Saturday, July 5, 2008

Central European Tour

We arrived in Europe with the goal to climb the following mountains over the next nine days;

Grossglockner at 12,461 feet in Austria
Zugspitze at 9,717 feet in Germany
Grauspitz at 8,526 feet in Liechtenstein
Dufourspitze at 15,203 ft in Switzerland
Monte Bianco at 15,781 ft both in France & Italy

Our flight to Vienna took off in the early Seattle morning for stops in Newark then onto Paris before arriving the next day at our final destination and the start of another great adventure. Vienna wasn't the original jumping off point being Venice, Italy was the closer to Austria's highest peak; however a miscommunication in booking the ticket confirmed where our starting point would be. Either way, Europe in comparison to America is much smaller and this change was originally thought as a good problem now the capital of Austria was in the plan. The flight to Vienna went smoothly with no issues but traveling such a long distance causes the body to crave physical activity which plenty in store in the coming days. In preparing for this trip, it was decided at the beginning to minimize all planning with the exception of what mountains to climb. With the flight time to Vienna we would review the first mountain and make the decisions on the routes as we went adding to the challenge. In addition, my take-a-way from Pico de Orizaba in Mexico was to learn the basic language of countries I was traveling and printed from the web must know travel phases for the three European languages we were traveling. As I would learn on this trip, a take-a-way is only good if you actual do something with it.

We arrived in Vienna Friday morning, grabbed our gear from the carousel and made our way to the rent-a-car counter to pick up our transportation for the next week. There was a lot of discussion on what was the best mode of travel as trains are notorious in Europe, however due to our tight schedule along with the remoteness of towns near the mountains, the flexibility of a rental car was the right choice on this adventure. Once in the car we were off on another great adventure with the plans over the next 10 days to climb five summits in six countries. By the way, our backcountry adventure included a Mercedes Benz that we found could hold its own on the Germany Autobahn.

Grossglockner, our first destination, is located in the western part of the Austria's so we grabbed a map and headed west through the town of Lienz and then Salzburg sitting north of our the mountain. We stopped at a supermarket to grab some supplies and made our way south to the entrance of the Hohe Tauern National Park and Grossglockner High Alpine Road. It was nearing 7 p.m. and the ranger at the entry station was concerned of our intentions with a park curfew nearing in the next hour and half. We stated our plans and he suggested we head up to the Franz-Josefs-Haus where we could park and sleep in the car for the night. As we drove up the highway, the countless mountains keep us on our toes to which was Grossglockner. After nearly an hour of spectacular driving, we arrived to a cold and windy night without a hint of any mountains around as the clouds drifted in and out at the 2000 meter elevation we sat. The area was deserted and we backed the car into a cozy spot on the 2nd floor of a five story parking garage and prepared for bed before heading out in the morning. There happened to be a group of climbers whom drove up and scoped the mountain conditions but quickly jumped back in to their truck and headed back down which I assume was to a warm hut for the night. It was tempting to do the same but we were on a budget and we drifted off to sleep after only a few sips of wine with anticipation of climbing the first of five peaks on this challenging adventure.

Morning came as expected to a very cold, cloudy morning and we prepared our gear and set off for base camp. We started the route by descending to the Pasterze Glacier 500 feet below and crossed it in a northwest direction until it met on the opposite side to the ridge that would take us to the beginning of the Hoffmannkees Glacier. The Pasterze, at approximately 5.2 mi in length, is the longest glacier in Austria nd in the Eastern Alps reaching the 11,330 ft Johannisberg to 6890 ft above sea level. The length of the glacier currently decreases about 33 ft each year with it volume diminished by half since the first measurements in 1851.

From the base of the Hoffmannkees Glacier, we ascended to the south directly underneath the ridge line and then back in a westerly direction to the Erzherzog-Johann-Huette. This route in times past had to been the most common ascent but it has become more difficult in recent years because of shrinking glaciers and dangerous stonefalls. As we continued up the firm snow, the hut was always in view which makes for fun climb. In the North Cascades, the setup time to reach any peak can be at a day or more, but it was very apparent over the hundreds of years of climbing in the Alps the roads were further and deeper in the mountains than what we were used to without the need to tromp through trees, over logs, carrying tents, sleeping bags, cooking year, and food. We didn't bring a tent but had the rest of our gear. We arrived at the Erzherzog-Johann-Huette, the highest hut in Austria, at 3454 meters or 11,332 feet slightly before noon and as I walked into the hut I was blown away in my first impression of what climbing is like in the European Alps. It included every amenity of a modern hotel including a dedicated gear room, a room to dry out your boots including a wall of slippers, a full staffed kitchen, kegs of beer, beds with fresh sheets, and crystal clean toilets. We dropped our gear and took a break in in the dining hall before making the decision to summit Großglockner in the afternoon instead of waiting for a midnight rungiving us the ability to leave first thing in the morning.

The Großglockner is the "king" of the eastern half of the alps with a prominence, the elevation over the deepest pass that separates it from the next higher mountain, only second to Mont Blanc. The Grossglockner is surrounded by the Glockner Group of mountains that is a central part of the Hohe Tauern Range. We left the hut at 2 p.m. and followed the zigzagged boot path to gain access on the steep ridge and summit hidden in the clouds above. There were a handful of other climbing groups heading to the summit at the same time but the real challenge was those which were coming down over a series of fixed anchor points providing protection to the continuous drop on both sides. With the exposure like this, it takes extreme care to insure you’re always anchored to the mountain while allowing the ropes to pass along. As we continued to climb up, I realized we were well on our way to summiting the first mountain of this grand adventure, and as we continued to climb I could see the summit close above and felted the excitement of reaching the top. As I crested what I thought was the summit, I quickly realized there was more to this mountain.

From where I stood we still needed to down climb a 30 foot wall which was connected to a narrow col with a abyss dropping on both sides. Across the small ledge on the opposite side was a 50 foot vertical climb taking you to the the final summit ridge and then to the top. I have to admit my first thoughts were “rats” because in my mind I thought we were already on the top, and even though I have climbed many high peaks with dangers such as crevasses and avalanches; I was just gaining momentum in mixed climbing on snow and rock. In addition, this section of the route required not only protection for the fixed anchors but required self belays on many sections. It's is times like these that I get excited knowing I'm really pushing the limits of what I can do and failure at any point will be grave consequences but that do not get excited because of fear, but knowing I am pushing my life foreword as I realize I'm in Austria climbing the highest peak in the country. I love this life am deeply engaged in the climb stripping away from my mind all nonessentials and deeply focused on the task at hand which is the reason why I climb mountains. Our timing couldn't be better as we walked onto the summit with no one on top to a clear sky and remarkable country below. We snapped a few pictures and enjoy the moment of being on the top of Großglockner, the highest peak in the country of Austria.

As we turned to head down the mountain our bodies reengaged in the task in preparation for the 50 foot cliff overlooking the abyss and up the another less technical 30 foot section. At this point, there are many parties to contend with and I envision the excitement of being in a bottleneck on Everest’s Hillary Step as the weather deteriorates and climbers are near exhaustion. A key to climbing exposed ridges like this is to eliminate time as a factor and stay deeply connected to every move. Once past this section the steep down climb seems like child's play but nonetheless dangerous. We make it back to the saddle after negotiating other parties working their way up including a group that decided to turn back.

Once back at the hut, we relaxing in the superb accommodations the Europeans mastered a long time ago, listened to foreign conversations, and regretting not having cash for a cold beer and a hot meal. It was evident climbing in the Alps requires only climbing gear and money with everything else available in the high paradise. Even though we packed only the minimal gear, we quickly realized we brought way too much gear including a tent, stove, food, water, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. We hung out for a while being the only Americans with in diverse group of nationalities whom enjoyed a spice for life not found in American with songs through the night. At some point we reluctantly headed up your bed and snuggled into our fresh blankets with anticipation of a great nights rest. Don't get me wrong about the style of climbing in the Alps as it is not a downgrade but a comment on truly enjoying the mountains in a different way. It's a shame Americans do not embrace the beauty of mountains at this level because in America it's the select few who are willing to push through the worse parts to gain the best.

I woke up in the night with no idea of the time even though my natural senses told me to get up so I pryed my climbing buddy’s watch and happily saw it was four o'clock. We had already decided we would get up early and head back to the car in order to get an earlier start to Germany for the next climb of Zugspitze. I found my way downstairs to collect my gear and walked out onto the hut patio to a faint morning sunrise over the mountains to the east. I snapped a few pictures and realized how lucky I was to be at this point at exact moment in the country of Austria. As we stepped onto the glacier, the snow was in perfect condition for plunge steps as our momentum carried us down the mountain and I could see across the glacier the starting point of this climb. This is unusual compared to climbing in the North Cascades due to long to wooded approaches and having the end in sight always makes the climb down more enjoyable as you can quickly sense your progress. We continued the same path we came the preceeding day back to the ridge and then to the Pasterze Glacier below. Intrigued by the mistake we made on the way up, it still wasn’t obvious as I looked back once on the lower glacier and if I had to lead it again would probably make the same mistake. Once we crossed the Pasterze Glacier, we climbed back up 600 feet to reach our starting point.

Back at the car, we changed into clean clothes and found a small café overlooking the valley with Großglockner in the background. The American coffee I am used too is nothing compared to the small cups you get in Europe. In American, we want “grande” or "venti" whereas espressos are more popular here even though they pack just as much caffeine. We asked for bread with our coffee only to get blank stares to why we would do such a thing but quickly realized the culture's breakfast was standard of meat, cheese, and bread. They however were happy to fulfill our request and we enjoyed our coffee with warm bread. After leaving the café, we traveled south through many small villages in southern Austria then into Italy before crossing back into Austria to the southern border of Germany.

The road signs in Europe are not easy to navigate with the inconsistency of the road numbers and unpronounceable towns along the way. There were a couple of choices to Zugspitze, one from the east and the second from the west. Our only navigation guide was a printout from noting the standard climb up Zugspitze was from the east but as it would happen on any adventure, we passed our first turn and continued west before reaching the town of Ehrwald at the base of the mountain. However interesting enough we discovered from the locals the standard western routes were impassable at the time and we would have needed to travel back across to get where we stood presently. We enjoyed a beer at a local town pub debating on the best route for the climb and concluded on the Wiener-Neustadter-Hutte route which is a hike up to 7250 feet, spend the night and follow a 2400 feet rock climb up the western face of the mountain.

We left the car at the Tyrolean Zugspitze Railway parking lot that takes you directly to the summit by tram and followed a back road trail into a basin reminding me of the desert southwest with the combination of the afternoon heat and sandy sage brush landscape. We read the hut was classified as a third class emergency shelter and did not expect the same service in Austria, but more like what we were accustom to in the North Cascades, therefore did not grab a lot of cash. As we turned a corner around a rock face there was a small shelter in the distance and we thought to ourselves there it is, but as we continued up there was a modern hut to the right with a different appearance. We walked inside the smaller but cozy hut with the smell of a warm fire and a handful of summit teams drinking and eating as before. The host greeted us and I could see from the kitchen that even this third class hut was the same as our previous night’s accommodations and had not learned our lesson as we again were without enough money and a deep need for a cold beer high on the mountain.

There are 6.6 billion of people on this earth and this was a time one of those persons surprised me by with kindness even after we confessed we were from America who knew no better to these types of accommodations and carried little money to support our climbing. Come to find out the guest does this for a living and arrives early in the summer and will not leave until early fall as they preplanned all the supplies and hope for a profit after paying the expenses such as rental for the hut, however our host on this day stated we were his guest and wanted us to stay as his guest including giving us a beer. Grateful to this kindness, we sat speaking to a mother and daughter team from Germany with a group of guys on a bachelor party (come to find out on the summit) and a few others in this cozy warm hut only a few hundred feet from the Germany as we still sat in Switzerland on this night. There is a time in life when you must payback the night kindness you are given and this was one of those moments. I will never forget but I thank you for allowing us to be your guest on this day. We enjoyed our beer and prepared our dinner complemented by great conversation all around. The night was exciting and I went to bed dreaming of the mornings cli,mb.

I woke up to a great night's sleep as we made our way into the dining hall where our new friend offered us a rich cup of coffee. We stepped out from hut into the crisp morning air third in line of the parties at the hut and hiked to the base of the 2500 foot climb up the mountain. The rock was in great shape and the route was more of a scramble instead of a climb with slight exposure aided by fixed anchors as this climb is popular to the guide service for those new to the sport or making this the climb of thier life. Not making light if we did spot a marker commemorating a death of the route.

As we crested the ridge there was vintage sign of the country we were about to cross into and I knew shortly I could say I have been on the highest peak in Germany. The interesting point about Zugspitze is unlike most peaks, the summit included a large building built on on the rocks including everything from a upscale restaurant, museum, gift shop, and many others services to support the hundreds per day whom make it to the summit by way of the tram. We snapped a few pictures as we were excited to be again on a highest peak in a European country.

We made our way back into the building as the resturant staff were setting up for the coming day, we where in no mood for breakfast and wanted a German beer in Germany. I walked up to the counter and was greeted by a older gentleman with a large smile, ordered a few beers and sat down overlooking the summit basin with clean cotton tableware and a tall glass of Lowenbrau. It was at this moment but I felt a deep sense of peace by knowing that I was on the right track in my life and this project is what I was born to do, but not only that I knew it was time for me to take the next step in my life by getting deeper in what I was doing but also that I needed a long-term plan on a business that would keep me challenged above and beyond my career and climbing. It was at this moment I knew the rest of the trip would become a brainstorm during the countless hours of travel and climbing. As I drank my German beer I realized my life could be no better than it was at the moment. I felt peace like never before.

We knew it was time to leave and we collected our gear again and made our way outside. As we approach the ridge we could see a tram full of people making their way up the mountain confirming to us we are leaving at the right moment before the business of the day struck. Nothing against people but having the solitude of the morning on the mountain means the world to me and I was grateful to have this moment on summit, of course with the beer. We climbed back to the hut to collect our gear and made our way back in the car before early afternoon. We washed up in the public restroom and were off again to the small country of Liechtenstein and a mountain named Grauspitz.

The quick is way to Liechtenstein from Zugspitz was to travel the same route we came yesterday and then westward through Austria to the southern part tip of the country but we decided to head north into Germany to experience the country. We traveled north through Garmish-Partenkirchen and many smaller towns peppered every five miles or so along the highways and my mind pondered on how they came to be? Is it small towns maintain the the vintage feel of their history or is there something else? As I drove in the back country of Germany I barely had time to gain the speed limit from one town to the next. As we stopped at numerous places we quickly found that the Germany does not accept any credit cards other than Mastro Bank which we did not have. As we traveled though the day and stopped at many places, we found every time we needed cash not American credit cards but at a point late in the afternoon, I ran into a bank to get cash and discover the same isse (debit card was Visa), my climbing partner gathered the trash from the car and while looking for a restroom found around the corner a small upscale grocery store well stocked with everything we needed and by the way accepted visa.

After replenishing our food cache, we continued south and looked for the border of Liechtenstein only 16 miles in length but we still had to traveled through the populated town of Bregenz and Lake Bregenzer Bucht. I have to admit after traveling all day, I questioned our desire to travel well outside the way into Germany. As we traveled though rush hour with 40 miles to got before reaching the border, the sun showed hints the day was coming to an end. Once we came to the border, we were stopped abruptly by border patrol which we hadn't seen since starting the trip in any of the countries. The officer looked in the back of your car and saw the chaos of gear and food, then quickly directed us to pull to the side. I did what I was told and realized I was driving barefoot and hoped there wasn’t a law against it. He asked for my passport which was somewhere in the back and that only added to the confusion. He then asked me to turn off my car which I did, but because it was in neutral held by my foot on the brake and as I turned to the back to find my passport, my foot came off to brake and we started rolling forward. This again added to the confusion and still could not find my passport and needed to get out of the car to look for it in the back but I attemped to advised the officer of my intentions whom only spoke German and this again added to the confusion but hoped my actions would not get me shot or thrown in jail. It took me a while t find my passport and when I finally did, the officer left for 10 minutes and to my relief allowed us to proceed on. The style points on arriving in this country were zero.

Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine microstate in Western Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and Austria to the east. Its size is just over 62 square miles with a population of 35,000 and Vaduz as its capital. Liechtenstein is the smallest German-speaking country in the world and a constitutional monarchy divided into 11 municipalities. Much of Liechtenstein's terrain is mountainous making it a winter paradise above the surrounding small farms and like Switzerland has a strong financial sector and known as a tax haven.

As noted before when planning (or lack of planning) the trip we decided to keep the adventure flexible which this method of thinking has both pros and cons; on one hand without plans the expectations are low without a deadlines except climbing all the peaks in a by a certain date but on the other hand it requires a lot of work and plans will change once you're actually in the situation. The only resources we brought were copies of which are climbers blogs of there experience on the mountain. We also had the wikipedia printouts for both the mountains and countries. We were without reservations and as we drove into the country and started to ask where this mountain was located and to our dismay no had even heard of it. We accepted this and moved south in the country thinking better luck would be closer to the southern border only 16 miles from where we stood. We stopped at a gas station but again no one had heard of Grauspitze and we started to get concerned about our ability to find it as full darkness has arrived.

An interesting point of this philosophy is that you always seem to find a way and we were given a small clue from the women running the gas station whom she knew mountains were close by but the route to her knowledge was not possible from Liechtenstein but from Switzerland approached from the southern side. We mentioned the town we were seeking but she was also unfamiliar with and but suggested another town she guessed it might be near with general directions. Just as fast as we came into Liechtenstein we traveled out in the darkness with limited vision and made our way back into Switzerland and upon not finding the turnoff suggested earlier and thinking we had gone too far again decided to again ask for directions to a young German girl and again was not familiar with our requests but believed we should follow the roundabout in front of the store to the north. As we continued we came upon a very small town in the middle of the night which happened to be what we're looking for in the beginning. We found the Autobahn which was appeared to be someone’s weekend backyard project which would take us to the starting point but of what we could read in the dark and in German, reservations were required and we had no idea if someone would even be there in the morning. Before we shrugged off our ability to use the tram, we needed to find a place to sleep after a long day of traveling in the car.

Nested in the northern most section of Switzerland, this small village backed up against the hillside with cobblestone streets, gas streetlamps, and narrow roads that even an compact car barely fit, and this night was extremely dark making our way through a series of small villages challenging. What we did know was the for sleep or hotel in German was “zimmer” and somehow found a small bed & breakfast in the bend of the road as it neared 10 pm, to our luck the host had one single room available and to her surprised we still wanted. She spoke a little English and we explained we were climbers and a single room was not a problem as we have spent countless hours in tents together much smaller than this room. She finally agreed and allowed us to have the room at a discounted double rate charge. We did not care because the showers were hot and to be clean again with our first shower of the trip made us feel again alive.

When we woke up in the morning we still needed to find the route is up to the summit and decided to get in the car and search before coming back for breakfast. The area was now exposed to us and we were we surrounded by countless vineyards in a apparent counrty known for its wine. We continued to search for a route and with the aid of a map on the side of the road, gave us the hints needed of the surrounding area including the mountains above which led us to an area we thought would be the best jumping off point different to that of the summitpost printout. A trailhead found, we went back to the bed & breakfast for European breakfast of meat, cheese, fruit, and basket of bread topped of with coffee from heaven. As we ate, we were surrounded by bottles of wine and a lot of friendly faces which we had no way of talking to. Once finished, I bought a bottle of wine and headed back to the trailhead we had previously decided.

The trip up Grauspitz was the lowest elevation of all the mountains of the entire trip based on everything we read could be the hardest with a knife edge ridge climb to the final summit. The mountain everyone in the town knew was Falknis showed by the road map with direct access from the south end. It was apparent to the people we spoke to that the other peaks surrounding Falknis were rarely climbed due to the difficulty, but our goal was different requiring the to the trek to the true summit of this small country. Leaving the trailhead, the trail was a gravel road which came to a point surrounded by a grassy steep area peppered by numerous small huts which were most likely used by sheepherders in the past. From here the apparent trail continued next to a small river coming from the mountain until we came to a point that the river was washed out but clearly crossed over to the other side. We came to a point on open hillside where the trail stopped and we looked for clues of the route. Looking back across the valley there was a guy who had left the trailhead before us who was climbing the other ridge toward a orange marker at the edge of the trees. He looking like he was a local and us thinking of what happened on our first peak with the Serbians, we turned around and decided to down climb and take his course. We continued up the ridge and quickly came to a dead end in the forest where the trail stopped and became precarious in the muddy brush above a cliff directly above the river. We had another decision to make as this local was no where in sight; we either could follow this route through the brush or go back to where we were which also didn't give us much clues. We already have been off route for over an hour but knew the other way must have been the right way originally as we saw back across a yellow sign peeking through the woods.

Once we made our way back across, the signed pointed us in the right directlion and the trail was easy from that point on. We continued on, there were sheep roaming the countryside through as evident in the bells handing from there collars, we came to our first stop of a “climbers hut” as noted on the map below. Thinking as before a hut in the Alps would be more, this time we had money and prepared from a cold beer, but as we approached the hut looked nothing like a place were climbers stopped and but a shack to host the shepherd of the sheep. We walked through the handmade gate but could find no signs to confirm this was the hut the trail markers guided us to, but as we continued on the trailmarkers confirmed this was the place as the arrows reversed. One thing was for certain this was not a place accommodating climbers for the night. We climbed on and as the hot sun passed overe us, we needed a place to stop for lunch but decided the best case was to achieve the ridgeline so any wind could keep the bugs away from us.

We stopped at the ridge with the popular mountain in the backdrop and ate lunch, then made our way up the trail traversing the south ridge including fixed anchors in many points due to the exposure. At only a few hundred feet from the true summit of Falknis, we saw the first glimpse of Grauspitze and to our dismay, dropped over 500 feet to a saddle to the virtually unclimbable west face. We thought about climbing Falknis since we were so close but decided if we did climb it and with the difficulty of our true summit this peak might lead to a consolation prize which were unwilling to do, so we moved on. During my study of, the east ridge is the route but not without difficulty and here we were way on the west side. There was even a moment in our minds (verbally said it) that this mountain might not be in the cards being so far from the correct route and needing to traverse 2000 feet to the basin and hike the entire length just to reach the other side and to turn around to climb back up the knife ridge the length of the basin. However, a joint of energy hit me and we were off down the ridge and committed to a second climb of the day.

The country was remarkable shared only with a few hikers in the perfect afternoon sun even even thought I felt the solitude of the mountains as we hiked back across to the point we should have started before. This climb was exposured without fixed anchors, and we thought of roping in a few tricky sections including a mermorial cross for a climber who died a few years back. We were careful with our steps and within the hour near the summit my steps onto the summit deserved some deep "yahoos" on a mountain that tested us in our drive, ability, and commitment to meet our goal by climbing the highest point in the country of Liechtenstein including the third of this journey. Across the U-shaped mountain ridge and valley below I could see another mountain would be nice to climb some day, but we were out of time. I come to find out that that mountain is named Glegghorn. To me at that moment, I was on the summit…

I snapped a few pictures and started my way down the ridge to a point when I decided to take a shortcut straight down the step cliffs. I recollected a trailpost at the saddle with a turnoff to the hut were first looked for ealier in the day. The miles were shorter with views of the valley below and within a few hours a exposured hiking, we came to the hut with a dude drinking a beer and a young gal hut host from Germany who was very friendly. Her "friend" seemed pissed we where there but she continued to talk and asked us if we were going to stay since she was the only one there for the night. We said we weren't and did not have money for a beer anyhow and carried on making our way out of the car. As we climbed off the steep ridge, we followed a large river to a point it was washed out requiring some route finding back to the main road. We eventually found it and were on our way on a gravel road to the trailhead.


Not far from the main road we came to a grassy field where a handful of tents were peppered in the tall grass when like a moment from movie, a gorgeous blonde stepping out from a tent, glanced our way as she stretched her arms exposing everything about her in the golden evening light, and turned and walked the other way. A interesting change to long days alone in the mountains. Once back at the road we walked the two miles back to the car, pulled the gear off our backs, and made our way to find a spot for dinner. Still having food from a grocery store in Germany we pulled into a vineyard in the town we stayed and enjoyed prosciutto and mustard in a tube sandwiches and the bottle wine from the morning. The air was refreshing as the sky moved toward dusk and again in the car toward our next destination, the highest peak in Switzerland, Dourforspitze. Between the dark night in the heart of the Swiss Alp, the constant concentration staying on the windy road, the pace the occasional Europeans would pass, and the lack of sleep, after a few hours I had to stop to find a place to sleep for the night. In a small town that I cannot remember, I backed up to a small building next to the road in the dead of night, reclined the seat and fell quickly to sleep.

I woke up around 5am, made a quick get-away like a bandit in the night and headed back west on Highway 19 toward Oberalp Pass. It didn’t take long for my body to drift back into drowsiness as I sat in my filth from the previous day of hard climbing. Needing an awakening, I found the perfect spot at the first high pass I came to. Flowing under the road, a raging icy creek provide a passage to it’s treasure and as we organized the car and made fresh coffee, I washed my clothes using a netting bag and the power of the current. After rinsing off I put on the only pair of jeans and clean t-shirt I brought and as I drove off, I felt renewed with a lovely cup of coffee sitting next to me. We continued through the mountains on the windy roads which eventually lead us to the jumping off point to climb Dufourspitze.

As we entered the town of Tasch we decided to grab breakfast at a small café so we parked the car and discovered a potential establishment off a back alley. We ordered breakfast which included the usual plate of cold cuts, cheese, and bread that we devoured quickly. Putting ourselves on a tight budget on this portion of the trip in order to leave more once the gals arrived, we expected to pay just a few bucks for breakfast and when the waitress came back out and ask if we wanted more, we shrugged and said “what the heck” knowing we would need the energy for the day. She brought out another plate of cold cuts, cheese, and bread and we barely finished that off. She brought the bill and to my surprise each plate of food was $19 US for a total of over $44 including coffee which did not set us the a great mood since the supplies and alcohol we had been eating the past few days cost us that, but no big deal as we are in Switzerland but any hopes of our moods was about to quickly change and we started to feel this country was not on our side on this day.

I grabbed a hundred Swiss Francs for hut spending and we jumped in the car planning to head over to the train station to inquire about tickets but in a conversation in Germany, one of the gals whom lived in Zermatt only a few miles up the road stated it was the jumping off point to climb Dufourspitze. Think the train of course stops there; we drove the small road into the town and as we approached the gate we were stopped by some border police and asked what we were doing. We stated our intentions and he quickly told us that it was against the law to drive in this town if you were not a resident or had authorization. He showed us a snapshot of a picture that included the words “Only authorized personnel only” which of course was in German with a very small caption at the bottom barely readable in English restating the warning. We apologized but that wasn't enough for this guy and he promptly wrote us a ticket and demanded a hundred Swiss francs as the penalty for not reading the small inscription and driving into town. I sat there and stared back and he quickly said either pay it or get the car impounded. Our time in Switzerland was quickly turning for the worse and the new hundred Swiss francs I just got from the bank was gone. With breakfast costing 44 Swiss franc and now this, our moods became extremely quiet.

As we drove back into Tasch there was nothing else we could do but shrug off our problem and set our sights toward the mountain we came to climb. I would be fooling myself if I thought this would be the last life lesson I will encounter on these trips and as I travel the globe. Switzerland is very modern and I can only imagine what this could be like as we travel to countries like Sudan where the regulations could be even more severe. As a write this blog just a few days ago there was a group of hikers that stepped over to the Iranian border and are now captives and I think of the planning I must do to ensure I understand the culture and the rules. Life lessons are just that and only turn into ingnorance if you repeat them…

We made our way into the train station to buy tickets for yet another luxury we were unfamilar with in America as getting to the starting point of the climb is half the climb. The train continued through a series of stops as ascended into the mountains to our final destination was Rotenboden, the second to last. As we stepped off the train with numerous tourists and a handful of climbers also making the trek to Santa Rosa Hut nearly two hours away with a slight drop in elevation according to the train’s embedded table map. Not in a rush to get to the hut, we enjoyed our hike on a trail which traversed 300 feet above the Gorner Glacier and provided a perfect view of the lower mountains as much of the top was hidden in the clouds. As noted prior, most climbs I am accustom to prevent you from every seeing the final destination but a simple train ride in the Alps puts you far into the mountains most would ever reach otherwise. We continued on the straight path as it continually descended to the glacier below and from there, across the glacier leading back up to the Monte Rosa Hut. As we approach the hut I sensed the accommodations were similar to Grossglockner in Austria.

We walked as veterans into the hut and promptly went to the main desk and booked reservations for the night which luckily only few were still available. We enjoyed the rest of the day by hanging outside on the rocks with the world-famous Matterhorn peaking through the clouds. It didn't take long for us to get used to the Alps accommodations as we decided this night to have our first hot meal of the trip and I went back into the main desk and let them know we would be having dinner with the other 100 plus climbers. As we waiting for dinner, the culture of climbing in the Alps yet again impressed me as it is a lifestyle and the modern conveniences encourages more than a select few. The four course dinner was amazing which included soup, salad, a main entrée of rice and some sort of chicken curry, and finally desert. After dinner, we stepped back outside and watched the sun set in the horizon then went into the sleeping quarters and prepared for a few hours of sleep and as I lay next to the open window, the glow of the day was still surrounding the sky as the Matterhorn dominating the landscape. Life is amazing and we're about to climb our fourth peak of the trip.

We woke up around 1:45 a.m. and like other trips prepared breakfast with coffee, oatmeal, and fruit. As the others scheduled breakfast in the hut, we still felt in heaven being able to cook on a table inside while we prepared our gear. We were the last to leave the hut around 2:45 a.m. and as we stepped out in the midnight darkness, the stars were out in full force providing a faint hint of the summit to the south. The initial climb passing through large boulders on dry ground as it passed the framed structure of the future Monte Rosa Hut. We continued to head up with the headlamps of other climbing parties mainly to the right of our heading as there are numerous routes to gain the glacier above. With our shortcut, we passed other groups and quickly found ourselves in the middle of the pack when we stepped onto the glacier to rope up and step into our crampons.

A few times in my career of mountaineering I’ve felt the void of an open crevasse but on this climb, I quickly found two of these deadly monsters through the unusual soft snow in the middle of the warm night. After roping up, I wanted to stay in front of a large party right behind us and as I took my first step onto the route, my foot passed through the snow into a void and I lunged forward to prevent slipping into the crevasse. I pulled myself up as we move forward it was no more than five minutes later as I was stepping across visible crevasse, the edge gave way yet again and I dove forward to self belayed on the edge. As I peered down I could see the darkness of the abyss with the intense snow illuminating my view and I looked back to see my climbing partner in a self-arrested position. I pulled myself up and carefully stepped forward to a solid landing. The remaining climb was straightforward with few crevasses near the boot path, but as the biggest danger on this climb was at the beginning, this shows you never know when protection is required, but come to find out later in the day we don't always learn from our mistakes.

Being the forth climb in a row, my body was prepared for endurance above my usual fitness level and this made the climb more enjoyable. As we moved through the night, the time pass quickly and before I knew it the sun was slowly rising above the eastern horizon and I stopped to capture a few pictures of the Matterhorn to my rear glowing in the morning sun. As were approached a plateau directly under the summit pyramid, there was two ways to achieve the summit as evident from the few parties ahead of us; one from the east and one from the west. We decided to take the west ridge suggested by as the other climbers veering to the left heading to the opposite side of the mountain. I continued up the steep face leading to the saddle where we took a quick break with a few other teams. From this point on, the route stayed on a narrow ridge wit direct access to the summit but from this point on, the exposure become extreme to with a mixture of rock, ice, and belayed climbing and I knew my mountaineering experience would soon be tested.

The steep ridge with exposure of well over 1500 feet to the glacier below switched from ice to a mixture of rock and ice requiring delicate steps with our crampons. Without fixed points on this section of the route, we used the rocks of the ridge as a self belay in case one of us fell. As we moved up the ridge the climbing got tougher, the exposure deeper, and any worries or thoughts other than the task at hand were throw off and I was testing my skills as a mountaineer but like any challenges, when you put yourself out there it's simply one step at a time ensuring that you have three points secure. At one moment, the summit appear directly ahead with climbers hanging out on top and nothing visible in the background, but as we approached this point as I found on Grossglockner, the route continued down to a small saddle and then back up into 5th class of rock and ice climbing. Our concentration increased and we continued to a section with fixed ropes due the difficulty of the pitch and intense exposure. With my ice axe and one trekking poles in hand (one was lost as it slid off the ridge back to the glacier) I clipped into the rope and ascended by using a prusik for security.

As we approached the summit, I realize what it's like climbing throughout the world with international teams on top. We all jostle for space on an area no bigger than a bathroom shared by a metal cross marking the true summit which I quickly clipped into as I enjoying the spectacular views. We spent 20 minutes on the top as all teams discussed the best route down; either the opposite summit ridge with belay points or the way we came up with continued teams still ascending. The concern of course with the route we came was the narrow ridge barely held one team therefore how would it be try to position two teams and potential entanglement of ropes? In the end it was decided among the three international teams the best idea was to go back the way we came since we knew the route. As we were the first up of all parties still on top, our position put us last to leave. As we slowly descended it required even more care because now you were faced directly toward the vertical drop off and the slippery rock. The concentration was intense but at last we reached the saddle where we took our earlier break and it was exhilarating to be past this section which required an extraordinary level of concentration, skill, and determination but in the end gave me an immense sense of satisfaction.

From this point, the route became extremely sloppy as the afternoon sun softens the slopes of the already soft snow to become even more unstable. Trekking down in deep sloppy snow is the worst part for me about mountaineering as my feet are not fit for these conditions but what can one do but trudge forward to the hut? As we approached that same spot we had difficulty early in the morning, my concerns valid as other teams went everywhere across the glacier trying to avoid the hidden dangers but what it did was take us farther off the path through deeper crevasses before gaining access to the rocks on the other side. Once past the crevasse field, the snow around the large rocks was so soft you would literally sink past your waist into the rocks underneath. Happy to get to a point where the rocks appeared continuous to the hut below, I stopped and put on the running shoes I carried to prevent future damage to my feet from the wet boots I was wearing but this almost turned out to be a fatal mistake as I should have stayed on route and dangers in the most simplest areas as we experienced earlier in the night. As I continued to climb down I got to a point I had to get back on the snow and not wanting to change back into my wet, sloppy boots, I stayed on a route leading me higher and as I approached a smooth slab with a slight trickle of water over the face, I expected it to be extremely slippery and took my time to prevent any fall but to no luck. As I started sliding down the slab, I sensed there was something deadly slightly below I did everything I could stop myself with a self arrest on the rock and luckily with the expense of huge gouges on my lower legs which started bleeding profusely, I was able to stop. As it turned out my senses were right and I was only 20 feet from a 40 foot cliff that fell into jagged rocks and continued a step incline even further. As I tried to climb back off the slippery slab, I slipped again but didn't slide as before and finally gained the top I had no choice but to head back up from were I came and moved down in the snow. I put the wet boots back on to prevent my shoes from being soaked and my feet started to freeze but had no choice but to follow path until I made it to the continuous rocks I so desperately wanted in the first place.

Once back at the hut, I ordered a couple of beers as my climbing partner started dinner, I discovered the last train back to Tasch this night was 8pm only 2.5 hours away and we still needed to gather our gear, pay our bill, and hike the standard three hours to the train! I also discover the first train didn't leave until 8 am in the morning computed quickly if we missed the train tonight, we would be over three hours late picking up the girls from Geneva with no way of getting a hold of them. Life would be bad if that happened.

In a panic and if things went bad enough, the next series of events continued the chaos of making it back on time. First I had to wait in line for a team paying their bill, during the second pour of the beers I ordered the keg went dry and it took forever to get it replaced, and finally the credit card machine would not work and she could not use it. We have been climbing all night and we were approaching less than two hours to make the final train and still were not out onto the trail. We finally got everything settled slammed our beers and ran down onto the glacier below (me in my running shoes with blood everywhere) and crossed back to the trail heading upward to the train. As I mention my boots were waterlogged and crossing the glacier would be interesting but I decided if I had any chance to make it back on time I had no choice but to run across and without incident, I made it in record time. We reached the train stop with 40 minutes to spare and I believe a world record. We rode the train down, made our way to the car, paid our parking lot fee, and I was happy to climb one of the best mountains my life and to be passed this series of events. Maybe someday I'll visit Switzerland again but to me, I was glad to visit this is a country, but felt it didn’t have the same feeling toward me at least for this go around.

As we left Tasch, I felt a deep satisfaction of climbing Dufourspitze due to its elevation, exposure, and must do status for world climbers. It felt good to be back in the car knowing we have now summited four peaks in four new countries of the world over the past week of tough climbing. Driving on the highway toward Geneva I felt the excitement of the night with our next stop to add the girls to the adventure and continued to voice my happiness to have checked the schedule when I did. As the heavy rain began to hit the windshield, I reflected back to the first night just a week ago in the car where I felt a bit of nervousness to even lay down an adventure so bold but now knowing that even if we weren't able to climb Mt Blanc I could with all honesty say this trip is an extreme success. We toyed with the idea of finding a cheap hotel to get the rest but because I started having trouble staying awake and our best bet was to find a rest stop on the side of the highway to get some shut eye. We found one on the outskirts of a Sion, Switzerland and I reclined the seats while enjoying the last beer and wine from our grocery trip and this accelerated my bodies to deep sleep. Before I knew it the alarm sounded at 5 am it was time to get moving. The sky was gray with rain still falling as I drove westward on the Autoroute du Rhone before turning northward around Lake Geneva. We stopped for coffee and a shower at a truck stop but it was far to busy for us to wait so we decided to move on to another a bit down the road. As we approached Geneva, our timing was perfect as we pulled in the parking lot and turned off the car the exact time the gals were to be arriving. We got out of our smelly car and went inside the airport.

After introductions with a couple the girls met on the plane and also in New York, we piled in the car and made her way from the Geneva airport through the downtown to connect with the highway leading to Chamonix. The girls were instantly impressed with the area and seemed happy to be in another country. We stopped once across the border in France to grab breakfast at a small public market in the town square and we knew we were in France. We bought fresh bread and walked around before finding a café and ordering Café du Nior. We continued on and drove in to Chamonix and it was apparent the weather had turned for the worse and we made our way to the climbing information building in downtown surrounded by restaurants and retails shops. Stepping in just before they closed for the day, we were promptly told about the severe weather included 100 mph summit winds causing all guides to bring their teams off the mountain and unlikelihood of availably at the high huts was required reservations in advance. We could always take a chance though we would need to take a tram up to the Gouter Hut to see if there are any beds available. We were at desperate moment as our hopes to climb Mt Blanc on this trip was quickly evaporating.

Chamonix is a touristy town with lots of restaurants and we could clearly see other climbers who had bailed their attempts on this day with their gear sitting next to them. My climbing buddy found another guide and discussed the conditions on the mountain including the next few days and the finalized our decision. I knew however deep down inside I was satisfied with our achievement and enjoyed the phenomenal weather through the week and the mountain we still would need to come back to was the one the easiest to travel to and would become the start or end of a future trip that could include Spain and Portugal. The decision made we needed to move our minds to the next part of the trip which was the exploration of the European countryside including a backpack trip through Italy.

It was talked about heading out that night but the last thing I wanted to do is drive again being and I suggested we find a hotel in a surrounding town and enjoy a great dinner celebrating our trip. We made her way back out of town to Les Houches and found any old B&B hotel that was exactly what we needed to. It was in the early afternoon and after dropping off our gear I went down to a local pub around the corner to watch the Tour de France which was scheduled to be in the area in the next coming days. My body felt the beer effect’s faster than usually and as I sat next to the open window with the cool rain heavily falling in the street. In the early evening as it continued to rain in a downpour, we decided to head back to town for dinner pizza was on my mind. After dropping the group close to the downtown square, I parked the car a few blocks away and made my way back getting soaked to the bone including the slippers I just bought since my running shoes where thrashed After dinner, we went back to hotel for a much needed nights rest.

The next morning we woke up too terrible weather confirming our decision and decided to head into town for a coffee at a café. After a second cup of coffee and fresh croissants, we made our way back to the B&B to pack our gear as the girls were eating breakfast in as dinning hall. We checked out and started our drive back across the Swiss Alps via Zürich, southwestern Germany, and finally to Vienna. We stopped at a historic castle in Sion and hiked up to see the sights. The Château de Tourbillon is a castle in Sion in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It is situated on a hill and faces the Basilique de Valère, located on the opposite hill. The castle is currently in a state of ruins following a fire in 1788.

As we passed through the area the interested in sites from inside a car quickly faded, the trip through the small towns went much slower than expected and by the time that we were in Germany toward the end of the day, everyone was ready to get out of the car. We looked for a hotel we've found a cute, all white Bed & Breakfast and after 15 minutes of negotiation, brought our things to the room, took showers and heading out into the small town for looking for great Italian dinner. The morning brought a bit of convenience which allowed me to watch CNN and update my notes from the trip which I was grateful to have. I will soon find my balance of the mountains and technology are something that I look for and this would also be a take away from this trip. We went into the dining area for huge breakfast and outstanding service by our elderly host. Everything around was white and I don't think I saw one speck of dirt and she and her late husband had rebuilt this house and she was hoping to sell to get from under the debt and move back to San Francisco where when has spent some time earlier in her life. As we left the hotel, it didn't take long to realize we already still sick of riding in the car and as we traveled through Munich, the numerous detours did not help and everyone was pushing for a change including myself who had driven the entire time. It was mentioned at some point in the day that we should just push on through as long as it took to Vienna and drop the car off and start our trip to Italy on a midnight train. Either way we still needed to get to Vienna and still had a long way to go but we did make it as the night came and we dropped off the car and proceeded to hike around with our heavy climbing gear now in a separate bag from our packs. Like our trip in the mountains, the gals were given the responsibility of planning everything from the time we were done climbing was they also kept everything versatile and unplanned. As we found time and time again is good to keep things open but it usually comes out of price.

In hindsight, the long trip really started with the preplanning of where we are flying into six month ago. The jumping off point was to be Venice but in the translation of booking tickets it became Vienna which was farther west than it needed to be but we decided it was probably a good turn of fate but also thought giving the girls a chance to see the country and saving the $250 drop off fee would be the right choice. In addition, the cost of the trains in Europe are perceived to be the cheapest way to travel around Europe, but this is a myth if you are traveling frequently and any savings we thought we would get was quickly exceeded with the trip cost from the Airport to Vienna and then onto Venice. Once in the Vienna train station, we had seven hours before the train left at 6 am so we hunkered down to find a place to rest in seats designed to keep you awake assigned form he wandering crowd of a train station in the middle of the night.

After another nine hours of travel, we stepped out of the train station to a warm afternoon day into the scene of hustling Venice and world-famous canals; it was great to finally be here. The city historically was an independent nation and the city stretches across 118 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers. The sinking of Venice is caused by buildings of being constructed on closely spaced wood piles, which were imported from the mainland. The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach the much harder layer of compressed clay. Wood for piles was cut in the most western part of today's Slovenia, resulting in the barren land in a region today called Kras, and in two regions of Croatia, Lika and Gorski kotar. Most of these piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on the piles, and buildings of brick or stone sit above these footings. The buildings are often threatened by flood tides pushing in from the Adriatic between autumn and early spring. Six hundred years ago, Venetians protected themselves from land-based attacks by diverting all the major rivers flowing into the lagoon and thus preventing sediment from filling the area around the city. This created an ever-deeper lagoon environment. During the 20th century, when many wells were sunk into the lagoon to draw water for local industry, Venice began to subside and it was realized that extraction of the aquifer was the cause. This sinking process has slowed markedly since artesian wells were banned in the 1960s. However, the city is still threatened by more frequent low-level floods that creep to a height of several centimeters over its quays, regularly following certain tides. In many old houses the former staircases used by people to unload goods are now flooded, rendering the former ground floor uninhabitable. Many Venetians have resorted to moving up to the upper floors and continuing with their lives. Some recent studies have suggested that the city is no longer sinking, but this is not yet certain and in May 2003 the Italian Prime Minister the MOSE project an experimental model for evaluating the performance of inflatable gates. This engineering work is due to be completed by 2011. Some experts say that the best way to protect Venice is to physically lift the City to a greater height above sea level, by pumping water into the soil underneath the city. This way, some hope, it could rise above sea levels, protecting it for hundreds of years, and eventually the MOSE project may not be necessary

Unfortunately we do not have a hotel and this became our search as we traveled through the busy streets again carrying a heavy bag. After a recommendation of a nearby hostel, we waited for the manager nearly an hour before deciding to move on. Reflections of my trip to London in my freshman year in college came flooding back though we finally found a double room could share for €50 per couple included breakfast. We left took showers and spent the rest of the evening exploring Venice. We found a small pub owned by a memorable German who made our drinks everlasting including a new twist for an amaretto and orange. We walked through the narrow streets and drank a bottle of cheap wine with her feet hanging off into the channel.

I woke to a church bell from outside the open window which lasted over five minutes and could already feel the warmth from the upcoming day. I walked the city looking for a cup of coffee prior to breakfast and to watch the city wake up and the culture of the people. We all got showers and were off for the day without our packs as the hotel manager allowed us to leave our packs at the front desk so we could find a place to ship our climbing gear back home. After talking with a DHL rep coming up river, the nearest office was near the Piazza San Marco a place where we were already planning to take a boat and explore. Once the 28 kg package was on its way back to the states,

The Piazza Marco Square was nostalgic as I sensed history all around me including the modern stage which but I'm sure hundreds of famous artists have played in all walks of life such as jazz and classical. It was a beautiful setting and I wished I knew more history of the area. As we started our walked back to the hotel we slowly went through the city. I was amazed in the sheer size of Venice and the how well retail shops were tucked away in these very small quarters. It took over three hours to walk back to the hotel where we would catch her neck strain out of Florence. We stopped inside to grab our gear and said our goodbyes and we were off again.

The train ride to Florence lasted four hours and when we arrived, in were dark and again time to look for a hotel. As luck would have it there was a young gal who took us by the hand back across the street to a hotel floor she managed. What amazed me in Florence was the number of hotels with small neon signs dominant the area in old buildings which reminded me of what the 30s may be like in New York City. We negotiated the room price down to €90 and took showers before heading out for a quick drink before bed even though it was already 11 p.m. Anther point that struck me was the number of young teenagers enjoying the nightlife of the town which will be my lasting impressions of such a historic town as Florence. We settled at a small pub on the square and ordered a round of drinks with everyone around us was talking as we sat there idly staring at others. We made our way back to the hotel and I was happy to sleep with my feet hinting at what I had just put hem through in the past week.

The next morning, I went into the dining area with the British morning news and enjoyed many cups of coffee while everyone was sleeping. I exchanged stories with a Brazilian father and son that were touring Europe for the entire summer reminiscing on the times he lived in Europe. The best part about traveling abroad is the people and this was a rare occasion on this trip I had time to do exactly that. Today is going to be the only day that we spent two consecutive nights at the same place as we booked another room and left for a tour of Florence with the main destination as the Uffizi, is one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the Western world. We could clearly see that it was it was extremely popular area and we waited in line as the gals ran to get tickets from our reservation we made from the hotel. They were gone for quite some time and once a group was let in, the attendants closed the chains accidentally leaving me on the inside. As I stood there, I became a immediately Uffizi tour guide as everyone over the next 15 minutes continued to walk up to me and ask for information regarding tickets, times, and more. I answered as best I could and pointed them in the right direction but the best was when an American couple came up to me and asked if I spoke American which I chuckled and said yes. I decided my life as a tour guide was coming to an end and moved underneath the chains and become just another tourist.

The museum was remarkable as collections of timeless art and sculptures of souls that walked the world before our time continued forever through the long hallways and separate rooms. I reflected in the modern times where we are at today as a civilization as compared to the world before and my mind pondered if we as a modern society are truly living or just rushing around picking off to actions of our lives, but I believe world does change and we are still no different than these people who lived many years before and we must adapt and find our place in history no matter what it might be. I am grateful I know I have found my purpose and know this trip in hindsight would provide many valuable lessons on how to travel for all future trips. I must admit my goal on the trip through Italy was to relax bask in the success of our climbs but unfortunately that's the last thing I was able to do as we seem to always be trying to find the next thing, getting money always seemed to be a hassle, and I was without technology to help us through the issues. It seems like weeks ago when we were climbing which I would've been satisfied heading to Venice for three nights and enjoying the sights, food, and wine. Back to the museum, we turned a corner say the original Adam and Eve and spent time admiring this original portrait knowing we were somewhere special.

After dinner on the river, we needed to do laundry and decided to do that while having a drink at a back alley pub. We found the perfect little Irish pub and we sat down which turn out to be a great night. When talking with the guy from Pennsylvania who is their traveling alone whom added a spark to our conversation. We talked through the night until we closed the bar with drinks all around and finally satisfied of the good night out. Greats party in the back alley pub in the city of Florence Italy.

In the morning, our next destination to the original destination of TOWN was changed to the small city of Viareggio on the coast of Italy. We took a bus to the town lasting a little over an hour and we stepped off into an old beach town again from the 1930s on the coast of Italy. It included boardwalk shops on the Mediterranean and architecture that still remained intact. We search for a hotel and found one overlooking the main section of town with a great view of the beach and the entire town. We grabbed lunch and I decided today would be a great day to have time to ourselves as a couple and we walked all the way up the beach to the north. We made it back to the hotel a bit before 6 pm and prepared to go to dinner on the boardwalk surrounded by the nightlife of the town. It was a classy town with culture everywhere. I truly enjoyed spending a day here on the strip.

It was Friday and the day before leaving back for home and we're grabbed a train to Rome to spend an entire day and night in the city. As we traveled down the four-hour trip, I was glad to be leaving the next day. I knew that this trip looking back would be good but can say there are many lessons learned. Once we stepped off the train a bit after 3 p.m. we found a restaurant on the bustling streets of this large city. The contrast of the weeks in backcountry compared to the city of Rome gave an immediate jolt to the pace. Once finished, we walked down to the Coliseum and I could feel the countless souls alive there were lost including the greed of the emperors that would sit in their high seats and watch the torture below.

The Roman Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre is the largest ever built in the Roman Empire and one of the greatest works of Roman engineering. Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era and was later reused for religious purposes as it is today with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession around the various levels of the amphitheatre.

It has been estimated that about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals died in the Colosseum games and although in the 21st century it stays partially ruined due to damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and its breakthrough achievements in earthquake engineering.

After we toured the Colosseum, we sat for quite some time on the high wall surrounding the area and I drank a tall beer in the fading evening sun. We slowly made our way back through the city; we ate a light dinner at an outdoor restaurant in the heart of the city. We caught the train to the airport where we planned to stay for the night and as it turned out, provided decent accommodations with private bathrooms. I slept pretty well all things considered and morning came quickly. We headed toward the gate for the flight back to Newark.

As I flew out of Italy I reflected on all the things I experienced on the trip including the challenge I've put myself through and walk away with many lessons learned;

1. Insuring you have plenty of cash on hand and a easy way to get more if needed
2. Embracing the modern technology age to stay up with the world, search for history about the area, get travel information, and updating my blog.
3. Balance between planning, preparation, and adventure because every day was a search for something and we spent hours traveling and I never felt I got into the groove of culture. Also, as we experienced in Switzerland, knowledge is critical to our safety as I continue traveling throughout the world in countries that do not just give you a ticket.
4. The pace of the adventure is also a balance experiencing the culture and seeing a lot as we were constantly on the move only stayed one night in the same place. This slower pace will extend the group and adds to the conversation as we saw on our night in Florence.

With my quest to climb as many of the highest peaks, as may never be back to Rome but in a weird way, I'm grateful we did not summit Mt Blanc because either Rome or Paris can be a jumping off point for another trip including Portugal and Spain. As I continue to become an efficient, world traveler and learn from my mistakes, I will always have a chance to rebound and see the world in the way I want to see it.

As we arrived in the Newark with a 6 hour wait I never thought I would feel at home in New York but with the transparent conversations, the world has a lot to say about the American culture but I can tell you in many ways we are more patient than the Europeans and hold all everyone at the same standard. As we waiting, our flight was overbooked and we gave up our seats for the next flight only two hours away in exchange for a two $300 tickets, $25 food (beer) voucher in the airport, and an upgrade to first class. I jumped at the deal as we traveled westward across America who was preparing for bed, we were pampered in first class with hot towels, unlimited drinks, and a full course veal dinner satisfied with the end of this adventure…