Interview Series – Travel

The Travel Series Interviews on More2Explore, profiles the motivations to travel, reside abroad, and parent from a personal perspective.

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This particular interview was prompted after Mike spent a few days visiting our family in Basel a couple of weeks ago.  Thank you for the visit Mike!

More2Explore (M2E): Why do you travel?

Michael Zajac (MZ): I travel mostly to visit friends, bring good cheer and another adult voice to friends who happen to live in exciting far-away places. Aside from that primary motivation, I travel to learn new things, to learn about myself, to hopefully pick up on what is important to and valued by other societies, to seize the day and avoid future regrets.

M2E: When did you really start to travel?

MZ: After overcoming quite a bit of reservations regarding foreign travel – including the inevitable language barrier, the cost, the fear of being lost – I began traveling in earnest when I was 33 years old (summer of 2013).  This was a bit later than most Washingtonians I meet, most of whom have already visited over a dozen countries and 2/3rds of the United States by the time they’re 30.

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M2E: When you are in a new place, what do you most long to see?

MZ: Aside from the friends who live in the place I’m visiting, as a Structural Engineer, I long to see monumental architecture – which usually means churches and museums. Thirdly, I seek out the “money shot,” a dramatic photo, which usually involves a lookout over the city I happen to be visiting.

M2E: How can hosts help you make the most of your stay?

MZ: My hosts have been awesome; they should just keep doing the same thing! Warm welcome, good conversation, one or two activities planned, and ability to point me in a direction and say, “have at it!”

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M2E: What makes for comfortable accommodations?

MZ: My own room and a mattress (preferably one with springs rather than compressed air).

M2E: What was the most memorable aspect of your recent trip to Basel/Switzerland?

MZ: The good people who welcomed me, the spectacular views, the feeling of being connected to nature in a way that is too often missed in the day-to-day rat race of my engineering career.

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Autobiography:

Michael is a 36-year-old American structural engineer who enjoys road and mountain cycling, triathlons, participating in amateur Bikram Yoga, and is an overall nice guy.         *All credit for the photos that appear on this post (except for the last one photo credit:  Robert Schoutens) belong directly to Michael.  Great images Mike and thank you for sharing!

Weekend Retreat – Trifthütte

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I am lured by the Alps; completely and totally captivated. Deep within them, high above, are the Switzerland Alpine Club (SAC) hütten or huts. These epic structures, which lodge the transient mountain climber, have been tucked away for almost a century.  The Trifthütte is all this and more. For over one hundred years, this mountain house has been serving those who come to seek peace, danger, thrills, and nature. The very journey to get there was a reward on its own, but it is not for everyone. This post provides an overview of the getting to the Trifthütte, and what one might expect from a mountain hiking/enthusiast perspective.

The main access point to the Trifthütte is the bus stop in Nessental-Triftbahn. From there it is a three to three and a half hour hike just to get to the Trift Bridge. The Trifthütte is an additional three hours from the bridge. You can read about getting to the bridge in our previous post.

From the Trift Bridge, it is a T4 trail and the lowest category of blue and white alpine trails not requiring ropes or ice axes. However, it has very steep – near cliff – drop offs, many chains and ropes to aid while hiking, vertical and horizontal ladders for ascending/descending and river crossings, scree and snowfield crossings, and at times lack of blue and white blazes. Knowing this, I would strongly recommend good hiking boots which are professionally sized for your feet with newer tread. My second recommendation is to have at least enough skill and endurance to climb 2,500 meters over the course of 6-7 hours. For me, this hike was one of the first ones which required my full mental and physical focus. Yes we took breaks for snacks, photos, etc. But I never tried to sneak in a quick photo and hurry and catch up with the group. A trail of this difficulty should not be taken for granted. The months prior of cycling and running had helped my stamina to lead much of the hike and navigate much of the trail for the group, which afforded me time to take some photos and video without the rush. In terms of nutrition, I would recommend salted nuts and raisins, jerky (if you have it and eat meat), and perhaps granola bars. There was no place to fill up my 80 oz. Camelback, except a large cold stream. Top up when you can, there is no guarantee of water on the way up and this stream was the only place worth filling up until the hut.

Immediately from the bridge, there are two ladder descents. The initial part of the trail is very exposed on neatly packed scree. This gives way to a series of exposed switchbacks, which was exhausting in the mid-afternoon sun and continued on to a steeper section of semi-covered switchbacks with dense vegetation offering shade. At the top of the switchbacks, the views opened up as you head into a side valley nicknamed the Monster; a beautiful panorama yielding distracting views, expanses of rock and snow slide areas. Beauty can be deceiving as we witnessed a boulder the size of VW cascading off a cliff, down a series of scree, and coming to rest in a depression splashing into water somewhere above us while in the distance, plumes of dust lifted from the valley. We soon realized that we should hurry through this area. We crossed a massive snow slide area. What appeared to be an easy traverse, put our nerves on edge for two reasons. One, the snow slide – if you were to trip and slide down it, could most likely take you to your end, and second, the last step was actually a jump off from the snow and onto semi-stable scree; looking back, I advised my group to divert the last jump for a safer walk onto stable snow and down a rock. The area I had jumped off of was a few feet thick and dropped into a dark hole. Some things you are unaware of until after you pass.

Once out of this valley, we hiked up (more switchbacks) and along a cliff-like section. At one point there is a small trickle of a waterfall and a grate catwalk with chains to hold onto. The next section is rockier and appears to be more stable, but towards the end the blazes become harder to see, and require more from your deteriorating focus. The stones are larger and give a hollow sound when walking across them. The rock turns red-brown versus the grey scree in prior sections. By this point you are above the Trift glacier icefall, with the trail feeling more like bouldering than hiking. After a full day of hiking, and not being at the hut, the beauty becomes lost in the struggle to achieve the last 400 meters ascent. Most people take the gondola, and the 3.5 hours to the bridge was starting to take its toll on me. The red-brown rock trail cascades over zig-zagged passages and chain lines, pulling you up to within eye shot of the hut. A great relief!

Once there, we are greeted by all the other hikers; they are mountaineers, really, and we’re just tourists. Nonetheless, we are greeted the same as everyone else who arrives at the Trifthütte, with a warm welcome and a warm tea. It is time to drop the packs and suck in the views as the sun descends over Mährenhorn across the valley.

We were placed in one of the first hütte structures; built in 1910, just below the main hütte today. This building holds about 18 -20 people in dormitory style rooms, with our beds in the attic. A fixed dinner was served at seven, consisting of leek/onion soup, bread, salad, risotto (with mushrooms or ham), and a dessert. Water is served, but soda, beer, and wine is a-la-carte. I’m a light sleeper, and usually have trouble resting the first night anywhere. If you need to use the toilet, there is an outhouse at the edge of a cliff, about 10 paces around the corner from the 1910 hut. I say this more as a caution to those who need to use the toilet in the night, in that it is advisable to bring your headlamp.

I woke up sometime in the night with a strong headache, perhaps from the dry air and had to find some meds in my backpack on the ground floor. I’m not sure anyone cared; half of the hut was sawing logs in their sleep. That is until 4AM, when alarms went off! This was the second realization that many of the people who stay here are using it as a base camp, or way-point in their mountain excursion. Several teams plotted their escape spindling out in various directions from the hut. Some left at 3am, but most by 4:30. The hut was more manageable to sleep in until the final breakfast call at seven. To wake up, high above the world, in near solitude was very refreshing! I could only hear the rush of streams from several directions. It was unfortunate to only stay a night, but it was a great experience nonetheless.

The decent was easier than expected, even if some of the declination looked daunting. As much as it still required focus, a fresh start to the day helped. Only after the bridge, did we begin to feel the strain in our knees. We were very relieved to grab a spot down on the gondola; there was a pop-up thunderstorm which came out of nowhere, cracking the sky and beginning to throwing rain at us.  The perfect ending to a remarkable journey!

Enjoy the video!

Titlis

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Top Reasons to Visit Mt. Titlis

The height – at 3,238m, you can get your fix for snow or winter sports virtually year round.  Plus from that vantage point, you cannot help but feel alive!

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On a clear day, the views are incredible!  If the weather forecast is not favorable, save your money and go on a day when the weather is indeed clear.  There is nothing more disappointing than getting to the top only to see NOTHING!

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Stunning views of the Uri Alps.

The Titlis Cliff Walk is apparently the highest suspension bridge in all of Europe!            Now that’s a WOW factor for ya!

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Visitors will be amazed at all they can see without much effort and thank you for the journey.

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Word of caution – hold on to your wallets, as the ticket price to the top is as steep as the mountains, but well worth the experience!

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Once you are down from Titlis, take the time to hike around Trübsee.                                      The views from the lake are remarkable too!

Hiking and Grilling

Throughout the trail network in Switzerland, it is easy to find great spots to stop, take a break from a hike, and recharge your batteries with a warm snack by a fire.  A good pause to enjoy time with friends, family, to socialize and catch up with each other.  For more information about hikes in Switerland, here are a few of our favorite spring hikes (Ruine Pfeffingen, Ruine Landskron, and Arlesheim to Muttenz), as well as some tips for getting acquainted with hiking in Switzerland, or check our Hiking in Switzerland Page.

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This post is part of the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime