St Bernards, A Whole Lotta Love

I love dogs, but I especially love big dogs.   The St. Bernard (also known as St. Barnhardshund, Alpine Mastiff and Bernhardiner) is one of the world’s largest.    They range from 25.5-27.5 inches ( 61-70 cm) and weigh 110-200 pounds (50-91 kg).   The are most likely a cross between Tibetan Mastiffs with Great DanesGreater Swiss Mountain Dog and Great Pyrenees. Initially, they had short hair; long hair coats collect icicles.

Augustinian Monks living in the treacherous St. Bernard Pass (the western route through the alps between Italy and Switzerland) bread the dogs.  8,000 feet above sea level, the pass is 49-miles long and is notorious for its changeable weather and high winds.

The St. Bernard pass was well travelled before St. Bernard de Menthon founded the famous hospice in the Swiss Alps as a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous passes between Switzerland and Italy around 1050.  There are even remains of a Roman road there.  If you were a pilgrim headed to Rome, this is a likely route you would have taken.  You wouldn’t have been the only one.  Napoleon famously used the pass to cross the alps to invade Italy in 1800.

Image from Stories About Animals on http://www.zookingdoms.com

In the 17th century, St. Bernards were used to rescue people from avalanches and other dangers in snowy alpine passes.    Saint Bernards have many features that make them well adapted to this task.   They can smell a person under many feet of snow.  They can hear low-frequency sounds humans cannot, possibly alerting people to avalanches.   Their broad chests helped clear paths through the snow.  Their large paws helped spread out the weight and worked like snowshoes to keep them on top of the snow.  Their large paws helped them dig through the snow.  Upon finding someone, they lie on top them to provide warmth.

The most famous rescuer was Barry (1800-1812).  He is credited with saving the lives of more than 40 people.  Today, Foundation Barry (named after the famous pooch) works to educate people about and preserve the breed.  They also do alpine hikes with the pups!  Both Foundation Barry and the St. Bernard Museum are located in in Martingy, a village down the mountain from the pass.  Both have the adorable pups on site.

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It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye

Rochers-de-Naye is the mountain with the rock top on the left, not the bump, but the one with the snow below the rock.

We woke up to a beautiful day. Since it was so clear, we decided to do one of the things that we’d been saving for a clear day so we could enjoy the view.  Our choices were take cable cars to the top of Mont Blanc or hike from the lake in Montreaux to Rochers-de-Naye.  I checked with him to make sure he know the hike meant climbing the mountain behind Montreaux.  Please note the full disclosure (on my part) and assumption of risk (on his part).

We weren’t the only ones who thought it was hot. This guy jumped into the water fountain.

A reader suggested this hike and I wanted to do it because the views at the top are spectacular.   Yeah, we could have taken a cog wheel train up, but where’s the fun in that?  Especially on a hot day?

We spent about five hours…walking up, and up, and up.

On the way, we saw these brave fellows heading down.  In this photo, you can’t see what is beyond the edge.  In fact, it’s almost impossible to see from this vantage point.  That’s because it drops off sharply and precipitously.  If you look on the right of the photo below, you will see a small railing that prevents people falling from the steep rock face.  Yep, that’s where we ran into them.  Impressive.

I’ve always wanted to do a ridge hike in Switzerland.  I thought it would be cool to  look down on both sides.  This trail had a bit of one.  Cool huh?

At the end of the ridge, we finally caught sight of the summit.  Although it looks pretty close, it took us at least another 45 minutes to reach it.  I may have slowed us down by stopping every 10 feet to take pictures of the incredible scenery.

When we finally reached the top, we found snow!  I know, I know.  After several hours of hiking, the bandage on my paw looked about as dirty as the snow.

Yep.  The finger is still bandaged.

 

He was exhausted at the end of the day (and very, very hungry).  I thought it was worth it.  He joked that I tried to kill him.  I’m happy to report that he’s forgiven me.  Either that or he is lulling me into a false sense of security while he plans his revenge.

It was a long, sweaty (especially on his part), but enjoyable hike from Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) in Montreux to Rochers-de-Naye at 2041m (6,709 feet).   At the top, there was snow and unforgettable, jaw dropping views.

They also have Marmot Paradise.  Who doesn’t love these beaver-like animals?   I also enjoyed the Alpine garden with lots of special species of Swiss Alpine plants and flowers. I even saw Edelweiss!

Les Incompetents Vol. 8 – Inappropriate Attire For The Slopes

We are going skiing in Italy this weekend.  After our first time skiing here, it became clear that I could use a lot of practice and more than a few lessons.  Last week, Hokie, Wildcat and I snuck out of Geneva on a weekday for a lesson.  We wanted to take advantage of the quieter, less chaotic slopes to get some badly-needed practice.
Thanks to The Huges’ for documenting stupidity on the slopes.  I suppose these folks from Mammoth Mountain were embarrassed by their attire too.
Although you see people walking around Geneva in ski attire, I didn’t put my ski pants on over my tights until we arrived.  I was afraid of roasting and waited to don my ski pants until we arrived.
We rent our skis and keep our other gear in a giant bag filled with ski accoutrements like helmets, gloves,   etc.   To make it a bit smaller, I removed his things and left them in a pile on the hall floor.   When we arrived at Les Contamines, I threw on my pants.  At least I thought they were my pants.  They weren’t they were his.  There is more than a foot and at least 90 pounds between us.  My children’s 12-14 ski pants are a much better size for me than his giant man pants.
At that point, there was nothing to do but make the best of it.  I tightened the waist and rolled them up at both ends.  Let’s just say that while it was a great day on the slopes, I looked like the biggest nincompoop out there.  Oh, well.  It wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t have been the last.
In fact, I didn’t have to wait long to embarrass myself.   Check me out in the photo below.
P.S.  It is a really good thing that I took the lesson because I clearly needed practice with the equipment.  I fell off the tow rope.  Cut me some slack, it was my first time.  I also caused the chair lift to stop when I saw a giant precipice and alps 20 feet after decent from the chair lift and gawked instead of scooting my tuckus forward.
 
 

My What a Big Horn You Have

If you have seen a Ricola commercial, you are familiar with the alphorn (aka the alpenhorn). It is a giant horn made of wood. In the 18th century, it was used by shepherds to communicate across mountains. It is still popular there. Like yodeling and the accordion, it is a symbol of traditional Swiss music. In fact, it is the Swiss national instrument.
If you are interested in playing one, you’d better have a good set of lungs. It requires steady power to produce a sound. Not surprisingly, it is loud. Really, really loud.
Here is a link to a WSJ article on new, young stars of alphorn music. They are creating a stir by getting creative with the alphorn. Traditionalists disapprove.
 
 

 

Lost in Translation – Prize Bull

 
English Translation:
“FORS” WILL BE HARD WON
 

Christened yesterday “Fors-ver-der-Lueg”. This young bull is the pride of breeder Kaltacker (Bern), Hans Bichsel. It must be said that the animal has been chosen to be delivered to winner 2013 edition of the National Swiss Wrestling Festival (aka Schwingen) of struggle, which has has kicked off in Burgdorf.

 
I’m speachless. This is fantastic! We must go next year.
 

 

Lost in Translation – The Best Beard in the Alps

I have been taking pictures of things I think you might find especially noteworthy in the papers. I am starting another series of semi-regular posts called “Lost in Translation.” When you look below, it is pretty self-explainatory. Enjoy.

From the paper 20 Minutes



English Translation:

Looking for the perfect beard


Long and
 thickharmonious and natural: this is the perfect beard, according to the criteria of the International Championship of Beard Wearers of the Alps. Yesterday, the 26th champoinship saw Albert Schmidt (center) of Zurich rank second between two Germans.



Gentlemen(and perhaps ladies), jealous?

Good Ol’ Fashioned Alpine Fun

What else do you need when you have alpine roller coasters, putt-putt and cart racing down hills?
I guess this is what you do when you can’t ski down these mountains. Take my word for it, it’s fun.