A mountain of a trip

On top of the world | the Schilthorn, SwitzerlandI’ve been thinking about our first trip lately. There are some similarities with our upcoming trip. The 2001 trip was 25 days – Our next trip is 21 (the longest we’ve had since ’01 is 16 days). We celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary in the first trip – our 10-year will be during this one. We traveled to five countries then, we’ll go to four now (though only two are new this time).

When I look back on the trip I’m filled with an almost unbearable nostalgia. We’ll never experience again the euphoria of our first time in Europe. Though each subsequent trip fills me me giddiness, nothing will ever compare to the exhilaration of setting out on our own five thousand miles from home without any idea what lay in wait. I can’t label one experience or moment from that trip as my favorite – how could I? But one day does stand out as the defining experience of the adventure.

piz gloriaAfter leaving Paris we took the high speed TGV to Switzerland and made our way by train, bus and cable car to the tiny village of Gimmelwald. I pleaded with Brian to take the cable car all the way to the peak of the Schilthorn the next morning – to the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant for a view over the Jungfrau mountains. He resisted my urging all day and night, apprehensive about the cable car ride. I finally exhausted him with my incessant prodding and we arose early and glided to the top of the mountain – a deliciously frightening ride that soared far above flower-strewn meadows.

On top of the world | the Schilthorn, SwitzerlandWe breakfasted on croissants, Swiss (of course) cheese and coffee in the slowly revolving restaurant atop the 9,744 foot mountain, trying to take in the staggering panorama. After many futile attempts to capture this grandeur on film we set out for our hike. Know now, that we had never hiked so much as a little hill back home, much less an imposing mountain face such as this. But armed with our Rick Steves guidebook promising an “interesting” hike, a tourist map, a small baggie of trail mix, one bottle of water and no sunscreen, we set out.

The first leg was a swift and terrifying plunge by cable car down to the Brig station. My mind boggles today when I think about our foolishness and utter sense of invincibility when we started down that mountain. The invincible feeling didn’t last past the first switchback I had to slide down on the seat of my pants, too terrified to stand. It further dissipated when we came to the ledge overlooking a sheer drop of hundreds of feet and found that we had to wedge ourselves against the face of the mountain and inch our way along clutching a well-worn rope. And when we came to the first frozen waterfall we had to cross we both thought we’d meet our end on this mountain.

Hiking the Schilthorn in SwitzerlandBut a combination of the adrenalin, altitude and the dizzying beauty propelled us on for the hours it took to make it back to the village below we called home for two days. I stopped every few feet to take more photographs, continually falling behind Brian who turned back again and again to urge me on. He feared dark would fall before we made it to safety – I knew no such thing could be true and took my time.

Lunch in the AlpsWe were ravenous when we finally completed the descent down the sheerest drop. We ran into some other hikers who mentioned a restaurant (?!) in the valley below. And indeed we found a most incongruously located establishment – a lone house perched halfway down the mountain offered a few picnic tables and an outhouse around back, with a friendly German speaking proprietor who fed us hash browns with cream and cheese. We sat in the sun, our legs relishing the pause in downward motion, and fed the happy dog scraps under the table.

Trummelbach Falls | SwitzerlandThe hike was much more pleasant now that the death-defying portion was over. We continued through acres of wildflowers, along impossibly clear streams and finally into the deep shaded coolness of the woods. We both sported brilliant red sunburns at this point and took turns draping a dampened bandana on our necks.

We heard Trummelbach Falls before we saw it and the path took us directly behind the thundering water. Standing behind the falls, the most beautiful mountain scenery I’d ever encountered on the other side of that shimmering, spraying curtain, I knew the entire trip had led me to this moment.

GimmelwaldThe rest of the story is rather anti-climactic. We exclaimed in awe a great many times as we turned repeatedly to look back at the face of the mountain we had just climbed down, took more photos, and longed to put our quivering legs to rest.

Taking on that kind of challenge was like taking the trip itself. Seemingly impossible at times, breathtaking at every stop, and life-changing in ways that continue to this day. Since that first trip we’ve returned to almost every place we visited then – some, like London, Paris and Rome, more than once. I simultaneously long to go back to that mountain, and know I can’t. Returning would never be the same as that intoxicating day.

The good news is that more adventures in more distant lands await.

Hiking the Schilthorn in Switzerland

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