SCOTLAND: hike Skye, castles, Callanish, Edinburgh, Stirling, Falkirk, history

12 days driving the length of Scotland enriched us with compelling history, striking art, and green landscapes such as Glen Coe. Favorites included hiking the Isle of Skye; admiring the 4600-year-old Standing Stones of Callanish in the Outer Hebrides; and seeing the dramatic Kelpies sculptures, triangular Caerlaverock Castle and iconic Eilean Donan Castle. Our 20th wedding anniversary in a romantic Scottish castle disappointed on comfort, but enchanted us with 1400s-1800s atmosphere, in restored Comlongon Castle. While Edinburgh’s festival crowds overwhelmed the many worthwhile sights, the impressive 1400s-1500s Stirling Castle furnished more elbow room to contemplate medieval history. Our self-guided tour of Scotland capped 34 days in the United Kingdom (2017 July 20-August 22), which started with hiking England Coast to Coast (click here). See trip map at bottom.

SCOTLAND gallery of favorite images, by Tom Dempsey


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More extensive galleries of Scotland:

Click here to see all my Scotland images in day-to-day order, in a single gallery in my Portfolio (where you can Add to Cart). Or conveniently below, see them grouped in galleries by area, with helpful travel tips and history:

Callanish Standing Stones, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)


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Erected 4600 years ago, the wondrous Callanish Standing Stones are one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in Scotland. The main site known as “Callanish I” forms a cross with a central stone circle erected circa 2900-2600 BC. More lines of stones were added by 2000 BC (the close of the Neolithic era), and it became a focus for rituals during the Bronze Age. From 1500-1000 BC, farmers emptied the burials and plowed the area. After from 800 BC, peat accumulated 1.5 meters deep and buried the stones until removed in 1857. Visit this spectacular ancient site near the village of Callanish (Gaelic: Calanais), on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles) in Scotland.

The Highlands: Isle of Skye


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Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides.

Isle of Skye photo and travel tips:

Lodging is very limited on Skye, so make summer reservations weeks or months ahead. The 1995 Skye Bridge has been toll-free now since 2004, and in 2017 it overflowed the island’s services with international tourists. Arriving early is required each morning to squeeze into popular parking areas. 7 miles west of Skye Bridge, pick up several days worth of food supplies at Broadford Co-Operative Food grocery. Stop by the scenic Sligachan Old Bridge, backed by the Black Cuillin mountains. For several hours, enjoy walking to viewpoints at the 1909 Neist Point Lighthouse, which pokes dramatically into The Minch strait. Many of the best sights are on Trotternish peninsula:

  • As our strategic base for 5 nights on Skye, we loved this quiet, comfortable loft atop a croft in Digg village near Staffin: Quiraing View Self Catering Apartment through AirBnB.com [your signup supports my work].
  • In Skye’s largest town, see colorful houses reflected in Portree Harbor, and shop at the Co-op on Woodpark Road for groceries.
  • Ascend to the striking pinnacles of the Old Man of Storr (4 miles, 1400 feet gain round trip). Arrive early for limited parking. A massive ancient landside created this distinctive landscape of eroded towers. For the best outlook, continue up the trail over the fence stile past where most people stop, surmounting the next higher ledge, to see the needles silhouetted against Loch Leathan, the Sound of Raasay, Raasay Island, and the Cuillin range.
  • At scenic Kilt Rock viewpoint, carpeted with purple heather flowers, Mealt Falls plunges 60 meters into the Sound of Raasay. Between 61 and 55 million years ago, volcanic activity on the west coast of Scotland covered the northern half of Skye in layers of molten rock over 1200 meters thick. The pleats of Kilt Rock formed as molten rock squeezed between layers of Jurassic sandstone rocks then cooled slowly and shrank into striking polygonal columns. Location: A855 road, 15 km north of Portree, 2 km south of Staffin.
  • Starting from Lealt Falls Car Park, ponder the coastal ruins of Lealt diatomite works (a furnace, grinding machine and storage). The diatomite was mined inland at Loch Cuithir from 1899-1960, gratefully providing local jobs. Diatomaceous earth, or diatomite, is fossilized remains of diatoms (chrysophytes, or golden algae, a type of hard-shelled protist) creating a soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white powder. Its uses are many: filtration aid, insecticide, absorbent for liquids, mild abrasive in metal polishes & toothpaste, activator in blood clotting studies, a stabilizing component of dynamite, a thermal insulator, and even cat litter!
  • Amble up Bioda Buidhe mountain along Trotternish Ridge, with views south to eroded landslips and north to the Quiraing, an active landslip. Walk 2.2 miles round trip with 700 feet gain, starting southwards from the summit of the minor road between Staffin and Uig. Arrive early for limited parking. From the same trailhead, we also hiked the Quiraing:
  • For more adventure, try the popular, muddy loop (4.5 miles with 1200 feet gain) around the Quiraing landslip (Cuith-Raing in Gaelic, from Norse words meaning “round fold”), best avoided in rain or fog. The Trotternish Ridge escarpment is a spectacular series of landslips, still sliding in the Quiraing, requiring yearly repairs in the road below (near Flodigarry).
  • Near Uig: The Skye Museum of Island Life preserves a township of thatched cottages as they would have been in the late 1800s on the Isle of Skye, in Kilmuir village.
  • Near Uig: Walk the pastoral Fairy Glen (Faerie Glen) to Castle Ewen hill, looping 1.2 miles via grassy, cone-shaped mounds.
  • From Uig, catch the ferry to Tarbert, the main town of Harris in the Outer Hebrides (Western Isles), to drive to the Standing Stones of Callanish and blackhouse museums on the attached Isle of Lewis. Be sure to reserve a spot for your car weeks ahead at Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac).

The Highlands: Eilean Donan Castle, AD 1200s-1932


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Eilean Donan Castle looks spectacular when spotlit at twilight, in Kintail National Scenic Area. Since restoration in the early 1900s, a footbridge connects the island to the mainland. This picturesque island stronghold was first built in the 1200s in the western Highlands where three sea lochs meet (Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh) at the village of Dornie. The island is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. The castle became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies Clan Macrae. In the early 1700s, the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle’s destruction by government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap’s 1920-32 reconstruction of the ruins made the present buildings.

The Highlands: Glen Coe and Glen Nevis (Steall Falls hike)


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Found along road A82, Glen Coe is perhaps the most scenic and historic valley in Scotland. Glen Coe is the remains of an extinct supervolcano (erupted 420 million years ago during the Silurian period), one of the best examples of subsidence calderas. Heavy glaciation ending 10,000 years ago carved the U-shaped valley, reminding me of Norwegian scenery. The infamous 1692 Massacre of Glencoe happened near Glencoe village at the foot of the valley.

One of the best short hikes in Scotland ascends 220 meters to Steall Falls (3.5 km / 2.25 miles round trip) via scenic Nevis Gorge, an area owned by the John Muir Trust, which is attempting to restore wilderness here after centuries of burning and grazing. Steall Falls is Scotland’s second highest waterfall, with a single drop of 120 meters or 393 feet. Often hidden in the clouds above is Ben Nevis (1345 meters or 4411 ft, the highest mountain in the British Isles), here at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of the Scottish Highlands.

The Highlands: Inverness and Culloden


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We enjoyed seeing the lights of Inverness reflect in River Ness at twilight, in the administrative capital of the Highlands. The prominent red sandstone Inverness Castle (housing the Inverness Sheriff Court) was built in 1836 by architect William Burn on the site of an 11th-century fort. A settlement was established here by the 500s AD with the first royal charter being granted by King David I in the 1100s. The Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findláich (MacBeth), whose 11th-century killing of King Duncan was immortalised in Shakespeare’s largely fictionalized play Macbeth, held a castle within the city where he ruled as Mormaer of Moray and Ross. Surveys rank Inverness as one of the happiest places in the UK.

Jacobites and the Battle of Culloden explained

Near Inverness is Culloden Battlefield visitor center, a Scottish mecca run by the National Trust for Scotland. As the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746 was part of a religious civil war in Britain. In the last pitched battle on British soil, in less than an hour about 1500 men were slain, more than 1000 of them Jacobites. Today, strong feelings are still aroused by the battle and the brutal aftermath of weakening Gaelic culture and undermining the Scottish clan system. The site of the battle is three miles south of Culloden village on Drumossie Moor, often called Culloden Moor.

Jacobites rebelled against the British government several times between 1688 and 1746. Jacobites were a political faction in Great Britain and Ireland aimed to restore the Roman Catholic King James II (House of Stuart) of England and Ireland (as James VII in Scotland) and his heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. The name comes from Jacobus, the Renaissance Latin form of Iacomus, from the original Latin form of James, “Iacobus.”

Stirling, the gateway to the Highlands


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Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling is visually dominated by Stirling Castle, sitting atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag formed some 300 million years ago. Until the 1890s, Stirling controlled a strategic position as the lowest bridging point of the River Forth before it broadens towards the Firth of Forth, making it “the gateway to the Scottish Highlands.” As a principal royal stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland, Stirling was created a royal burgh by King David I in 1130. Most of the fort’s main buildings date from the 1400s and 1500s, when it peaked in importance. The outer defenses fronting the town date from the early 1700s. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542. Stirling Castle has suffered at least eight sieges, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.

Edinburgh, capitol city of Scotland


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Perched atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world, with 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history. Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 1500s except for St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 1100s, the Royal Palace, and the early-1500s Great Hall. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, in Lothian on the Firth of Forth, in the United Kingdom.

The spectacular St Giles’ Cathedral (High Kirk of Edinburgh) is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Its distinctive crown steeple is a prominent feature of the city skyline, at about a third of the way down the Royal Mile. The church has been one of Edinburgh’s religious focal points for approximately 900 years. The present church dates from the late 1300s, though it was extensively restored in the 1800s. Today it is sometimes regarded as the “Mother Church of Presbyterianism.”

Don’t miss seeing the abstract modernist Scottish Parliament Building, opened 2004 in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh. Scottish Parliament had previously dropped out of existence from 1707 through 1999. The original Parliament of Scotland was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland, existing from the early 1200s until merging with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Following a Scottish referendum in 1997, the current Parliament was convened by the Scotland Act 1998, which sets out its powers as a devolved legislature, which first met in 1999. The Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate in all areas that are not explicitly reserved to Westminster.

If time allows, wander along the Water of Leith river through Dean Village, the site of old watermills in a deep gorge.

Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies


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The Kelpies, built of structural steel in 2013, are the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures. Towering 30 meters above the Forth & Clyde Canal, these two proud heads are a monumental tribute to the horse power heritage (pulling wagons, ploughs, barges and coalships) vital to early industrial Scotland. Scottish sculptor Andy Scott designed these twin 300-tonne feats of engineering. Visit the Kelpies artworks in the Helix parkland project, in Falkirk, central Scotland.

Five miles west of the Kelpies is the Falkirk Wheel. Built in 2002, the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. It reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s. The wheel raises boats by 24 metres (79 ft) in just 15 minutes, then a pair of locks raises them 11 metres (36 ft) higher to reach the Union Canal.

1295 Caerlaverock Castle


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The formidable red sandstone walls of Caerlaverock Castle have a triangular shape, unique in Britain. First built in 1295 to to control trade, its wide moat, twin-towered gatehouse and lofty battlements give Caerlaverock a fairtale appearance, the epitome of a medieval stronghold. In the castle courtyard, walk through Nithsdale Lodging, a remarkable residence built in 1635, “the most ambitious early classical domestic architecture in Scotland.” Caerlaverock is near Dumfries, on the edge of Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, in southwest Scotland. This stronghold defended the Maxwell family from the 1200s-1640, then was abandoned. It was besieged by the English during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and underwent several partial demolitions and reconstructions from the 1300s-1400s.

Comlongon Castle


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Our 20th wedding anniversary attracted us to lodging in a romantic Scottish castle, but Carol’s night in the 1902 Edwardian wing at Comlongon was haunted by steam radiator sounds and saggy bed. Luckily, the next morning compensated with good breakfast, beautifully landscaped grounds, and the swords-and-armor atmosphere of restored 1400s Comlongon Castle.

Oban and Castle Stalker


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Oban is an important tourism hub and Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry port, protected by the island of Kerrera and Isle of Mull, in the Firth of Lorn, Argyll county. The 200-meter-diameter McCaig’s Tower rises prominently on Battery Hill overlooking Oban, built in Roman style 1897-1902 by philanthropic banker John Stuart McCaig, but left unfinished upon his death.

1440s Castle Stalker is a 4-story tower house or keep picturesquely set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, an inlet of Loch Linnhe, near Port Appin, Argyll. Castle Stalker is visible from the A828 road midway between Oban and Glen Coe. The fort was occupied from the 1440s-1840, lost its roof, then was fully restored 1965-1974. It appeared in the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in the final scene as “The Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh.” The name Stalker comes from the Gaelic Stalcaire, meaning hunter or falconer.

SCOTLAND and Northern ENGLAND: map

The following map of Scotland and northern England shows our key sights in 2017 (click for Google interactive version):

Map of sights in northern England + Scotland, UK

Map of our sights in northern England and Scotland, in the United Kingdom, for 34 days round trip from Seattle to Manchester 2017 July 23–August 22.

Recommended Great Britain guidebooks at Amazon.com

Search for the latest Great Britain travel books at Amazon.com.

ENGLAND: Coast to Coast hike; Hadrian’s Wall; medieval architecture

My first visit to England filled us with surprisingly delicious pub food and admiration for spectacular medieval architecture. 13 days of mostly rainy weather didn’t slow our hike of 112 miles across “England Coast to Coast” which I photographed on commission for Wilderness Travel, 2017 July 23–August 5. Starting by dipping our boots in the Irish Sea, we cut a swath across England’s historic and literary landscape, over the fells of the Lake District to the pastoral beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Afterwards, we enjoyed guiding ourselves through York, castles and abbeys in northern England (further below), plus Scotland (in separate article).

ENGLAND gallery of favorite images, by Tom Dempsey


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Inquire about purchasing any of the above images using my Portfolio site.

The following more extensive galleries and trip map describe England in more detail:

Northern England Coast to Coast trek

Our group of 12 hikers plus 2 trip leaders rambled across a variant of the unofficial 192-mile “Coast to Coast Walk,” which is mostly unsignposted across Northern England. A luggage van with friendly driver Peter allowed us to walk with lightweight day packs and skip boring sections, ending each day in comfortable hotels. Professional guides Richard and Karen Bell cheerfully guided us across rolling hills averaging 8.6 miles per day with 1350 feet gain, which added up to a moderately strenuous effort surmounting sometimes rocky, often mucky terrain. Below are my images from the trek, in three parts (click “i” to display informative captions):

ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 1/3: Lake District National Park:


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ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 2/3: Yorkshire Dales National Park


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ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 3/3: North York Moors National Park


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Northern ENGLAND and SCOTLAND trip map, 34 days

Click here to see all my England images in day-to-day order, in a single gallery. The following map shows our key sights in 2017 (click for Google interactive version):

Map of sights in northern England + Scotland, UK

Map of our sights in northern England and Scotland, in the United Kingdom, for 34 days round trip from Seattle to Manchester 2017 July 23–August 22.

York, North Yorkshire

At the end of our athletic hiking tour, Wilderness Travel left Carol and I in fascinating York:


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The historic walled city of York lies at the confluence of rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. York is renowned for its exquisite architecture, tangle of quaint cobbled streets (called the Shambles), iconic York Minster, the longest medieval town walls in England, and a wealth of visitor attractions. Founded by the Romans as Eboracum in AD 71, it became capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik (mostly controlled by Vikings 875 to 954). In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading center. In the 1800s, York became a hub of the railway network and center for confectionery manufacturing. The University of York, health services, and tourism have become major employers.

York Minster, built over 250 years 1220-1472 AD, is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. Also known as St Peter’s, its full name is “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York.” York Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England. “Minster” refers to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and now serves as an honorific. As the center of the Church in the North, York Minster has played an important role in great national affairs, such as during the Reformation and Civil War.

Car rental tips

Renting a car one way from York to Manchester (our entry & exit airport) for 2 weeks allowed us to easily see the following sights in Northern England on our way to and from 12 days in Scotland. We rented a peppy Vauxhall Astra hatchback car with automatic transmission from AutoEurope.com for just US$33 per day (plus gas $6 per gallon, at 50+ mpg) and quickly learned to drive on the left through hundreds of efficient roundabouts. The United Kingdom still indicates miles and MPH on road signs, but metric for most everything else.

Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Park


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Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. Visit it near Ripon and Aldfield, in North Yorkshire. The adjacent Studley Royal Park features striking 1700s landscaping, gardens and canal. Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for 407 years becoming one of the wealthiest monasteries in England until its dissolution in 1539 under the order of Henry VIII. Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey is honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland


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Walk 3 miles round trip from Craster village to the impressive ruins of 1300s Dunstanburgh Castle on the coast of Northumberland. The castle was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster between 1313-1322 on existing earthworks of an Iron Age fort. Thomas was a short-lived leader of a baronial faction opposed to King Edward II. This strategic northern stronghold never recovered from seiges during the Wars of the Roses 1455-1487 after it changed hands several times between rival Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. King James I sold the fort into private owndership in 1604. Dunstanburgh Castle is now owned by the National Trust and run by English Heritage.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland


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The site of Bamburgh Castle was originally a Celtic Brittonic fort known as Din Guarie, possibly the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia from its foundation circa AD 420-547. After passing between Britons and Anglo-Saxons three times, Anglo-Saxons gained control in 590, but it was destroyed by Vikings in 993. The Normans later built a new castle here, forming the core of the present one. After a revolt in 1095 (supported by the castle’s owner), it became the property of the English monarch. 1600s financial difficulties led to its deterioration. Various owners restored it from the 1700s-1800s, ending with complete restoration by Victorian era industrialist William Armstrong. Today, the Armstrong family owners keep Bamburgh Castle open to the public. It was a film location for “Robin Hood” (2010) directed by Ridley Scott.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland


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Holy Island history dates from the 500s AD as an important center of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne, and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on Holy Island in 1550.

Hadrian’s Wall


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Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium) at Steel Rigg, England, United Kingdom, Europe. As the Roman Empire’s largest artifact, Hadrian’s Wall runs 117.5 kilometers (73.0 miles) across northern England, from the banks of River Tyne near the North Sea to Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. Much of the wall still stands and can be walked along the adjoining Hadrian’s Wall Path. Within the Roman province of Britannia, it defended the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian in the 6 years following his visit to Britain in AD 122. From north side to south, the wall comprised a ditch, stone wall, military way and vallum (another ditch with adjoining mounds). The wall featured milecastles with two turrets in between and a fort about every five Roman miles. Hadrian’s Wall is honored as a World Heritage Site. The wall lies entirely within England, and is unrelated to the Scottish border, which lies north of the wall at distances varying from 1-109 kilometers (0.6–68 miles) away.

Recommended Great Britain guidebooks at Amazon.com

Search for the latest Great Britain travel books at Amazon.com.

2016 August: Switzerland via Alpenwild tours

In one of our best trips ever, Carol and I hiked in Switzerland from July 27 to August 30, 2016. We walked for 200 miles (on 25 days out of 35 total) via trailheads connected by the world’s handiest public transportation. Included was my professional photography of two wonderful tours by Alpenwild.com, the world’s largest provider of English-language Alps tours.

See my trip images: 2016 Switzerland galleries.

To plan your next trip, see my online guide to the Alps.

In the following video captured at unforgettable Eigeralp farm in Bussalp above Grindelwald, the cheesemaker gave an impromptu accordion concert, inspiring some to dance:

Video from within the slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen:

Switzerland itinerary map 2016

Switzerland travel map: Zurich, Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais, Engadine. (Tom Dempsey)

A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe.

Alpenwild.com

As an Artist in Residence for Alpenwild.com in summer 2016, I captured 4000 images in Switzerland (see my galleries) for company promotion. Alpenwild is the world’s largest provider of English-speaking tours in Switzerland. In response to my photos, Alpenwild founder Greg Witt said:

These are absolutely stunning—I couldn’t be happier. Some of us in the office today going through your 342 favorites and each one brought back a lot of memories and also generated a lot of excitement as we discussed where and how we can best use these for maximum impact.

While I had already designed a detailed self-guided trip covering 5 weeks, Alpenwild’s expert guidance further refined the trip, adding much to our comfort and enjoyment, including the following two wonderful week-long packages:

Recommended Alps travel guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Alps travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

Bring a good country guide plus a detailed hiking guidebook:

2018: 2020: 2019:
2014:

CROATIA: Plitvice Lakes National Park

On a sunny August morning 2013, we walked the well-worn boardwalks of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes as part of a month starting from Venice, day-hiking the Dolomites of Italy, and looping into Slovenia and Croatia.


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Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvicka jezera) was founded in 1949 and is honored by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Waters flowing over limestone, dolomite, and chalk in this karstic landscape have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, beautiful lakes and waterfalls. Warming conditions after the last Ice Age (less than 12,000 years ago) allowed the natural dams to form from tufa (calcium carbonate) and chalk depositing in layers, bound by plants. Plitvicka Jezera is a municipality of Lika-Senj County in the Republic of Croatia, in Europe.

Practical tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes

  • Try to visit in the off season, as Plitvice Lakes National Park suffers severe overcrowding in the summer. Park hours are 7:00-20:00 for ticket booths, boat, and shuttlebus, but you can stroll into the park any time without boat/bus. The park is most crowded 10:00-15:00. On a Friday in early August, a 7:00am start helped us for a few hours before boardwalks became mobbed with people. Jostling with people shoulder to shoulder hurts the natural ambiance.
  • If you need to prioritize, the Upper lakes (Gornja Jezera) are most impressive. Walking briskly, you could spend a minimum of an hour at each of Lower and Upper Lakes plus half hour connection by boat or 40 minutes by trail. Hike uphill for the best views. Most people are satisfied after visiting a few hours. But dedicated photographers may want to allow an extra day or two to allow for changing weather and lighting.
  • Croatian currency is the kuna (HRK). Park entrances require cash. Paying in Euros gave change in kuna coins and bills, which may be worthless outside of Croatia.
  • Drive one way from Venice to Plitvice Lakes in about 4.5 hours (394 km).
  • The decaying infrastructure of Croatia still needs a bit of repair after the Croatian War of Independence 1991-1995, in contrast to wealthy northern Italy.

Accommodation and daily park entrance fees

  • The park entrance fee is 110 kuna per day (for entry, boat, and shuttle bus) if staying in offsite lodging, although it is paid just once if you stay in one of the following pricey park hotels:
    • The park’s on-site Hotel Bellevue (cheaper but dreary), Hotel Plitvice, and Hotel Jezero are expensive for basic rooms, costing much more than local Bed and Breakfasts (B&B). These hotels have convenient free parking, whereas the lots at Entrance 1 or 2 charge 7 kuna per hour.
    • Croatian currency is the kuna (HRK), and park entrance requires cash. Paying in Euros gave change in kuna, which is only good inside Croatia and may be hard to exchange outside.
  • In peak season, reserve lodging for Plitvice Lakes at least a day or two in advance to get more comfort per money spent.
    • After we searched among “no vacancy” hotels in mid afternoon, mid week, we settled upon a supposedly “3 star” lodging at Plitvice Lakes (Hotel #7) which sadly matched the quality of a “1 star” of Italy. A shared bathroom down extremely narrow stairs, thin walls, worn furnishings, and no air conditioning on a hot day gave us a bad memory of Hotel #7. Try these:
  • Certain local Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) may be your best bet (2013 prices), conveniently reserved at Booking.com (this link supports my work), or call each directly:
    • Vila Vuk $87 double, plitvice-lakes-vila-vuk.com, address: Mukinje 45. Contact: Tibor Vukmirovic, Tel + 385 (0) 53 774-030, Email: tibor.vukmirovic@gs.t-com.hr
    • Telephone tips: Only within Croatia do you dial the number (0) shown within parentheses. How to dial Croatia from Slovenia: 00 + 385 + Areacode + #. For mobile phones: 00 + 385 + 9xx.xxx.xxx.
    • Villa Lika $80 double, address: Mukinje 63, just south of the lakes, Tel +385 53 774 302.
    • Pansion Breza $80 dbl, Plitvica Selo 21, Tel +385 91 559 9600
    • Villa Mukinja, +385-98-1877-346, www.plitvice-lakes.com
    • House Tina, www.housetina.com, address: Grabovac 175, north of park. €40-112 double with breakfast. Tel 00385 47 784197 Mobile: 00385 98 9634048.
    • Knezevic Guest House $85/night double, www.knezevic.hr, in Mukinja, Tel 053-774-081, mobile 098-168-7576.

Recommended Croatia guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for Croatia travel books on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

NORWAY: 1981 solo hitchhiking journey

Norway solo hitchiking trip June 1 – July 29, 1981

Pulpit Rock (Prekestolen) 1959 feet above a car ferry on Lysefjord, Forsand municipality, Rogaland county, Ryfylke traditional district, Norway, Europe. Norway made a big impression on me in 1981 when I was 25 years old, as recounted below. I gladly returned to Norway in 2011 (see separate article) with Carol.

Contents:
  1. Introduction
  2. Begin: Around the World in 9 Months, Frankfurt to Oslo, DNT, Røros & Fabulous Huts, Scandinavian Languages, Hitchhiking, Trondheim, Sweden
  3. Northern Norway : Narvik, Lofoten & Vesterålen Islands,  Bodø
  4. Fjordland : Innerdalen & Trollheimen, Hike Lake Eikesdalsvatn to Åndalsnes, Geirangerfjord, Hjørundfjord,  Briksdal Glacier, Southern Fjordland, The Pulpit, Stavanger
  5. Interior Hikes : Finse to Aurlandsdal, Stalheim to Flåm, Hardanger Plateau, Jotunheimen, Troll Wall
  6. Epilogue

Introduction

With continental Europe’s lowest population density, Norway offers vast unspoiled wilderness, lit in summer for 24 hours a day. Comfortable backcountry huts (mountain refuges) form a vast network, making Norway one of the best places in the world for overnight hut walking and cross-country skiing. Norwegians greatly respect their natural world, a land of difficult terrain, cold winters and brief summers. Perhaps their active connection with the outdoors has helped give Norwegians the longest life expectancy of any nation on earth.

Glaciers have deeply gouged Norway, creating steep cliffs & deep fjords, which slowed the building of roads, railways and communication lines, until oil was discovered. Roads starting from sea level must negotiate 3000 to 6000 feet up the glacial U-shaped valleys to reach the central plateau that forms the bulk of Norway. Fjords stretch inland as far as 125 miles at Sognefjord, and have historically linked the country by boat. If unraveled, the fjord-pierced coastline would stretch for an amazing 21,000 miles, inspiring the Norwegian expression “the sea unites, but the land divides.” Norway, which is 20% smaller than California, stretches 1100 miles from the latitude of northern Scotland up to the North Cape (320 miles north of the Arctic Circle). Half of Norway lies above the Arctic Circle, if you include the large islands of Spitzbergen located far north in the Arctic Ocean.

Despite its high latitude, Norway’s climate is relatively mild. The North Atlantic Drift, partly fed by the warm Gulf Stream, keeps the fjords ice-free in winter as far north as Hammerfest, at 71° North latitude (at what would be icy Alaska’s most northerly point). Nevertheless, Norwegian summer can feel like the winter of a Mediterranean climate (such as found in Chico, California, where I was raised). Norwegians actually pioneered the study of weather because, as one local told me, “Norway gets so much of it.”  Two out of three days are cloudy in summer, surrounding the peaks and plateaus with mysterious mists, until every third day when sun shines glory upon the spectacularly carved mountains.     

For a more memorable trip, explore areas away from heavy tourist influence, such as away from train lines and during the off season.

Around the World in Nine Months

In 1981 when I was 25 years old, I traveled around the world for nine months, an adventure of a lifetime, visiting New Zealand, Nepal, Norway, France, and Switzerland. In the poor health conditions of Nepal, I had lost 15 pounds (7 kilograms), and I looked forward to better conditions in Europe. After two weeks with friends in Germany at Frankfurt and Emmendingen (near Freiburg), I recovered my zest for travel and looked forward to experiencing new countries in Scandinavia using a Eurail Pass. A little research in Oslo convinced me to concentrate two months of hiking in mountainous Norway.

By Rail from Frankfurt to Oslo, Norway

Starting in Frankfurt, Germany on June 1, I began a round trip by rail that would return July 29. I knew little about Scandinavia at first, and planned my 58-day tour one week at a time. As I approached island-bound Copenhagen (capital of Denmark), I was amazed as our train boarded a large ferry in several pieces for a one-hour crossing. With a flash of my American passport, I passed through the surprisingly cursory border check. At first, I worried about the potential loneliness of traveling alone so long in a foreign country; but soon I would meet dozens of friendly Norwegians including an Ole, Ola, and Olav . . . .

Join DNT

In Oslo, Norway’s largest city, I reached a higher latitude (60° North) than I had even been, and said goodbye to stars for the next 55 days, with light skies around the clock! I studied glossy bookstore pictures of Scandinavia for three days, concluding that I should give up on seeing Finland and most of Sweden in favor of spectacular Norway. The following wonderful book became my “bible” for the trip: Mountain Touring Holidays in Norway, published by the Norway Travel Association, Oslo.

At the excellent non-profit Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT, or Den Norske Turistforening, in 1981 known as “Norwegian Mountain Touring Association”), I bought an inexpensive one-year membership. DNT provides a master key for self-service huts and joins you with all 30 local mountain touring associations which maintain huts, mark trails, guide trips, and teach courses.

At DNT, I learned that most mountain walking areas were covered in snow until the end of June. I might be too early! In mountain elevations from 3000 to 8000 feet, summer only lasts from the end of June to the beginning of September. Luckily, below 3000 feet, summer extends from early May through September. While waiting for snow to melt in mountain areas, I would first visit lower-lying areas of Norway, such as the moors of Østerdal-Femund, the islands of North Norway, and the fjords of southwest Norway.

Røros: Fabulous Wilderness Huts (June 6-8)

I rode the train to Røros, located in the Østerdal-Femund area, in the eastern rolling hills, which lie in the snow shadow of the mountainous central plateau of South Norway. Copper was mined in Røros for 333 years, and the remaining ghost town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site complete with turf-roofed houses dating from the 1700s and 1800s.

From Røros, I hiked on snow-free, squishy yellow reindeer moss, rushing to reach the alpine Marenvollen Hut before nightfall, which never came. I realized that the skies would be light all night, a novelty for me. I tired before reaching the hut, and camped outside in the open pine moor using my new Goretex bivi (bivouac or bivy) sack for the first time. I strung a poncho over the bivi sack as double protection against the continuous drizzle.

I would end up bivying for free outdoors on 23 nights out of 58 on the trip, which was very economical. By camping frequently and buying all food in grocery stores, I spent a frugal $15 (or 90 kroner) per day in 1981. By Norwegian law, you can freely camp on any unfenced land located at least 150 meters from buildings. On fenced land, I just asked the farmer if I could camp there, and he usually gave me permission (plus sometimes a dinner and hot shower).

The next morning, a wet walk through open pine moors brought me to Marenvollen Hut. Using the self-service hut key obtained from DNT in Oslo, I entered the building as the first visitor of the “summer.” I was amazed by the pristine polished wood interior and complete kitchen, with propane stoves, china plates, silverware, pots, pans, dish cloths, and so forth. Although I had carried in my own food, the complete pantry provided stores of dried and canned foods for purchase on the honor system. The separate dining room contained couches, chairs, and tables, all warmed by a pot-bellied stove. Pre-cut wood for the stove filled half of the separate work room, which also contained various household tools on a large work bench. Four rooms with four bunks each provided foam mattresses and blankets sporting the DNT logo. Another pot-bellied stove heated a separate drying room for wet clothing and boots. On top of all these luxuries in the wet wilderness, this delightful haven provided two pristine pit toilets within the building. Stunned by this mountain Ritz, whose contents would be picked clean in most other countries, I obediently slipped my fee into the honesty box. I had this great hut completely to myself. Welcome to the wonderful Norwegian hut system!

Out of 58 nights in Norway, I slept 15 nights in the fabulous yet inexpensive Norwegian huts. Nine of these were staffed mountain hotels where I could have bought hot meals; but I usually carried all my own food. I loved the six self-service huts in which I stayed, where I could cook hot meals from food that I had frugally carried in myself; or, in a pinch, I could have purchased food from the extensive self-service pantry, making payment in the honesty box.

Hitchhiking

To return to the train station at Røros, I walked a few hours to a highway and with some trepidation, tried my hand at hitchhiking for the first time in my life. Only four cars passed before I received a ride for 10 miles straight to town! Bouyed by this initial success, I would eventually hitchhike in 50 rides for a total of 1100 miles, the length of Norway. Once I got over my initial reluctance for hitchhiking, which is discouraged in most countries, I considered it a great way to see Norway. No other method of travel allows you to meet as many local Norwegians. Hitchhiking costs nothing except patience, and paid me back with a priceless experience.

All kinds of people gave me rides. My most likely ride would come from a single driver who probably lived within 30 miles. Sometimes I studied the cars as they passed without indicating that I wanted a ride, ignoring the cars with tourist luggage and trailers. On several occasions, I would spot a young single driver with no visible luggage, I would extend my hitchhiker’s thumb signal and the driver would immediately stop for me, despite little space to turn off!

Surprisingly, I obtained more than a few rides from fellow tourists, whom are supposedly infamous for ignoring hitchhikers. Even families would pick me up. By the end of my trip, I had discovered the three best conditions for catching a ride:

  1. slow road conditions, such as an uphill climb or a town’s speed zone.
  2. a clear line of sight for at least 10 seconds in order to give the driver time to examine you.
  3. a visibly wide turnout for the driver to stop just past the hitchhiker.

Always project a neat appearance and aura of confidence when you signal for a ride, remembering that a ride can come from anyone, whether they be Norwegian, Swedish, German or French. And when a Norwegian driver tells you that he is only going a couple of “miles”, take heart, because a Norwegian mile is ten kilometers! (six American miles)

Scandinavian Languages
As of 2004, most Scandinavians speak English (except for those over about 55 years of age), making travel relatively easy for English speakers. All Norwegian schools teach English as a second language, because next to Mandarin Chinese, English is the language most spoken in the world (Russian is third). Bring a Norwegian-English Dictionary and a phrase book to Norway to read signs and communicate better. English speakers can easily learn Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, or Icelandic because these four Scandinavian languages come from Old Norsk, which is a Germanic language like English. Finnish is unrelated to these languages and harder to learn.      The Norwegian alphabet adds three letters not found in English: 

  1. æ = pronounced “eh”
  2. ø, or sometimes ö = pronounced as a short “uh”
  3. å, or sometimes aa = pronounced “oh”

Some letters are pronounced differently in Norwegian compared to English, such as g and j, which are softened to a “y” sound before certain vowels, as in “fjord (fyourd) and “Geilo” (yaylo).

Trondheim Baby Strollers

After the train ride from Røros through some good scenery and gorges to the city of Trondheim, I slept at the inexpensive Ungdomsherberge, or Youth Hostel. Staying in youth hostels for 10 nights out of 58 helped keep my costs low. Strolling through town, I was surprised by the large number of baby carriages, each which sported a storm fly like a tent! In fact, I saw a plethora of baby carriages everywhere in Norway: folded and strapped to the roofs speeding cars, stashed on public buses, and pushed by proud mothers along city streets, country roads and grassy fields. Norwegians greatly value motherhood.

By Rail, Sweden to Northern Norway (June 10-11)

In Sweden, icy sleet battled with warm sun on my ascent up the ski slope of Mount Åreskutan (4680 feet elevation). On top was a beautiful view of the smooth, snow-patched hills that roll over the Swedish border from Norway. However, most of southern Sweden is a plain punctuated with many rivers and lakes. In contrast, rocky mountains cover 72 percent of Norway, which claims almost all the rugged grandeur to be found in Scandinavia.

I slept overnight on the long train ride up the Swedish coast. After shopping for groceries in Boden, Sweden, I continue north on the train towards Norway, crossing the Arctic Circle (66.5° North latitude) for the first time in my life. Looking at the snow-covered bogs of Lappland, I couldn’t believe this was June 11th.  I had wanted to hike in Abisko National Park in northern Sweden, but the heavy snow outside kept me on the warm train. As the train descended to Narvik (68° North latitude) at 11:30 PM, I gazed down in awe at my first Norwegian fjord, 3300 feet below. The midnight sun almost succeeded in piercing the overcast sky, tantalizing me and my carload of boisterous German tourists.

Ice Cream in Icy Narvik (June 12-14)

After camping overnight in a park in freezing Narvik, I waited through two cold, rainy days for better weather. As I wandered the frigid streets, I noticed in front of every dagligvarer (“daily goods”, or grocery store), a waste basket boldly proclaimed ÅPEN. . .DIPLOM IS, which means “Open…Diploma Ice Cream”. All over Norway, ÅPEN waste baskets boldly proclaimed the various ice cream brands, such as Dola Is and Jotun Is. Despite their cold climate, Norwegians love eating this frozen dessert. In agreement, I ate a full liter of ice cream in one sitting.

Finally, on my third day in Northern Norway, the clouds parted to reveal the bluest of skies on a fine summer day with shirt-sleeve weather. As I walked half way up the hill above town, I was surprised to see the Narvik Hang-Glider Club poised for flight at the ski lift terminus. Continuing to the top of the mountain revealed a fantastic view of Narvik, its fjords and mountains.Mount Reka (1991 feet / 607 meters elevation) reflects in Eidsfjord, lit by the midnight sun. Langoy Island, Vesteralen, Norway, Europe.

Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands (June 14-18)

That day I began a hitchhiking trip that would take me from Narvik to Stamsund, 225 miles through the Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands. The wild and jagged peaks of these beautiful islands rise up to 3600 feet, often directly from the ocean, forming the imposing “Lofoten Wall” when viewed from the mainland. At their feet lie picturesque fishing villages and rorbus, which are traditional fishermen’s shanties perched on piers and painted in brick red. Since modern fishermen live at sea when fishing, rorbus now accommodate tourists. These remote islands offer unspoiled mountains, rich bird life, fishing holidays, pleasant daytime temperatures averaging 56° F (13° C), and great views of the midnight sun from May 20 to July 24. In contrast to the “light season”, the sun never rises above the horizon between the end of November and mid-January. But winter is not entirely dark, as snow brightens the land and the ethereal “northern lights” (or in latin, aurora borealis) colorize the skies.

Rich cod fishing has attracted tens of thousands of people to settle the Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands. Although the fisheries lie north of the Arctic Circle, the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift (and Gulf Stream) carry rich plankton to feed the fish caught by the world’s largest cod fishing fleet. From January to April, fishermen work 20 hours a day as the cod arrive from the Barents Sea to spawn between the Lofoten Wall and the mainland. In mid-June 1981, I was awestruck by acres of cod hung on huge racks drying everywhere in the arctic air. As of 2004, severe overfishing of spawning cod by competing countries has provoked crises and restrictive quotas in the cod industry.

On Langøy (“Long Island”), I hitchhiked to see knife-shaped Mt. Reka (1991 feet), one of the most striking mountains in Norway. A local electrician, Jarle Sivertsen, picked me up, and by chance happened to live at a classic viewpoint for Mt. Reka. He hosted me for dinner, a shower and camping on his parents’ fjord-front property. While setting up my bivi sack bedding outside for the evening, I watched him check his arrow-shaped salmon net, which pointed away from the shore to catch any fish swimming out with the tide. Before I went to sleep, I captured a favorite trip photo, Mt. Reka backlit by the midnight sun. At that time, I did not learn my host’s name, but I cherished his hospitality. Coincidentally 22 years later, Jarle’s sister May-Liss happened to find Mt. Reka on my web site Photoseek.com, and asked me via e-mail for a copy of the image to give to Jarle as a Christmas gift! I happily sent her a copy of the image and exchanged well wishes. Jarle married in 1995 and lives with his wife on the same wonderful fjord front property.

e Svolvaer Goat (1955 feet high), Lofoten Islands, above the Arctic Circle, Norway

The next morning at the luxurious Svolvær Youth Hostel, still feeling hungry from Nepal, I stuffed myself for breakfast on smørbrød (“butter + bread”), the traditional Scandinavian open-faced sandwich, upon which you spread jam, sweet hazelnut butter, cheese, fish, liver paste, kaviar, and so forth. (The hazelnut butter tasted like the egg jam that I ate in Singapore in March.) I loved everything except the brown geit ost (“goat cheese”), a Norwegian staple which I found too pasty and pungent. I much preferred the traditional Norvegia cheese, a mild white cheese with holes. Two friendly Swedish women introduced me to Scandinavian kaviar, made from the roe (egg-laden ovaries) of cod, to which I became addicted for the remainder of my stay in Norway. Curiously, this kaviar (or caviar / caviare in English) comes in a convenient squeeze tube, resembling a red, salty, fishy-tasting toothpaste! I preferred the inexpensive 300-gram tube of Kavli Kaviar, the highest quality brand, which would last for a week of camping. The tiny eggs of Scandivavian kaviar measure only half a millimeter in diameter, in contrast to the famous Russian caviar which contains expensive sturgeon eggs measuring five millimeters.

I next hitchhiked westward to Stamsund, an attractive fishing village on the next island. A variety of local Norwegians gave me rides, including two truck drivers, a man in an expensive car, and a farmer’s wife on the way to play bingo. Most of them spoke little English, but we enjoyed trying to communicate with what few words we knew of the other’s language. I would say Jeg snakke lite norsk, meaning “I speak little Norwegian.” In 1981, the Norwegians who spoke English tended to be under 30 years of age, reflecting language courses introduced to their generation in public schools. I crossed between the islands of Austvågøy and Vestvågøy on a ferry which has now been replaced by a gracefully-arched bridge. In linking their fjord-pierced country, the Norwegians may have spent more per capita on bridges than any other country.

Stamsund was a more tranquilly beautiful version of Svolvær. In the relaxed Stamsund Youth Hostel, which was renovated from a fisherman’s shanty resting on harbor pilings, I cooked a delicious meal from some freshly caught cod. I climbed the mountain above Stamsund for a good view.

Just as I prepared to leave Stamsund on the coastal express, the sun pierced the overcast low in the sky, creating beautiful reflections of boats and red rorbus reflected in the mirror of Stamsund Harbor. Tall racks of drying cod soaked in the sun’s rays. I madly rushed around snapping photographs, then with just three minutes to spare, I breathlessly caught the steamer leaving for the mainland. As the ship plowed towards Bodø on the mainland, I said a fond goodbye to the Lofoten Wall shrinking behind under the orange glow of the midnight sun.

(If you go to Lofoten, don’t miss seeing the spectacular town of Reine near the southern end of Moskenes Island. Moskenes is among the most scenic municipalities in all Norway, and the picturesque fishing villages of Hamnøy, Reine, Sørvågen, Moskenes, and Å have a dramatic backdrop of jagged peaks rising above the Vestfjord.)

Bodø

I slept for a few hours on the hurtigruten crossing to Bodø and slept the remainder of the light “night” bivying in a park. Saturated by the wild beauty of the Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands, I found Bodø to be relatively uninteresting. I hitchhiked, after a two-hour wait in busy Bodø, to see the curious Saltstraumen Current, which brochures claim is the world’s most powerful tidal race, or maelstrom. The Saltstraumen Current flows in response to the tides, rushing in or out every six hours through a narrow (150 meters wide) channel at the mouth of a large fjord. (This tidal race is not as interesting as a “tidal bore”, which is a standing wave which occurs where some rivers meet the ocean.)

On June 19, I crossed the Arctic Circle southwards by train, leaving North Norway and the land of the midnight sun. However, the midnight skies would still glow starlessly throughout July in southern Norway.

Begin Fjordland: Innerdalen and Trollheimen Mountains (June 20-21)

Returning to the unremarkable scenery of Trondheim, I completed my 11-day circle through Sweden and North Norway. I continued south by train to Oppdal, where I began a hitchhiking tour that would take me all the way to Stavanger, through the most spectacular fjord scenery in Norway.

With great luck, I hitched on my second ride from Oppdal 15 miles directly to the trailhead for Innerdalen (“the Inner Valley”), one of Norway’s most beautiful valleys. I squeezed into the back seat of a Volkswagon Beetle between the two backpacks of Kari and Ola, a local couple who by chance planned the same hike to Renndølseter Hut. I thought that I had left the icy-cold rain back in Narvik, but Innerdalen spat the same weather upon us. Just as in Narvik, the next day proved to be an incredibly beautiful, sunny summer day. I climbed 3300 feet in two hours up the shoulder of a mountain for a refreshing panorama of the Trollheimen Mountains and Innerdalen, dominated by Dalatarnet (“The Tower of the Valley”), a 4600-foot pyramidal spike like a small Matterhorn, or geologic “sugarloaf”. Next to it, a perfect “hanging valley” abruptly spilled into the main valley, marking where 18,000 years ago, a side glacier met the top of the main Innerdalen Glacier.

Kari and Ola offered me a ride which evolved into dinner at Kari’s flat in Hjelset. While waiting for pizza to cook, we watched a curious game show on Norwegian television, where the object was to identify jigsaw pictures of flowers and animals. Norwegians certainly love nature! After dinner, on his way home to Valldal, Ola left me off at a crossroads where I could hitchhike to my next goal. I stepped off the road to set up camp for the night in a grove of fir trees on the edge of a fjord. I would see Ola again in just four days.

Hike from Lake Eikesdalsvatn to Åndalsnes (June 22-25)

In the morning, very few cars drove by because tourist season had not yet begun. I waited 3 hours on that backcountry road before an Oslo engineer picked me up for the 18-mile drive to Lake Eikesdalsvatn. (Luckily, I did not have to wait for a ride as long as my brother Dave did for two and half days in the outback of Australia!)  I ferried across Lake Eikesdalsvatn to Hoemsbu, a self-service hut in the cellar of a sheep farmer’s house. The gray day slightly reduced the grandeur of the peaks which impressively rose a vertical mile above the lake surface. In perhaps my riskiest venture in Norway, I walked alone over a 4600-foot pass, of which the top 1300 feet were steep snow. I put plastic bags between my socks and boots to keep my feet insulated from the snow. Snow mostly buried the red “T” trailmarkers, and I only found my way by discovering the tracks of someone who had crossed earlier. I climbed and descended 4600 feet in 9 hours through rain, fog and snow, transitioning from snow-covered alpine to rainforest (reminding much of backpacking the Copland Pass Track over the shoulder of Mt. Cook in New Zealand in February). Feeling both proud and relieved, I traversed the pass to the next valley bottom, where I fell fast asleep in my bivi sack.

The next day, on a 10-mile walk to the town of Åndalsnes, I enjoyed meeting a friendly Czechoslovakian couple who were hitchhiking and rock-climbing on a six-week vacation, and carrying all of their belongings in duffle bags with shoulder straps but no hip belt. At the Åndalsnes youth hostel, I joined an impromptu dinner of à la dente spaghetti with an Italian man, two French women, a French Canadian, and a Swiss German man. Then two charismatic German men entered and stunned us by announcing their plans to parachute from the 3300-foot Troll Wall (Trollveggen), the highest vertical cliff in Europe! I immediately pictured the incredible films I had seen of BASE (“Building, Aerial, Span, Earth”) jumpers leaping from the 3500-foot overhang of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite Valley; however, fickle winds and bad weather make the Troll Wall much more dangerous. The next day, rain canceled the Germans’ jump, and they had to wait a full month for suitable parachuting conditions. I would learn their fate near the end of my trip, which I tell later.

Rain shelved my plans to see the spectacular Romsdal (the deeply glaciated Roms Valley sided by the Troll Wall). After waiting for a ride 2.5 hours in the rain, I resorted to taking a bus to reach Valldal in order to again see Ola, whom I met at Innerdalen. The bus labored up the steep switchbacks of Trollstigveien (“the Troll Path”), sometimes reversing to turn a hairpin curve on the second attempt. Mists hid the famous views.

At his flat in Valldal, Ola whipped up a delicious dinner featuring cuts of ox meat. Although he spoke limited English and my Norsk (“Norwegian”) was next to nil, his slide show of mountain walking in Norway and (the former) Yugoslavia broke any language barrier. In thanks, I later sent him prints from my trek in Nepal.

Spectacular Geirangerfjord

The next morning, Ola took me to the ferry, where I met the Kunz’s, a Swiss German family of three, who drove me to Geirangerfjord. In September, I would visit the friendly Kunz’s at their photo store in Bern, Switzerland. Traveling alone motivated me to meet many more people than I would if I had a companion along, which made Norway especially memorable for me.

The tourist town of Geiranger prospers from spectacular Geirangerfjord, the epitome of Norwegian fjords. In summer, the town speaks mostly German, and world class cruise ships anchor daily. An elegant Russian liner pulled in as I watched. Many Norwegians claimed that summer had the worst weather in 40 years, but usually the sun shone for me at the major sights, including Geirangerfjord. I left my luggage at the fjord-front campground and walked up 12 switchbacks of the Eagle Road for an amazing view of the dark-green, snake-shaped Geirangerfjord.

Hjørundfjord Milk Run

I ferried the impressive Geirangerfjord and hitchhiked to the wider and similarly remarkable Hjørundfjord, but with no foreign tourists in sight. I ferried up and down the sparsely populated Hjørundfjord, deciding eventually to camp at Trandal, a 21-person farming community clinging to the steep slopes, accessible only by ferry. An old man at the dock led me up the hill and took me to a house where a woman spoke English. She happened to serve as postmaster for Trandal, whose name means “Cod Liver Oil Valley”. I inquired about camping spots, and the woman and her husband eventually gave me a comforting dinner, room, and hot shower. Their spacious new dream house built of handsome wood contained all modern conveniences, electrified via a cable laid beneath the deep waters of Hjørundfjord. They shared raising 200 goats with three other families, rotating into a vacation of half a week every week and a half. Near fjord level, they cut the grass two or three times per summer for winter fodder, which they hung on parallel wire fences to dry, creating a distinctive sight seen throughout fjordland. While this hay dries at low elevations in summer, the goats graze high pastures. Norwegians call a homestead on the high summer pasture a sæter (or seter).

The next morning was sunny and uplifting, and I thanked the postmaster and her family for their generosity. I boarded the ferry along with the goat milk truck, which was collecting milk from each local farm. I enjoyed this spectacular “milk run” on Hjørundfjord.

Now saturated by gorgeous scenery, I decided against walking up impressive Mt. Slogjen, which rises directly from Hjørundfjord nearly a vertical mile. After 15 cars passed me in 3 hours waiting for a ride, I finally flagged down a bus. In fine weather, I bused and hitchhiked 75 miles to the famous Briksdalsbreen (“The Briksdal Glacier”), where I camped.

The Briksdal Glacier

As in Geiranger, the summer language in Briksdal is also mostly German. Touristy horse carts draw dozens of older couples to Briksdal Glacier, which snakes down 3000 feet from its source of Jostedalsbreen, an ice plateau which is the largest glacier in Europe (171 square miles & 1000 feet thick). The Briksdal is one of 24 glacial tongues that originate in Jostedalsbreen at about 6500 feet elevation. I saw long jagged ridges of ice perched atop the mountains around me, hinting at this huge ice plateau beyond, which I hear is very exciting to explore using mountaineering equipment.

A side view reveals a long vertical crack in the Pulpit (Prekestolen), 1959 feet above Lysefjord, in Forsand municipality, Rogaland county, Ryfylke traditional district, Norway, Europe.

Hitchhiking Southern Fjordland (July 1-3)

The next five days I zoomed through fjord country catching ride after ride, heading for Stavanger and a nearby wonder of nature called “the Pulpit”. Ferrying across Sognefjord at Vangsnes gave striking views. On my longest day, I hitchhiked 145 miles, ending up in a hotel room furnished by Olav, a generous cannery representative on a solo sightseeing tour. On our way to Voss, Olav took us on a scenic sidetrip to Stalheim, which stunned me with its view over the Nærøy Valley, dominated by a 3000-foot granite dome, reminiscent of California’s Yosemite Valley.  I vowed to return to Stalheim, which I did 9 days later.

Situated at a major road and rail junction, Voss was the busiest tourist town that I experienced in Norway, and tourists mainly spoke American. Americans notoriously zoom around Europe on railpasses, spending only a few days in each country, as immortalized in the movie “If This Is Tuesday, This Must Be Belguim.” Americans tend to concentrate on ralways, since they usually don’t rent cars in Scandinavia. Many Americans stop in Voss on their quick rail trip between Bergen and Oslo, the two largest cities in Norway. Americans usually ride the nearby Myrdal to Flåm rail line, the most accessible fjord attraction in Norway. However, trains cannot reach most of the best fjord scenery, so Americans often miss the great highlights that other European tourists see from cars.

I caught an instant ride leaving Voss with Ole, a young Norwegian who spoke excellent English. When I asked Ole why I had seen so many mentally and physically handicapped people on the public transportation systems, he explained that Norway actively encourages the disabled to engage with their world, and also 1981 was the International Year of the Handicapped. Socialistic Norway devotes a healthy portion of its North Sea oil profit to such beneficial social programs. The United States has the same proportion of disabled people as Norway, but offers much less public social support.

I ferried then hitchhiked the length of Hardangerfjord in a large goat truck. Builders carved the narrow fjord road into the granite a hundred years ago, leaving room for only one and a half goat trucks. Only the occasional turnouts allowed large vehicles to pass. My driver passed others at breakneck speed, leaving little room for error. Pelting rain added to the atmosphere of our wild ride through 80 miles of fjordland, my longest single ride. At Åkrafjord, we again barreled along an even narrower road that clung to the side of sheer granite walls. At one point, my wry driver pulled in his mirror in order to squeeze past a truck-trailer rig! This was one of the main highways to Stavanger, Norway’s fourth largest city.

With additional rides from a Coke truck and a German couple, I reached Vikedal, a town seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where I camped in the nearby woods. On the next day, oil derrick workers gave me two of three rides, indicating my proximity to oil-rich Stavanger, the main port for Norway’s generous share of North Sea oil. The oil workers said they worked 14 days then vacationed for 21 days in a regular cycle. Sounds like a good job!  Pulpit Rock (Prekestolen) 1959 feet above a car ferry on Lysefjord, Forsand municipality, Rogaland county, Ryfylke traditional district, Norway, Europe.

Hike the Pulpit (July 4)

At the trailhead for “the Pulpit” (Prekestolen), I discovered that a group of German teenagers had fully booked the mountain hotel (Prekestolhytta). Tired by nonstop hitchhiking, I camped outside in the occasional rain. To keep out the clouds of tiny mygg, the biting midges which can pass right through mosquito netting, I had to seal my bivi sack, making an uncomfortable and stuffy atmosphere for sleeping. Luckily midges did not bother me anywhere else in Norway. I hear that midges can be a nuisance just after the snow melts in Lappland and North Norway.

On July 4, I awoke to an overcast sky and occasional rain. I ate breakfast of the usual smørbrød cold cuts, while pacing back and forth to avoid the midge cloud. Finally, during a break in the warm rain, I struck out along the muddy trail, determined to see the Pulpit despite the misty weather. I walked 1.5 hours through an eerie landscape of blocky mountains, sparsely peppered with trees. Suddenly the Pulpit appeared, and my eyes bugged out at Lysefjord, 1959 feet directly below. As a tourboat drew into view down on Lysefjord, I quickly snapped my favorite photo from Norway: a lone traveler perched atop the Pulpit, high above the tourboat pulling into the sun’s reflection.

The sun came out and I photographed every view. The Pulpit, an impressive sharply-cut monolith of rock that juts above Lysefjord, was yet another highlight of my trip, joining the ranks of the islands of North Norway, Innerdalen, Geirangerfjord, Nærøy Valley, and Briksdal Glacier.

Old Stavanger

I had just completed a hitchhiking journey of 621 miles (not counting buses and ferries) from Oppdal to Stavanger. At that point, only halfway through my 58 days in Norway, I was becoming scenically saturated. As a spur of the moment day away from nature, I wandered Stavanger, admiring the white-faced row houses of Old Stavanger and the big tankers in the harbor carrying liquid natural gas (LNG). On that beautiful summer day, people even swam in the ocean, taking advantage of a heat wave.

Hike from Finse to Aurlandsdal, the “British Route” (July 5-9)

I slept overnight on the train from Stavanger to Oslo, where I restocked my photographic film supply, then zoomed on to Finse, the highest railway station in Norway (4268 feet). Stepping off of the train on July 6, I entered a world still locked in winter. The lake was one-third covered in ice, the ground was half-covered in snow, and the temperature was 40° F. (10° C). DNT had advised me correctly, saying mountain areas would be snow-covered until about now.

In the next three weeks, I would hike above Sognefjord (in two places), on Hardanger Plateau, and in the Jotunheim Mountains.

From Finse, I began a three-day walk known as the popular “British Route“, five hours per day over a 5570-foot pass to the Aurlandsdal (“Aurland Valley”). July 8th marked the first day that I wore shorts in Norway! Summer had officially arrived. Convenient access by rail and ferry makes this hike popular, but the scenery is unexceptional until Aurlandsfjord. Expecting a wilderness experience, I felt disappointed by Aurlandsdal, where I found dams, roads, and power lines on the surface feeding a hydroelectric project whose huge size was mostly hidden underground. (On the other hand, some wilderness-loving friends of mine hiked this route in 2004 and enjoyed it.)

Many other natural wonders in Norway have been tapped for human use, such as Mardalsfossen (above Lake Eikesdalsvatn), formerly the highest waterfall in Europe and the sixth highest in the world. Now engineers turn on Mardalsfossen only in July for tourists to see, and the remainder of the year they divert it for hydroelectric power. Engineers have also reduced the volume of one of Norway’s most stunning waterfalls, Vøringsfossen. These and many other water power schemes make Norway the European leader in hydroelectric development.

At the tourist town of Aurland, I caught the famous ferry through Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord (the southern tongues of Sognefjord, longest fjord in Norway). Accessibility by rail makes this fjord tour one of the most well-known attractions in Norway. I rate Nærøyfjord as second only to Geirangerfjord in grandeur. Nærøyfjord, billed as the narrowest fjord in the world, squeezes only 600 feet wide between cliffs that rise 3000 to 5000 feet. I bivied at a motorcamp in Gudvangen in the mile-deep trench of the amazing Nærøy Valley.

Hike from Stalheim to Flåm (July 10-13)

I hitchhiked up the Nærøy Valley, the cousin of Yosemite Valley, and returned to Stalheim as I had vowed on July 1. At Stalheim, I played my usual photographic game of waiting hours on end for the sun to come out. Finally, the sun shone feebly on the impressive 3000-foot dome of Jordalsnuten.

The same day, I walked six hours to a snowy retreat called Grindaflethytta (“Grindaflet Hut”, 3574 ft elevation), halfway between Stalheim and Flåm. Halfway to the hut, rain began to fall, and I knocked on the door of a tiny cabin, where an extremely friendly dentist and his wife invited me inside for tea. They gave me valuable advice on where to backpack on the Hardangervidda, my next goal.

I rested all the next day alone at the luxurious, self-service Grindaflet Hut. On the hut radio, I created musical electronic noise as I searched for stations. Radio Moscow competed with Voice of America on the crowded European band waves. BBC said “Let’s Speak English.” Outside, reality drizzled rain on the melting snowy landscape. Inside, I comfortably sifted memories from my trip around the world.

The following day, rain did not abate, but I set out anyway, changing my goal from Undredal, a snowy seven-hour trudge away, to Flåm, a five-hour walk. On the last mile as the crow flies, I descended 2300 feet straight down to Flåm in dripping rain, stepping with sore legs ever downwards on slick rocks and ferns, losing the trail in dense rainforest several times. (Friends Cecile and Dave hiked this in 2004 and found the descent to be equally punishing.)

That descent reminded me much of walking the rugged Dusky Sound Track in New Zealand with my brother Jim. The Flåm Valley strongly resembles the rain-forested glacial valleys of Fiordland National Park, New Zealand (where they spell “fiord” with an “i” instead of “j”). However, instead of the dense beech forest of New Zealand’s Fiordland, Norway’s fjordland has spruce, fir and birch forest, plus its snow and alpine zones start closer to sea level.

I finally rode the famous Flåm to Myrdal railway line, the most expensive 12-mile section of standard-gauge railway in the world. Unlike the special rack railways of Switzerland, the Flåm to Myrdal line runs on ordinary railway tracks, and overlaps itself five times in one spot on its ascent of 2845 feet in 12 miles. The train plunges through so many dark tunnels (20) that it is more impressive as an engineering wonder than a scenic one. I returned to the DNT hut at Finse, completing a round trip of seven days. For dinner, I found a new treat: sauerkraut in a box.

Hike the Hardanger Plateau (July 14-18)

From Finse, I rode the train then hitchhiked onto the Hardangervidda (“Hardanger Plateau”), Norway’s second most popular hiking area. Hitching with two French students, I visited the breathtaking Vøringfoss, a powerful waterfall that thunders 597 feet from the Plateau to fjord country. Hydroelectric projects have diverted some of its roar, but Vøringfoss still impressed me.

The students left me at Sæbø, near the eastern end of Hardangerfjord. Since I would again be sleeping in mountain hotels, I left excess weight, such as Ensolite pad and bivi sack, with a campground manager.

I ascended 2600 feet on a farm road, switchbacking twenty times to reach a trailhead. My head ached most of that day, and I finally admitted that I felt lonely. Traveling alone for six weeks had taken a toll on my spirit. Along the way, some unnaturally friendly sheep ran up and followed me, bleating loudly! This was the third trail where sheep had followed me, perhaps hungry or lonely. On my previous hike from Stalheim to Flåm, a sheep had approached and sniffed me. On my earlier hike from Lake Eikesdalsvatn to Åndalsnes, a flock of ten sheep had run across a steep snow field and followed me excitedly! These sheep seemed overjoyed to see me in their isolated summer pastures, in sharp contrast with the flighty, dull-witted behavior of the penned hordes of sheep I saw earlier that year in New Zealand.

Encouragingly, my headache disappeared when I socialized with fellow walkers at Viveli mountain hut, four hours later. Once I had ascended from fjord country up to the Hardanger Plateau, walking became a breeze on the gently undulating top. Hardangervidda is probably Europe’s largest alpine plateau, measuring 40 by 60 miles, resting between elevations of 3000 and 4000 feet. Entirely above treeline, the desolate Hardanger Plateau fascinates many wilderness lovers. I had heard good reports about the Hardanger Plateau in conversations as far away as Nepal and New Zealand: nice scenery, lakes with good fishing, and a variety of alpine flowers (200+ species) and wildlife (reindeer, ducks).

As I walked to Hadlaskard mountain hotel, the hat shape of Mount Hårteigen (5500 feet) popped into view, a striking erosional anomaly on the relatively flat plateau. Climbing Hårteigen required a tricky ascent up a very steep snow gully. I methodically kicked snow steps upwards. A slip could have dropped me instantly onto rocks below. I definitely needed a rope and ice ax for safety. But with confidence and care, though, I topped Hårteigen and was rewarded by a striking panorama of undulating hills striped with snow like a zebra. To the north, I saw the sprawling permanent ice cap of Hardangerjøkulen (“the Hardanger Glacier”). I had the summit to myself. Beautiful summer days such as this made my journey all worthwhile.

Descending Hårteigen took just as much care as the ascent . . . but I concluded my venture with a triumphant slide down the snow chute! None of the 20 passers-by had attempted the climb that day. At the next mountain hotel, Torehytta, I became the legend for the day with my story of climbing Hårteigen. I encountered the most crowded hut of the trip at Torehytta: fourteen people in bunks and three (including myself) on the couches. Tourist season, July 15 to August 15, had begun!

Two days later, I hiked the spectacular transition from the Hardanger Plateau to fjordland. Huge cascades of water paralleled my course as I descended 3300 feet across smoothly glaciated granite and fir forest. On a hot summer day, I reached Kinsarvik, an important junction town on Hardangerfjord. Since I had passed through Kinsarvik two weeks earlier, I was surprised at how the campgrounds had become choked with visitors in such a short time.

Hike Jotunheimen, the Home of the Giants (July 19-25)

I hitchhiked back to Sæbø to collect my extra camping gear, then continued on to Geilo with a young Norwegian man, who was playing Bob Marley and Pink Floyd on his tape deck. He commented that American popular music reaches Norway five or ten years after its release.

On the train to Gol, to my great surprise I was surround by a carload of Russian tourists, who were visiting Norway in two days, like many Americans do. None spoke English. I conversed in basic French with a Russian cardiology professor. With extreme curiosity, the Russians riddled me with questions about the prices of cars, houses, and wristwatches in the United States, and were amazed at the low price of my digital wristwatch. We reached Gol all too soon, and I had to step off that exotic train car. This brief brush with Russia provoked my excitement as much as my four-hour layover in Moscow Airport, on the way to Europe from Nepal. In 1981, the “Cold War” was thawing quickly, and Russians and Americans had a lot to talk about.

In searching for a camping place across the river from Gol, I bumped into a group of six French campers in the bushes. We conversed in English, which they spoke better than my French. They eventually  invited me to dine and camp with them. Several weeks later, I would visit one of them, Philippe Contet, in his hometown of Chalon-sur-Saône, in the province of Burgundy, France. Philippe’s study of electrical engineering required many journals written in English and motivated him to learn my language.

From Gol, I hitchhiked in two rides to the “Home of the Giants”, where I would hike my last and best backpacking trip. One driver, a farmer’s wife, told me that she and her kids seated in the car, ages 8 and 10, had recently walked up Norway’s two highest peaks! I had pictured these peaks as arduous climbs, and now her kids seemed to be bionic athletes. I would soon find out for myself in my climb of Glittertind, Norway’s second highest peak.

I spent five days in Jotunheimen(“the Home of the Giants”), the highest mountains in Scandinavia. I stored excess weight at Gjendesheim, a DNT mountain hotel on the shores of the glacially green Lake Gjende. I was surprised to see the nearby ridges free from snow, despite being higher than snowy Finse. Then I learned that the 8000-foot Jotunheim Mountains capture the bulk of winter snowfall into a dazzling display of glaciers and snow-capped peaks, creating a drier “snow shadow” area around Gjendesheim. For an evening walk, I hiked up 2600 feet to Veslefjell Ridge, which drops steeply down to Lake Gjende (elevation 3240 feet).  Shaped like a link sausage, beautiful Lake Gjende stretched off to the foot of the distant snow-capped Jotunheim Mountains. Turning around, I suddenly spotted a dozen reindeer which were grazing the thin layer of yellow lichen on the otherwise bare rocks. Reindeer prefer high ridges like this one. I approached to within 50 meters of the reindeer, noticing large racks of antlers on the noble beasts. I felt privileged to share this place of stark beauty with these fellow wanderers of nature.

At 7:00 AM, I embarked across Lake Gjende on a motorboat, packed like Lofoten sardines with fellow walkers who would traverse the famous Besseggen Ridge that day. I stepped off the boat at Memurubu, located at the “link” of the two sausage shapes of Lake Gjende. The six-hour walk back to Gjendesheim provides a stunning view from Besseggen Ridge, one of the best sights in Norway, if not the world. I walked up the ridge 1300 feet to Lake Bessvatn, then another 1000 feet where the ridge became a quite narrow and airy “hogsback”, with a remarkable view back down to light green Lake Gjende and the adjacent contrasting deep blue of Lake Bessvatn. In the distance rose the snowy glaciated peaks of the Jotunheim Mountains. Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen immortalized this place when he described Peer Gynt’s wild ride on the reindeer across Besseggen Ridge.

Leaving camping gear behind in Gjendesheim on the following day, I walked seven hours over stony ground to Glitterheim hut, “home of Glittertind“, which is officially the second highest peak in Norway (8047 feet). However, a 60-foot-thick snow cap on Glittertind makes you stand at 8107 feet, the highest point in Scandinavia. Officially, the highest mountain in Norway is Galdhøpiggen (8102 feet), located across the valley from Glittertind.

By now in excellent physical condition, I easily hiked up 3500 feet in two hours to the top of photogenic Glittertind, which sports a jaunty ice cap that overhangs an impressive 1500-foot deep cavity. I saw a fantastic panorama of glaciers and peaks, another highlight of my tour. Although the Norwegian peaks only reach about 8000 feet above sea level, in my book, their snow-capped beauty match the great mountains of the world, including the Himalayas, the mountains of the Americas, and the New Zealand and Swiss Alps. Not only that, many Norwegian peaks can be hiked by the whole family, everyone from young kids to senior citizens, plus their dogs. (Norway also offers many challenging technical climbs, such as the Troll Wall, rated as one of the world’s six most difficult rock climbs.) To descend, I joyously slid 3500 vertical feet in one hour down the snow.

In my previous seven weeks, I had seen highlight after highlight without much rest. Tired and saturated with incredible scenery, I decided not to climb Galdhøpiggen, which has a view similar to Glittertind. The next day, in another stony walk, I hiked five hours out to Spiterstulen, a mountain hotel connected by road to civilization.

Skydiving the Troll Wall (July 25-27)

To complete one final unfinished sight, I returned to Åndalsnes in order to see the spectacularly glaciated mile-high walls of Roms Valley, which rain had obscured earlier. I just caught sight of the shear 3300-foot vertical drop of the Troll Wall as the fickle mists parted, then closed again. “That’ll do” I thought.

I shuddered at the risk taken by the two German skydivers who had jumped off the Troll Wall (Trollveggan) just one week earlier! One month after I had first met the two Germans at Åndalsnes Youth Hostel, I learned their fate via word of mouth and Norsk newspapers, which friends roughly translated. One parachutist had apparently landed safely on a snow patch near the bottom of the Troll Wall. A Norwegian police helicopter picked him up because either they wanted to arrest him, or maybe he could not descend without help. The second jumper fared badly, breaking his back upon landing after his directional parachute failed to fully open, and a day or two passed before he could be rescued and hospitalized. Each year, several skydivers leap from the Troll Wall, to the consternation of the Norwegian government, which usually ends up paying for rescues. Norway was considering pressing charges against the two Germans to collect the $100,000 rescue fee. Aside from legal ramifications, very poor wind and weather complicate jumping from the Troll Wall ­ the skydivers had to wait more than a month for good conditions! (Update 2004: Norway is one of the few countries in the world where BASE-jumping is still legal, subject to strict regulations. For example, in the last week of June each year, the town of Voss holds an Extreme Sports Week, where qualified jumpers can leap from a thousand-foot cliff called “the Beak”.)

Back to Home Base in Frankfurt, Germany (July 28-29)

Burnt out by my almost nonstop journey through the great scenery of Norway, I zoomed back through Oslo, Copenhagen and Hamburg to return to home base with an American friend in Frankfurt, sleeping two nights in a row on the train. I did not mind giving up the two extra days remaining on my two-month Eurail pass.

Epilogue

My initial ignorance of the snowy conditions of the Norwegian mountain walking areas in June became a blessing — that time was spent discovering the fantastic Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands of North Norway and the spectacular fjordland of southwest Norway. Because most of the great sights and experiences are not directly accessible by rail, I hitchhiked via car 1100 memorable miles, meeting many wonderful and generous Europeans.

To this day, Norway remains vivid in memory as my longest solo journey. Actually the trip began alone, but I met many friendly people along the way. On the trail in the Jotunheim Mountains, I encountered Willie Aeberhard, who would later host me for four days in his home of Sarnen, near Lucerne, Switzerland. And don’t forget Ole, Ola, and Olav (above).

I loved hiking Norway’s wilderness with a light pack, using its extensive network of well-marked trails and huts, the world’s best refuge system. Areas away from heavy tourist influence were most enjoyable, away from train lines and in the off season. When in Europe, don’t miss Norway, one of the most beautiful countries on earth.

References:
  1. Den Norske Turistforening (DNT), office at Storgata 3, two blocks from Oslo Central (train) Station.
  2. Mountain Touring Holidays in Norway, an excellent hiking guidebook published by the Norway Travel Association, Oslo. Check for a copy at the DNT office.

Recommended Norway books from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Norway travel books” at Amazon.com.


SWITZERLAND and the ALPS hiking guide

The Alps of Europe are a paradise for hikers. This article describes how to plan your hiking trip beneath spectacular peaks such as Eiger, Jungfrau, Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Piz Palü. Here are the Alps in a nutshell:

  1. Switzerland: Berner Oberland & neighboring Loetschental.
  2. France—Switzerland (Valais/Wallis): The Walker’s Haute Route; Bettmerhorn & Eggishorn
  3. France—Italy—Switzerland: Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)
  4. Switzerland: Engadine Valley: trek 5+ days admiring distinctive architecture & icy peaks.
  5. Switzerland: Appenzell: trek 1-5 days via a splendid microcosm of Swiss mountain traditions.
  6. Switzerland: Schaffhausen canton: 1-2 days old town, Rhine Falls & historic Stein am Rhein. 

Separate articles cover the Dolomites plus Venice in ITALY and Julian/Slovenian Alps in SLOVENIA.

Click here to view Tom’s Portfolio of Alps favorite images from hiking in Switzerland, France, Italy, and Slovenia. In the following video captured at unforgettable Eigeralp farm in Bussalp above Grindelwald, the cheesemaker gave an impromptu accordion concert, inspiring some to dance:

Practical advice for self-guided trips in Switzerland and the Alps
  • Transportation:
    • In your home country before departure, buy a Swiss Pass for free travel on most Swiss rail lines and Post Buses (discounted for 2+ people traveling together, or age 60+, or under age 26) and discounts on most lifts. Various Flexi Pass options save money for public transportation on days of your choice everywhere in Switzerland.
    • For one-way hikes within Switzerland: Post your luggage ahead to train and Post stations, or have hotels send your bags ahead.
    • Renting a car can beat train prices for 3 or more people traveling together (though parking can be a problem in big cities).
  • Money: travel costs in Switzerland are on par with resort areas of the USA. From 2005-2016, exchanging the US dollar for Swiss Francs has been better than for the Euro (used in France, Italy, and Austria). Restaurants are expensive. Spend less on food by packing a thermos bottle to fill at your hotel in the morning for hot drinks during the day, along with a sack lunch assembled from Coop or Migros grocery stores. Finding a flat with kitchen was our favorite deal in the Dolomites.
  • Use hiking poles (as do Europeans) to assist ascents, protect your joints on descents and improve hiking stamina by 20%.
  • Time change: set your watch +9 hours from Pacific Standard Time (PST=west coast USA) to get Central European time (CEST is GMT+1). Allow a full day to recover from travel weariness and severe jet lag, plus 2 or 3 days to recover your sleep schedule.
  • Guidebooks: Buy a travel guidebook plus hiking guidebook at bottom of this article for planning and reference along the way.
Switzerland map 1: five-week hiking itinerary, August 2016
A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe. (Tom Dempsey)

Map 1: A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a 5-week itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30, 2016) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley. (Tom Dempsey)

Switzerland map 2: one-month hiking itinerary, September 2005
A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich and doing 20 hikes in Berner Oberland, Chamonix (France), Zermatt, and Engadine Valley, Europe. (Tom Dempsey)

Map 2: In 2005, Carol and Tom Dempsey hiked 20 days during a month in Switzerland, via Zurich, Berner Oberland, the High Route from Chamonix (France) to Zermatt, and Engadine Valley. (Tom Dempsey)

Weather and hiking season in the Alps (Switzerland, France, Austria, Italy)
  • July 1 through August 15 is high tourist season, after which local kids go back to school and parents don’t have as much time to visit the tourist areas, which are then less crowded. Our trip July 27-August 30, 2016 had almost perfect weather, vast variety of wildflowers, and little problem with crowds (lots of lodging options).
  • July to early August has the best wild flower displays. We were still impressed by flowers in September 2005.
  • Late August through September is a great time to go for good weather and also avoiding crowds. Yellow larch and other impressive fall colors begin in middle to late September. Many mountain huts start closing in early September. Stay in valley hotels all year. Hiking season continues through October in the Dolomites, Italy, which are consistently clearer, warmer and drier than the Alps of Switzerland, France & Austria, which are further north.
  • Swiss hiking season ends about late September or early October due to snow in the mountains and the closure of many visitor facilities. When winter snowpack builds up a few months later, the Alps throng with skiers, creating bigger winter crowds than summer in ski areas such as Zermatt, where building booms have provided lots of lodging.

Mountain weather varies by region:

  • A north wind generally means good weather in the Alps.
  • Check the useful weather forecast for specific ranges, peaks, and altitudes:
  • Check weather forecasts and start hiking early in the morning. In many mountain areas, sun heating the ground in the morning can often build up clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Patient photographers can look for attractive cloud breaks in the hours around sunset.
  • Switzerland:
    • The Valais, Zermatt, and Matterhorn tend to be sunny and dry with the highest hikes in the country.
    • Bernese Oberland and the Eiger are much rainier than the Valais and Engadine. The astounding beauty of ice clad peaks soaring high above verdant green pastures sprinkled with wildflowers must be seen to be believed.
  • France: Chamonix climate is somewhere between Geneva and Zermatt, one of the drier alps areas in the rain shadow of Mont Blanc. September to early October is best hiking weather.
  • Dolomites, Italy (click for article): September through October are consistently clearer, warmer, drier in the Dolomites than in the Alps of Switzerland, France & Austria. Southern and southeastern areas are foggier than the rest of the Dolomites. Excellent overnight hut walking options include:
    • Rifugio Lagazuoi
    • Tre Cime di Lavaredo (in Italian), Drei Zinnen (in German), or “Three Pinnacles” (in English) circuit with refugios.
Global warming is quickly melting most Alps glaciers

1. Switzerland: Berner Oberland and neighboring Loetschental

The Berner Oberland (Bernese Highlands, Bernese Oberland, or Bernese Alps) is the southern and higher elevation part of Bern canton in Switzerland.

How to get there: From Zurich downtown train station, ride 4 hours to Interlaken, where you board a train to scenic Grindelwald Valley or spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley.


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

UNESCO lists Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn as a World Heritage Area featuring the most glaciated part of the Alps, Europe’s largest glacier, and a range of classic glacial features such as U-shaped valleys, cirques, horn peaks, and moraines. The ongoing uplift and compression that formed the High Alps has left an outstanding geological record. A diversity of flora and wildlife thrives in a range of Alpine and sub-Alpine habitats. In the wake of retreating glaciers, witness the colonization and succession of flowers and plants. The impressive vista of the North Wall of the High Alps, centered on the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks, has played an important role in European art and literature.

Berner Oberland and Loetschental hiking tips, Switzerland

See the external site: www.myswissalps.com/berneseoberland/ which thoroughly describes most Berner Oberland hikes, of which I’ve done the following:

1a. Mannlichen Gipfel
  • is the wonderful site of my best-selling imageEiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau 81ALP-04-15.
  • Männlichen Royal Walk: Männlichen mountain (2343 meters elevation or 7687 feet) gives a stunning view of the peaks of Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin 13,600 feet) with a foreground ridge enhancing the sense of scale. Männlichen can be reached from Wengen by the Luftseilbahn Wengen-Männlichen (LWM) cable car, or from Grindelwald using the Gondelbahn Grindelwald-Männlichen (GM) gondola. Then walk 15 minutes on a paved path to the summit. Go before 1:30PM to avoid frequent afternoon cloud buildup. Return down the hill, then traverse 2 leisurely hours to Kleine Scheidegg train station, facing stunning mountain views at every turn! A special cog train runs from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and back.
1b. Lauterbrunnen Valley
  • Wander around Lauterbrunnen for amazing views, including 1000-foot-high Staubbach Falls, in one of the world’s most spectacular glaciated valleys.
  • Hike from Mürren (or Gimmelwald) up towards Birg and the Schilthorn as we did, and take the cable car back down for a very scenic day (or lift up and walk down).
    • Or walk Mürren to Griesalp one way 10 miles, 3000-4000 feet gain, then take the Kiental bus out. Optionally stay overnight in Griesalp and continue walking from Griesalp to Kandersteg.
  • On a rainy day, visit “Trummelbach Falls inside the mountain,” an underground slot canyon (entry fee).
  • We loved hiking to the quiet retreat of Berghotel Obersteinberg, which offers tremendous views of waterfalls and peaks in Upper Lauterbrunnen Valley, spotlit at sunset. Lit by candle light at night, this romantic escape built in the 1880s recalls an earlier era without power. The main luxuries here are flush toilets down the hall, and traditional Swiss hot meals. The private double rooms lack electricity, and bowls of water serve as bath and sink. Obersteinberg is a 2-hour walk from Stechelberg, or 4 hours from Mürren. From Obersteinberg, don’t miss the 2-3 hours round trip to the deep-blue tarn of Oberhornsee in the upper glacial basin, beneath snowcapped Grosshorn, Breithorn and Tschingelhorn.

Video from within the slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen:

1c. Grindelwald Valley
  • Faulhorn Trail from Schynige Platte to First is one of the finest hikes in Switzerland.
    • Walk 6.5 hours, 9 miles, ~2700 feet elevation gain. (Optionally reverse direction for less uphill, 2300 feet total, arriving at Schynige Platte by 17:00 or 18:00 to catch the last train.) A sunny uncloudy day is required to see vast mountain views. See hike #39 in “100 Hikes in the Alps” by The Mountaineers. Directions: Stage the hike from lodging in Grindelwald. Take Wilderswil cog rail 1 hour to trailhead at Schynige Platte (2068m). Hike by fantastic rock shapes in a deep valley. Walk on the east side of Bachalpsee. Ascend 15 minutes side trip to Faulhorn. Optionally overnight on top in atmospheric Berghotel Faulhorn for stunning sunset and sunrise views. Photographers should plan to reach spectacular First at the end the hike in the afternoon, because sun striking early morning haze obscures mountain details. At First (2168 meters elevation), lift down to Grindelwald, or from Mittelläger take the ~hourly Post bus.
    • Better yet, start at Eigeralp farm in Bussalp (above Grindelwald) with a fresh farm breakfast, watch alpine cheese-making, then hike a shorter route to First gondola. Hike a very spectacular trail from Eigeralp farm in upper Bussalp, around Faulhorn to Bachalpsee, finishing at the gondola lift station at First, which descends to Grindelwald BGF. Every day, Eigeralp farm produces a variety of artisan cheeses and Alpine butter from raw milk in a large cauldron over an open fire. For breakfast, enjoy fresh bread from the oven, Alpine butter, various cheeses, yogurt, homemade jams, coffee, tea and fresh milk! While Eigeralp’s huts were built in 1892, its traditional cheese hut dates from the 1600s. While breakfasting, gaze over the peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in astoundingly spectacular high meadows. Getting there: ride the private GrindelwaldBus.ch to the last stop in Bussalp, then ascend 40 minutes on foot.
  • Hike comfortably along a steep hillside from Pfingstegg gondola to eat tasty desserts at scenic Berghaus Bäregg (5 miles round trip, 1500 ft) across from the eastern foot of the Eiger, high above the White Lütschine river.
  • Walk boardwalks and tunnels through the dramatic Gletscherschlucht of Grindelwald, a deep gorge of the White Lütschine river, flowing from Lower Grindelwald Glacier. From Gletscherschlucht Hotel-Restaurant, a wooden walkway leads over raging water, through galleries and rocky tunnels over 1000 meters into the ravine, under 100-meter high cliffs. To test your fear of heights, totter across a blue net over the foaming torrent. Walk there in 35 minutes from the center of Grindelwald (recommended via the LandArt-Grindelwald.ch exhibit along the river), or take the bus.
1d. Rosenlaui valley and Meiringen
  • Hike from First gondola lift station above Grindelwald, across Grosse Sheidegg pass, then walk down the quiet, protected pastures of Rosenlaui valley beneath soaring peaks, to Rosenlaui PostBus station for a ride down to Meiringen. Meringue, the dessert made from whipped egg whites, was invented in Meiringen.
  • Along the way, explore a narrow walkway carved through Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge / Gletscherschlucht. In this deep ravine, the Weissenbach River has eroded potholes into a natural cathedral of slate and limestone.
  • Nearby, Grimselpass / Grimsel Pass has interesting bare granite geology colored by lichen, but the extensive system of hydro-electric dams built in the 1920s and 1950s dominates the scenery and the aging hotels didn’t look attractive. We considered but didn’t do the Sidelhorn hike: Starting at Postbus stop at Historic Alpine Hotel Grimsel Hospiz, take Sidelhorn aerial cable car to the foot of Sidelhorn mountain, an easy hike 1-3.5 hours with panoramic views of Grimsel area, Goms area, Bernese Alps, Rhone & Oberaar glaciers, rivers and 12+ alpine lakes (Lake Grimsel, deep blue Totensee at top of the pass and alpine tarns on southern flanks). Along the descent, see idyllic Triebtenseewli and Bäregg hut from where the panorama opens out onto the UNESCO World Heritage area. Return via Chessituren and the pass road to Grimsel Hospiz or along Oberaar road back to Grimsel pass. Or lift back down.
1e. Kandersteg

is a scenic base for several hikes, reached by train or road from Brig to the south or Spiez to the north.

  • Oeschinensee is a wonderful alpine lake walled with high cliffs, one of my favorite Swiss sights. To avoid crowds, start early and go midweek. From the top of Gondelbahn Kandersteg – Oeschinensee, walk 15 minutes to reach the lake. Follow the lakeside trail then complete a counterclockwise loop via Ober Bergli back to the lift (5.2 miles with 1395 feet gain) via the higher, more-spectacular ledge trail. Overnight options: On a one-way traverse, we took the higher trail for the best lake views then climbed steeply over Hohtürli Pass (where you could sleep in dorms at Blüemlisalp hut), then down to comfy Griesalp Hotels where we rested in the remote valley of Kiental (1120 meters up and 1380 m down in 13.3 km). Although stairs and ladders helped handle the exposure, the route felt much longer than 8 miles due to steep, exposed rocky & gravelly slopes for a grueling 3700 feet up and 4500 feet down. We rode the Postbus (steepest in Europe) out of Kiental instead of hiking over Sefinenfurke pass to Lauterbrunnen Valley (which saved our weary bodies from climbing another 4000 feet in the same scenery that we had just descended).
  • Walk through the deeply glaciated U-shaped valley of Gasterntal (or Gasteretal / Gasterental) to explore the idyllic headwaters of the Kander River. A family-friendly 7 km walk (390 m gain) wanders up to Selden, starting from the bus stop for Luftseilbahn Kandersteg-Sunnbüel (a lift to the scenic Gemmipass hike, for next time). From Selden, take the PostBus back (reservations required) to Kandersteg Hauptbahnhof (train station). Or stay in quiet Selden at Hotel Gasterntal or Hotel Steinbock. The next day offers an epic traverse of a rapidly-melting glacier (where hiking poles help you to cross the snowfield and to hop rocks):
  • The next day from Selden, we enjoyed an adventurous traverse across Lötsch glacier and Lötschen Pass (German: Lötschenpass, Swiss German: Lötschepass) to neighboring Lötschental in Valais canton. The walk starts with a reserved Postbus ride from Kandersteg to Selden, climbs 1350 meters, descends 925 m, and ends 13 km later at Lauchernalp lift station, which descends to Wiler in Lötschental, to reach Goppenstein via Postbus, back to Kandersteg via train. You can also reverse the route or stay overnight in dorms at Lötschepass hut.
1f. Lötschental / Loetschental

is a lesser-visited valley in Valais Canton (over Lötschen Pass, just south of Kandersteg):

  • Stay in attractive Blatten. Enjoy a 3-mile walk one way up valley to Kuhmad Chapel (built 1758), past historic wood hayloft buildings and restored wooden chalets. Catch bus at Fafleralp and return to Blatten.
  • For best views of Loetschental and the sharp ridge of the Bietschorn, from Fafleralp, hike to Krindellücke (5 miles round trip, 2.5 hours, 1542 feet gain). See Hike #30 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”

2. France—Switzerland (Valais/Wallis): The Walker’s Haute Route; Bettmerhorn & Eggishorn

The Walker’s Haute Route starts from the Mont Blanc Massif in Chamonix (France), crosses Switzerland’s Valais canton, and ends at the Matterhorn in Zermatt. If desired, the trip’s highlights can be done piecemeal on separate trips, in a more relaxed fashion. Tips below come from our luxury trip in 2005 (edited in 2021) trekking the “Hiker’s Haute Route” on photographic assignment for Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures, self-guided.


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2a. Mountain excursions from Chamonix, France
  • Lac Blanc: Hike 4 miles, with 2300 feet vertical gain one way from atop La Flégère cable car station, to finish at L’Index lift station (Google maps). Behold the stunning Mont Blanc Massif across the valley. (La Flégère cable car ascends from Les Praz de Chamonix, one train stop from Chamonix or 10 minutes by bus.) End by walking 1 hour to Index lift down. Optionally stay overnight at Refuge du Lac Blanc for sunset and sunrise reflection of the spectacular rock needles rising above Chamonix Valley. Lifts and weather may allow hiking from about June 1 to Nov 1. See hike #12 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.” Or try a less-crowded version that keeps amazing Mont Blanc looming in front of you: start with the earliest bus to Col des Montets, where you walk southwest gaining 3000 feet to Lac Blanc, then finish at Index lift down to La Flégère cable car which descends to Les Praz. This can be a stage of the Walker’s Haute Route, described further below.
  • Lacs Noirs and Cornu, 5.5 miles, 2000 feet: Take Le Brévent télécabine (gondola lift, 20 minutes). Optionally combine with the above Lac Blanc hike. See hike #13 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Aiguille du Midi: Don’t miss the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix (France) to a spectacular shoulder of the Mont Blanc Massif.
    • Take the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car, from 1035 meters to 3842 m (12,605 feet elevation) for an unforgettable, must-do experience.
    • If weather is good on top of Aiguille du Midi, board the Vallee Blanche Aerial Tramway (Funivia dei Ghiacciai, or Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc) to Pointe Helbronner.
    • Optionally take the cable car (Funivie Monte Bianco) from Helbronner Point to Refuge Torino to La Palud near Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, Italy.
      • Walk a short distance on snow from Refuge Torino station to Col du Géant for stunning mountain views.
    • In good weather, take the lifts round trip. Or bus from La Palud or Courmayeur through the Mont Blanc Tunnel back to Chamonix.
2b. The Walker’s Haute Route (High Route)

The 112-mile Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (France) to Zermatt (Switzerland) offers Old World charm and dramatic scenery from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. It can be trekked continuously or day hiked piecemeal.

History: “The High Level Route” was originally developed as a mountaineering route from Chamonix to Zermatt in the mid 1800s by the English Alpine Club. This technical route became known as the Haute Route when done on skis in 1911. In modern times, an easier non-technical path was developed, called the Walker’s High Route, or Haute Route, which is a portion of what the Swiss call the “Alpine Passes Trail” (labelled Trail #6 in their online maps) which passes through the Graubunden and Valais Alps in 39 stages.

Day by day description of the Walker’s Haute Route:

  • Day 0: The Haute Route starts in Chamonix, which demands extra days for spectacular exploration, as described above. Don’t miss the stunning hike to Lac Blanc (4 miles using lifts). In 2005, we began our Haute Route by hiking 5.3 miles from La Flégère lift station eastwards to Argentiere, where the descent from Lac Blanc was a knee-pounding 3700 feet (avoidable by exiting via l’Index lift). If you’ve already done or plan to do the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), consider skipping the following days which overlap (from Chamonix to Argentiere to Champex):
  • Day 1 (5-7 hours hiking): A short hop by train takes you from Chamonix to Argentiere to begin trekking. Look for ibex (wild goats) on the way to Col de Balme, the first of up to 11 high passes on the Haute Route. End the day in Trient, where Alpenwild recommends the Grande Ourse hotel.
  • Day 2 (5-7 hours): After a rocky climb to Fênetre d’Arpette, with views of the Glacier du Trient, descend through meadows to Champex.

Departing Champex on the morning of Day 3, you can keep walking, or skip ahead via bus and public transit to Verbier or Arolla. If walking, the 4 days from Champex to Arolla can be trekked mostly via shared dormitory huts, or else day hiked entirely from hotels, as noted.

  • Day 3a: In 2005, we skipped the 4-day trek from Champex to Arolla, and instead took public transit directly to Arolla, staying in a private ensuite double room in Hotel du Pigne d’Arolla with nice balcony view. If you choose this shorter option, jump to Day 4a further below.
  • Day 3b: If time is limited, you may want to skip the 8-mile trail from Champex to Le Châble (Verbier), which ascends 350 feet and descends 2457 feet — a path via quaint Swiss towns having pastoral beauty but lacking in views of glacier-capped peaks. If staying in Verbier, consider Hotel Ermitage. Then for the next 3 days (two nights), only shared dormitory accommodation is available (in Cabane de Louvie or Cabane de Mont Fort, and in Cabane de Prafleuri) along the Walker’s Haute Route. To better recharge for the next day, we prefer private rooms (with hot showers), which are available using alternative routings, as described.
  • Day 4b: The next hiking stage starts atop a lift station of Verbier and treks to a mountain hut with dormitory-style beds, either Cabane Mont-Fort or Cabane de Louvie. Alternatives include:
    • Based from nearby Martigny in 2016, we enjoyed a dramatic day hike to Lac Louvie (which we had skipped in 2005). The scenic Chamois Path (Sentier des Chamois) starts at Verbier’s La Chaux ski lift and ends at Fionnay PostBus (traversing 8 miles/13km, 2100 ft/640 m up, 4640 ft/1415 m down in 8.5 hours). We crossed Col Termin (2648m/8688 ft) in Haut Val de Bagnes nature reserve and descended southwards via 1800s stone barns to Lake Louvie, then pounded down to Fionnay.
    • For a more challenging, higher-altitude day hike, consider the Tour du Mont Fort for 10-11 miles, with a punishing descent of 4000+ feet, despite help from lifts. Staying overnight in a hut partway would mitigate the descent per day to protect knees.
    • For an easier day, simply explore Verbier’s extensive lift system, climaxing atop Mont Fort itself. Optionally day hike along the lift system, as the spirit moves you. One could stay 2 nights at Hotel Ermitage in Verbier.
  • Day 5b: If you don’t mind dormitory accommodation, hike to Cabane de Louvie on Day 4b to stay overnight. Then on Day 5b, continue hiking the Haute Route over the passes of Col de Louvie and Col de Prafleuri, to reach Cabane Prafleuri (10 mi, 3609 ft up, 2247 ft down) to sleep overnight.
    • This trekking day can be replaced with an easier day hike, based at a comfortable hotel in Sion, or at the trailhead Hôtel – Restaurant du Barrage at the lift station for Grande Dixence dam. Take the dam lift and hike the Alpine Ibex Trail (Sentier des Bouquetins) to Cabane de Prafleuri (2636m elev) and loop back, for a total distance of 6 miles with 2000 ft gain and loss. Adding the side trip to Mont Blava (1-mile roundtrip, 300 ft gain and loss) affords sweeping views across Lac des Dix. Directions: take the PostBus from Sion to Grande Dixence dam (tallest dam in Europe, 285 meters high; see sbb.ch or Google timetables), and lift to the top. Extending this hike to Col de Prafleuri reaches some of the best views (8.6 miles total round trip with 3100 ft gain and loss).
  • Day 6b: The standard stage from Cabane de Prafleuri crosses Pas de Chevres to Arolla village, in the municipality of Evolène, in Val d’Hérens. The standard stage can be shortened as follows (saving a net 0.8 miles and 1065 feet of downhill, by avoiding the descent from Prafleuri):
    • From atop Grande Dixence dam, hike the Tour du Val d’Hérens “Stage 2” (11.2 miles/17.9 km, ascent 2923 ft/891 m, descent 3373 ft/1028 m). This stage requires grappling with a series of ladders that are secured on exposed rock faces.
The peaks of Grand Combin (4314 metres / 14,154 feet on left), Combin de Corbassière (center), and Petit Combin (right) rise above Cabane de Louvie hut on Lake Louvie in the Pennine/Valais Alps, Switzerland, Europe. Optionally stay overnight in dorms at Cabane de Louvie. The dramatic Chamois Path (Sentier des Chamois) starts at La Chaux ski lift and ends at Fionnay PostBus. Cross Col Termin (2648m/8688 ft) in Haut Val de Bagnes nature reserve and descend to Lake Louvie via 1800s stone barns to the north, then to Fionnay (640 m up, 1415 m down in 8.5 hours). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The peaks of Grand Combin (4314 metres / 14,154 feet on left), Combin de Corbassière (center), and Petit Combin (right) rise above Cabane de Louvie hut on Lake Louvie in the Pennine/Valais Alps, Switzerland. Optionally stay overnight in dorms at Cabane de Louvie.  

My High Route photographs continue as follows, with help from lifts and buses letting us hike high in the alps then sleep low in comfortable valley hotels:

  • Day 4a (or 7b): From Arolla in 2005, we day hiked upwards via herding sheds in Alp Pra Gra to see the peaks of Les Dents des Veisivi reflected in a tarn. On this trail, one can optionally stay in dormitories in mountain refuge Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges overlooking Aiguilles de la Tsa and Mont Collon (3637 meters / 11,932 feet) at the head of Val d’Hérens. After the scenic day hike, we bused down the valley to stay overnight in Les Haudères (through a section walked by some Haute Route package tours, such as Pygmy-Elephant.com, whereas others stay in La Sage, closer to tomorrow’s trailhead).
  • Day 5a (or 8b): From Les Haudères in Val d’Hérens, we crossed Col du Torrent, seeing Dent Blanche (“White Tooth” 14,291 feet / 4356 m) in the Pennine Alps, and descended to the beautiful turquoise reservoir of Lake Moiry. Fireweed bloomed pink along the trail. Overnight in ritzy Hotel Bella Tolla in the French village of Saint Luc.
  • Day 6a (or 9b): We walked eastwards from St. Luc, rode up the Tignousa funicular, hiked up 2500 feet to Meidpass, then descended 3400 feet to the German village of Gruben, accumulating 9 miles on foot. Meidpass is the boundary between French and German cultural areas in Valais/Wallis canton.
  • Day 7a (or 10b): In Gruben the next day, snow in Augstborgpass caused us to take public transit to reach Zermatt instead of hiking (8 miles with 3517 ft ascent, and taking St Niklaus cable car reduces the mighty descent to 3079 ft).

Lodging options:

  • Huts/refuges provide meals and lodging at reasonable cost. Photographs can capture more spectacular sunrise/sunset light up in huts than from hotels down in valleys. Swiss Alpine Club.
  • Valley hotels: Take lifts, hike high, and sleep low in comfortable hotels or hostels nestled in each valley. Alpenwild.com (where I’m an “Artist in Residence”) offers great package trips, both self-guided and guided. We loved a 10-day self-guided Hiker’s Haute Route luxury package from Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures done in 2005 on photographic commission.
2c. Hikes in Zermatt, in the Pennine Alps, Switzerland
  • How to get there: The famous mountaineering and ski resort of Zermatt lies at 1620 meters (5310 feet) elevation at the head of Mattertal (Matter Valley) in the Pennine Alps, Valais canton, Switzerland. Most visitors reach Zermatt by cog railway train from the nearby town of Täsch (Zermatt shuttle). Trains also depart for Zermatt from farther down the valley at Visp and Brig on the main Swiss rail network. Small electric taxis serve Zermatt, which bars combustion-engine cars to help preserve small village atmosphere and prevent air pollution.
  • Gornergrat is spectacular cog train terminus located at 10,134 feet / 3130m elevation. The Gornergrat is the first point on a ridge that runs out to Hohtälligrat (3286m) and Stockhorn (3407m amidst a sea of ice) all linked by cable car from Gornergrat.
    • The Gornergrat cog wheel train ride takes 47 minutes from Zermatt station. 25% discount for holders of the Swiss Pass. Take the special dawn train for great a sunrise lighting up the Matterhorn. Leaving Zermatt, the earliest departures are 07:10, 08:00, 08:24… and the last departure is 19:12 as of 2005.
    • Sit on right-hand side of Gornergrat cog train for magical Matterhorn vistas. Hike up or down any portion:
      1. Take the cog rail to the Rotenboden stop, then hike east to Gornergrat 1000feet / 300m up in 1 hour, in 2.1 miles / 3.5 kilometers.
      2. A short walk on foot will reveal a sunrise reflection of the Matterhorn in Riffelsee and other tarns (ponds). Hike back via Gagihaupt peak (2568m).
      3. Hiking one way from Gornergrat down to Zermatt is 7.5 miles, down 5060 feet/1535meters, down in about 4 hours.
      4. Overnight option: Riffelberg Hotel (a stop of Gornergrat cog train) sits on spectacular exposed platform above the valley. Dorm beds 75 Swiss Francs per person with half board (dinner & breakfast, 2005); open until mid-October.
    • See hike #33 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Höhbalmen offers great views of the Matterhorn from high pastures uncluttered by ski lifts. We hiked this 13.4-mile loop (21.6 km) via Bergrestaurant Edelweiss, Trift Hut, Hohenweg trail, and the interesting Zmutt Valley, with a punishing 4000 feet cumulative gain and loss. I was delighted by the route, except Carol’s feet hurt badly on the final stretch.
  • Stellisee & Fluhalp: the popular Five Lakes Trail (5-Seenweg) starts from Sunnegga Express funicular (a fast 7-minute underground train on east side of Visp River in Zermatt halfway between cemetery and Gornergrat cog rail).
    • Although especially nice for families, the 5 Seenweg (7 miles with 1800 ft gain circling up to Fluhalp) is blemished with ski slope infrastructure throughout (dusty roads, power lines, lifts, snow-making sprinklers, 5 dammed artificial lakes, etc). In compensation are the venerable wood buildings in upper Findeln, the beautiful reflecting lakes of Grindjisee and Stellisee, and majestic views of the Matterhorn.
    • Directions: Exiting atop Sunnegga, follow 5-Seenweg Trail past Leisee pond and switchback down 60 meters to upper Findeln (Findelen) village to admire authentic Walser houses, barns, and stores built of larch timber blackened by the sun. [The Walser people are named after Wallis (Valais, the uppermost Rhône valley), where they settled from the 900s in the late phase of the migration of the Alamanni (confederation of Germanic tribes) crossing from the Bernese Oberland.] Among the five lakes, the dammed Mosjesee and Grüensee (halfway dried up in August) were least attractive and can be skipped by returning to Sunnegga and taking the lift to Blauherd for quickest access to Stellisee:
    • Scenic Stellisee is a 30-minute walk up from Blauherd lift station. Stellisee best reflects the Matterhorn during the glow of sunrise, which you can see after an overnight stay at Bergrestaurant Fluhalp (half board meals, coin showers, private rooms & dormitory; 40 minutes walk up from Blauherd lift, or 1.5 hours hike up from Sunnegga). Views around the Sunnegga-Blauherd-Rothorn lifts may be prettiest when covered in snow during ski season.
  • Gorner Gorge (Gornerschlucht) is a pleasant outing if you have extra time, such as on a rainy day.
2d. Valais/Wallis Canton: Bettmerhorn & Eggishorn: Grosser Aletsch Glacier 


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When passing through Valais Canton in clear weather, don’t miss seeing the magnificent Grosser Aletsch Glacier (Großer Aletschgletscher) which flows from the Jungfrau. For weather flexibility, I recommend for hikers to stay 1 or 2 nights at the car-free village of Bettmeralp, where frequent lifts can reach the walkable ridge for viewing the Aletschgletscher. Easily reached by lift from Betten Talstation (a railway station in the valley below), Bettmeralp offers charming Swiss atmosphere and a handy Coop grocery store.

Optimally start from Betten Talstation, lift to Bettmeralp, then lift to Bettmerhorn for great views. From the Bettmerhorn (Bettmergrat gondola station) you can walk 5 miles almost entirely downhill along the spectacular ridge to Hohbalm, Moosfluh, Hohfluh, fancy Berghotel Riederfurka, and Riederalp, where a cable car goes down to Mörel train station. From Mörel, you can ride up valley towards Fiesch or down valley towards Brig. Fiesch is only 1.5 hours by train from Kandersteg or Bern. From Fiesch, the Eggishorn lift also offers fabulous views, highly recommended. (However, we learned that starting our ridge walk from the Eggishorn cable car’s mid station Fiesheralp unnecessarily added 1100 feet of elevation gain when hiking across ski slopes to reach Bettmerhorn.)

3. France—Italy—Switzerland: Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)

In 2022 (delayed for 2 years by the pandemic), we plan to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), which circles Europe’s highest peak. Requiring booking further in advance, the TMB is more crowded than the Haute Route. This trek between mountain hotels goes from France to Italy to Switzerland, all on foot in about 8-10 days around the Mont Blanc Massif (or Monte Bianco in Italian).

As a more flexible alternative, you can day hike several TMB highlights from hotels based in Courmayeur, Italy and in Chamonix, France . (If you’ve already done or plan to do the Walker’s Haute Route, you can skip the days which overlap with TMB, between Champex and Chamonix).

Hikes and lifts in Courmayeur, Italy
  • Mont Blanc in French is called Monte Bianco in Italian.
  • Courmayeur, Italy, is a short bus or car ride from Chamonix through the convenient Mont Blanc Tunnel.
  • In clear weather, don’t miss the cable car from La Palud (via Refuge Torino) to Pointe Helbronner, then lift to Aiguille du Midi. Optionally take cable car down to Chamonix.
    • Hike Col du Géant: Near entry to Mont Blanc Tunnel, take La Palud cable car to Refuge Torino (3375 meters elevation). Optionally stay overnight in Refuge Torino (250 beds, reserved 1 week ahead with Italian Alpine Club, CAI) to experience a magical sunset and sunrise. Walk a short distance on snow from Refuge Torino to Col du Géant, a stunning mountain view. See over Vallée Blanche from the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc and over the Aiguilles to Géant.
  • Monte Bianco View: 8 miles one way, about 4.5 hours. From Courmayeur take the Val Veni bus westwards to end of pavement at 1955m, hike back via Col Chécrouit. Optionally take cable car from or to Col Chécrouit. Hike to Lac Chécrouit for a picturesque reflection. See a stunning view of mountain savagery (Aiguile Noir) from a spur of Mount Favre. Eat a festive lunch at La Maison Vieille on the mountain near the cable car. See hike #23 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Hike northeast of Courmayeur:
    • Montagne de la Sax ridge: ~9 miles, ~4000 feet gain one way Courmayeur to Lavachey, sleep there or bus back. Hike high above Val Ferret through larch forest to some of the widest and grandest panoramas of the Mont Blanc Circuit. See back up Val Veni to Col de la Seigne and whole Mont Blanc Massif. Closer rocky peaks form an impressive wall: Géant, Grandes Jorasses, Leschaux, Triolet, and Mont Dolent.
    • Grand Col du Ferret: Drive car 6 miles or bus 10 miles, and hike steeply up ~2700 feet gain. Or hike into Swiss Val Ferret, and bus/train back to Courmayeur via Martigny, or continue hiking around the popular Mont Blanc Circuit.
    • See hike #24 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”

4. Switzerland: Engadine trekking advice: Itinerary for 5+ days

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The Swiss valley of Engadine translates as the “garden of the En (or Inn) River” (Engadin in German, Engiadina in Romansh, Engadina in Italian), and is part of the Danube basin. Don’t miss hikes near glacier-clad Bernina Range in this suggested itinerary:

Ratings Key:  **** four stars = Fantastic.  *** three stars = Must do.  ** two stars = Worthwhile.  * one star = only if time allows.

  1. ** Day 1: Stay at in Scuol**, which has very attractive historic buildings and a covered bridge over the Inn/En River, with high mountains for an impressive backdrop. Hotel Guardaval** in Scuol has a great view and very friendly staff.
  2. ** Day 2: Walk from Scuol** to Guarda***, via Tarasp** historic castle and Ardez** (great sgraffito).
    • Alternative Route: Hike a longer, remote, higher route which starts from atop Motta Naluns ski lift, hiking via the pleasant & remote Tasna valley* along high pastures and forest to Guarda***.
    • Stay at Hotel Meisser** in beautifully preserved historic Guarda*** (call ahead).
    • * Optional Extra Day: Hike from Cinuos Chel Brail train station to Val Susauna* (a small village with a pretty church in an isolated valley) to Zuoz*, which is bigger but has a pleasant town square. A nice view of Upper Engadine opens out as you approach within a mile of Zuoz and on into the town.
  3. ** Day 3: From Muottas Muragl funicular** hike to Segantini Hut down to Pontresina via Alp Languard’s Sessellift (chair lift)**.
    • Optional extension: From Alp Languard, you can also add (or do on its own) a great loop trip along a ridge to Chamanna Paradis** Restaurant, which has a spectacular view of Piz Bernina massif and Morterasch Glacier. Nice moderate grades and great views, but very popular, so don’t expect solitude.
    • Pontresina lodging: Hotel Steinbock** had a tasty buffet included with excellent dinner.
  4. **** Day 4: Walk from Morteratsch (second train stop from Pontresina towards Bernina Pass) to Boval Hut. Boval Hut offers close views of Morteratsch Glacier amid an impressive cirque of the icy Bernina Massif. Optionally stay overnight in Boval Hut for a good sunrise light on the spectacular massif. The trail is well graded, not steep, only 5 or 6 miles round trip and 2700 feet gain/loss. Return via lower trail for partial loop. A world favorite day hike!
    • *** Alternative or extra day: continue from Pontresina on the Bernina Express*** train line (the most spectacular train in Switzerland) to the top of the pass, and get off at an interesting area such as Alp Grüm. Optional day hike to Sassal Mason hut. Optionally take the Diavolezza*** lift to stunning views, similar to Boval Hut but 1500-feet higher.
    • *** Alternative or extra day: Spectacular hike from Pontresina up the Roseg Valley to Coaz Hut and over Surlej Pass down to St Moritz. Or hike round trip to Tschierva Hut (a long day, 15.5 miles roundtrip, 2800 ft), also in Roseg Valley.
    • Sils Maria* is a quiet, pretty village on attractive Lake Segl*, reached via Post Bus, more relaxed and cheaper than staying in St Moritz. In Sils Maria, Hotel Edelweiss** is very luxurious, with dinner and good breakfast in a huge ornate ballroom with live piano. Alternative: Explore scraffito in the village of **Samedan, overnight.
    • * Extra Day: Walk from Sils Maria to “pasturesque” Grevasalvas* (setting for the movie Heidi, with some nice old stone buildings), to Lake Lunghin, and optionally up to alpine Piz Lunghin** then descend to Maloja Pass to catch the Post Bus back to Sils Maria.
  5. **** Day 5: Ride the Bernina-Diavolezza cable car for spectacular views of the Bernina Range. If not afraid of heights at Diavolezza, don’t miss the short, scenic, rocky hike to Munt Pers*** which gains 265 meters over 2 km one way.
  6. *** Day 6: Hike from comfy 1881 SportHotel Pontresina*** up idyllic Roseg Valley** to Fuorcla Surlej**** for stunning views of Piz Bernina and Piz Roseg, finishing at Corvatsch Mittelstation Murtel cable car. Walking 14 km, we went up 1100 meters and down 150 m. Then take the cable car upwards to Corvatsch top station to see the impressive view, before lifting downwards to Murtel and Lake Silvaplana to catch the PostBus. Optionally shorten the day to an easy out-and-back hike of just 4 kilometers via round trip lift from Murtel.
  7. *** Day 7: Walk from Cassacia (or Vicosoprano) to Soglio*** village (11 miles, 2000 feet up, 2900 feet down) on the Sentiero Panaramico***, a scenic trail marked with little yellow hiking signs. All three villages are on the Post Bus line. If starting at Cassacia (via Post Bus), the first hiking hour is through pleasant pastures and woods, but within earshot of a busy highway, and follows powerlines, past a dam retaining pretty turquoise water, and within view of another dam (forming lake Lagh da L’Albigna) looming amazingly high on the other side of the valley. After a few hours the Sentiero Panaramico leaves the power lines and progressively gets more aesthetically pleasing, with more and more spectacular views of the Sciora Range*** the closer you get to Soglio***, an attractive town with medieval narrow streets.
    • Lodging in Soglio***: Hotel La Soglina*** has a great view and large, modern, comfortable rooms.

5. Switzerland: Appenzell

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Appenzell offers wonderful trekking for 1-5 days in picture-perfect Swiss scenery, supported by lifts and cozy private double mountain hotels! Appenzell Innerrhoden is Switzerland’s most traditional and smallest-population canton (second smallest by area). The Appenzell Alps rise in northeast Switzerland between Lake Walen and Lake Constance.

Appenzell: a perfect trek of 2-4 days

  1. Our great walking trek (with Alpenwild.com tours) started with a 10-minute bus ride from quaint Appenzell village to Brülisau, where a cable car whisks up to Hoher Kasten (1795 m/5876 ft) mountain in the Alpstein limestone range of the Appenzell Alps. A spectacular ridge walk above the Rhine Valley reaches Berggasthaus Bollenwees, founded in 1903 at scenic Fälensee lake, a wonderful place to stay overnight in private double ensuite (or dormitory rooms). If you choose to ascend Hoher Kasten summit (1794 m) on foot instead of taking the lift, optionally stay overnight midway at Berggasthaus Staubern. Via cable car, Hoher Kasten ridge can also be done as a long day hike.
  2. The next day, admire sunrise on Fälensee lake. Cross Bötzel pass (in sight of Santis peak, our goal for day 3). Descend to Berggasthaus Meglisalp, which can only be reached on foot in the spectacular heart of the Alpstein range. This authentic mountain hostelry, owned by the same family for five generations, dates from 1897. Meglisalp is a working dairy farm, restaurant and guest house surrounded by majestic peaks (Altmann peak 2435m) rising above green pastures.
  3. From Meglisalp, a long ascent reaches Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass (2120 m) for lunch at a remote restaurant. Everyone was excited to see a large family of ibex crossing rocky & snowy slopes above. Weaving through limestone outcroppings, we ascended the stunning Lisengrat, a sinuous chain-protected trail to the summit of Säntis, one of the most exciting trails in the Alps. The rocky route is safely assisted by chains, but can be scary for those with fear of heights. Shared by three cantons, Säntis can be reached easily via cable car or with effort via trails, to see vast mountain views across six countries: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy. Säntis makes a great day trip, dining experience, or overnighter including fun walking the Lisengrat. When starting at Säntis (2502 m / 8218 feet elevation), the full Lisengrat ridge route goes down to Rotsteinpass then up to Altmann (2435 m / 7989 ft), connecting the two highest peaks in the Alpstein.
  4. In good morning weather atop Säntis, continue walking to scenic EbenalpBerggasthaus Aescher, and Wildkirchli cave, then descend to Wasserauen via cable car to catch the bus. (On Day 4 we escaped rain with a quick cable car descent from Säntis back to Appenzell via bus.)

6. Switzerland: Schaffhausen canton

is worth an excursion from Zurich or staying overnight a few days exploring the impressive Munot castle reflecting in the Rhine River at night, Schaffhausen’s Old Town, and nearby Rhine Falls:


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If you have extra days near Zurich or Schaffhausen, don’t miss the photogenic fresco-covered village of Stein am Rhein and historic St. George’s Abbey:


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Recommended Alps travel guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Alps travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years). Bring a good country guide plus a detailed hiking guidebook:

Alps hiking books by Cicerone Guides are essential for planning a hiking trip and carrying along.

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2021: 2019: 2014:

SLOVENIA: Julian Alps, Lake Bled, Skocjan Caves

Our fun Slovenia trips in summer 2013 and 2011 produced the following travel tips, photographs, and suggested itinerary.

Triglav National Park in Slovenia makes an excellent driving loop of 2+ days from Venice, Italy. View Slovenia photos including: Skocjan Caves (Skocjanske jame), Predjama Castle, the Julian Alps, Mojstrana, Lake Bled (Blejsko jezero), Bled Castle, Triglav National Park (Triglavski narodni park/TNP), Vintgar Gorge (Blejski Vintgar/Soteska Vintgar), Vrata Valley, Pericnik Waterfall, Krma Valley, Tolmin gorges (Tolminska korita), Soca Trail (Soska pot) along Soca River gorge, Kluze Fortress, Boka waterfall, Veliki Kozjak Waterfall.


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Summer 2013 was one of our best ever trips: a month starting with 4 nights in Venice, then day-hiking the Dolomites of Italy, plus looping through Croatia and Slovenia. This page also includes Tom’s 2011 Slovenia photos taken after his Alps Photo Workshop.

Itinerary recommended for Slovenia 2-8 days

From Venice (Italy), drive about 3 hours one way to popular Lake Bled in Slovenia via Trieste and Ljubljana, and return via Kranjska Gora and Udine. Lake Bled is halfway around this loop of mostly fast autostrada/expressway. The worthwhile Vrsic Pass option (below) takes a few hours longer via twisty mountain roads in scenic Triglav National Park. The Julian Alps are most impressive on the north side of Triglav National Park between Kranjska Gora and Mojstrana on highway 201 in Slovenia (3 hours from Venice).

If you have a week (or at least 2 days), drive this loop itinerary counterclockwise from Venice to Ljubljana (Lubiana) and Triglavski National Park, in Slovenia:

Key:  ***Must see.  **High priority.  *Do it if time allows.

  1. Drive on the autostrada from Venice towards Trieste, taking the E70 into Slovenia towards Ljubljana (Lubiana).
  2. **Piran is a picturesque walled medieval village on a peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, easily seen in a few hours or absorbed overnight. Stroll along harbor-front ambiance and Tartini Square, ascend the bell tower, see the Maritime Museum, and admire sunset glow. Park in a lot by the town gate, €8 per day. Optionally drive into the restricted center to drop off luggage at your hotel, with a pass good for 6 hours. **Val Hostel and Garni Hotel, www.hostel-val.com, has good value private rooms €25 per person (2013) with breakfast, shared kitchen available, tel (+386) (0)5 673-2555, address: Gregorčičeva 38a, 6330 Piran.
  3. ***Skocjon Caves (Skocjanske jame) are a fun walking adventure for 2 hours (2 miles) along a raging underground river, guide required, departing hourly on summer days. Don’t miss part 2 of the tour, a self-guided extension over exciting bridges and dim passageways along the underground river. Directions: Exit the A-1 expressway in Slovenia at Divaca and follow signs to Škocjan Caves. €57 was a great value for a large new apartment with kitchen at ***Apartmaji Domacija Jankovi, www.kmetija-jankovi.com, address: Vremski Britof 11.
  4. Cliffside *Predjama Castle looks interesting but has little to tour inside. (Exit the A-1 expressway at Postojna.)
  5. In the capitol of *Ljubljana (Lubiana), sights include: unique ambiance; Joze Plecnik House, home of the idyllic city’s architect; Riverside Market; Ljubljana Castle; and the National Library.
  6. ***Lake Bled: I walked a trail up the hill on the south side of Lake Bled for famous views. Also enjoy walking 3.5 miles around the lake for relaxing, ever changing views. The Chapel in Bled Castle was photogenic. Paddle or ride a boat to Bled Island (Blejski otok, the only natural island in Slovenia) to visit the romantic Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary, built in the 1400s, now popular for weddings.
  7. ***Vintgar Gorge (Blejski Vintgar / Soteska Vintgar) is an enchanting canyon of pools and rapids 1.6-km long (1 mile) four km northwest of Bled, near Zgornje Gorje.
  8. ***Triglav National Park: Drive from Lake Bled through Jesenice, to highway 201 to Mojstrana village.
    • In 2013, we enjoyed an inexpensive large apartment with kitchen in idyllic Mojstrana, but adjacent Dovje has a better view of Mount Triglav. The Mojstrana Tourist Office is super helpful for finding lodging and things to do!
    • Drive through **Vrata valley, the most dramatic in Slovenia, under a nice mixed forest of beech, spruce, and fir, along crystal clear Triglavska Bistrica creek. On right is beautiful **Pericnik waterfall, which you can walk behind in an alcove lightly misted by spray. At the end of the road at Aljazev Dom hut (overnight option), admire the mighty north face of Mount Triglav and the Skrlatica group to the south.
    • The best hike in Slovenia may be ***Mount Triglav (the highest peak of the Julian Alps, 2864 meter/9396 feet). Mount Triglav is a national symbol proudly depicted on the Slovenian coat of arms and flag. Drive south from Mojstrana to the trailhead in **Krma valley. Hike to spectacular Kredarica Hut (2515m, Slovenia’s highest, a worthy destination unto itself), staying 1-2 nights. Or hike to scenic Stanicev Dom hut 2332m or Planika hut 2401m. (A popular multi-day route on longer, gradual trails starts from other roads to the southeast.) Above the huts, demanding iron routes (vie ferrate) provide cables and hand grips on steep, exposed (non-technical) paths to the summit of Triglav, not advised for those with fear of heights. Climbing info:  www.summitpost.org/triglav/150787
  9. Gozd Martuljek is a nice village where my overnight lodging looked upon the spectacular **Martuljek mountain group.
  10. On highway 201 at Kranjska Gora, either continue west to the autostrada in Italy (to Udine and Venice), or turn south over the longer but worthwhile **Vrsic Pass:
    • **Vrsic Pass (Slovene: Prelaz Vršič; Italian: Passo della Moistrocca; German: Werschetzpass) in Triglav National Park:
      • From highway 201 at Kranjska Gora, turn south into town, then up the side of an awesomely steep valley in Triglav National Park on a twisty mountain road. Continue over historic Vrsic Pass to Soca River valley.
        • History: Vrsic Pass (1611 meters elevation) is the highest pass road in Slovenia. The military-built Russian Road supplied the Isonzo front of World War I. Opened in late 1915, the road was originally named after archduke Eugen of Austria-Hungary but in 2006 was renamed as Ruska cesta (Russian Road) to honor the prisoners of war who had been forced to build it. Russian Road connects Upper Carniola with the Trenta Valley, rising from the town of Kranjska Gora in a series of 50 hairpin bends before descending into the Soca (Isonzo) Valley.
      • After a sharp descent on hairpin turns south of Vrsic Pass, a signed walking trail goes 20k from the source of the Soca River downstream along the tumbling crystal clear green water, through attractive little gorges, sometimes following the road. Hikers can be dropped off at various places and picked up further down the **Soca River Trail, and drivers can step out of the car at several places to admire the natural beauty.
      • *Boka waterfall (Slap Boka) plunges freely 106 meters plus another 30-meter cascade below. View from the road between Zaga and Bovec.
      • South of Bovec, at Kobarid (Caporetto), either drive westwards back to Venice (2.5-3 hrs) through the mountains, or continue a loop southeastward within Slovenia.
      • *Veliki Kozjak Waterfall (Slap Kozjak, 15 meters high) is a pleasant walk in a gorge near Kobarid.
      • **Tolmin gorges (Tolminska korita) are among the longest and deepest gorges in Slovenia and are the lowest point (180 meters elevation) in Triglav National Park. Walk a trail to the confluence of two gorges (Tolminka and Zadlascica rivers), then along Zadlascica river canyon (locally called Skakalce, “the jumps”) up to a chock stone called the “Bear’s Head.” Walk onwards to the scenic Devil’s Bridge (Hudicev most, built 1907), which carries Tolmin-Cadrg road sixty meters above Tolminka River, then loop on foot back to the parking lot at the Triglavski narodni park (TNP) sign, near Zatolmin.

Julian Alps: Lake Bled and Triglav National Park (expanded gallery)


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Skocjan Caves and Predjama Castle (expanded gallery)


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Slovenia travel tips

  • An ATM is called a Bankomat. Slovenia began using the Euro  in 2007.
  • Hours:
    • Shopping is usually 8am-7pm weekdays, to 1pm Saturdays.
    • Chain stores in big city centers may open Sunday morning, plus a few bakeries, all else closed Sundays.
    • Banks 9am-12:30, 1:30-4 or 5pm weekdays.
  • Phones: Slovenia uses tri-band GSM. Buy €10 SIM card from Mobitel or others. Our Italian SIM worked fine in Slovenia. Ignore the number within parentheses +386 (0)2 when calling Slovenia from outside, but within Slovenia you must dial it plus area code, for example: 02 etc.
  • Internet cafes: 2-3€ per hour or free at hotels, libraries, and TIC tourist centers for 15 min. Look for WiFi Točke. 
  • US Embassy telephone: Ljubljana (01) 200 5500, (1) 200 5555
  • TIC = Turisticno Informacijski Centers generously provide free maps and lodging referrals for local rooms. A sobe will be much a better value than hotels:
    • sobe = room with registered star ratings:
      • ***private bath/AC, **bath down hall, *basic.
      • Call between 9-10am on day of arrival, and most sobe or hotels will hold until 4pm without deposit.
      • Ask for dates in the form day/mo/year through day of departure.
    • apartman = private apartment w/bath + small kitchen
    • Guesthouses (pension, gostisce, privatno prenociste, prenocisca) are cozy and a better value than hotels. Rates for a Double are often quoted per person.
    • omladinsko prenociste = youth hostel
    • Booking with travel agencies costs 10-30% extra but is free at TIC (which may ask you to carry a paper for the lodging’s accounting). Save 20-50% on 3+night stays compared to the listed rate.
    • Planinski domovi (dom) = mountain huts
    • Toilets: Moski/men, Zenske/women
    • Tourist Farms:  www.turisticnekmetije.si can be an interesting cultural experience.
  • Young people speak good English, older people speak German, and most everyone speaks Slovene/Slovenian.
  • Slovenian/Slovene language:
    • Two-word place names use lowercase on 2nd word.
    • ulica = ul. = street
    • Trg = Square
    • cesta = c. = road
    • Cankarjeva ul = poet Ivan Cankar’s street = possessive case in street names.

Recommended Slovenia guidebooks from Amazon.com:

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NORWAY

Norway offers beauty around every corner, from fjordland to Nordland. Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a model world citizen respecting both people and the natural world. Tortured terrain, turbulent history, cold winters and brief summers evolved hardy Vikings and modern Norwegians who live close to the land. In fact they tunnel right through it. One day we drove 30 tunnels, one as long as 7 miles!


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Carol and I enjoyed a rental car tour of Norway July 21-August 13, 2011. Our favorite town was Reine in northern Norway, visited July 22-28. Based on fond memories from 1981, we joined DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association) to get a discount on mountain lodges, but ended up day hiking everywhere and sleeping in more economical private campground cabins with kitchens ($80-$100 per night), plus some Bed & Breakfasts and hotels ($125-$210 night double). Supermarket food cost double or triple that of Seattle, and restaurants cost triple to quadruple. At AutoEurope.com, car rental was $84 per day for 17 days from Oslo (OSL Gardermoen Airport) and $108 per day for 5 days from Evenes Airport (EVE) in Nordland County. Norway also has an excellent public bus and train system. Read my separate article:

1981 solo 2-month trip in Norway when I was 25 years old.

Norwegian land and people

Roads starting from sea level must negotiate three to six thousand feet up steep cliffs to reach the central plateau that forms most of Norway. Deep seawater stretches inland through the Scandinavian Mountain Range as far as 125 miles at Sognefjord. If unraveled, the fjord-pierced coastline would stretch for 21,000 miles. “The sea unites, but the land divides.” Since Viking times (about 800 to 1000 AD), boats have linked remote coastal towns. Impenetrable terrain resisted roads, railways and communication lines until North Sea oil was discovered. Oil helps pay for impressive bridges, tunnels, rails and generous social support (long maternity/paternity leaves, free education including college, retirement Pension Fund for all). Norway has 5 million people in an area 20% smaller than California.

Despite its high latitude, Norway’s climate is relatively mild. The North Atlantic Drift, partly fed by America’s warm Gulf Stream, keeps fjords ice-free in winter as far north as Hammerfest, at 71° North latitude (icy Alaska’s northerly tip). Two out of three days are cloudy in summer, surrounding the peaks and plateaus with mysterious mists, until every third day when sun shines glory upon the glacier-carved mountains. Norwegians pioneered the study of weather because their home gets so much of it!

Norwegian History, Stave Churches, culture

Stave Church images include Heddal, Eidsborg, Borgund, Lom, and Urnes. Stave refers to the load-bearing posts which support interior beams. The state Church of Norway (Den norske kirke in Bokmål or Den norske kyrkja in Nynorsk) was established after the Lutheran reformation in Denmark-Norway in 1536-1537 broke ties to the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church. When driving from Oslo to Heddal to Lysefjord, tour the Rygnestadtunet farm museum which dates from 1590 AD in Valle municipality, Setesdal, Aust-Agder. See the Hardanger Folk Museum in Utne to learn of fiddles, lacework, and the national costume.


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Nordland: Lofoten islandsNorthern Norway map of driving route over mountainous terrain, bridges, and tunnels from Evenes Airport (EVE) to Reine in the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands, Nordland county, Norway, Europe (from Google.com). (Tom Dempsey)

Above map: Rent a car at Evenes Airport (EVE) and drive round trip to our favorite town of Reine in northern Norway. July 22-28, 2011.

The “Norwegian traditional district” known as Lofoten is a beautiful archipelago of islands above the Arctic Circle in the county of Nordland.

Explore the scenic towns of Svolvaer, Stamsund, Nusfjord, Hamnøy, Sakrisøy, Reine, and Å. Admire vistas of Torsfjorden and Selfjorden. Above Reine village, ascend a harrowingly steep trail to Reinebringen for spectacular views of sharply glaciated peaks surrounding Reinefjord, on Moskenesøya (the Moskenes Island). Take a passenger ferry on scenic Reinefjord to Vindstad for a fun and easy walk to Bunes Beach.

Lodging is tight in Reine at the most spectacular end of the Lofoten islands. Reserve rooms or rorbus 3 months in advance. No problem sleeping in a tent or camper.


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Southern Norway and western fjordland

Southern Norway map, driving route. (Tom Dempsey)
Above map: 17 days of car rental allows a great touring loop of southern Norway (July 28-August 13, 2011), marked in blue starting from Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport (OSL) to Jorpeland (the Pulpit), Ulvik, Gudvangen, Hafslo, Skjolden, Geiranger, Andalsnes, Bessheim, Loen, Kvam, and back to OSL. Alternatively, start from Bergen Airport Flesland (BGO) or Sogndal (SOG) to save travel time when visiting the heart of fjordland.

Starting in southwest “fjordland” near Stavanger, hike to Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen / Prekestolen) for a breathtaking view high above Lysefjord. Drive northwards along the edge of Hardanger plateau, through a cultural heartland (Hardanger Folk Museum, Utne). Admire Vøringsfossen waterfall and dramatic gorge. Proceed north to impressive Sognefjord. View Nærøy Valley (Nærøydalen) and Jordalsnuten mountain from Stalheim Hotel and descend the old Royal Mail road of Stalheimskleiva (18% grade). Admire the scenic contrast of Norway’s highest mountains (see Jotunheimen section further below) adjacent to the country’s longest fjord, Sognefjord (with branches Aurlandsfjord, Nærøyfjord, Lustrafjord, Lærdalsfjord). On Innvikfjorden arm of Nordfjord, based in the villages of Olden and Loen (stay at idyllic Lovatnet lake), explore deeply glaciated valleys beneath the tongues of Jostedalsbreen glacier, the largest ice sheet in continental Europe. In Jostedalsbreen National Park, athletically ascend 6047 feet (1841 meters) to Skålatårnet (or Kloumanntårnet) on Skåla, the highest tidewater mountain in Norway. Further north, admire classically beautiful Geirangerfjord branch of Storfjord. Drive Trollstigen (the Troll’s Ladder) to the Troll Wall (Trollveggen) and Trolltindane (Troll Peaks) in Roms Valley. Complete a driving loop back to Oslo.


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Jotunheimen mountains, “The Home of the Giants”

Memorable hiking in the Jotunheim mountains (Jotunheimen or “The Home of the Giants”) includes: the mountain ridge of Besseggen (or Besseggi), Lake Gjende, Knutshøe ridge, Fannaråken mountain (or Fannaråki), Store Styggedalstind, and the Hurrungane range.


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Global warming: climate change in Norway

Almost all inland glaciers in Norway have retreated since 1900. After many Norwegian glaciers temporarily advanced from heavy winter snow in the 1990s, according to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (the most extensive national glacier monitoring program in the world), twenty-five monitored glaciers retreated an average of 190 meters (3% of their total length) from 2000 to 2010. Read more about global warming and climate change.

Recommended Norway books from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Norway travel books” at Amazon.com.