“This is not worth it… we have to turn around.” I’m stopped on a steep trail part-way to the remote Berghotel Obersteinberg, and this is what I’m thinking. I’m carrying two packs because my 13 year old daughter has been complaining of searing pain in her achilles since about thirty seconds into the hike. Unfortunately, my solution has upset the sensibilities of my 10 year old son, who knows it is Not Fair that he has to carry his pack, and is yelling defiantly, “MY LEGS HURT TOO!!!” It’s starting to rain, and it’s taken us about two hours to get to this point, a place that might normally be thirty minutes into a two hour hike.
I’m supposed to have this down. After all, I’ve owned Alpinehikers for over twenty years. My kids, although they barely remember it, pretty much grew up in the Alps; living in Murren every summer until Owen was five. But it’s been five years since they’ve been back. He doesn’t remember anything, and Sidney, a few years older, still only remembers bits and pieces. They’ve been wanting to come back for a few years, and since my wife couldn’t make the trip due to work commitments, I’m doing the solo Dad thing.
Two weeks in the Alps. Just me and the kids! Fun! Right?
Not so much, and definitely not right now. I’ve long felt that travel with kids is better in retrospect. But I’m too discouraged to take heart from that now. I’ve been desperately wanting them to experience hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps. It’s Alpinehikers’ specialty, and something that I love more than just about anything. But it is not going well.
Why am I doing this? Why take my kids to Switzerland, and why take my kids hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps? I have a few reasons:
1) We need to travel to get them out from in front of their iPads, if even for a brief moment, to do something real.
2) I’m hoping Switzerland will help them to get along for a change. Maybe the novelty of train and cable car rides and the beauty of the mountains and waterfalls will give them something to bond over.
3) I want them to see other cultures, eat new foods, hear new languages, and see different ways of living. (We will also visit Venice and London on this trip.)
4) On a personal level, I want them to see what their Dad does for a living. I mean, they’re young, but I’m hoping it will pique their interest.
5) I want my kids to connect with the beauty of the Alps. Hiking the Alps is where I feel most free, it’s changed my life in wonderful ways, and I’ve seen those changes in others too. I want to share that with my kids.
So we’re doing this trip. Normally, I don’t advocate moving around too much when traveling in the Alps. It makes for a hectic trip, with a lot of checking in and out, changing trains, and not enough time to enjoy what you’re actually here for. With kids, that’s an especially bad plan. Still, here we are, with a kind of whirlwind trip ahead of us, since I also want to check in with several of our guides, a few clients, and as many of our favorite hotels as possible. We’ll be in Chamonix, the Bernese Oberland, one night in a hut, Zermatt, the Engadine, the Dolomites, and finishing in Venice. Like I said, I don’t recommend covering this much ground, but concessions had to be made.
Today our goal is the Obersteinberg mountain inn, the heart of my family tour to the Alps. This is what’s going to make them drop their iPads and be in the moment and with nature for a couple days. Obersteinberg is a dream destination, and I consider it the signature stop on our Bernese Oberland tours. It’s absurdly beautiful, authentically Swiss, and can only be reached on foot. Surrounded by gorgeous mountains and facing an awe-inspiring waterfall, it’s a Victorian era mountain inn and farm with cozy rooms with thick duvets and candles for light, no electricity or wifi, and filling meals often featuring cheese from the cows outside your window. It’s perfect.
Stuck on the trail, still well before the midpoint in our journey, I look at the ground. “Look kids, wild strawberries”. That keeps us busy for awhile, and more importantly it changes the mood. Later, there is a stop at a mountain restaurant for lunch, a couple of horses, then hot chocolates at the Tschingelhorn Inn. By this point, we’re home free… 20 minutes of easy walking and we’ve made it to Obersteinberg. And you know what? The kids love it. They share art supplies to do some drawing in the room (I can’t stress enough how unusual this is). Dinner is highlighted by a spirited spaghetti slurping contest. We take a gorgeous evening walk as the light fades after dinner. All the early stress of the hike has been washed away by our surroundings. Phew, it was worth it.
And the trip as a whole? We had plenty of trials, but plenty of fun too. Some things we didn’t plan ended up being memorable wins, and some that I thought would be great just fell flat. But the kids have had an adventure they will remember and I think their world has been widened. Owen has a special affinity now for “French ham” and when Sidney was asked to write a reflective essay for school, she waxed lyrical about the magic of travel, an essay I leave for you here: travel from my teen’s perspective.
Yeah, I’d say it was worth it.