Avocado-Tomatillo Dip with Cumin Pita Chips

2 points


3  (6-inch) pitas, split in half horizontally
Cooking spray
1  teaspoon cumin
1  teaspoon dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2  teaspoon salt


1/2  pound tomatillos (about 5 large)
1/2  cup chopped onion
2  tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1  finely chopped partially seeded jalapeño pepper
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/3  cup fat-free sour cream
2  ripe peeled avocados chopped

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare chips, coat rough side of each pita half with cooking spray; sprinkle pita halves evenly with cumin, oregano, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut each pita half into 8 wedges; arrange wedges in a single layer on baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

To prepare dip, discard husks and stems from tomatillos. Place tomatillos in a small saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook 5 minutes or until tender. Cool to room temperature. Place tomatillos, onion, cilantro, jalapeño and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Add sour cream and avocado; process until smooth. Serve with chips.

Yield: 12 servings (serving size: about 2 1/2 tablespoons dip and 4 chips)

  • Calories: 106
  • Fat: 5g
  • Fiber: 2.8g





August 29: Chamonix to Argentiere to Trient

Day summary:

  • 6.5 hours (Kev time)
  • 12.5 miles (some by chairlift)
  • from Argentiere: gain 953 m, lose 925 m

We had decided ahead of time to take the train from Chamonix to Argentiere because the Haute Route trail follows the road pretty closely and just didn’t sound that exciting.  It meant that our first day wasn’t very strenuous, but we definitely made up for that the next day.  We were able to take the train for free, using the transportation pass provided by the hotel.

Here is the journal account of the day:

Well, we thought we were leaving the UTMB behind – not so fast!  When we arrived in Trient (the 140 km mark on the UTMB), we discovered that around 30 runners had come through the town already.  The rest would be arriving ALL NIGHT LONG!  And they have all their supporters arriving and leaving, so we expect a noisy night.  I guess that will be the story for tomorrow.

Today was a blissfully easy day, although Barry started crabbing about hiking all the way up something and then all the way down just to get up in the morning and do it again.  And my knees were kind-of saying the same thing in their own special way. [Note: this kind of up and down is what this trek is all about, so be prepared!]

We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast buffet again, then took the train from Chamonix to Argentiere, avoiding an easy but supposedly boring section of the route.  We arrived in Argentiere and had our first test of Kev’s route description.  It was perfect!  We even ran across an old couple with 3 grandkids in tow who offered to take our “starting the hike” photo.  We hiked the easy 45-60 minute walk to Le Tour (not La Tour, which we learned means “the tower,” particularly the Eiffel Tower if spoken while in France).  From there we paid for the telecabine lift up to Col de Balme.  It was cloudy and chilly at the col.  We celebrated entering Switzerland again – taking photos kissing across the boundary rock, then began the descent.  We kept leap-frogging down the path with a couple from Flagstaff – Cindy and Peter – who were headed to La Forclaz.  At first the hiking was beautiful; we could see all the way down into the valley where it was green and lush.  But when we entered the forest, the serious switchbacks began: less fun and when Barry started complaining.

It was goofy – as we got closer we could hear what I knew had to be cowbells, having read about them in the book.  But really?!  Would they make that much noise?  When we finally arrived in La Peuty, we found that in fact, they do make that much noise – they are snug around the neck and quite sensitive to movement.  And they are sized to match the cow.  The bulls have big low-toned bells and the cows have bells that are somewhat smaller and higher.  The one calf we saw had a very small, high-pitched bell.

Trient is quite beautiful – but somewhat different from usual because of the UTMB.  A town of 100 people with that many volunteers, 2000+ runners and 10,000+ supporters isn’t quite the quiet Swiss village we thought we’d encounter.  And on top of it, our dortoir is right where the runners descend from the hills into town – so they are greeted with cheers and applause (all night long).  And there is a ton of traffic as family and support teams arrive to care for their runner and then leave to catch up with them in Chamonix.  AND our dortoir owner is a volunteer and runner himself.  He has done this race twice before!

We have found ourselves in the company of Roland, a German-speaking Swiss (who knows English and French very well) and a mom/daughter duo from France – daughter knows English and has forced mom to speak it all of the way (because they are traveling with the daughter’s Finnish friend who doesn’t speak French).  We are grateful for all the help with translation because the wife doesn’t speak English and the husband speaks only some.

We had a great dinner at the family table (the 3 kids came and went, eager to take part in the race activities, I think).  Lovely local wine and French cheese!  Conversations flew, moving from French to English and occasionally German, as we talked and then they attempted to translate what had just been said so that we could participate.


We stayed at Gite la Gardienne – which is basically the lower floor of the family’s house in Trient.  There are three rooms of varying sizes, a small entry/sitting room, kitchen and shared bath.  Note that this means that there is ONE toilet and ONE shower for ALL visitors – which could be as many as 16-18 people!  I chose not to try to take a shower when there were just 6 of us there because it was too hard.  We ended up sleeping with all of the women in one room and the 2 men in another, just for the sake of privacy.  I think the two of us were originally supposed to sleep in the smaller back room, but that meant bunk beds.  The situation was pretty relaxed and the husband was busy dealing with the race, so we figured things out on our own.

Trient is VERY small; I think there is just one other place to stay – a larger dortoir with single and group rooms, Relais du Mont Blanc.  There was one small cafe where we enjoyed a beer while watching runners come through.  We lucked out in having such a generous host family; as it turns out, there wasn’t really anyplace open to purchase lunch for the next day.  When our host found out that we needed food, she gave us apples and extra cheese and bread from breakfast that morning.  Be prepared to pay for your stay in cash.  This is the case at the mountain huts as well.  Every place else accepted credit cards.

Waiting for the train in Chamonix

Start of hike in Argentiere


Looking from Col de Balme at lift that brought us up from Le Tour

Border kiss!

Look down into lush green valley

Cow and bells


Le Gite la Gardienne – and UTMB sign

Gorgeous little village

Runners arriving in Trient the next morning

Trail Head/Ski Resort: Chamonix

We arrived in Chamonix in the morning – so had to wait to get into our hotel room.  Not a big deal – our hotel graciously stored our bags while we wandered the town and had lunch.  We stayed at Hotel les Aiglons Resort and Spa – situated near the entrance to the village.  We booked our room through Expedia, though it looks like you can book directly from their own website now.  It was a great place – modernized and energy-smart (hall lights turned on as you entered and turned off when no one was there).  We felt pampered and catered-to during our two night stay.  They had a great pool/spa/sauna area that was clean and pleasant after walking the streets all day.  They also had an amazing breakfast buffet – try not to stuff your pockets with the plentiful food!  And any extra request was responded to like we were at a big city 5-star hotel.  We saw other groups taking advantage of pack lunches to take with you for the day, though we opted to buy bread and cheese from one of the many small grocery stores in town.

We followed the advice of a seasoned traveler from the flight over who recommended just staying up – not trying to nap at all that first day – in order to overcome potential jet lag.  It definitely worked like a charm.  We had slept some on the flight, obviously, but not a normal, restful 8 hours.  We went to bed that night and woke the next morning completely converted to European time.  We did the same thing going home, and neither of us had any trouble.

We have no idea what Chamonix is like when it isn’t crowded with runners and their entourage.  It is obviously a ski resort town, with tons of restaurants of all varieties and expensive clothing and gear stores.  The post office is in the middle of town, though I was able to buy stamps at any shop that sold postcards.  We walked around a lot at first, but then realized that there was a free bus that ran a route around town, with numerous marked stops.

Here is the journal entry from August 28:

We are WELL rested at last.  We wandered around town even more yesterday, checking out shops, scoping out where to get food and water, deciding where to eat dinner and what we might want to do the next day (today).  We had a yummy “local” meal last night.  Barry wanted to find a place with a “menu complete” – 3 courses of real French cuisine.  But who knows what’s real cuisine when you come to such an area?  My meal was thinly sliced potatoes, sausage, bacon chunks, tomato and boiled egg on top of salad greens with a side dish like scalloped potatoes.  Barry had the same side dish, but on salad greens he had little bruschetta-like slices of French bread with ham and cheese.  The dessert course was soft cheese and raspberry sauce for him and yummy “profiteroles” – like mini eclairs with custard inside and chocolate sauce.  So far, it does seem to be all about the food, doesn’t it?

Today we took trams up to L’Aiguille du Midi to view Mont Blanc up close.  It was amazing and beautiful.  We saw all sorts of people making their way up to the summit.  We hiked over to Lac Bleu – all in all spending 2-3 hours on the south side of the valley, then came back to the hotel, dumped our warm gear (needed for a morning trip, but not in the afternoon), and then headed over to take a lift and tram up to Le Brevent, basically the top of the black diamond slopes on the north side of the Chamonix valley.  Now it is 5:00 pm and the racers and supporters are gathering in town for the start of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.  CRAZY people!  I think we’ll go watch them head out and then grab supper somewhere. Tomorrow we take the train to Argentiere and begin the Haute Route in earnest.

Photos from Chamonix:

Beautiful building

Mont Blanc

Hikers on their way down.

The morning started out cloudy – we couldn’t see down into the valley below.  And it was chilly up there!

Here is one of the trams.  You take one to a midpoint, and then hop on another to the top.  At the top there is also an option for taking a cable car into Italy!

The clouds finally burned off and you could see the valley far below.

We hiked to Lac Bleu, where we saw the first of many cairns.

This is a view of the lift up to Le Brevent – you can barely see the tram wire running across to the highest point (on the left).

The start of the race was wild.


Mont Blanc sunset taken from Chamonix

Family Photos

Since we invited you to check out our website, I figured I should treat you to some family photos.

Here is my brother Bill with Sarah and Alex at cousin Brittany’s groom’s dinner in Sept. 2008.

Sarah’s graduation from the University of Southern Maine in May, 2008.

Alex and Jolene – what a two-some?!

Kitties – Bernoulli and Tesla

Alex and Sarah at Christmas 2008

Sarah celebrating successfully completing a 10k race in Maine – all to write an article for the Forecaster!

Sarah, stopping off in MN on her way to San Francisco, Sept. 2009

And here’s a video of our crazy Bengal cat, Bernoulli, who is entranced by our pinball machines


Making Plans: Accommodations and Travel within Switzerland


We took flights to Geneva and then booked a shuttle to take us down to Chamonix.  There were tons of shuttle services available, and many that you could book online.  It seemed that the price was pretty similar from one outfit to another.  We booked with Mountain Dropoffs through the internet, and were very pleased with their service.  They emailed us several times with confirmation numbers and contact information.  The driver met us at the airport with our name on a whiteboard to locate us.  We had to wait a bit for another flight and group of travelers, but we were prepared for that.  The drive to Chamonix took about an hour and the shuttle took us directly to our hotel door.  I think it is wise to book this ahead of time since there will always be a huge bolus of people arriving at once, leading to long lines at transportation services.


Originally I was willing to shed my usual (anal?) routine of making reservations for each night of the trip.  I wanted to allow some flexibility, and to show that I could be more spontaneous in my old age.  Then I thought, who am I kidding?  I have made all these plans and I expect that I’ll want to stick to them…  So much for spontaneity!  And after the fact, I’m glad that I did make reservations, because we would have been in trouble more than a few nights.  If you do decide to wing it – you will find that all but the smallest of towns have a tourist office that can help you find a place to stay.  We ended up making one change to our route along the way, after learning about a trail wash-out, and we took advantage of the Office du Tourisme in St. Niklaus to find a hotel for the night.  They asked what kind of accommodation we were looking for (hotel or hostel/dortoir) and then called to confirm availability.  Very easy!

We planned to arrive in Geneva on Thursday morning, August 27, spending 2 nights in Chamonix before starting the trek on Saturday the 29th, and then ending in Zermatt on the 8th of September.  From there we planned to take a train to Basel and then back to Geneva for our flight home on Sept. 12.  I sat down on the 4th of July and was able to make most reservations either online or via email over the next few weeks.  In some cases we could book directly with a hotel, in others we had to go through some kind of travel intermediary.  We’ll go into more details as we journal the trip and talk about where we stayed.  We never did make any confirmations with the Europa Hut – and that ended up being the one place we didn’t make it to.  Hmm – karma?  There was one hut that we had to call by phone to make a reservation – Cabane de Prafleuri.  My husband ended up calling from work because he has a co-worker who speaks French.  However, once on the line, when he asked “Parlez vous anglais?” she immediately switched to English and the transaction was completed without difficulty.

Many of the people that we met along the way did not make reservations ahead of time.  If you are willing to be flexible and hike to another town or stay in a cheaper or more expensive place than you had planned, you will most likely be able to have a bed each night.  Surprisingly, while I expected the mountain huts to be more accommodating and make space in a pinch, we did have friends (met along the way) who ended up having to travel another couple of hours (and more than a few meters) to a more distant and remote (read “higher elevation”) hut when the one they were counting on was full for the night!  I would recommend making reservations at the more remote areas with fewer options or smaller facilities.  We were surprised to discover a huge group of people at Cabane de Prafleuri (a private party of Swiss Alpine Club friends and family) and might not have been able to stay there if we hadn’t booked it in advance.  That was a particularly long day for us, and I can’t imagine having to hike further to Cabane des Dix (the closest option).

In smaller dortoirs and the mountain huts, be prepared to pay in cash.  We had no trouble finding ATMs in the larger towns along the way, so plan ahead and make sure you have enough to make it through to the next larger stop.  Also, at the mountain huts, it will cost you extra to take a shower.  Not necessarily a big deal, but don’t be surprised.  Typically you will buy a certain number of minutes; it is surprising how fast you can take a good shower!  We were able to “share” a shower at Prafleuri because when you’re buying minutes of water, you can shut it off while you soap up, then turn it back on to rinse off.

A word about hotels versus dortoirs and demi-pensions (half-boards) versus petit dejeuners (breakfasts).  Many of the blogs that we looked at ahead of time emphasized a frugal approach to the trip.  We were able to focus less on cost and more on comfort, so we investigated other options in each town, and we’ll let you know about those in the trip report.  In some cases, you won’t have any or much choice, in other towns, you’ll have a number of places to look at.  We tended to choose hotels when they were available, opting for privacy but losing out on meeting other people.  Think about that when you plan your trip.  One of the rewarding aspects of this route is that it is well-used by people from around the world.  In a way, it was good that a dortoir (in Trient) and two mountain hut nights (Mont Fort and Prafleuri) occurred early in our trip, because we were able to meet others who we kept running into over the next week.  Occasionally we would hike with friends we made or would meet up for a beer later on in the evening (a good option when your paces are quite different!).

Once we left Chamonix, I think we stayed at only one hotel (in Champex) that did not include breakfast (petit dejeuner) with the cost of lodging.  Every place else had at least some sort of spread laid out in the morning.  The least impressive morning meal of the trip was served at Cabane du Mont Fort, while many of the hotel breakfast buffets could not be described as “petite” in any way.  The common theme was an assortment of breads, cheeses, thinly sliced ham – and chocolate!  The Swiss don’t save chocolate for dessert.  [Barry kept choosing croissants that looked like they should have cinnamon inside; he was always disappointed when it was chunks of chocolate instead.]  Sometimes there were eggs, juice and fruit.  Always there was tea, coffee and cocoa.  We found the best value for the evening meal was to choose the demi-pension, if it was available.  When we compared to other restaurants in the area, we could usually get a 3 course meal for the cost of just the entree elsewhere.  Typically there would be a meal of the day – often involving pork, so be careful if you have dietary restrictions.  There would be 3-4 courses: usually salad, sometimes soup; a main course; then a dessert.  I only had one dinner that I really didn’t like (at Hotel Schwarzhorn in Gruben) but I also didn’t feel great that evening.  The food did tend to get monotonous after awhile.  As I just mentioned, more remote villages often served pork and noodles.  Our lunches were typically bread, cheese, salami and then sometimes an apple or cookies with chocolate.  Since that was also what breakfast usually involved, it got a little old.  Needless to say, by the time we reached Zermatt, we were looking for more variety.


One unexpected barrier to finding space in a hotel/dortoir will be the numerous trail marathons that occur throughout the region in the summer.  We had anticipated a quaint resort village when we pictured Chamonix – instead we arrived to find a completely booked and bustling town filled with ultra-marathoners and their families!  Little did we know that the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc was on – with insanely long races around the mountain that had started earlier in the week and  were continuing through the weekend.

Sign for the UTMB

There are a lot of accommodations in Chamonix, but I would bet that every bed in the valley was filled for that weekend.  So, you really should check ahead, not just for the UTMB, but about other races that are held throughout the Alps that may interfere with your trip.  There is a marathon from Sierre to Zinal in August that might make it harder to find a a place to stay in Zinal.

In fact, while leaving Zinal, you’ll see “Z” signs along the trail directing runners into the village.

When we reached Arolla, we found the town preparing for the end of another trail race – one that starts in Italy and follows the old smuggler’s trail into Switzerland, the Collon Trek.  Again, we lucked out that night, and in fact were one of just 2 groups staying at our hotel, but I think we would have had trouble if our trip had us reaching Arolla over the weekend.


You may decide that you don’t really want to hike the entire route from one end to the other (believe it or not!).  We planned from the start to take any cable car (telepherique) or chair lift (telecabine) available along our route – hey we’re celebrating 50 – we’ve gotten smarter over the years!  But we weren’t smart enough to check schedules ahead of time, or to see if there were any bargains to be had for tickets.  Oh well – you’ll learn from our mistakes.

First of all, in Chamonix there are some fantastic cable car rides up to viewpoints on either side of the valley if you have the time and the money (they are not cheap, but are worth the fabulous views).  We found out later that we should have purchased a Mont Blanc pass, because even after we had started our trek, we could have used the pass for the first chair lift that we took from Le Tour to Col de Balme.  On the southern side of the valley above Chamonix are 2 cable car lifts to L’Aiguille du Midi (the Middle Needle) that offer close-up views of Mont Blanc.

Telepherique to L’Aiguille du Midi

The second planned cable car short-cut was from Le Chable to Les Ruinettes via Verbier.  This was where we discovered more important information missing from Kev’s book.  We arrived in Le Chable on Monday, August 31, only to discover that the cable car had stopped running the day before!  Damn!  The other little tidbit we learned this day was that the Swiss take a “siesta” in the afternoon, typically from noon to 2:00 or 3:00, so you can’t conduct any business during that time (except to eat at a restaurant).  Fortunately, we were able to take a bus to Verbier and the cable from Verbier to Les Ruinettes was still running.  Good thing, since there is no way that we could have made the hike up to Mont Fort that day.

The other cable rides we took advantage of along the way were: Sorebois to Zinal and Jungen to St. Niklaus, both downhill trips that saved our knees.  The trail from Sorebois to Zinal would not have been that tough, in retrospect, but the descent from Jungen to St. Niklaus is crazy steep.  We used the tourist office to check that both of those cars were running (having learned our lesson in Le Chable).  These cables don’t run that frequently – every 30 or 60 minutes from Sorebois and the small car at Jungen basically runs as needed, but both have a late-afternoon cut-off, so check the timing to avoid getting stranded.

Taking the telepherique from Sorebois to Zinal

Jungen – and a steep descent into St. Niklaus


We decided ahead of time to take the train from Chamonix to Argentiere before starting our trip because the trail basically follows the road, and it didn’t sound all that enticing.  We were happy to find out that if you spend the night in a hotel in Chamonix, you can get a pass that allows you to travel by bus or train for free within the entire valley during your stay.  They are trying to reduce car traffic in the region (and you’ll see why when you are there!).

Midway through the trip, we needed to take a break from hiking to help Barry’s blisters heal before moving on.  We found that we could take a bus from Arolla to Sion, then a train from Sion to Sierre, and then another bus from Sierre to Grimentz, our next planned stop on the way.  Our hotel host in Arolla was fantastic in finding out schedules for us, but failed to realize that we could have purchased a 3-day pass that again would have saved us a lot of money, particularly because we also took the bus from Grimentz up to Barrage du Moiry the next day.

One last bit of info:  Before our trip, I bought rail passes (online) from Zermatt to Basel and from Basel to Geneva (we visited a friend in Basel at the end of our hike).  It was completely unnecessary to make those purchases ahead of time.  It didn’t save us any money and we could have easily bought tickets when we were there.  So, my recommendation is to wait on train tickets, you’ll have more flexibility if you need to change things up.

Eight Ball

After my adventures with my first pinball machine, Mata Hari (which amounted to a crash course in pinball machine repair), I figured I was ready for a new challenge. As I’ve already described, I had been in extensive email contact with the guys in North Carolina who sold me Mata Hari on eBay. In the course of all this I found out that they had an Eight Ball machine in storage that they were thinking of selling or restoring. They were quick to point out that this one really wasn’t in very good shape (unlike the Mata Hari…hah!). It was a restoration project with playfield wear, a beat-up cabinet, a rotten backglass, and an acid-eaten MPU board.

Continue reading “Eight Ball”

The New Family Room

From the moment we bought the house in 1990, I have loathed the family room.  For some ungodly reason, the original owners had put stucco on the walls with fake beams and dark wood on the walls.  At one point, I painted the dark wood to make it blend in with the walls, but it was still ugly.  A few years ago, we bought a lovely new modern TV stand and shelving unit, and I was so disappointed when we set it up in the room, because this great clean modern piece looked out of place.  Now we have a space we love, and our more modern furniture looks and feels great.

Continue reading “The New Family Room”

Getting Started – What you need

There are some essential items that you will need for your trip.


As I said before, the Kev Reynold’s book Chamonix to Zermatt, the Classic Walker’s Haute Route is an absolute necessity.  With this in hand, you probably don’t need to buy extra maps, although we found them useful in giving a bigger picture and showing alternate trails.  Kev is very specific in his directions, and takes pains to update the description with new editions.  That being said, make sure that you have the latest version!

There are tons of trails all over the Alps, and the Alpine Clubs do a great job of maintaining extensive signage.

You can usually tell where you are and where you need to go, and Kev’s descriptions are fantastic.  These yellow signs are at every junction, and when trails are over rocks or through towns, you will see blazes painted on rocks and buildings to help direct you along the way.

Throughout this account you will notice that we have some disagreements with “Kev time” – the amount of time the guide book tells you it will take to complete the hike.  He clarifies that this is just walking time – no breaks or lunch or stopping to take photos is counted.  I wish we had kept track of our timing, to provide another (slower) perspective that does include those necessary stops.  However, to be fair, his times were pretty similar to what was posted on the signs.  Neither seemed very realistic.   For example, one day Kev offers two alternatives to get from the Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla – one is the route we took, over Col de Riedmatten (an adventure you’ll enjoy further on) or via Cabane des Dix and over the Pas de Chevres (involving ladders bolted into vertical rocks – no thanks!).  He suggests that it will take the same amount of time to do either one – 6.5 hours, and claims that the second route is just a kilometer longer.  Looking at the maps, and having been there and seen it, I can’t believe it!

So – whining aside – though it did often take us longer than the signs or the book suggested, we always made it to our final destination long before dark – and usually with an opportunity to rest and take a shower before supper.  Our latest arrival was still just around 6:30 in the evening.  We tended to have a more leisurely morning than most: usually on the road between 8:00 or 9:00 am, whereas most others were out the door between 7:00 and 8:00 am.


If you are interested in having maps, you can find them online or wait to buy them in France and Switzerland.  We ordered maps ahead of time because I am just that type of person 🙂  We did see the same maps at tourist shops all along the route, but I’ll be honest that I didn’t check to see if each store had what we might have wanted at that particular stage of the journey.  Nothing in Switzerland is cheap, so I doubt that you would really save by waiting and purchasing maps once you got there.

You should be careful what you buy because the maps that you want have the letter “T” after the map number, indicating that trails are shown.  Without those, there isn’t much point in having them.  I found the maps at Omni Maps.  You will need all five maps in order see the entire route from Chamonix to Zermatt.  The maps are Martigny (282T), Arolla (283T), Montana (273T), Visp (274T) and Mischabel (284T).


What you will need to purchase likely depends on whether you do much backpacking already.  However, if you haven’t done much hiking or other strenuous climbing activities, this is likely not the trip for you!  The first half of the route can be challenging – especially if you’re not into semi-vertical climbing.  Look for an easier route (I’ve heard that Tour de Mont Blanc is less difficult, but can’t vouch for that).

I found a packing list from a company called Distant Journeys that offers guided and self-guided trips of the Haute Route, and think it might helpful – though having backpacked before, the list was pretty standard.  I’ve put our detailed list, including what we wished we’d done differently and actual pack weights for both packs at the end of this article.  We carried EVERYTHING we would need for the entire trip, including a couple of city days in Basel.  If you plan to spend much time traveling after the hiking, you might want to pack a separate bag that you send/store at the rail station to pick up after your hike (it costs the price of a rail ticket to do so).

We purchased smaller backpacks than what we normally use for a week long trip requiring tents, food and full sleeping bags.  We love bargains, so I generally look for equipment at Sierra Trading Post – and that’s where I found our 40 liter La Fuma packs.  We also bought sleeping bag liners to use at dortoirs.  Bedding at the huts and dortoirs are NOT changed between users, so you’ll definitely want some kind of lightweight sleep sack to climb into for the sake of hygiene.

Other than that, I don’t think we purchased much else.  We had hydration systems (Camelbaks) already, all the clothing that we needed (although I did take advantage of the trip to buy a super-lightweight rain coat that I loved!).  One highly recommended item is a couple of disposable plastic food containers (like Gladware) to put your lunch items in.  We got 2 pint-sized tubs that were perfect for storing cheese, meat or fruit along with some Ziploc bags.

Another suggestion to help out along the way: I carried with us a spreadsheet with our trip and all of the contact information for our accommodations.  This proved very helpful and also provided a single spot to save email addresses and contact information for people we met during our hike.

A thing about cell phones: we purchased a phone that we knew would work in Europe and we were glad to have it many times.  Having hiked in the Sierras, Glacier and the Tetons, it felt odd to have the ability to make a call from high up on a mountain, but the coverage was there!  It was fun to text the kids as to our progress without using up too much time.  However, we found that the phone was not able to send or receive text messages from people we met along the way.  I’m not sure what the barrier was, but be aware that you might have limitations in communicating with European long-distance numbers.

Here is what my pack looked like unpacked:

and packed:

Here is a list of what we would do differently, how much the packs weighed and what was in each of our packs, excluding the following items.  I subtracted the unwanted items from my pack weight because they were significant in their contribution to total weight; Barry’s unwanted items just weren’t that heavy. (Katie/left, Barry/right):

Items I wish I hadn’t brought:

Windstopper/fleece jacket – Mountain Hardware: I could have achieved same with layering under my rain jacket

GPS: didn’t have Switzerland maps available and Cicerone book/maps were more than adequate

as many socks: I just needed 2 Patagonias and another set of sock/liners – but I packed for options in case I had boot trouble

Hiking sticks: just found these to be more of a burden than a help (this was his personal perspective; I won’t hike without them!)

Items I wish I had brought:

Lightweight pants for city/wash days

warm gloves (somehow left these behind)

Needles in first aid kit (for blisters)

charger for cell phone

Total Pack Weight

21 lbs (without water and items I wish I hadn’t brought) – but this includes all items except boots, and I would have been wearing one day’s worth of clothes…

25 lbs (without water but including items I wish I hadn’t brought) – again this includes all items except boots, and I would have been wearing one day’s worth of clothes…


Katie’s pack

Barry’s pack

Lafuma Nanga 40 – Ventilight System

Lafuma Nanga 40 – Ventilight System

Sleeping bag liner – Alps Mountaineering “Butterfly”

Sleeping bag liner – Alps Mountaineering “Butterfly”

Rain pants – Marmot

Rain pants – Sierra Designs

Rain jacket – Arcteryx Beta SL

Rain jacket – Equinox

warm gloves – Seirus

wind jacket – Insport

warm fleece hat – Bula

warm fleece hat

water proof rain/sun hat – Marmot

wool brimmed hat

hydration system – Camelbak 100 oz

hydration system – Camelbak 100 oz

Goretex boots – Asolo

Leather boots – Alico

gaters – Outdoor Research

gaters – REI

2 pair zip-off pants (Ground & Mountain Hardware)

2 pair zip-off pants with liners (no underwear needed) – Ex Officio

2 short sleeve poly shirts (Mountain Hardware & Terramar)

2 short sleeve poly t-shirts

Mid-weight fleece pullover – Gerry

Mid-weight fleece pullover – LLBean

quick dry button down longsleeve shirt – REI

quick dry button down longsleeve shirt – Columbia

lightweight thermal top – Hot Chillys

lightweight thermal top – Duofold

lightweight thermal bottom – Title Nine

lightweight thermal bottom – Marmot

3 pair travel underpants – Ex Officio

quick dry shorts with liner – Columbia

2 wicking sports bras – Champion

quick dry short-sleeved button up shirt – REI

mini down pillow

cotton pj bottoms

sandals – Teva

sandals – Teva

4 pair socks and 3 liners

4 pair socks and 2 liners

headlamp – Petzyl

headlamp – Petzyl

space/emergency blanket

space/emergency blanket

Hiking sticks – Komperdell

Hiking sticks – REI

paperback book

paperback book

MP3 player for flights

MP3 player for flights

camera and belt case


Leatherman tool

jack knife



copies of passports & credit cards

Shared items: Katie

Shared items: Barry


First Aid kit*


toiletry items**

maps and Cicerone guide

Stuff sack for carry-on items (poles and knives)

small roll TP and hand cleaner


toiletry items**

cards and dice game

30 feet rope and carabiner

extra batteries for lights and cameras

camp towel – Thermarest

cell phone

2-24 oz. Gladware containers, 2-1 qt and 2-1 gallon ziploc bags for lunch items



**Toiletry Items

2 tooth brushes, small tube toothpaste, dental floss

breathe-rights and ear plugs (for dortoire nights)


shower gel

face lotion

body lotion

2 hair products

deoderant stick

1 razor, shaving cream


lip balm

hairbrush/mirror travel combo

OTC medications: (Aleve, antihistamines, decongestants, Zantac, melatonin, immodium, aspirin)

*First Aid Kit

povidone/iodine swabstick

variety of blister care products

bacitracin ointment

small ace wrap

3M medipore tape

3M microfoam tape

gauze wrap

variety of bandaids

gauze pads

extra shoe laces

Introduction to “The 50 Trip” – Chamonix to Zermatt – Aug/Sept 2009

First of all – why?  Well, why not?  We wanted to make a big celebration of turning 50 this year, and what better way to do that than an amazing backpacking trip with the luxury of a warm bed and a bottle of wine at the end of the day?  Not to mention some pretty good food that we didn’t have to schlep around and prepare for ourselves.  I got the idea for this “50 trip” after a friend took the walking Haute Route several years ago.  It sounded ideal.

Continue reading “Introduction to “The 50 Trip” – Chamonix to Zermatt – Aug/Sept 2009″

Mata Hari

So there I was, browsing this new site I had just discovered in the spring of 1999. It was called “eBay”. It occurred to me that it might be fun to search for pinball machines — surely somebody somewhere was selling one, right? I can still remember bumming nickels from my mother to play during her weekly bowling league circa 1965 when I was all of six years old. I loved playing pinball as a kid and later in college, and I had harbored hopes then (long since forgotten in 1999) of having a machine of my very own one day. Lo and behold, eBay was chock full of pinball machines. I selected Mata Hari from a seller in North Carolina. I remembered playing Mata Hari during my freshman year of college in 1978. Made by Bally in that same year, Mata Hari was one of the first generation of solid-state machines. (For aficionados, my backglass has the writing on the dagger.)

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