Last year, a friend from Seattle and I met up in Zermatt for some hiking fairly early in the alpine summer season, so I made an effort to get some hiking in both after work and on weekends. This year, neither my work schedule nor the weather has been particularly cooperative, so in addition to being rarer, ascents if the sun has even peeked around some clouds have been… moodier.
Over the long Easter weekend, a hiking group out of Stuttgart planned a trip to southeastern France, a good ten hour drive away from Kempten. Most of my hiking trips are to places of increasing elevation, and indeed this post title is a play on Grandes Jorasses, one of the peaks of the Mont Blanc massif. This time, however, it was not to a prominence on a topographic map that was the destination for our group but rather to a relief.
Two of the biggest benefits of being in Germany are the Munich and Zurich airports nearby, which serve destinations on several continents without needing a layover. This has made traveling to distant lands remarkably straightforward, but I haven’t neglected the seemingly infinite number of mountains and places to explore around my doorstep. Well, not entirely neglected, anyhow.
When Peter Jackson brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to film, it was not just the storyline that mesmerized me but also the geography. The landscapes were gorgeous, topologically a far cry from the Illinois flatlands I was familiar with. Despite the admiration, it wasn’t until four years after The Return of the King released that I realized how much mountain air mattered to me, and only a chance trip with friends fourteen years afterwards did I get to visit New Zealand, home of Middle Earth. I arrived in NZ on a Sunday after two twelve hour flights with a wearying border control in between, a seven hour layover, and a ten hour time zone adjustment. After a day of flying and during which I literally left winter for summer, Auckland welcomed me with bright and sunny skies and a quick check of my hiking boots to make sure I wasn’t bringing in foreign soil.
Being behind on blog posts affords the benefit of having more time to contemplate my experiences but adds the risk of forgetting nuances. Blowing the dust off a three-month old trip and the thousand photos that accompanied it is a bit of an endeavor, but this post starts another month and a half before that. In January, I had a business trip to China that began with me watching the sun rise from business class, a perk of work travel while on a German contract.
The trip was short and didn’t leave much free time to ponder. The last time we saw blue skies was just before we descended into the industrious smog, but on our last day rains the previous evening washed away enough particulate to allow the sun to poke through just after sunrise.
Less than two months afterward, I would watch a sunrise coming into the same airport (albeit from “poky” economy class), this time, though, en route to a destination where the forecast predicted no smog but rather enveloping fog.
Each year, Bosch offers a home trip to meet with mentors, touch base with former coworkers, and, importantly, see family. Mine happens to coincide with Christmas, so to catch coworkers before the holidays, my first stop was back to Charleston. Due to inclement weather in Chicago forecasted for the day I was supposed to fly in, I ended up changing my flights (courtesy of a United Airliners customer service agent) and in Charleston one day earlier than intended. This allowed me to check out Second Sunday, and after I got over my surprise at the number of changes in the restaurant scene I wandered down King Street. The weather was perfect — sunny and in the 70s. After two winters in Germany, I had begun to forget what attracts so many to Charleston in the winter.
I thought my 2016 travels would end with Vienna, but any remaining frugality gave way to a lingering hunger for the high mountains. It started with a landscape photographer‘s exhibition in nearby Isny; after seeing his photographs I wanted a panorama that I myself could print two meters wide and knew exactly which scene I wanted for that hanging. Or, perhaps, it started with my awoken mountain fascination in 2007 and was thereafter stoked with my discovering Zermatt in 2011. But so it was that I forwent Thanksgiving 2015 and borrowed a set of snowshoes to take that panorama of a lake I had photographed nearly a half-dozen times. The mountain pass was frozen and closed, so again I took the car train under the mountain and to my lost valley. Different year, different month, different car; same inexplicable thirst.
With All Saint’s Day making for an extended weekend in 2016, I took off for one more weekend in 2016, yet again not in Germany, despite a mental commitment to discover places nearer to home. For an umpteenth time I drove back to Munich to board a plane, this time with a flight time just under an hour. It was ironically my third time in Munich in a week: I had visited the city the weekend prior, had a work outing to BMW during the week, and on Friday I jetted off. Perhaps the goal to explore more of Germany can be skirtingly reworded as getting to know the route to the airport…