Here’s a video update we recorded back on the 14th when we were at Camping Disentis, before we did the zip line, and before we went to Chur where Mila broke her arm.
Obviously our plans changed a little bit after we recorded this. We would have posted this when we recorded it or soon after, but we didn’t have a good internet connection until we landed here in the Amsterdam apartment a few days ago.
So, in the spirit of better late than never, here it is
Another post about our time in Disentis a couple weeks ago… Still playing catch up on blog posts!
Sometime around the beginning of the trip Jette said that she wanted to go on a zip line for her birthday. As luck would have it, we noticed that there was a clip of a zip line in the Camping Disentis promotional video:
We enquired about it, the owner of the campground made a phone call, and we had a zip line session booked. It was 10 days before her birthday, but hey, for a random zip line discovery in a foreign country, you can’t get much closer than that, right?!
To get there we were told (at least as best we could understand with our limited German) to exit the camp, turn left and go up the mountain through four tunnels. At the exit of the 4th tunnel, on the right side we would see some stairs…
So we hopped on our bikes and rode/walked up, up, up… It was all uphill and it was endless. Up the mountain on the narrow, winding mountain highway and through the tunnels. We rode a little, but mostly walked our bikes along the edge of the narrow mountain road.
Hey mister! Please don’t fall to your death.
One of the tunnels was under construction. The girders you can see in the photo above are on the edge of a cliff and below there is a sheer drop. It would be the end for anyone who lost their footing. None of the workers wore safety harnesses or were attached to lines. These guys are human mountain goats.
In the tunnel
Thankfully, a sidewalk
One of the tunnels was 500 meters long! Just getting there was a challenge for us.
Sure enough, at the end of the 4th tunnel, we were greeted by Kim, a muscular man with sun bleached hair and a friendly, weathered smile standing by the edge of the road. It was quite a surprise and seemed quite random as there were no buildings, just a little sidewalk area off to the side of the road at the tunnel entrance. If you were going to cast a mountaineer for a movie, you could find no better person thank Kim.
Note the rope bridge in the background of the photo above. This is one of the bridges that you had to cross to get back after doing the zip line. The zip line itself runs from the upper left of the photo to well below the lower right of the photo. To access the climbing and zip line areas you must climb the rock face in front of our bikes.
We were given harnesses and helmets and joined a group of Swiss Scouts (boys and girls, age 12 to maybe 16) for a brief orientation.
Each harness had a tether with two carabiners. Wherever there were lines marked red and white, we were to clip in using both carabiners, each clipped onto the line in opposing directions. There were iron rods, bent into “”U” shapes and hammered into the stone to act as steps. Lines indicating that you should clip in were marked with red and white tape. We clipped in and climbed the steps. When our progress was blocked by an anchor on the line, we unclipped and reclipped, first one carabiner and then the other – so we were always secured by at least one of the carabiners at the end our our harness tether. After the orientation, each person, regardless of age, was responsible for his or her own safety and that of their climbing mates. There were two staff members in the area, but generally speaking, after orientation, you were on your own.
None of our photos even begin to do it justice or suggest the scale of the scene, but the zip line ran at a steep angle across a rocky gorge with a river at it’s base. There were a variety of cable bridges spanning the gorge at various heights and angles – these were the only way to get back once you had crossed on the zip line. None of them had stable footing. Steps were fashioned from pieces of wood hung from cables with no horizontal support, so they swung in the wind and underfoot. Crossing them was like stepping from one crooked swing to another. We were clipped in to a cable above, so a fall would not be a fatal fall of 20 or 50 or 100 feet to the rocks of the river below. A misstep and a fall would leave you dangling by your harness tether and require that you pull yourself up the cable, regain your place on the bridge, and finish the crossing.
The easiest cable bridge and the roadway
The zip line and some of the bridges
The end of the zip line and the easy bridge back
In the photo above, the small blue pad on the face of the cliff is the only thing between you and splat should the zip line equipment or its operator fail. The wooden platform where the two people in white shirts are standing is the place where, after your zip line session, you can elevate yourself to unclip from the zip line. After that you are on your own getting back. You can scale the rocks to the right and cross the “easy” bridge, or climb the rocks and a series of wooden structures and iron steps in the cliff face to get to other more difficult bridges.
Another view of the zip line
Our intrepid zip liners getting ready for the plunge!
Before we did the zip line across the gorge, we did a little rock climbing.
Jette begins her ascent
Getting close to the top.
Then it was time for the zip line. I went first, followed by Jette and then Mila. The scariest part is the initial jump off the cliff at the beginning. There is 6 or 8 feet of shallow drop before the sheer drop of the cliff face and there was enough give in the cable and length to the tether that my feet dragged ground momentarily before I was fully over the edge, giving strength to the question, “Is this thing going to hold?!”
Jette was next and she was all smiles on the way down.
Made it! At the bottom of the zip line.
Heading up to the easy bridge.
Clipping in at the foot of the bridge
Another view of the easy bridge. It looks low from this angle, but in some places it is quite a long drop to the river below.
The end of the easy bridge and the beginning of the wall climb.
We don’t have any photos that really capture it, but the bridge crossings and climbs back up were challenging. It can be a bit nerve wracking watching your almost-ten-year-old un-clip and re-clip to get around an anchor bolt on a vertical rock wall 100 feet above a stone filled, rushing river!
The videos make the bridge crossings look easy. They were harder than they looked!
Jette is amazing. She met the physical challenges as well as the physiological ones. Even as we ran out of energy, she was very careful with each of the dozens clip-outs and clip-ins as we climbed and traversed the bridges. As we climbed, we talked about how fatigue can lead to mistakes. She consistently mindful and made no mistakes. I on the other hand had to re-clip twice after failing to get one of my carabiners properly secured on a cable.
After riding/walking up the mountain, two zip line sessions, bridge crossings, and climbs back up, we were totally exhausted.
Yawn! We’re worn out.
Thank goodness camp was down the mountain…and they served ice cream!
Not a bad early birthday celebration.
So much has happened that we haven’t had time (or power/internet) to blog about, so before it is lost to the mists of time, let me tell you about our time in Disentis-Sedrun. After Andermatt, we took the train to Disentis.
Looking back at Andermatt from the train to Disentis
Arriving in Disentis
We rode our bikes through town and down the steep hills to Camping Disentis where we pitched our tent. This place turned out to be something of a paradise, especially for kids. The European campgrounds we’ve experienced have been very nice, with excellent facilities. Camping Disentis puts them all to shame. All the basic facilities – showers, bathrooms, etc. were very, very nice, and super clean. They had a nice restaurant with a patio facing a lawn with a bounce house for kids.
The cafe at Camping Disentis
It is just out of frame, but there was an ice cream stand and a small shop selling all sorts of goodies. You could also place orders for fresh bread, delivered each morning. The Rhine River ran along the edge of the camp. Because we were still so close to its source, the Rhine here is often called the “Young” Rhine. The waters are still crystal clear and cold, and known for hiding gold! Many of you may know Richard Wagner’s famous opera The Rhinegold. We didn’t see any Rhinemaidens, but we did see lots of people panning for gold!
Panning for gold in the Rhine at Camping Disentis
Rhine on the right tents on the left
Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source
The clear, cold waters of the Rhine in Disentis
Jette in the Rhine, not far from its source
Jette loved wading through the river and jumping from stone to stone
We spent hours exploring the shallow rapids of the river, panning for gold, and just having fun. We even had a favorite spot for having our meals in the river. We had boulders for seats and the cold water of the river to chill our feet and our drinks.
At camp, there were clear streams and springs feeding a beautiful swimming hole, with a raft that the kids can pull across like a ferry.
Swimming hole at Camping Disentis
The ferry docks
Swimming at Camping Disentis
The clear water of the swimming hole.
There were hundreds of kids and families staying in RV’s and tents, but surprisingly it never seemed too busy. We learned a little bit about Swiss culture in our stay here. The camp was crowded, but it was never noisy. There was no music, much less loud music playing anywhere, ever. There was constant conversation, but no one was loud. In the mornings, when we awoke, we could hear the birds sining and the rushing sounds of the river, but not our neighbors, even if they were in the tent just feet from ours. The Swiss campers all seemed to adhere to the same routine. Most had breakfast at their tent or RV. Breakfast was fresh bread with jam and butter, muesli, or yoghurt. On to the daily outdoor activities. In the late afternoon a sweet treat, perhaps ice cream around 3:30 or 4:00.
Late afternoon everyone headed to the shower to clean up, followed by dinner. After dinner there were three main activities: badminton, cards, and reading. Many of the kids quietly played cards or badminton, some sat quietly and read books. Yes, actual paper books. No one had electronic devices. No cameras, no phones, no iPods, no computers. Compared to home, it was shocking how many people actually read books! What a nice surprise. It was also interesting to see how virtually everyone was on the same schedule. I guess that’s a function of Switzerland being a small, homogenous country. It was nice.
Cozy in our tent
More to come on the awesome place that is Camping Disentis and all the fun we’ve had here, but in the meantime, here’s a video I shot last night riding my bike up to town and back.
Since I shot this video I got my hands on some Shimano Roller Brake Grease at a local bike shop and the breaks don’t scream quite as loudly now. Still being careful with my speed and watching that it doesn’t overheat to the point of a grease fire or fried hub bearings.
It has been a whirlwind few days getting from the flatlands of the Netherlands to the mountains of Switzerland. On Friday morning, we loaded the bikes for the first time and rode to the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station.
Getting ready to ride to the train station
Arrived at Amsterdam Central Station
The day before we had purchased tickets to Andermatt, Switzerland for ourselves and our bikes. Originally we had hoped to take a night train with sleeping bunks to Switzerland, but because we were traveling with bikes and it is the Summer high season, there were no such tickets available for weeks. We ended up with tickets to Andermatt that required an overnight stay in Brussels, Belgium and a total of 5 train changes as we passed through the Netherlands, France, Luxemburg, and Switzerland.
We immediately discovered that train travel was bit more challenging with heavily loaded bicycles! We rolled our heavily loaded bike into the Amsterdam station and discovered that the escalator to the platform was not working. We were faced with hundreds of pounds of bikes and baggage and a long stairway up to the platform. When loaded, our bikes are too heavy to lift. So, getting on the first train in Amsterdam required us to pull the bags off the bikes, and make multiple trips up and down, up and down the long stairs to the platform lugging bags and bikes. Once we had everything up on the platform, we loaded all the bags on the bikes again to get everything down the platform. When the train arrived, there was a mad scramble to find a car that would accomodate the bicycles, and then a rush to get to that car, pull the bags off the bikes, hoist the bikes into the train, and load ourselves and our luggage before the train left the station. This we repeated at each of the five stations where we changed trains, and one where we did not.
Bikes in the Brussels Station
Getting ready to load the bikes on the train
On the train to Brussels
Reading on the train to Brussels
Our itinerary had us spending the night in Brussels, so when we arrived we did the strenuous “bicycle train station dance,” loaded our bikes and set out for the hotel Mila had found online. We didn’t have map of brussels (or connections for our phones) so we asked for directions at the hotel across the street from the train station and set off in the horrible early evening traffic of Brussels. We were on a busy main street, so we walked our bikes for quite a while, then, when a bike lane appeared and the traffic calmed a bit, we hopped on our bikes. 15 minutes later we pulled up to Hotel Belleview, found a nice spot to lock up the bikes, checked in, and enjoyed a well-earned shower.
After we cleaned up, we ventured out on foot to dinner at Bij Den Boer, a local seafood restaurant where we sat on the sidewalk patio and enjoyed a nice dinner. The next morning we were up at 5 a.m. packing our bikes for a ride to the train station and the train, or rather, the next 4 trains to Andermatt, Switzerland, very near the source of the Rhine River.
When we left France and stopped at a station in Luxembourg, the staff on the train changed. The new conductors came through, checked tickets and told us in rapid-fire French that our bikes would have to be moved to another car. The stop at the station was only minutes, and much confusion ensued as we made the 6 or 8 trips required to pull all of our stuff – bikes and bags – off the train an onto the platform. Meanwhile, a team of three conductors barked at us in French, often with contradictory instructions and directions. Mila and Jette were hustled down the platform with some of the bags and disappeared. I was hoisting the bikes into a different car with the “help” of one of the conductors. Just as the train was beginning to move, I grabbed our last bag – the huge green duffel bag, and was directed into a one of the cars. I hopped on and walked the length of the car looking for Mila and Jette. They were nowhere to be seen. I knew they must be on the train so I hoisted the heavy duffel over my shoulder so I could fit down the narrow isles, and started walking from car to car looking for them. Ultimately I found them (and a very distressed Mila who thought the train had left me at the station) in a first-class compartment. We had been upgraded. Nice! Luxembourg, we take back all of those curses we hurled at you back at the station.
Chinese fire drill in Luxembourg
First class, baby!
After what seemed like endless trains, stations, loadings and unloadings, we made it to Andermatt, Switzerland. We loaded the bikes and rode through this beautiful village nestled in among the peaks of the Alps. We cruised through town, then looked for Basecamp Andermatt where we thought we might stay. After half an hour of more of searching for it with no luck we rode across town to the Andermatt Campground which is a beautiful green field on the edge of town. Just a simple patch of grass, but wow, what views!
Camping in Andermatt
Camping in Andermatt
Camping in Andermatt
Handstands in Andermatt
We pitched our tent, stashed our gear, locked our bikes, and went for a stroll to find dinner. We ate on the sidewalk patio of the local joint that seemed busiest with folks who looked like locals.
Dinner in Andermatt, Switzerland
Veal Sausage with Rosti and Grilled Trout with Veggies
Although it was no surprise, it was immediately clear that our bikes and our bodies were not ready for alpine roads. Our simple, heavy three-speeds are gear for flat ground or small hills, not mountain passes. With just a “backpedal” or “coaster” brake, my bike lacks the stopping power for real hills, especially when loaded with 100 lbs. of bags and 220 lbs. of me. I could make it up the hills, but getting back down was a challenge with the lack of braking power. Not to mention the fact that none of us have the “legs” for the real mountain passes. While the narrow two lane mountain highways offer beautiful views, they are too much for us. Plus, they are crowded with surprising number of motorcyclists, trucks, busses, cars, and other cyclists. We’ll take the train to lower altitudes, thank you very much.
So in the morning, we packed up the bikes and rode to the train station for the train to Disentis.
On the train to Disentis
Looking back at Andermatt from the train to Disentis
Awesome alpine views from the train
Busy, narrow alpine roads
Arriving in Disentis
The place we are staying in Disentis is heavenly, but more on that in the next post…