Trek To The Top

WE BEGIN our two-day trek in the Swiss Alps after a family lunch at a charming mountain café.  My brother, my two adult kids, my partner, and I then say goodbye to the rest of the family and peel off to start our climb. We hope to reach the Swiss Alpine Club hut near the Col des Chamois, where we’ll spend the night, before the sun goes down. Hiking in the Alps—with its well-marked trails and the occasional farmhouse café offering local wine and cheese—may be more civilized than hiking in the Rockies—where I live—but it’s no less challenging a climb.

The sun grows hotter and the trail becomes steeper as we hike up the mountain. I’d spent months hiking in the Rockies to train for this trip, but I’m still finding the sharp ascent a challenge. (I’ve noticed that no one hikes quickly in the Alps. “Slow and steady” seems to be the motto here.) I’m grateful for my wick-away shirt and my brother’s frequent stops to take photos of the breathtaking views.

Lush, green slopes carpeted with masses of wildflowers—so unlike the dry, dusty Rockies—surround us. The scent of summer-warm grasses fills the air. A herd of goats meanders on a slope near the last wood-and-stucco farmhouse we’ll see that day. Cowbells bong in the distance, their owners moving slowly through the grass, munching as they go. Knowing that cows and goats are as wild as the wildlife gets—no bears or mountain lions to watch out for here—makes it easier to focus on the climb ahead of me.

The climb makes us giddy, and we start getting silly as we walk. My daughter, practicing her French, begins a word game with: “Quelquefois tu vives, et quelquefois tu meurs…Bonne chance!” (“Sometimes you live; sometimes you die…Good luck!”) Since we’re hiking challenging terrain in the French part of the Swiss Alps, her sentiment seems hilariously appropriate. The phrases get more and more ridiculous as the moments tick by.

Later that afternoon, we discover a welcome pool of water down-slope from a rock overhang. We eat a snack in the alcove then scoot down to the pool of icy water and soak our bare feet. Refreshed, we’re off for the last stretch of hard climbing through a rocky landscape—we’re well above timberline now—to reach the hut. Everyone’s too tired to talk by this point, so we hike in companionable silence.

Winding our way to the top of the mountain, we see the distinctive red-and-white Swiss cross flag waving near the doorway of our destination: SAC Cabane de Plan Névé. Motivated by the end of the trail being so near—at least, it looks close—we push ourselves to keep moving. Finally, we arrive at the almost-summit where the hut is located on the edge of the mountain. Exhausted, we drop our backpacks and settle in to watch the sun go down in the valley far below us.

 Along with adventuring, Teresa Louis is also a writing coach. You can reach her at Teresa Louis Write Now.