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Hiking

Monday, August 07, 2017

Backroads Family Trip to Switzerland, Hiking the Classic Eiger Trail

Day Four of our Backroads family trip to the Bernese Oberland was the most strenuous and arguably the most memorable day. We took a short train ride from Grindelwald to Alpiglen to start our long uphill climb, over 3,000 feet on the well-trodden Eiger Trail. As we made our ascent, we could see the town of Grindelwald in the valley below. Lofty Eiger Peak, standing 13,020 feet, was socked in with clouds, until we were practically beside her near the trailhead to mountaineering’s epic climb, the North Face. Then the clouds started to part and we were treated to magical views of Eiger and Jungfrau and the hanging glaciers that snaked down the hillside in between. For the next hour, we walked alongside these craggy snow-topped peaks before reaching the village of Kleine Scheidegg, home to the highest major train station in Switzerland and thus a tourism hub in the middle of the Alps. After lunch, we left the crowds behind as we made our way on relatively level ground to the Männlichen Gondola. The only obstacle was a herd of cows we met up with on the narrow path. One cow came straight toward me and I wisely ran into the grass above the trail to avoid being trampled. My legs weren’t working too well at that point but I’m happy to see my brain was. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/07/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, August 04, 2017

Backroads Family Trip to Switzerland, Ya, Trotti Bike

Grindelwald is one of the gateway towns to the heart of the Swiss Alps. Grab breakfast at your hotel, wander over to the gondola, take it to the third stop, First Peak, and suddenly you’re at 7100 feet staring at a massive rock wall of 13,000-foot high peaks wearing a crown of fresh snow. Or you can’t see anything, which was the case the moment our Backroads group arrived at First Peak, completely socked in with clouds. We strolled around the Cliff Walk, a metal bridge created by Tissot that hugs the precipitous cliffs as you look down and are thankful for Swiss engineering. Nearing the end of this little walk, the clouds lifted and we were witness to this magical disrobing, like a curtain opening at the start of a Broadway play. To the east was mighty Wetterhorn wearing a toupee of whipped clouds, while straight across from me was the mighty north face of Eiger. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. 
 
We hiked a little over 6 miles that day on the Bachalpsee Route, often on a muddy narrow path though an emerald valley. Lunch was on picnic tables with glorious vistas at Waldspitz before the steep downhill to the Bort gondola. Legs tired from the hike, we then had to jump on scooter bikes called Trottis. Remarkably, I fit both feet and hiking boots on the contraption (there is no seat), pointed the bike downhill on a Trotti paved path, and cruised. I was nervous at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s like skiing downhill, carving your own line. Once again, you’re peering up at mighty Eiger spewing expletives of joy the whole way. Ya, Trotti, a ride I won’t soon forget. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/04/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Backroads Family Breakaway to Switzerland, First Stop Kandersteg

Having just returned from Switzerland last night, I have to admit that the Backroads trip my family was just on was as close to perfection as it gets in the world of travel. It wasn’t merely the stunning Alps scenery around every bend or the two exceptional group leaders, Agata and Gosia, who led the 6-day jaunt seamlessly with a confident dose of professionalism and buoyant personalities. The families on this trip were wonderful, all yearning for a dose of adventure to celebrate a momentous occasion like a son or daughter soon leaving for their first year of college. After a week of hiking, biking, and kayaking together, swapping anecdotes about our lives, I consider them all friends. But the real reason I think this trip excelled was the itinerary. I’ve been on two other Backroads trips, biking around the Big Island and a multisport trip to Costa Rica, and spent far too much time in shuttles or transfers to the next destination. Switzerland, especially the Swiss Alps, is blessed with an intricate network of trains, gondolas, and ferries that can connect with endless opportunities for high adventure right outside your hotel doorstep. You never have to travel far.

Our first gondola ride took us from the small mountain resort town of Kandersteg up 5,500 feet to Oeschinensee, a glacially carved lake filled with cobalt blue waters. We hiked along the shoreline, passing under countless waterfalls, as we rose some 1,000 feet to a mountain hut. We peered up in awe at 12,000-feet Blümlisalp and its fresh coating of sparkling white snow atop its jagged-edged peak. A worthy introduction to these majestic mountains and their lofty altitudes. I would spend the rest of the week looking up at the staggering beauty every chance I had. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/02/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Greece Week with Heritage Tours: Hiking from Oia to Imerovigli at Sunrise

Santorini exceeds all expectations, with stunning vistas of the caldera and its volcanic islands rising from the Aegean waters wherever you look. To take advantage of this breathtaking scenery without the crowds, head to the hiking trail atop the bluff that connects Oia with the towns of Imerovigli and Fira. We wandered off at 7 am from our room at Mystique with our guide Eugenia, striding atop this sliver of land above the whitewashed buildings. To the right was the caldera, to the left more majestic islands that make up the Cyclades. We stopped at several picturesque family-run churches atop the bluffs, bordered by red poppies and blue wildflowers in bloom, an ideal place to get married. The entire walk from Oia to Fira is 9.5 kilometers, approximately 3 hours, but we got sidetracked by donkeys and a snack bar selling damn good lattes and never made it past Imerovigli. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/04/17 at 05:00 AM
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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Georgia on My Mind

In yesterday’s blog, I discussed meeting the preeminent sea kayaker, Olaf Malver, who now leads trips for Natural Habitat Adventures to Greenland, Antarctica, and the Galapagos Islands. When not paddling, Malver is back in his native Georgia (the country, not the state), producing award-winning wine from his vineyards. Straddling the border between Europe and Asia, the origins of winemaking can be traced back to this region of the world. Today, oenophiles flock to Kakheti province, the top winemaking region to sample the wares. A fine bottle of wine is just one of the reasons to visit Georgia, which has recently landed on Travel & Leisure and Vogue’s “top places to travel” lists. Olaf’s wife runs Wild Georgia, which leads weeklong guided trekking and horseback riding jaunts into the Caucasus, the striking mountain range that stands taller than the Alps. The capital, Tblisi, has quickly become an exciting center for art, food, and music amidst the art nouveau architecture. Stay at the recently opened Rooms Hotels, dine at a French Laundry alum’s bistro, Le Montrachet, and check out the electronic music scene at Bassiani. Big hoteliers like Le Meridian and Radisson Blu are already busy building new properties in the country, so the time to go is summer or fall 2017 before word spreads. 

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/09/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 23, 2017

Arizona Week—Hiking Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak

I always bring hiking boots when traveling to Phoenix, because it’s arguably the best city in the country for day hikes. There are some 200 miles of trails in the Phoenix park system including short summits like Piestewa that are ideally suited for a 2-hour lunch break. We started our climb around 11 am and we were back at the trailhead at 12:45 pm. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thigh-burner, especially the last part of the trail which steeply ascends the craggy 2,608-foot peak (total elevation gain is 1190 feet). Even on a weekday, the trail was crowded as we made our way up the dirt and rock path past every type of cacti imaginable—tall saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, and prickly pear. Vistas of the Phoenix skyline opened up below us as we passed an ironwood tree. Soon we were up on the summit, eating lunch while enjoying the views of the surrounding ridges and the valley below. I once penned a series of stories for Health Magazine on Urban Adventures, the best workouts outside the gym in cities across America. Climbing Piestewa Peak would be a good option.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/23/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Climbing the Via Ferrata at Quebec’s Palissades De Charlevoix

Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region of Quebec this past July—biking on the celebrated Véloroute des Bleuets, a 256-kilometer bike trail that circumnavigates Lac-Saint-Jean, hiking atop a ridge at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, sea kayaking with beluga whales on the Saguenay Fjord, and whitewater rafting down the rapids of the Metabetchouan River—my buddy Jeff persuaded me top it all by tackling one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Pallisades De Charlevioix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget. 
 
To top it off, we went whale watching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisieres AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a memorable day in Quebec. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/04/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Favorite Fall Outings in New England, Climbing Mount Willard, New Hampshire

If the thought of climbing a mountain makes you sweat long before leaving your car, wipe your brow and give 2,804-foot Willard a try. In less than an hour, you’ll make it to the peak where jaw-dropping views of Crawford Notch stand below you, a reward for your slight efforts. The hike begins behind the Crawford Notch Visitor Center, former site of the Crawford railroad station. The trail starts off sharply but becomes more gradual as you crisscross through a forest of dense pines. Eventually, sunshine seeps into the woods and you’ll reach a large opening, the light at the end of the tunnel. Look down from the rocky ledge at the old railroad line, carved into the mountainside, and the onslaught of cars that snake through Crawford Notch on Route 302. Then pat yourself on the back for climbing a White Mountain. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/05/16 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Climbing the Via Ferrata at Palissades De Charlevoix

Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region—biking, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, and whitewater rafting—I topped it all with this morning’s activity. Charlevoix is home to one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Palissades De Charlevoix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget. 
 
To top it off, we went whalewatching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisières AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He noted that the whales breach to wash off all parasites and to communicate to the other whales. Or simply to perform for us. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see a tall waterfalls called the Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a dream day. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/21/16 at 05:30 AM
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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Favorite Day Hike in Nova Scotia

“Probably not going to see a moose today,” said a park ranger at the beginning of the Skyline Trail. “It’s a hot day and they’re lying low in the brush,” he added. Not that it matters. The Skyline is one of the most glorious hikes in the Maritimes, a great overview of the breathtaking terrain displayed at Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Listening to bullfrogs and a woodpecker hammering away, we took a serene stroll through a boreal forest lined with buttercups. Every now and then we would get a glimpse of the sea in front of us and look back at the mountains and the carpet of forest. Then you reach the piece de resistance, a series of steps and platforms that reward you with magnificent vistas of the water and the circuitous road rising through the velvet green hillside that’s one of the best coastal drives in North America, the Cabot Trail. After our fill of the scenery, we made our way back down and said goodbye to the park ranger. Less than a 5-minute walk from our car, we heard loud ruffling to our left and spotted a mother moose and her two young calves chowing down on the foliage. Some days, you can get your icing on the cake. 

That afternoon, we signed up for a zodiac tour with Captain’s Mark’s Whale and Seal Cruise in nearby Pleasant Bay and were treated to the bounty of sealife. Within 5 minutes from the dock, we spotted the graceful arch and fin of a minke whale, one of 40 minkes we probably found over a 2-hour span. Adding to the pleasure was a colony of gray seals popping their heads out of the water like periscopes, harbor porpoises, a bald eagle perched on a tree high atop a bluff, and the frightening tentacles of a lion’s mane jellyfish. Then we drove another hour on the Cabot Trail to the Keltic Lodge, where we downed pints of Big Spruce Regatta Red Ale while staring at the massive bluff they call Cape Smoky jutting out into the Atlantic. Not a bad day. 

(Photos by Michael Berger)





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/29/16 at 04:30 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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