Alps road trip

After X-pyr I hitched a ride with Stani’s Czech team and met my brother in the Black Forest for a couple of weeks of driving through the worst weather imaginable – welcome to Europe in July (allegedly summer). We started in the middle of the Swiss Alps and continued south and east until reaching Slovenia.

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Me and Ben in Baden Baden, Black Forest

I spent a night at an overpriced hostel in Freiberg and shared a beer with a Russian Californian. Starting from the next day there would be no more of this high rolling la di da as my brother has a tent and isn’t afraid to use it. Yes, the supermarkets and libraries tour of Europe. I took a bus to Karlsruhe to meet and we did some customary 15 minute town tours before finding an off the beaten track road up into the Black Forest. The rain continued yet the next day, back in Freiberg, Ben opted not to go pack rafting.

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Freiberg, a little higher than the previous day!

We rolled on to the south and thought we’d try our luck in Switzerland.

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Hills in the north of Switzerland

The next day we reached the Alps, and it was sunny for a while at least, so we checked the internet.

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Thun

The river here is apparently great for tubing, hence pack rafting, but we didn’t see anyone and we were headed in the opposite direction. It certainly was in full flow with all gates open.

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Between Interlaken and Grindelwald

After a Swiss roadworks official let us know we’d driven half way around the Thunersee for nothing we took our chances on the motorway without a vignette. We then found a winding one lane mountain road that passed through an impressive tunnel before opening up to vistas of the ridge and peak we’d climb.

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Cooking a brew

Expecting the swirling clouds to settle overnight we delayed the walk. Had we been into the swing of things we may have instead anticipated the dawn thunderstorm.

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Grindelwald river

Still Ben didn’t want to go rafting. Maybe the clunking of submarine river rocks put him off. We went for a walk dodging waterfalls up the valley next (east) of the Eiger instead.

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In the afternoon the pouring rains returned and we spared a thought for the motorbike tourers. I should stop complaining though because the next day we had clear skies (for an hour at least) and half a day of great weather.

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Rhonegletcher

Starting later than I should have I had a great flight from above Grimselpass and past the Aletsch glacier before crossing to the valley leading to Zermatt (after figuring out my plans) where I got low for quite some time before pushing back out and landing high.

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The wind changed and I spent some time with remote control sail planes before gliding into the sunset (if it hasn’t been cloudy, I mean).

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Launching a remote control glider

Spotting an alpine hut I landed to make an enquiry. They suggested the hut further up the hill. After a quick attempt to fly to Italy I took their recommendation, landing by a great hut, locked but with the key hanging on the door frame. Fantastic.

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Filling out the visitor book

The next morning I woke in white out. It wasn’t clearing so I walked over a pass and hitched the rest of the way to Italy.

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Dodging land mines as I approach the Italian border

It was a spectacular drive down to Dormodossola, well, 9km short. My next hitch was a little botched too and behind time I finally forked out 18 Euro and 12 Swiss francs to train into Biasca and reunite with Ben and have a celebratory kebab.

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Admiring the local architecture

The next morning we chanced upon free Wi-Fi, a rarity in these parts. Leaving warm Fohn for the freezing cold cloudy pass I bought some 2012 vintage alpine cheese and we continued on, having lunch over Disentis, driving under cloud and rain to Chur, through it in Lenzerheide, and down to an impressive gorge.

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Tourist bus stop, take your photo, get back in the bus!

Ben opted not to try the throw and jump pack raft technique and we continued up to Albula pass.

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Albula pass road

Wondering how long the “we’re so isolated” residents had to put up with waiting for the “must be finished by now, surely” Swiss engineers to build this cliff side road we finally spotted some sunshine on the Saint Moritz side of the pass.

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Heading east

The next day I finally got the pack raft wet, paddling for about a quarter of an hour before my brother waved me in, pointing out a dam. What a surprise.

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Swiss national park, Stelvio region

The weather was passable given what we’d endured recently but it was still terrible. Having said that it was suitable for some more free Wi-Fi in Sta
Maria. We wanted to go over Stelvio pass but the Swiss engineers were still working on it so we diverted to Bolzano.

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Descending into Bolzano

We left Switzerland for Italy and almost immediately the search for laundromats was over. We had pizza to celebrate. The next morning it rained and we drove up into the Dolomites.

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The Marmolada emerges from the mist

I spent three hours wandering around in jandals and it cleared for some nice photos.

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I enjoyed a river cooled wheat beer with dinner as the cloud closed in again.
We drove past another pack rafting river but it was too cold to even contemplate. When the sun came out we went swimming but the water temperature hasn’t changed much since winter.

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Swimming in Italy

More motorway avoiding short cuts followed as we followed the strange never ending road side suburbia to Udine.

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Ben's bends

Udine gave us fleeting free Wi-Fi and gelati.

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Italians being Italian in Italy

We were both keen to check the offerings of nearby Slovenia. As we entered tranquil paradise to arrive in quaint yet adventure oriented Kobarid and good free Wi-Fi we agreed that we were indeed now in a land of milk and honey.

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Slovenian paradise. Boka falls

The weather however was its usual self, so we mostly stuck to the beautiful Soca valley.

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Soca gorge

We meticulously explored every nook and cranny of the canyon. Perhaps we looked too closely as neither of us would consider going anywhere near it with a pack raft.

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Looking to the head of the Soca

On the mountain pass we dosed while the afternoon rain poured but got a nice evening walk in before descending toward Bled.

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Bled

We neglected the warm waters of the Bled lake for the cold alpine lake further up. As low cloud fragments transformed into towering cumulus I decided at the last minute to go flying.

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Flying lake Bohinjsko

It was great to meet some young local tandem pilots and talk about the worst summer in living memory, amongst other things. We drove over the pass and Ben finally got into the pack raft. Turns out there are dams and other interesting obstacles to avoid in Slovenia too.

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River crossing, Tolminka

The final day we had a mountain walk and finally a few short hours of fantastic flying.

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Looking along Tolminka toward Tolmin
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The valley Ben rafted

Ben arrived at the landing field in perfect time and we continued to Kanal for a swim.

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Kanal

Not quite comparable to the experience later that day in Trieste, Italy, where we finished the trip. From here Ben makes his way back to Frankfurt, I meet friends in Chamonix, and we both hope for better weather!

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Trieste beach

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