From the Bodensee through Apenzellerland

Last fall, Molly and I gathered our courage and tried out our first multi-day mountainbike trip with the baby in tow. I’ve eyed this route in Ride magazine a long time ago – a nearly 100km ride between the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and the Zürisee (lake Zürich). You can find some details of the ride here, but to get the GPS track you have to pay a subscription. Our experience over the summer told us that we can do about 30-35km per day with up to around 1200m climbing – this includes generous stops to let the little guy run around and look for bugs and of course accounts for the slower pace resulting from extra ~27kg of load. So for the first multi-day trip we decided to make it a bit conservative and aimed for covering about half the distance. You can find our route with strava stats here, and on a proper map overlay here.

The first day we made an excellent discovery: the family train car also doubles as the bike car! This makes loading the singletrailer easy and as a bonus provides entertainment for the little people!

Before long we were working hard up some very steep asphalt climbs and quickly left the Bodensee behind.

The promised sunshine never quite materialized, but this didn’t make the pit stops any less enjoyable, just a bit frigid.

Diving into the heart of Appenzel is really fantastic with countless steep rolling hills in all directions. The haze added a bit to the mystique but didn’t make the gut-wrenching climbs any easier.

Here is Molly setting off on a fun little descent:

Frequent stop are necessary to keep the touring party in good spirits.

We made very good time and were heading down the long winding ridge from Buche toward Bühler in the early afternoon.

I’m pretty sure Lev liked the descents as much as we did:

Here’s some more proof that mountain bikers are not the worst thing to happen to trails… fighting past these cow hoof-holes with the added weight was challenging…

Moooooooo

Woooooooo

I don’t have photos of the last part of the first day because it turned into a near epic – in order to make it to our bed & breakfast in Stein, we had to cross a seriously steep ravine which included carrying bikes + singletrailer up and down many many stairs. Let’s just say the last 2km took nearly 2 hours. We were happy to arrive to a very comfortable B&B and a delicious dinner of Hörnli, sausages and apple sauce. Yumm.

The first day was quite long – 34km and over 1200m of climbing, definitely pushing our comfort zone a bit. We woke up the next day to a very dreary and cold morning and decided for a rather conservative plan. We would skirt around the Hundwiler Höhi (otherwise a very popular mountain bike tour with some technical descents) and drop down toward Urnäsch where we could hop a train back home.

Setting off in the morning toward Hunwiler Höhi with some classic Appenzel scenery:

A nice barn partway up the climb:

We were very very cold when we got to the top of the climb and decided to descent into Urnäsch as quickly as possible. After a nice lunch in a local village restaurant somewhere before Urnäsch, we found the train station and headed home.

This year we plan on finishing off the route by starting where we left off and ending up at the Zürisee – the second part should have a lot more singletrack and less asphalt so I’m looking forward to checking it out!

You can check out the full gallery here.

Talalpsee – Singletrailing above the Walensee

We tried to escape the sweltering early August heat by going for a long-ish mountainbike ride with the singletrailer in tow on the south side of the Walensee. This was the first time I followed an official Schweizmobil mountainbike route – normally they are not very exciting because they mostly follow forest roads instead of trails. However, it dawned on me that this quality makes them perfect for planning trips with the singletrailer. It ended up being a very fun ride, though mostly on pavement and gravel roads, but even with some fun singletrack at the end. As usual, it was much longer and a bit tougher than I anticipated, but both Molly and Lev still seemed to have fun. It was also our first time loading the singletrailer onto a train – it’s a bit stressful to get all the pieces (two bikes, baby, trailer) onto the train before it leaves the platform, but it seemed to work very well! The GPS track of the ride can be found here.

On to the photos…

Starting out in the morning:

Happy singletrailer passenger:

Pit stop:

Looking across the Walensee toward Amden:

A short singletrack section – biking up singletrack with the singletrailer is not so easy!

At the Talalpsee:

Lev loves bikes:

Final pitstop before descending to the valley:

As always, the full gallery here.

MojVet Photoshooting

“Would you want to come by and take some pictures? You know, for printing, and the website…” Sounds easy enough…

This was actually my first “real” photo assignment: document “a day in the life” of my sister’s small animal vet clinic MojVet in Ljubljana. They would use the photos on their website and to decorate their walls. We decided to do the shooting in a documentary style, completely unposed, which suited me very well since I know nothing about proper studio work. It also meant, however, that it wasn’t obvious how long it should take, since we depended on “interesting” (and cooperative) clients to come in to the clinic with their small furry friends.

Normally, I shoot outdoor adventures where my subjects are my friends that are with me on the same trip. I don’t normally hang out in operating rooms, so shooting the work at the clinic was a completely different experience! Besides the challenges of shooting indoor with sub-optimal artificial lighting (I should have brought some lights!), it was fun to work out the angles and learn to anticipate the gestures and movements of the clinic team and their patients. I’m not normally a particularly outgoing person, but being in the role and getting into the flow of photographing there I felt really relaxed and confident.

Shooting in the operating room was pretty exciting! Here are a few that made the cut:

Photographing the pets and their owners in the checkup area and observing the effect that the animals have on people was really fun.

This was one of my favorites: three kids with their pet bunny… when I asked the father for permission to take photos, he pointed me to his daughter since she was obviously the one in command:

Sometimes the simultaneous presence of fear and deep care from both sides was very touching:

 

And, of course, the waiting room (with some unusual patients):

This guy is dog super-model material – he also ended up on a giant poster downstairs by the entrance. It’s cool to see a photo of mine be printed two meters wide!

Finally, after a few months the prints were made and during another one of my visits home we hung them up. There was some debate whether to use frames or not; in the end it was decided to frame them, though perhaps it would have been better without the glass to avoid reflections… maybe in the next iteration we’ll try something different.

Black Canyon Trail

For our first ride together (without a trailer) in two years, we decided to ride the classic Black Canyon trail at Teton Pass outside of Wilson, WY. The Black Canyon trail is one of the original Teton Pass trails, now maintained by the grassroots Teton Freedom Riders trail building crew (also see this little documentary about the organization). It’s sort of a “baby” trail at the Pass with no built jumps, but incredibly fun. We also did something that is considered crazy in these parts: rode our bikes up to the pass from the bottom, rather than hitching a ride or shuttling. I thought the climb on the old pass road was rather nice — only 550 meters of vertical, really no reason not to ride it up.

The trail proper starts at the top of the pass and traverses a steep hillside that makes a great ski run in the winter time:

The traverse and climb up the ridge goes through some beautiful meadows and starts to feel remote very quickly:

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Spending most of our time in the european Alps, it’s really a treat to see so much uncultivated and untouched forest in all directions:

Finally we reached the top of the climb, a good 200+ vertical meters from the pass. The afternoon sun lit up the dried grasses and made for a perfect resting stop.

Finally it was time to taste the downhill part of the day. The trail weaves down the hillside with some fun switchbacks through the open meadows. Unlike the switchbacks we’re used to on the hiking trails in the alps, these never broke up the flow of the trail and were very smooth to ride.

All the way down into the forest we were treated to sweeping views of the valley. We even saw a herd of deer run up the hillside in front of us.

The trail changes character as it enters the forest, earning its namesake.

Some fun root sections and creek crossings lead you back to the old pass road:

As usual, you can see the full gallery as well.

First adventures with the Tout Terrain Singletrailer

A few weeks ago, Molly sent me an excited email, saying that she had found the trailer for us and that it was called the “singletrailer” and that it was awesome. That it would let us go mountainbiking with the little one.

Indeed, the singletrailer is a kids’ trailer with 200mm of air-damped suspension travel (my mountainbike, for comparison, has 120mm…) providing a cushy ride for the fragile passenger. As the name implies it has a single wheel, which allows it to follow the track of the leading bike very closely. It really is built like a bike with a quality frame, well thought-out design and well-made cover materials.

Here it is with Lev inside just before our first “real” ride:

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Much to our delight, the little guy is super happy in his suspended child “hammock” inside the singletrailer. He sang and chatted all the way up the Uetliberg, and just as we crested the top he fell asleep. We stopped for some lunch while he napped:

Eventually, he also needed some lunch so we found a nice meadow to hang out while he stretched his legs and played in the grass:

After our pitstop, it was Molly’s turn to try out the new trailer and see how it handles.

She was ecstatic to find that although the weight is certainly not negligible (9.5kg + cargo), the handling is not affected very adversely. Nevertheless, she chose to spare Lev the bumps on a particularly rough section:

But continued riding when it got a bit smoother:

Lev was pretty excited — when we got to the bottom and stopped he was laughing his head off…

Eventually we made our way to the nice trail by the Sihl river that leads all the way back into downtown Zürich

And another pit stop:

The mud guard is well-placed:

Finally starting to look like a mountain machine:

Happy momma in the evening light:

Overall we did a leisurely 33km with 900m of climbing (according to strava) and Lev seemed to enjoy the vast majority of it. A good start to the biking season!

Skiing Winterhorn (2660m)

Trying to decide where to go for a ski tour in Switzerland on a beautiful day with favorable avalanche conditions is like trying to buy chips in an American supermarket. Any of it will work, but the deluge of options means the perfect one is there somewhere… You stare numbly at the available options and your mind just barely manages to wade through the torrent of information… vertical climb, aspect, quality of views from the summit, length of train ride, steepness of ascent, steepness of descent, technical considerations, weather, avy forecast… sometimes this is just too overwhelming when you try to figure it out during coffee breaks on a Friday at the office. So you resort to either whatever you stumble upon first, or an old stand-by (Doritos are not a gourmet choice, but always satisfying and crave-inducing).

So off we went to Winterhorn, a somewhat uninspiring mountain between Hospental and Realp just southwest of the more well-known Andermatt. It’s actually a defunct ski resort, so 3/4 of the uphill are accompanied by decaying skeletons of someone’s failed idea. I’ve actually been here before with the ski club (see here) but we were stuck in a cloud most of the day and the snow was terrible.

This time, the plan was to do a steep descent to the northwest toward Realp. I was skeptical about wanting to ski 45-degree slopes on breakable crust, but I remembered from the trip four years ago that we tried to find a way down to the east but got lost… presumably it would be fine in good visibility.

Here’s the quaint little village of Hospental in the mid-morning:

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This is really an easy route up — here is a canine old-timer following his crew (of old-timers):

Stefan thought the weather was pretty nice:

Ascending the steep last few meters of Winterhorn:

Leaving the summit:

And finally the downhill:

Finally we opted to skip the steep way down to Realp and instead pick our way to the other side toward the Gotthard pass road. We would follow a series of gullies, hoping that maybe some soft snow would have been preserved in there… and that the east-facing open slopes would have corn instead of breakable crust. Turns out our thinking was correct, and we even found something resembling powder!

Here’s Jö shredding the gully:

Lower down, we skied some fun corn-like snow… an hour sooner it would have been perfect, but even though it was a little slushy it certainly was better than crust!

You know it’s spring time when you can’t ski all the way to the village…

Lovely Hospental:

And a well-deserved break before heading off to the train:

Full gallery here.

Birthday tour — Rorspitzli 3220m

Part of this year’s annibirthday (2 birthdays + wedding anniversary) fell on a beautiful, sunny Friday. Luckily, it happened to be my birthday and not the anniversary, and I managed to convince Tobias to go ski something. He had told me about this great tour from Göschenen with a 2000m descent before and it fit my wish for “something tall in Uri”.

If you want to skip the text and just go to full-screen photos, go here.

We knew that there would be lots of climbing — 2100m of vertical gain. We also knew that this effort most likely will not lead to powder heaven, but instead to some nondescript crusty mess.

In the end, this felt like many ski tours rolled up into one — first the spring-like approach and blistering heat, then some proper alpine-looking scrambling above 3000m followed by 1000m of very enjoyable north-facing snow, and finally the worst death crust you can think of for the last 1000m down to the valley floor.

We started like all good spring tours should start — carrying skis.

Heading up from Göschenen -- snow levels not looking promising

Finally up in the open looking over at Salbitschijen:

Near Salbithütte:

Heading up on the open slopes near Salbithütte

Looking toward the impressive walls below Dammastock

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Heading toward the couloir that gives access to the Rorplatten that eventually lead to the Rorspitzli:

Climbing the little couloir:

Looking back in the direction of Andermatt:

We were trying to move reasonably quickly, but the warm weather got to us and we started slowing down… so not many photos until the summit 🙂

A couple following in our tracks seen from the summit of Rorspitzli (they were super friendly and eventually gave us a ride back down to the train station…)

The summit of Rorspitzli is a kind of unremarkable rubble pile. The scramble up and down is straightforward, but you have to be on the lookout for loose blocks… here we’re downclimbing and you can see the glacier with ski tracks below:

Ridge leading up to the summit pyramid:

Downclimbing the ridge to get to the glacier:

Finally, skiing… the snow was windpressed, recycled powder, but skied much better than expected.

Until we hit about 2000m — then the game was over and for the next 1000m of vertical we skied some pretty horrible breakable crust all the way down to the road.

Here’s Tobias demonstrating the proper technique for skiing this kind of crap:

This will be a great tour to do before work one day… 🙂