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Alps hiking, don't even know where to start

Alps hiking, don't even know where to start

Old Dec 5th, 2022, 09:07 AM
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Alps hiking, don't even know where to start

Good day all,

I'm starting to try and plan our first trip to Europe for my wife (45) and I (41). We have done a lot of travel all over the US (where we are from) but I no experience outside of that. We are looking into a two week trip to see the Alps. Our main focus is to see the natural beauty of the mountains and enjoy as many hikes as we can. We are experienced day hikers with 12-15 miles 3-4000' gain towards the max of what we can do comfortably on a daily basis. We really enjoy mountain stream side hikes, waterfall hikes, and alpine lake hikes and we will get off the beaten path if it means getting away from crowds (we don't like overly crowded areas). We enjoy smaller mountain towns and do not really enjoy large cities (although a day or two in a bigger city may be a good experience for us). I'm having trouble knowing where to even begin researching what countries would best suit our desires. Our idea started with Switzerland (because I think most people associate the beautiful Alps pictures with there) but I am realizing that Austria and Germany may offer the same if not more. It sounds like Switzerland is the most expensive of the bunch. Budget wise we really don't have one, experiences are more important than money. Would $10,000US be a reasonable budget for everything outside of airfare? We are fans of public transportation but are concerned about getting to trailheads without a rental. I believe the high season will be June-August and we aren't opposed to visiting on shoulder seasons if it means less crowds. I would appreciate any and all help you guys are willing to provide. Good starter resources, sample itineraries that you have seen, even opinions on what country/countries would best suit our desires would be a great help. I'm mainly trying to narrow down a general area/time (big picture) so I can more accurately aim my research.

Thank you in advance for helping me through my ignorance,

Jim
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Old Dec 5th, 2022, 09:15 AM
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Rest assured that you will have no trouble getting to trailheads in Switzerland. The public transport system is second to none, be it train, bus, cable car or gondola.

Yes, it's the most expensive of the lot, but you can save a bundle by booking apartments, especially in the off season.

Our favorite time to visit Switzerland is in the autumn - it's quieter then, yet the cableways are still open until about the third week of October. It's also school holidays in some parts of the country, but we've not found that to be a major issue.

We've been hiking there for years, but we're older than you, and 22-15 miles and 3-4000' gain is no longer in our range, but trust me, you will be spoiled for choice just about anywhere in the country.

I have many Swiss trip reports posted here - all hiking/walking centric. They may give you an idea of where to start looking.

Some sites that might get you started:

https://www.nomadasaurus.com/beginne...n-switzerland/

https://www.planetware.com/switzerla...nd-ch-1-26.htm

You might also benefit from a look at one of Kev Reynold's books on hiking in Switzerland.


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Old Dec 5th, 2022, 09:25 AM
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Of the three countries you have in mind, Switzerland is by far the best served by public transportation. We loved our hiking trips in Austria but for most of the places we went, we needed a car. OTOH, we found some beautifully elegant inns with gourmet restaurants even in small villages (check out https://www.hotel-hofwirt.at/en/ as one example)

As you make your decisions, ask yourselves -- how many hours do you want to hike per day? What's the difficulty level you're most comfortable with? Are you comfortable riding chair lifts, cable cars, gondolas etc (not everyone is, my husband being one of those people who are fine with funiculars, but chairlifts, not so much). Do you like your scenery rugged or softer, more rounded?
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 04:00 AM
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Thank you for the information. I will definitely start looking for your trip reports Melnq8. That will be a wonderful resource. We are not opposed to a rental car but it is my understanding many places in Switzerland don't allow them or frown on them. It isn't a big deal one way or another. Ideally we would like to hike 5-6 hours a day on moderate trails, we will put in work on more strenuous hikes if it avoids the crowds. My wife won't do full on scrambling and she also can get vertigo on very narrow cliff edges so we avoid those. We'd probably like to have something like a 3 days hiking 4th day rest cycle. Rest for us could be country side driving, train trips, walking around town, local sites/POIs, day trips. I think we would probably describe our scenery desires as more rugged than soft. Chairlifts/gondolas/etc should not be a problem.

To sum up basics so far:

Switzerland - more expensive, look for apartments, excellent public transport even to trail heads, September/Early October shoulder season is good.
Austria - Rental car needed, small villages are well equipped, ???, I assume Austria has the "softer" scenery?

Appreciate all the help so far and welcome any and all information anyone else is willing to share. Thank you again Melnq8 and WeisserTee for taking time out of your day to help a stranger.
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 04:13 AM
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If traveling by public transport in Switzerland, you'll also want to look into a train pass of some sort. You didn't say how long your trip is, but for us, we always buy the Half Fare Card as our trips are up to a month long - the HFC is good for 30 days.

As far as cars in Switzerland, we've never rented one in our two dozen trips there. There are things to consider, such as parking costs - I've never seen free car parking anywhere in Switzerland, no matter how remote. You'll also need a vignette.

https://www.myswissalps.com/motorwayvignette

This site helps explain the many train passes in Switzerland, which can be confusing as hell for a first timer - one often needs to crunch the numbers to decide which best works for their particular trip.

https://www.seat61.com/train-travel-in-switzerland.htm
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 04:16 AM
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And don't overlook the Italian Dolomites!

https://www.dolomites.org/

We've booked and cancelled two trips to the Dolomites so I have no first hand experience, but there are definitely some challenging hikes. You'd probably want a car there.
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 04:41 AM
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Thank you again! I just got done with your trip report with your niece. It was a great write up and I look forward to getting into the more hiking centric ones. Thank you for taking the time to provide these resources for all. It really helps clueless newbies like me!
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 06:55 AM
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I second the recommendation for Switzerland. Yes, it is expensive, but if you plan properly, it is manageable. Find an apartment base in a good hiking region, get a rail pass the covers travel in that region (could be a national pass, too, just depends on your needs, where you are going, and what is available), and eat as many meals "at home" or from groceries you take with you. Lodging and meals are where you can save money if that is your priority. Be ready to spend some money on transportation, as that can get you to trailheads and other attractions, and back to your reasonably priced lodging, the same day.

We spent a week in Wengen in June of 2016 and really liked it. If I was doing it over again, I would go later, as some of the trails are still covered in snow in early June. So, if you are looking at shoulder season in the mountains, I would look in September (when the question is getting caught by the first snows, not waiting for last winter's snow to melt). Getting the right travel pass will allow you to save money. But, if you get an unlimited travel pass of one type or another, that can be worth it, too, as the flexibility to change plans without having to get out a spreadsheet and see if it fits in your budget, can be liberating, and make the trip more enjoyable.
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 07:22 AM
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We prefer early October to September -- cooler at night, sunny and warm but not hot. Fewer thunderstorms. Obviously that can vary from year to year but in the 14+ years we've lived in Switzerland, October has consistently been one of the nicest months, esp the first half. Even November can be surprisingly mild (some call November the new October) but in some places, hotels, restaurants etc shut down then to prep for the winter season or for the owners to take their own holidays.

As you get closer to your travel dates, check the SBB site for specials: https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets.html For example, I'm taking advantage next week of a four-day pass offer that popped up and will be day tripping to Appenzell, Gstaad, Saas-Fee and Zurich.
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 08:27 AM
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I hiked thousands of miles along the trail network between Chamonix and the Dolomites.
If you have no problems with reading maps, you best load down the Swiss National Map which shows all hiking trails, lifts and bus stops in the above mentioned area, at any scale:
http://map.geo.admin.ch/?lang=en
Public transport is excellent all over Switzerland as well as in the Italian Province of Bolzano/Bozen. Austria isnt 'bad neither, but more rainy.
Weather is always unpredictable in the Alps.The driest areas are inner alpine valleys like Valais (Switzerland), Aosta Valley and Val Venosta (both Italy).
The most rainy areas of Switzerland are St. Gallen/Appenzell, Lucerne and Bernese Oberland (in this order).
In France, only the Vallee de Chamonix has good public transport, but many lifts stop running in September.
Italian Alps are are more or less empty until end of June and after August (but the province of Bolzano/Bozen has a longer season) and hopelessly crowded in August.
The peak in Switzerland is between early July and mid August.
There exist some incredibly crowded hiking trails (those recommended in this forum), but most of the alpine trail network is NOT crowded.

Do you plan to hike from village to village, resp. from hut to hut or will you stay all the time at one or more bases and do day trips from there?. Both is perfectly possible in areas with good public transport.
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Old Dec 6th, 2022, 10:40 AM
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Originally Posted by jimcooper2572 View Post
Thank you again! I just got done with your trip report with your niece. It was a great write up and I look forward to getting into the more hiking centric ones. Thank you for taking the time to provide these resources for all. It really helps clueless newbies like me!
Yeah, that one had absolutely nothing to do with hiking!

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Old Dec 7th, 2022, 01:16 AM
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Originally Posted by jimcooper2572 View Post
Good day all,

I'm starting to try and plan our first trip to Europe for my wife (45) and I (41). We have done a lot of travel all over the US (where we are from) but I no experience outside of that. We are looking into a two week trip to see the Alps. Our main focus is to see the natural beauty of the mountains and enjoy as many hikes as we can. We are experienced day hikers with 12-15 miles 3-4000' gain towards the max of what we can do comfortably on a daily basis. We really enjoy mountain stream side hikes, waterfall hikes, and alpine lake hikes and we will get off the beaten path if it means getting away from crowds (we don't like overly crowded areas). We enjoy smaller mountain towns and do not really enjoy large cities (although a day or two in a bigger city may be a good experience for us). I'm having trouble knowing where to even begin researching what countries would best suit our desires. Our idea started with Switzerland (because I think most people associate the beautiful Alps pictures with there) but I am realizing that Austria and Germany may offer the same if not more. It sounds like Switzerland is the most expensive of the bunch. Budget wise we really don't have one, experiences are more important than money. Would $10,000US be a reasonable budget for everything outside of airfare? We are fans of public transportation but are concerned about getting to trailheads without a rental. I believe the high season will be June-August and we aren't opposed to visiting on shoulder seasons if it means less crowds. I would appreciate any and all help you guys are willing to provide. Good starter resources, sample itineraries that you have seen, even opinions on what country/countries would best suit our desires would be a great help. I'm mainly trying to narrow down a general area/time (big picture) so I can more accurately aim my research.
The most common alternatives when this kind of question is asked, is typically fairly or very touristy destinations like Berner Oberland, Zermatt and Chamonix. I've been to the two latter, and it's very touristy. But it is also some of the most spectacular destinations with the most beautiful hikes. But I've some alternative recommendations for you.

- Neighbouring valleys to Mattertal where Zermatt lies. Saastal with Saas-Fee and Saas Grund and/or Val d'Anniviers with Grimentz and Zinal. Especially Saas-Fee is great.
- Aosta in the northwest corner of Italy. Close to Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, Gran Paradiso, etc., You could stay in the region capital Aosta or a small village like Cogne. I believe that Cogne would be great for beautiful high level hikes.

I may go to the latter next summer. Are mapping routes and accomondation in Aosta and Cogne these days.

For you; I would suggest flying to Geneva. Then taking the train to Zermatt and stay there for a couple of days. It's great scenery and some really spectacular hikes, but it bit too touristy to stay any longer. Then go to Saas-Fee for a few days. 98 % as spectaluar as in Zermatt, but much less crowds. For the second week I suggest going over the mountain to Italy. Bus from Saas-Fee to Visp, train to Martigny, bus from Martigny over the Grand Saint Bernard pass to Aosta. It will take you perhaps 4-5 hours, then stay in Aosta and/or Cogne for the second week and take a bus back to Geneva through the Mont Blanc tunnel and Chamonix.

This suggestion would IMO maximize and combine much of the best of the Alps. The public transport is good. It is a bit expensive, but not the worst like if you stayed two weeks in Zermatt and Berner Oberland. For budget I would calculate perhaps 150 dollar each day per person for hotels+food (unless you plan to stay at a luxury resort) plus some for transport and gondolas, but this could really be limited to perhaps $300-500 for the whole stay (or even less). You will have really spectacular hikes for almost the whole trip and this is the part of the Alps where you have the biggest chance for good weather.

I also made this thread earlier this fall:

The big Alps hiking thread
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Old Dec 7th, 2022, 03:21 AM
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We are planning on basing out of a location and then doing day hikes from there. We don't mind moving locations every 4-5 days to see more are varied country, terrain, and towns. We won't be doing any thru hiking though. I've heard apartments mentioned multiple times, is there a good tool to look for those? AirBnb, VRBO, etc? I think TWKs post most closely mirrors what we normally do on trips. We will base out of a location, hike the local area for 3-4 days, then move to a new area.

Thank you for the wonderful resources neckervd. That mapping tool is amazing and will be very helpful.

I'll look more into the travel passes but I'm thinking the unlimited 15 day would fit us just fine. The freedom of not having to worry about buying individual tickets would be worth the cost.
.
This is all great information and very helpful. I think you all have us convinced that Switzerland is where we will narrow our focus. I can't reiterate how thankful I am for you all taking time out of your days to help everyone out. Thank you everyone.
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Old Dec 7th, 2022, 05:04 AM
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Although vacation rentals might be cheaper on paper, it doesn't hurt to check out hotels in your destination that include breakfast and dinner in their rates, especially if you don't travel in high season. You might find it more relaxing to not have to cook (or clean) and might enjoy a bit of socializing in the hotel's bar before or after dinner. Some hotels specialize in offering hiking advice and can be very helpful with refining your plans for the day. Some hotels offer basic and repetitive meals; others make dining with them a treat. For example, we like to go to the 5-star Ermitage Hotel in Schoenried (near Gstaad) in early December. For 200 francs a night (per person), we get a beautiful room with mountain view, wonderful breakfast buffet, light lunch, afternoon tea/coffee and cake, plus a delicious multi-course dinner with many options. Also included is use of the extensive spa area, with its two outdoor heated pools and one indoor heated pool, steam room, sauna, exercise equipment etc. They also offered detailed hiking itineraries, including guided hikes.

In short, it's good to explore all the options that could be available in your chosen areas.
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Old Dec 7th, 2022, 06:35 AM
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Another perk of hotels is some will offer guest cards that include transport on trains, buses and cableways in a given area. The Engadine (a great area for hiking) offers these:

https://www.engadin.com/en/guestcard

We've often weighed the benefit of hotels with guest card vs apartments without, and we still prefer apartments, but its more about space for us, and we also tend to visit outside of the guest card season.

Resources for apartments include Air BNB and VRBO of course, but don't overlook listings provided by tourist offices as well - they often deal directly with the apartment owner and are less expensive than using a platform like Air BNB. Unfortunately, they're often harder to find for those of us outside of Switzerland - it often takes a lot of internet research to find some of these listings.

Here's a bnb site that might prove useful - I've never booked through it, but it's in my arsenal of Swiss accommodation resources:

https://bnb.ch/en/

We've visited Grimentz twice (also hiking nirvana) and our apartment owner offered a guest card that covered buses in the area, and a 50% reduction for cable cars. So, you just never know what you might find.

I need to get busy writing up my report from our 32 day trip to Switzerland this past Sept and Oct.

Last edited by Melnq8; Dec 7th, 2022 at 06:38 AM.
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Old Dec 7th, 2022, 09:24 AM
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Accommodation.
Have a look at airbnb and booking.com.
But realize that some homes offered are far away from train and bus stations.
If you want to go into the highs Alps (what I would do), concentrate on the Cantons of Valais and GraubŁnden, but don't completely ignore Aosta Valley.and Chamonix Valley.
Places in these areas, where you can be busy during at least 4 days without doing twice the same hike (if you use gondolas and buses for not more than 20 min/OW):
Zermatt, Saas Grund, Fiesch, Vissoie, Orsieres, ArgentiŤre, Chamonix, Courmayeur, Gressoney, Pontresina, Sils Maria.......
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Old Dec 8th, 2022, 08:42 AM
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Thank you Olave for the wonderful recommendations. We definitely like to get off the beaten path. Touristy areas are usually full of tourists for a reason but we have found that with just a little sacrifice of some "dsthing" you can really avoid the crowds and get a much better (for us) experience. Your write up is chalked full of information as well.

Thank you weissertee. I had no ideas hotels around the area would offer extras like breakfast and dinner or transportation cards. That is great to know! We don't mind fending for ourselves but it is much more relaxing to leaving cooking behind. Budgetwise $400/night for two people with food seems very reasonable considering hotels in the states are often $200+/night. I was expecting worse. Seems like $10,000 sans airfare should be plenty to get us through the two weeks.

Thank you neckervd for the list of locations to look into. It really is great to start being able to narrow down these locations.

And Melnq8...get to work on that write up. I'm sure it will be extremely helpful!

As always thank you everyone for the direction and guidance. I'm still extremely overwhelmed but at least I feel like I have direction now.
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Old Dec 8th, 2022, 04:22 PM
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I'll second OlavE re: Saas-Fee. We spent four nights there at the very end of this past August and loved the hiking, scenery, sunny weather, and town. It felt like end of season - not all that crowded, with many of the visitors there for summer skiing on the glacier. We are a little older and not quite at your hiking level (maybe can muster that one day out of a few) and had to pare back a bit due to a sore knee. Check AllTrails for options in that area. We also enjoyed basing in Kandersteg for another four days. The hike above Oeschinensee is spectacular. Enjoy!


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Old Dec 9th, 2022, 02:37 AM
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Olave recommends more or less the same places as I did.
Here are some additional informations about them:

Saas Fee/Saas Grund/Saas Almagell:
Car free (pedestrians only) Saas Fee is the most touristy one, with many day tripers from (and even beyond) Berne. Most guests who stay there are Swiss families.
Saas Grund is just below and has the function of a local transport hub:
Buses:
to Saas-Fee and Saas Almagell (5 min ride each): every 30 min until 23.18 resp 21.48
to Visp railway station (direct trains to Basel, Zurich, Geneva and Milan): every 30 min until 23.37
to Stalden railway station with connection to Zermatt: every 30 min until 19.38
to Lake Mattmark (3 hrs on foot from the Italian gondola station Passo del Monte Moro): every hr until 18.00
Most popular long hikes in the area:
Gspon gondola station - Hoferalpi - Saas Grund or Kreuzboden gondola station,
Kreuzboden gondola station - Almagelleralp - adventure trail - Furggstalden lift station (above Saas Almagell),
Graechen/Hannigalp gondola station - Balfrinalp - Saas Fee,
Felskinn gondola station - Britannia Hut - Plattjen gondola station - Saas Fee,
Heitbodma lift sation - Antronapass (Italian border) - Jazziluecke - Lake Mattmark,
bus to Visp - Visperterminen - gondola to Giw, then: Giw - Gibidum - water channel trail - Obers Fuulmoos - Nanzlicka - Simplon Pass (last bus from there to Brig (Visp) at 19.20).

I will comment the other places soon........

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Old Dec 9th, 2022, 07:39 AM
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VAL D'ANNIVIERS
I recommended Vissoie because this village is the trransport hub of the Valley .At. Vissoie, the line coming from Sierre splits into 3 different sections: to St-Luc - Chandolin, to Grimentz - Moiry and to Zinal.
That means that if you hike in the Valley, it takes usually less time to go back by bus to Vissoie than to any other place. But the layover at Vissoie, for example if you want to go from St-Luc to Grimentz in the evening, is never longer than 30 minutes. And I agree, Grimentz, St-Luc and Chandolin are nicer places.
There are no layovers at Vissoie if you go from any place of the Valley to Sierre or if you come back from Sierre.
There are only 11 daily buses between Val d'Anniviers and Sierre, where they connect with trains to Lausanne - Geneva and to Visp (-Basel/Zurich).
The first bus from the Valley arrives at Sierre at 7.18 and the last bus leaves Sierre at 19.40. That means that it's perfectly possible to hike over Passes to other Valleys like Val d'Herens or Turtmanntal and to come back by bus.

Most popular hikes in the area:
Chandolin bus terminal - Tignousa rope railway station - Hotel Weisshorn - Zinal bus terminal,
Chandolin or Tignousa or Le Tchape chair lift - Bella Tola - Pas du Boeuf - Meidsee - Gruben (Gruben dp by bus 17.20 - Sierre ar 18.32),
Moiry bus stop - Col de Torrent - Villa bus stop - Evolene bus stop,
Bendolla gondola station - Pas de Lona - Eison bus Terminal,
Bendaolla gondola station - Cret du Midi gondola station, either via Orzival or via Pas de lona - Becs de bosson Hut - L'Ar du Tsan,
Vouarda gondola station - Corne de sorebois - Lake Chaeaupre - Col du Zate - La Forclaz bus stop - Les hauderes bus station,
Niouc les Saints Innocents bus stop - rope bridge - Les Voualans - Bisse des Sarrasins water channel - Pinsec - Mayoux bus stop - St-Jean bus stop - Grimentz,
Zinal - Tracuit Hut - Arpitettaz Hut - Zinal........

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