<< Switzerland Trip 2009

Alpine Adventure

Andre is Charity's Uncle. He was an old school alpine guy from the Swiss military. He later became a mad scientist. He is now retired.

Andre invited me on a little stroll up their mountain. I know little about the cold and nothing on the dangers of alpine expeditions, so I agreed.

The mountain air was brisk and temperatures were right at freezing. Once we got moving, we felt a little warm so we took our outer coats off and packed them on our backs the rest of the way. The first part of the expedition was uphill through a forest.

Pillars of sunlight pierced the canopy and wrestled with a misty haze trapped under the branches. Everything was quiet except the snow and earth crunching under our feet. We stopped to catch our breath. I wanted to be able to taste the scene. I wanted to absorb it all with every sense by physical body was capable of. It was one of those times you try to take a mental picture of everything so you can relive the experience later. Then I remembered that I had a real camera and so I took pictures.

At first I was relieved that he wasn't going as fast as I thought he would. He's old, tired and not so tough anymore, I figured I can handle this. I could even burn him if I wanted to, I thought to myself. But I'll be nice and let him guide. This philosophy worked well for me until we got past the easy part...

After a few hours of hiking steep unmarked trails and frozen roads, we took a break for lunch at an abandoned lodge. The top of the mountain couldn't have been more than 1 kilometer of snow covered slope away. I could see the peak right there! I wanted to get up there so bad, just for the conquest of it. He was hesitant because of the conditions of avalanche potential, whiteouts, etc... I was too ignorant to know better and pleaded with him to continue so he conceded.

The rest of the way would be through deep snow and required snowshoes. This was the hard part. I have never been in snowshoes before. They're not too bad when you are walking on level ground. Did I mention we were in the Swiss Alps? Yeah, no level ground.

The snowshoe part is where Andre started burning me. It's hard. I was sliding all over the place and burning muscles I had never used before. I maintained my manly composure and didn't cry the whole time. Nor did I whine for the old man to slow down for me. I did end up with the largest blister of my life. It was one of those that you know is so bad that you don't want to look at it until the trip is over.

We couldn't head directly up the slope because it was too steep so we went at an angle. Even with snowshoes on, snow has a tenancy to slide downhill when you put your weight on it. Every two feet we gained, we lost one. An hour later we had only covered about one lateral kilometer, but we were not much closer to the top. The angle only got steeper. The view was amazing. I took another mental snapshot along with ones from my camera. (some of those below were meant to be 360 views that I probably wont have Photoshopped together by the posting of this webpage.)

Andre was particular about the route we took due to the possibility of avalanche. All I saw was white. Solid white everywhere. I have no idea what he was looking at. He made an attempt to educate me. Conditions were at risk level 2 for avalanche. If the level is 3, you don't go at all. I just wanted a cool picture from the top and bragging rights.

Every so often a cloud would cover the mountain in complete whiteness. An eerie sense of disorientation accompanied the fog. It was hard enough to make out the terrain without the fog as everything was covered in pure white snow. When I couldn't see distant features or trees it was really something else. It was as if the lights went out, except everything is white. It's kind of like being tumbled in a wave and not knowing which was is up. I was starting to realize what he was talking about with the dangers of mountain conditions. Mother Nature is a fickle and unforgiving teacher. Sometimes she can be a straight up b****.

We were not making the progress Andre had hoped. And by "we" I mean "I" was going too slow. He looked at his watch and said "By this time I hoped we would be by that tree." Gesturing to a tree about 200 meters uphill from us. It might as well have been 200 miles. I realized why he says that in the mountains you measure travel by time not distance. The first few miles we covered rather quickly, but the last 500 meters to the top would have taken several more hours. He had a legitimate concern about being stuck up there at nightfall and totally unprepared.

He was the expert and this was my first expedition, so even though I didn't think it was a big deal, we headed back. Turns out this was a good idea.

I was still full of energy, and despite the temperature, I did not feel cold at all. The sun was out, we were moving. Then, on the way back we passed through a forest and as soon as we were out of view from the sun, the temperature was surprisingly 15 degrees(F) cooler in the forest. I now had an image in my mind of trying to huddle together with Andre in and extremely cold and dark night.

Prudently admitting defeat early is sometimes better than having it forced upon you later. In retrospect, I'm glad we headed back.

Andre, thanks for the good times.
Swiss Mountain, I'll be back for you later.

PS - that "Risque D'Avalanche" (Avalanche Risk) sign buried half way in snow. Yeah, we passed it coming down from behind. We got a little kick out of that.

Snowshoeing videos. It was steeper than the videos makes it look.
(try use Quicktime to view them)
MOV00355 (148k) - Koa staggers up a steep section.
MOV00358 (2.1M) - Koa says "I could go another 10 miles" and then is commanded by Andre to continue when he tries to take a breather.
MOV00362 (791k) - Koa demonstrates his pathetic snowshoeing technique.