail connects with gravel road but dreaded road slog does not materialize. Soon we see a narrow path by a tree with a trail sign. We take it and before long we find ourselves sliding down a slippery hillside. At this point it's obvious this is not part of the regular route, our boots are dipping in the mud, green belays come handy. Our little adventure ends at a creek where we can clean our boots. Climbing up the opposite side is much easier and reconnects us with the trail. 

Ramzová where we arrive around noon feels just like any other ski town during October, empty and shut down. Owners of most pensions are taking advantage of the couple month between seasons to finish repairs, even local pub is closed. Finding a refuge in the only open pension around we order garlic soup, it is a good honest soup made from scratch, with croutons, egg and cheese. 

I'm leaving happy that after over 20 years I finally made it back to this picturesque mountain range, and I hope that next visit will come with much shorter time gap. There's still many more beautiful places to explore here. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alta Via 2 - Day 7 - Refugio Passo Valles to Refugio Rosetta Pedrotto

With another long day in our itinerary, we start breakfast at the earliest possible time, 7:00 a.m. There is nobody else in the dining room, and for a moment I envy those with the privilege to sleep in.

Breakfast is good, a nice variety of items to choose from, and a delicious bread. I eat much more than I usually do, there is supposed to be a long climb at the beginning of our day and I will need the energy.

On the trail by 8:00 a.m., heading uphill without warm up. The scenery is beautiful, Passo Valles becomes a dot way bellow us, we are back in a world of high mountains. At first the dirt trail leads through meadows full of purple blooms. It's steep but easy to negotiate, and even the several cable protected sections are a breeze. 

Reaching Forcella Venegia, 2,212 m, at 8:35 a.m. and Passo Venegiota, 2,303 m, an hour later, Refugio G. Volpi di Misurata al Mulaz comes in a view at 12:19. We are now at elevation of 2,560 with many more meters to go. 

After a break to brace ourselves for the steep gully that awaits us, we are back on foot at 12:49. Trail 703 which we start following here lets us gain elevation quickly. It is a firm path, stabilized by lumber beams, several switchbacks and we are looking at the Refugio from couple hundred meters higher.  At 13:50 we are clipped in working our way up a via ferrata. It was described in our book as a little tricky, but except maybe couple steps we do not find it difficult at all.

At 14:55 we have reached the pass. It's downhill from here. Literally. The trail drops down a gully filled with loose scree, we hug a rock wall tightly to prevent slipping at the higher, more exposed area, and then slowly proceed down on loose switchbacks, trying to avoid sliding down. It takes a toll on our legs. (Turning right at the top for perhaps 60 feet and then heading down the gully on much gentler grade would make it easier to descent. It becomes obvious once we are at the bottom, having followed the AV2 route down).

The trail markings on our map suggest the rest of way to Refugio Rosseta (Pedrotti) should be on regular trail with a section of long but easy via ferrata. The adventure; however is far from being over. For somebody (like me) who does not thrive in heights, the narrow path along a cliff with a view of a valley over  2,000 feet bellow, is not necessarily an idea of easy trail. I do not dare to look down, staring at every step in front of me I pray for this section to be over soon. And then a rock outcrop comes which we have to cross. Another one soon follows, and as we find out, most of this "trail" involves exposed scrambling, rarely protected by cable.

By the time we reach the via ferrata section at 17:30 my legs are trembling. I grab the cable, trying to calm my racing heart. The fact that one of the anchors peels off the wall does not help the case.

Otherwise the ferrata is mostly easy. It takes us along cliffs, crosses an exposed gully (some down climbing is required) and spits us on the other side, where the trail is still as narrow and as high as it was before but not with less obstructions we start making a better time. To my liking we now also reach few areas of less exposure (further away from the cliff).

A relief comes at 18:00 when we enter a valley carved by a glacier many millions of years ago. The glacial flow still can be seen in the shape of the valley floor. Still ways from "home" with one last climb ahead of us but the exposure is now over and even though our legs are spent we start making a decent time on the grippy rock as we climb up towards the evening sky.

At 19:01 a sign at a junction announces Refugio Rosetta is 10 minutes away. Couple minutes later we arrive at another junction, unmarked. The main trail is heading up to the left and then curves back while a smaller, faint path weirs off to the right. Both are correct, the right path being slightly shorter while the other one offers a gentler grade. 

Exhausted we arrive at the Refugio Rosetta Pedroti at 19:10, just barely making dinner. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Alta Via 2 - Day 6 - Hotel Garni Roberta to Refugio Passo Valles

September 2, 2013 

After a fulfilling breakfast we spend the first part of Labor Day laboring up a long hill. The sun is out, it seems that weather-wise it is going to be the best day yet and after a rest day we are excited to see more new scenery.

The scenery, as we leave town, is one of a mixed forest through which a paved road leads us. Eventually we loose the pavement and proceed on gravel road to an intersection. Sign for Forca Rossa where we are heading suggests to go left, but Alta Via 2 sign clearly points to the right. According to a map we should be making a left turn somewhere in this area but keep on gaining elevation. The left turn at this junction heads downhill. We decide to follow the AV2 route and find our left turn a switchback higher.

Larches dominate along the trail now, scattered thinly on the grassy slopes, with a backdrop of rugged mountains. We are too early for fall colors, but my imaginations runs wild picturing the trees dressed in their yellow coat. 

On a smaller scale, flowers bloom along the trail, some of them familiar from the previous several days, some I don't believe we had an opportunity to see yet. We also find a first patch of wild strawberries, and yet another one, yielding small but delicious snack.

Eventually we leave the larches behind and walk through open grassland being able to fully appreciate the majestic peaks around us. Ibex down below us watches our steps, too far for a naked eye but thanks to a high zoom camera we get a decent view. 

Reaching Forca Rossa, elevation 2,490 m, at 11:30 a.m., the uphill is over, for the moment. We sign the geocaché register which we find at the pass, have a quick bite, and start the downhill stroll. It is by far the most serene part of the trip, there is not a soul around us, except for horses roaming the pastures. The trail is soft mix of grass and dirt and we make a good progress.

When a hoard of day hikers appears on horizon, it's a sign we must be nearing civilization. At 13:00 we enter a village of Fuchiade, home to a Refugio and several small wooden houses. From here for the next 3 kilometers the soft grass is replaced by paved road, smooth and gently graded but hard on the feet.

Passo St. Pellegrino, elevation 1,907 m, is the low point for the day. Replenishing our energy with spaghetti with ragú sauce and ice cream at Malga St. Pellegrino restaurant, we are ready to conquer the next uphill. It's about 1,000 feet of elevation we have to gain towards Forcella di Padazzo, elevation 2,220 meters. The trail, leading through slopes covered with blueberry bushes, is easy to follow thanks to good markings, and even though we have to make few easy moves to pull ourselves over boulders, it's generally quite easy going.

The views from up include distant mountains, closer up there is a lake and a ski lift. Once we top, we find a dirt road, wide and hard to miss, heading downhill towards our destination, Passo Valles. Luckily there is a side trail which not only cuts some distance but is more scenic, and after a long day of hiking, the cushy grass underfoot is much appreciated.

Passo Vales at 2,032 m welcomes us at 17:35. The Refugio here, unlike all the others we used so far, is privately own, and is more hotel like with private rooms and showers. The food is delicious after a long day on feet, and we even decide for desert, a specialty called Torrencino Semifreddo, a lemony tasting ice cream cake.