Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Epic Mountain Adventures in Switzerland

One of the nice things about staying on top of a mountain is that you don't have to go very far to find a good, modest hike.

On my first morning in Gimmelwald, I had planned to take just such a hike. Perhaps I would walk an hour to the Sprutz Falls, where you can walk behind the waterfall and, as they say on the Disneyland Jungle Cruise, see "the back side of water." Just a modest hike on a rainy day.

Well, I got more than I bargained for. I joined up with four students from Utah who were hiking to Rotstockhutte (pronounced RAHT-shtock-hooteh). It was much further on the map, and had some unsettling elevation data, but it was a better proposition than hiking alone, so off we went.

Chip and Briana led the way, and thank god. Chip is as confident as he is athletic, and Brianna is a cheerful optimist. We needed all these virtues for survival. They also told me that I could eat the mountain strawberries!

The trails were muddy from days of rain, and at times we were walking through more, uh, bovine sludge than mud. Our hike took us down to the bottom of the valley and along the basin. It was stunning.

We should have seen the first bad omen. A herd of cows blocked our path, as if to say, I wouldn't go up there if I were you. They eventually relented, with three of them leading us up the hill for about 15 minutes.

Then the uphill climb began. Steep and muddy the whole way. Shoes and hair soaked through. We had only seen one other group of jokers the whole day, and we lost them. But halfway up the mountain, we got a beautiful reprieve: a meadow with a clear view into the glacier, plus lots of cows.

But as we went uphill, things went downhill. We saw our first flakes of snow, then fog, then lots and lots of white. And then we lost the trail.

Picture the scene: on a snowy slope with ten feet of visibility, the group splits. Chip and Briana, rugged and eager as ever, want to charge ahead and find the trail. The other two girls, whose sandals were not holding up to the rigors of the hike, were ready to turn back. Chip offers to run ahead to find the trail, and disappears into the fog. The girls turn around and try to find the way we came. And I think to myself, I've seen this movie, and someone's not making it back.

We found the trail. Briana and I caught up to Chip some ten minutes later. We came to our first signpost in a while, which told us that... WE MISSED ROTSTOCKHUTTE! Apparently our off-trail detour avoided our destination entirely. With the fog as it was, it could have been right in front of us and we'd still have missed it.

Things got much better on the downhill walk. The views were breathtaking, the snow and fog subsided.

And in the end, we even got to see the Sprutz waterfall. I was ecstatic.

YouTube Video

We made it back to the hostel six hours after we had left. I ate pizza and drank beer and washed clothes and hoped my shoes would dry and fed coins into the shower for one-minute spurts of hot water. I have never been so happy to have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.

Epilogue: The girls made it back an hour and a half after we did, just a few minutes before Chip was going to go searching. They had borrowed clothes from a local living in a hut up in the mountains, leaving their camera as collateral. And I thought, yep, I've definitely seen this movie before...

Location:Gimmelwald, Switzerland

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