Monday, July 3, 2023

Blogging Returns

After a one month hiatus, I returned to Utah over the weekend and am back in the office this morning.

The past month I was in Europe for a trip that was about 1/3 work and 2/3 vacation, although even the former was enjoyable and involved spending a week in St. Gallen, Switzerland for the International Conference on Alpine Meteorology and a couple of days at the University of Innsbruck.  

Our trip began in Normandy, France, which was much prettier than expected, especially along the English Channel.

A popular spot to visit is Mont Saint Michel, which you may recognize from the picture below.  Places like this are overwhelmed with tourists, so we tend to visit early or late in the day.  This summer marks 1,000 years since construction at this site began.  1,000 years!  Despite the crowds, I always find touring through places like this very interesting.  

We also spent an afternoon in Saint Malo just a bit down the road.  The so-called "walled city" was known for it's pirates.  It was heavily bombed by the Allies during World War II and 80% destroyed.  It has been rebuilt in spectacular fashion.  

We then abandoned the automobile and raced across France on the TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse) at speeds reaching almost 200 miles per hour.  We covered much of the distance from Paris to Chamonix in about 2 hours before switching to a slower regional train.   It's a shame that the US can't seem to figure out how to make such a system work.  

This was our first trip to Chamonix.  I debated for a while whether to cancel this part of the trip and opt for something else as the weather forecast looked quite unsettled.  Indeed, we dealt with a decent amount of clouds, but there were enough breaks to make the trip enjoyable.  

No visit to Chamonix is complete without a trip up the Aiguille du Midi.  This peak on the side of Mt. Blanc is 12,605 ft high and is served by a series of two cable cars that rise 9,209 feet above Chamonix.  

The weather wasn't ideal, but Mont Blanc was visible, as well as the upper Mer de Glace, an enormous glacier that is skied during the Vallée Blanche ski descent.  

It's nearly impossible to have any sense of scale in Chamonix based strictly on your eyes.  Everywhere you look there's thousands of feet of relief (in some cases more than 10,000 feet of relief) that looks like a short ski tour.  

It's a good thing we were hiking. One of the things I love about the Alps is the ability to use public transit and cable cars to do point-to-point hikes.  One day we hiked the Grand Balcon Sud from the top of the Flégere cable car above Les Praz to the Plan Praz cable car above Chamonix.  Much of the hike, we were mesmerized by the Mont Blanc massif.  

We also visited Montenvers which is accessed by train and where you can hike down to the lower Mer de Glace.  Here, the tremendous glacier change over recent decades is very apparent.  

Some people online commented that in part the glacier retreat is due to the emergence from the Little Ice Age.  If one is looking at longer time periods, that's true, but since 1990, a majority of the glacier loss, which is accelerating, is due to human factors.  

We then skipped over to Zermatt, which was another first for us.  This may be sacrilege to say, but I confess that I wasn't a fan of Zermatt the village.  However, the Matterhorn is definitely mesmerizing and I couldn't take my eyes off it either in town or when we were hiking.  I could watch the development and evolution of the famed banner cloud, which forms on the downstream or lee side, all day.  

The trip up the railroad to Gornergrat is expensive, but the views of the Monte Rosa massif are truly spectacular.  

You can use the railroad to enable some great hiking above 2000 meters with incredible views in all directions (this can also save some Swiss Francs).  

We then moved to St. Gallen for my meeting, but arrived a day early to hike in the Appenzeller Alps, which like on the northern Alpine Rim.  A train and bus ride take you to EbenAlp where you can opt for valley and ridge hikes, including along the Alpstein Massif pictured below.  

The highest peak of the Alpstein Massif is Säntis, which is just center right on the horizon in the picture above.  Although "only" about 2500 meters high, Säntis has more than 2000 meters of topographic prominence, which is #13 in the Alps.  It is a famous location meteorologically as a weather station began operating there in 1882, it is a magnet for lightning, and is known for heavy snowfall.  I don't know how they measure at the summit (we visited as part of my conference), but the 1991–2020 average snowfall was 1003 cm (395 inches).  

Our trip concluded in Innsbruck.  The Austrian Alps remain my favorite. I love the hiking and the culture.  We did three great hikes.  The first was on the ridge immediately south of Innsbruck and the Inn Valley from the Patscherkofel cable car to the summit of Glungezer.  

The second, was along the Goetheweg on the Nordkette ridge south of Innsbruck.  

I think the Goetheweg hike is my all-time favorite.  We've done it three times and I would do it tomorrow if I could. 

Finally, we spent a day hiking on the Rofan Massif east of Innsbruck, summiting the Rofanspitze (pictured below) and the Spieljoch.  

This was a dream trip for us and we recognize how lucky we are.  We were in Normandy on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, and visited the landing beaches and monuments.  On D-Day, Company of the 116th regiment was the first ashore at Omaha Beach and took 90% casualties.  The US spearheaded invasions at Omaha and Utah beach that day and the Normandy American Cemetery is the resting place for more than 9,000 heroes who gave their lives to defeat Nazism and Fascism.  Others rest closer to home in the United States.

The British and Canadian militaries invaded three other beaches, with contributions for the D-Day landings from 18 other countries.  We can all be grateful that Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" fell that day, marking the beginning of the end of an awful period in human history that resulted in tens of millions of military and civilian casualties.  Thanks to the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation we enjoy our freedom today. 


  1. Thanks for sharing!! What an incredible trip - and you were lucky to view the Matterhorn as it's usually shrouded in clouds. That is still on my bucket list - as is Normandy. I've been up to Mont Blanc from Chamonix and Innsbruck is such a beautiful place. I'm envious. :)

  2. What was the exposure to the left on that pic of the Goetheweg hike? Looks fairly massive.

    1. The trail is wide enough that I didn't notice. The trail generally cuts across a slope that is about 40˚, but there are some steeper areas. Given the width of the trail and the availability of cables, I've never found it an issue. That said, you might not want to walk of the trail in a few places.

  3. And now I know why this June was so pleasant in SLC. Thanks for the Steenburgh Effect while it lasted. I see we will now return to a roasting July in the next few days.