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The Swiss Alps Adventure

By SammyK on Sun, Jun 14th 09 at 10:45AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

I just spent 2 days trekking through the Swiss Alps with William and Alison... and as always, we were ill prepared.

William had found a cool trek online that would take us from one town to another through a pass in the mountains.

When we got to the first town we didn't know exactly where we were supposed to go. Luckily the bus driver realized that we were confused and went out of his way to help us out.

I tried to explain to him where we wanted to go and he told us how to get there. I was able to understand most of what he was saying (after all, this is Swiss German we're talking about here, so it's a bit different from the German I learned in school.)

He drove us as far as his route would let him up a steep grade surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

As we we were getting off the bus the driver said, "There's snow up there." I thought, no big deal - we trekked through plenty of snow in Torres del Paine.

We walked a few kilometers to where we thought the bus driver told us to go but we couldn't find the start of the trail.

We came upon a little cabin/cafe and walked in to ask directions. When we opened the door, the two tables of locals stopped their conversations and turned to look at us standing in the doorway with our huge backpacks.

After a few seconds of awkward silence a lady from one of the tables got up and walked towards us. I tried to say something in German but failed miserably. Probably my least grammatically correct German sentence since I've been here. But she understood that we were lost.

Luckily she had plenty of maps of the trek we wanted to do and gave us several of them. She explained where we wanted to go and how long it'd take.

Before we left she said, "There's snow on that trek."

Since we got such a late start that day, we only made it up the mountain by about half a kilometer before we set up camp in the remaining daylight. We found a cozy semi-flat spot right on the mountain.

It was a beautiful camp spot.

After some warm chili, all three of us crammed into our two-man tent and got some sleep.

The next morning we headed up the mountain. There was no one else on the trail. It was sunny and we could see the trail winding up the mountain ahead of us. I estimated that we'd be on the other side of the mountain in 45 minutes.

I was wrong.

We got pretty close to the top of the mountain when we hit a patch of snow. I didn't think that was a problem until I stepped on it. It was rock-solid and super slick.

It's one thing to slip and fall on your butt when traversing hardened snow. It's quite another to slip and fall and then slide down a mountain and crash into jagged rocks. And that's what would happen to us if we slipped.

With the steaks so high, every footstep on the slick snow is excruciating as your mind plays a video of you sliding down to your death over and over.

The patch of snow wasn't that wide, so after many slow and careful steps, we all got across just fine.

We were excited about getting closer to the top when we hit another patch of hardened snow, and then another. We had crossed maybe half a dozen of them before we finally got within 100 meters of the summit.

But there was one problem. The rest of the trail was just one big giant hardened snow patch. Far too dangerous to try and traverse.

So we tried going around it. William went one way and nearly fell a few times. I'll let him tell you his side of the story.

Alison and I went another way that included climbing straight up through two large snow patches.

Luckily, these snow patches were not rock-solid, but instead were soft snow that compacted really well.

So I dismounted my camera from the tripod and used the tripod as an anchor as I tried to make reliable footholds in the snow.

Alison followed behind me using the same footholds.

With each foothold I make, my mind keeps thinking of the foothold breaking lose and careening me down the mountain.

I can hear my heart pounding in my head. My bare hands are numb from being icy and wet.

I finally make it to the dry patch and establish a firm stance to wait for Alison to catch up.

Alison almost makes it to where I am when one of her footholds slips a little. At first it looked like she regained her footing, but then she started to slip further and further.

I realized that Alison was about to fall down the mountain.

I've always wondered how I'd react in life or death situations. Would I freak out and lock up to become useless? Or would I be calm?

I jammed the camera tripod into the snow to anchor myself as best I could. I reached to Alison who was sliding downward. I could just barely catch the top of her backpack. I gripped it so hard my fist was white. I pulled up.

Alison managed to scramble up to where I was and when she was finally safe and the magnitude of what happened hit her, she wept.

Amazingly, I caught emotional end of that on video. I can't wait to release this video podcast.

Speaking of which, you have no doubt noticed we are behind on videos. Indeed. I have TONS of video footage all the way back to Vietnam that are waiting to be edited, but we've been so busy traveling all over the place that I haven't been able to.

Don't worry, the videos are coming eventually. I might be able to catch a break in the UK and in Iceland to get some edited. I have a feeling I'll be releasing them for several months even after we get back to the States.


Jason wrote on June 14th 09 at 10:00AM
Excellent blog! It's awesome how the videos/blogs cover all sorts of emotions, from the comedy of eating bugs, to getting lost on a volcano, to almost slipping down a mountain. I think its great for people to understand that while its fun, it can be dangerous, and you guys capture that well. Congrats on your successful hike!
Daniel wrote on June 15th 09 at 02:43PM
VERY glad you all made it safely!
Anna wrote on June 15th 09 at 03:05PM
u should be very careful hiking through the swiss alps, crazy guys.. u should have said me what u wanna do before u left zurich.. glad u made it safely, too! enjoy munich and c u in ICELAND! :).
Nomadic Matt wrote on June 16th 09 at 06:06AM
getting back to the states? doesn't sound like a good thought...
Lilliy (aka Fun lilliy) wrote on June 24th 09 at 03:01PM
Thank God that you guys made it safely.. too bad to hear that my favorite webisodes will be postponed to see later.. I just posted you website as one of the blogs I choose for The Lovely Blog Award on my blog this is the link to the post:
mandino wrote on June 30th 09 at 10:45PM
The swiss alps are quite a challenge... It would take a lot of rations jut to cross the other side... It's a good thing that this is successful... I wish to learn more about the alps, I'll be heading back to Baraaza where I will look more into this matter, I don't know if anyone has already documented the alps there... :)
ana wrote on July 13th 09 at 03:22AM
Wow, what a dramatic trip, but you finally made it. Great blog you have:)
The incredible story of how two recent college grads are traveling around the world on an impossible budget.
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