This is a blog from a of a very special ski mountaineering expedition to Nunavut's Bylot Island that I did a few years ago (hence my old job title and out of date bios for both my expedition partner Darin and I). For all you Arctic lovers, backcountry skiers and lovers of wild wild country, hope you enjoy!
I write a regular feature for our inflight magazine at Canadian North Airlines. The article is written from my point of view (an airline captain) but targeted at passengers and non-aviators. It's an attempt to explain common concerns and questions that I get from passengers and non-flyers in general...hope you enjoy it. The latest below.
Running up the final few minutes of Poland's highest peak, Rysy.
The note on the chair read: Running up Rysy, Poland's highest peak via Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia. If you do not hear from me by 1700, I'm in trouble. Love, Laval.
In was 0115h in our hotel room in Eger, Hungary, I quietly got my kit together, slipped into my running gear and crept silently out the door for the 3.5 hour drive to the High Tatras mountains, the note was my 'flight plan', filed with Janet.
We weren't supposed to be here or even close to here, we were supposed to be in Corsica. Me: to run France's famous GR20 trail and Janet: to tour Corsican vineyards, but then this happened below: fires across Corsica and southern Europe, closing parts of the GR20.
With only hours to our flight, we quickly changed plans & set our sights on Central Europe for some wine touring, and mountain running.
Literally hours later we were in Budapest.
Budapest from Gellért Hill.
We now had a completely new plan - tour around Central Europe, tour vineyards or in Hungarian pincészet & I would add in some mountain running whenever & wherever possible.
West Carpathian mountains of Hungary with Hungary's highest peak, Kékes .
After a few days in stunning Budapest, including a wine tasting evening on the Danube, we had set off by rental car for a few days in the Eger and Tokaj wine regions. On the road to Eger, we diverted to Markaz, a village at the base of Hungary's highest mountain...hill to be accurate. A solitary 2 hour afternoon run thru the oak forests of the West Carpathians along faint paths, often only marked by wild boar hoof prints, brought me to the top of Hungary, Kékes .
Seeing that Poland's highest peak, Rysy, was a mere 3.5 hr drive from Eger, across the breadth of Slovakia, that was now in my sights. Unfortunately, Slovakia's highest peak is directly adjacent to Rysy, but Slovakian rules dictate you must hire a guide for what is really a steep scramble with some exposure. I wasn't willing to pay someone to babysit me up a peak.
Just 6 hrs after standing on Kékes, I was off across Slovakia in a rental car for Rysy. After a very sketchy drive thru the early morning darkness (sketchy because I nearly collided with about a dozen European red deer and roebuck on the roads in the predawn gloom). Arriving safely in Štrbské Pleso, I was running by 0615h, on a perfectly clear High Tatras day, for a breathtaking run to the top of Poland.
The crowded summit of Rysy above and the view from the top into Poland below.
High Tatras scenery in Slovakia.
I arrived back in Eger for a great evening of wine touring and a nice dinner with Janet, the next morning we were off back to Budapest and the train to Vienna, Austria.
Not mad in Mád, Hungary
Hercules and Cerberus in Vienna.
A day in Vienna was followed by the train and a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. We were so impressed with this smaller, less chaotic capital city. Janet was especially impressed with a 70 wine tasting tour of Slovakian wines (she insists she spit most out), which I wisely avoided.
Above 20 meters away from 70 Slovakian wines...below, beautiful Bratislava street scenes.
One more night in Vienna and we were Prague-bound on the train early the next morning.
After a day of walking all over Prague, we had an early dinner as it was to be a short night again for me. The next morning came early at 0215h and I was once again off running across Prague to the Praha Hlavní Nádraží (Prague Main Train Station) where I had arranged the night before to pick up my rental car for the 2.5 hr drive to Pec pod Sněžkou a ski resort town in the Krkonoše Mountains.
Under skies threatening with rain and the base station reporting 6C and 96 km/h winds at the summit, I was off running up Czechia's/Czech Republic's highest mountain, Sněžka. An easy 6.5 km run up a beautiful trail led me to the top.
Easy running up the upper slopes of Sněžka. My route came up the valley to the left and then on to the plateau.
The mountains of Czechia were such a beautiful respite from the chaos and summer tourist crowds of Prague, but I was still happy to be back in time for a short nap and a wonderful final dinner at the Francouzská Restaurace Art Nouveau in Prague.
Bright and early the next morning we were headed back home to Calgary.
I absolutely love these types of trips with Janet. We get to see beautiful parts of the world and whenever possible get in some micro-adventures and time in nature, plus a bit of exercise.
My career as an airline pilot allows us to travel to Europe for less than a good dinner for two of us, and believe me we have taken advantage of these travel perks for years, having traveled as a couple and as a family from South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. So incredibly fortunate to not only love flying, but to have these benefits.
Corsica will have to wait a bit longer, but many more adventures, big and small to come.
Photo: Trail running in Torres del Paine, Chile.
I often get asked what's in my pack when I am out running trails - tough question, with many variables, some examples of what impacts my packing list:
There are a few key items I carry, no matter the conditions, that I consider nearly non-negotiable:
Quite a bit of gear for any run, but if you think of the most benign and very common injury like spraining an ankle, this equipment would get me back to the trail head, or worst case, get me through an unplanned overnight, alive without endangering search and rescue personnel trying to find an unprepared person. Consider that a lightly injured runner say 90 min from the trail head, would now need to return that same distance at 1/2 or 1/4 speed, this could make for a very long day and night.
Of course, winter running, especially long runs, or fastpacking requires I carry additional gear, but the list above is a good safe minimum for any trail outing.
In future posts I'll discuss specific gear I use: backpacks, runners, clothing, etc.
Get outside, get off the pavement.