As a new guide for Alpinehikers I arrived in Switzerland with eyes wide and feet ready to move. What would I learn this summer? Where would I go? Who would I meet? Only one way to find out . . . by hitting the trail.
On my first morning in Switzerland I awake to clear blue skies. The apartment window creating a canvas filled with giant mountains. The small village of Mürren is my base for the summer. Mürren, perched high atop a cliff, sits between the Lauterbrunnen Valley floor and the mountain peaks. The town’s placement creates the illusion of being able to reach out and touch the snow covered mountains, though the town is safely nestled in lush green hillsides surrounded by forests.
Out on the apartment balcony, while enjoying a cup of tea, I take out a map to get my bearings. Numerous peaks loom overhead. But which one is which? After pinpointing the Schwarzmönch, with an impressively dark cliff face, I’m able to locate the top of the Jungfrau. A sudden movement on the slopes across the valley catches my eye. Tons of snow cascades down a steep face. Heated by the morning sun the mountain is ready to shed some winter layers. The avalanche moves swiftly yet silently as I watch in disbelief. Nobody else is in the apartment. So, I can’t point and exclaim, “Did you see that?” without looking a bit silly.
The mountains in Switzerland are alive with opposing forces. The rock, which creates the mountains, is old, grounded and steadfast. The Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau stand wise and regal, over the Lauterbrunnen valley. They, as well as their countless neighbors, command my attention. Upon their stoic foundations is a play of elements, as water is in constant motion. It’s the beginning of July, but the high mountains were still deep in snow. With rising temperatures, torrents of water flow down from snowfields into countless pristine creeks and brooks, which run down to feed the Weisse (white) Lütschine river in the valley below.
For my first hike in Switzerland I decide to hike to Sefinenfurke pass, which is located 7 kilometers above Mürren. Following my Alpinehikers self-guided printout I leave town on a paved road, which slowly begins to climb the grassy green hillside. At every possible offshoot or turn I find signs clearly marking where each path leads and how much time it will take to get there. The Swiss are organized! I like it. The accurate signs, as well as the Alpinehikers hike description cuts out all the time I would otherwise waste looking at the map and making route decisions.
A dirt trail breaks off the road and brings me past a cow barn, into a thick forest. When I enter a clearing on the far side, a spectacular view, complete with grazing cows, greets me. I am flooded with both disbelief and gratitude. This is my job? I get to spend the summer hiking here? The air is so clear and refreshing, the skies so blue, the wildflowers so lush, I almost feel like bounding along the trail all Heidi-esk. Almost.
The trail crosses the Schiltbach stream and brings me past Spielboden Alp, an inn that sells fresh cheese. There are numerous cows eating contentedly who pay me no mind. The goats are a bit more curious and follow me a short ways up the trail. From here the trail climbs steeply as switchbacks bring me higher and higher. Just when the climb starts to get taxing I come upon a bench. The Swiss are good at putting benches in perfect locations, angled just right for the paramount view. They are made of logs split in half and often sport a backrest.
After the short climb the trail levels off and contours around until I reach Rotstockhütte. It’s made out of stone with contrasting red shutters. It looks inviting, but I am too excited to stop. I want to know what’s around the corner, what the higher elevations have in store. The trail continues to climb, following a steady stream. The ground grows wetter as snow melt saturates the ground. Hoping from rock to rock I attempt to keep my feet dry. I round a rock outcropping to find snow solidly covering the ground, snow stretching as far as the eye can see. There are no fresh footprints, leading me to believe that no one has hiked here recently. Content with what I’ve accomplished I settle onto a dry grassy patch to have a picnic lunch.
Taking off my shoes, I let my toes wiggle in the sweet grass, a moth lands on my heel.
I sit breath in deeply, and feel like pinching myself.
Am I really here?
Or is this just a dream?