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Solo Climbing the Swiss Alps wearing $20 Payless Sneakers

February 3, 2018

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“Schilthorn. It’s a killer hike. You might want to pay the fee and take the gondola up to the top.”

$100.00 for a one-way 10 minute ride to the top of a mountain was not within my backpacker budget. And there’s nothing that sets my fiery drive more than when someone assumes I can’t or won’t take on a challenge. So, it was then decided. I would wake up at 6 the following morning and spend the next 7 hours of my day hiking up the highest mountain north of the Sefinenfurgge Passage of Switzerland…my $20 Payless sneakers in tow.

Lauterbrunnen and Gimmelwald

Lauterbrunnen is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in the world. And I’m not just saying that. To this day, after all the countries I’ve witnessed, Iceland included, no place is more beautiful than Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Its towering waterfalls that cascade down steep tree-covered mountains, it’s colorful wild flowers, it’s scenic alps…it’s been 2 years since I last visited Switzerland and I cannot wait to go back.

Mountain Hostel

I was booked in Gimmelwald at Mountain Hostel – a picturesque cabin overlooking the Swiss Alps and awoke every morning from my bottom bunk gazing up at the mountains. Mountain Hostel is perfect for solo backpackers, with it’s stinky dorm rooms, dirty co-ed kitchen and young and talkative globe-trotters figuring out the next stop of their journey on wooden picnic tables. I would purchase my favorite swiss chocolates at the nearby Honesty shop and sit outside surrounded my mountains, writing away for hours in my journal. I have the fondest memories here. Card games are played, nutella toast and bananas are served in the morning and I enjoy my filling meal before embarking on a treacherous hike solo.

Swiss Villages

Schilthorn overlooks the valley of Lauterbrunnen . From Gimmelwald, I had to hike to the nearby Swiss villages of Murren, Allmendhubel and Birg before tackling a steep rocky cliff to the top of Schilthorn. Again, I could also take a gondola. But why not save the euros and do what few do? After chatting with a few backpackers the night before, I learned that most people don’t climb the mountain but rather hike the leisurely path to Murren and back. The difficulty of Schilthorn was not worth it. Hearing this only encouraged me.  I couldn’t wait to hike it. 

Endurance

My ideal way of hiking a mountain is not for some. But for me, I take hikes slow. I leisurely hike and lounge on the grass reading poetry every 40 minutes or so of climbing and find that this is the way that works for me. In high school, I was on the track team…for a solid two months before realizing I was terrible at it. But from track I learned a valuable lesson about myself: I am terrible at sprinting. I am not gifted in quickness, but my talent lies in endurance. I will eventually reach the end of the finish line, it just may take longer than others. I am the turtle, not the hare. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is the hare. He does things fast. He hikes quickly.  Instead of pacing myself and continuing up, I slowly take my time, taking moments to sprawl out on the grassy slopes, pulling out my novel, chatting with cows.

The Trail

I began my hike following the grassy fields up through the darkened pine tree forest and past the heards of cows before arriving in the quaint little village of Murren. I sat on a bench overlooking the sweeping view of the Alps, colorful paragliders passing overhead, before continuing on. Being alone for nearly 7 hours was refreshing for an introvert like myself, but I began to miss my loved ones with every passing step, wondering what my boyfriend was doing in China, replaying conversations I loved, missing my mom, singing lyrics aloud to myself. refilling my water bottle at the flowing faucets in the cow troughs. Before I knew it I was in Birg, and that was where the real climb began. The grassy hills and paths before were disappearing, and a thin dirt line made it’s way up the steep wildflower-covered mountain. Faint, small markings on rocks kept me safely on the correct path, and I eventually hit an icey lake at the top of a mountain. The last chapter of the hike was next.

I physically and mentally prepared for this last, most difficult trek. Asking the few hikers who had managed to reach the top, they all advised me that the hardest part of the climb was the steep climb to Schilthorn from the lake. I would climb rocks, lift myself up a steep plateau using a rope, and balance along a rocky ledge before I reached the rickety stairs that would take me to the revolving restaurant up top. It was along this challenging climb that I began suffering from the altitude and lack of oxygen. I began feeling nauseas, my legs were wobbling, and my hands shaking. Climbing to 2970m from 1363m was no small feat, and with with my flannel shirt and ripped Payless sneaks, I was not prepared. I passed an occasional hiker with their professional laced-up hiking boots, camping equipment and leather hiking sticks, as they made their way to Schilthorn. We chatted. I asked them to take a picture of me. We continued on our own. By the time I reached the rocky narrow ledge, I turned around and cried at the sight. The most breathtaking view I’ve witnessed. Surrounded among clouds, the tallest peaks at my eye-level, I cried and expressed gratitude. Feeling alive never felt so good.

After climbing the rickety metal stairs, a hand reached out to me and pulled me up that last step. Despite my love to do things alone, sometimes you need that extra hand. I had made it. 

You Decide

The hours climbing up the mountains gave me one takeaway: we are only as physically strong, as brave, as determined, as able to do anything as we think we are. Despite the gaping mouths I had received from people when I told them my plan, despite the backpackers who had mentioned it’d be better to pay for the gondola, I decided I would reach the top. It was never “maybe I’ll reach the top” or “I hope I can make it.” It was “I will climb to the top.” And sometimes a decision is all you need. As simple as a firm choice of “I will.”

When I go forward in my life, I look back to this event and remind myself that, as cliche as it sounds, anything is possible as long as we have the courage to decide. To commit to a choice. We can believe we will reach the top of the mountain.  We can believe life is wonderful or we can believe life is awful. We can decide to excel or we can decide to fail. We can decide to be happy or we can decide to live in a low-frequency of misery. The choice is completely ours and ours alone. And wouldn’t it be more lovely to be happy? To see our world as a wondrous, life-sustaining floating ball of magic? If I had the choice, I would choose happiness. I would choose to enjoy my life. I would choose the mountain.

What do you choose?

 

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I'm Helena, your new kindred spirit.

Sunny free-spirit, writer and creator in love with documenting the simple joys of life. I am passionate about noticing light and truth around me and reflecting it back to others.

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