About a week ago, I traded 77 Swiss francs for a train ticket from Geneva to Saas-Fee, a small ski town in the Swiss Alps. My friend Zach (for more information on Zach visit his Facebook page here or you can find him on LinkedIn) did the same, and a few minutes later we were speeding out of Geneva with a plan to hike a section of the Tour de Monte Rosa – a walking trail though the Swiss Alps. With destinationed hostels and huts en route and nothing more than what we could carry in our packs, we were on our way.
Over the course of three days we hiked 54 kilometers (that’s over 33 miles) on the Monte Rosa Trail. We started in Saas-Fee and walked our way up, down, through and sometimes quite literally right over cliffs until we reached Zermatt. I am not going to pretend like that was easy, it wasn’t. By day three, there was no question that my aching back, shaky knees and blistered feet felt like they had covered 54km…at least. All that being said, somehow those 54km, and everything in between, emerged as one of the best weeks of my life.
Below is a combination of photos and anecdotes assembled throughout my journey, enjoy!
My love affair with the Monte Rosa began as soon as Zach and I decided to hike the trail earlier this summer. Much like a middle school crush, the hike quickly became the victim of endless photo stalking on a more regular basis than I care to admit. I clicked through endless views of the Alps that penetrated cloudless skies, the tips of mountains piecing blue backdrops in every photo. According to Google Images, clouds didn’t exist on the Monte Rosa trail.
I learned fast that clouds do exist on the Monte Rosa trail. In fact, over the three days that Zach and I were hiking, we were completely blanketed in fog 99% of the time. Honestly 99.3% of the time might be more accurate. For the other .07% of the time we were teased with snapshot glimpses of magnificent views that were too shy to fully emerge.
We ultimately decided that the fog was a blessing. That the views we painted for ourselves over the persisting grey curtain were better than the real thing. That’s what we kept telling ourselves. Then we vowed to come back another time when it was sunny and see if we were right.
I thought I heard wind chimes as I rounded a corner about five hours into our first day’s hike. We were out in the middle of nowhere and I thought, what a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately it was not wind chimes, it was not pleasant, but what we did find was certainly a surprise. We had come face to face with a herd of mountain sheep, a few of whom had cowbells clanging around their necks, which I mistook for wind chimes.
I know what you are thinking, aw sheep that is so cool. No. These sheep were big, they had horns and they were not going anywhere. The trail that we had been walking on for the past few hours was no more than a foot wide, with a high rock wall on one side, and a sheer faced canyon plummeting down the other. One wrong step- or one nudge from an angry sheep- and you were history.
This is where Zach gets to be the hero. Since I refused to go anywhere near the sheep, he inched his way toward them, attempting to herd them back toward the other side. Everything was going smoothly, so smoothly that I even began to make my way down the path too. And that’s when one sheep whipped around and stood his ground, challenging us to take one step further. The standoff had begun. It was Zach and Vivi verses this herd of wild sheep literally teetering on the edge of a cliff. I honestly don’t know how long we were standing there, staring, both sides trying to make the other flinch.
And then the sheep charged. No I’m totally kidding. There was no charge. The sheep eventually lost interest and went to go find a new patch of grass, because what else do sheep have to worry about.
Grächen, a small ski town buried in the Alps, was one of three hostel destinations on the road to Zermatt. As we descended into the village, Zach burst out in song, again. The same song actually that he had been singing since we started the hike at nine am. It was now three in the afternoon. The song was “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. He never told me his favorite part of the song but I know that it’s where they go And I say, hey hey hey hey I said hey, what’s going on? There’s no question about it, trust me.
Once we found our hostel, which was an endeavor in itself, we wobbled our way to dinner. With the soreness starting to set in, we picked the first restaurant we saw. The inside was quaintly, if not comically, decorated exactly how a restaurant in the Swiss Alps should be. A ski bunny’s paradise.
A glass of wine and half a plateful of spaghetti bolognaise later, a German cover band took the stage. I don’t remember what they opened with, or even how the second song started. But when the lead singer got to the chorus, I almost dropped my fork.
And I say, hey hey hey hey I said hey, what’s going on?
That’s fate right? It had to be. The song that had been stuck in Zach’s head, and by default mine too, all day was now being played live in front of us, in a random restaurant, in a small town in the middle of the Swiss Alps by a band that could hardly speak English. If that’s not fate I don’t know what is.
Is that thunder?
The last thing you want to hear when you are on top of a mountain is thunder. We had just reached a two-hour summit with a ridge-line ahead of us and what do you think I heard? Well it wasn’t actually thunder, as I am sure you were guessing I was going to say, but in the moment I thought it was.
After a quick panic and a granola bar to ease the nerves, we gave the sound, which had kept on rumbling, another listen. Then it hit us, that was no thunder, that was a rockslide. A rockslide right in the direction we were headed. We sat and listened to the falling rocks, the boulders bouncing down the side of the mountain. Should we have turned around? Maybe, (sorry Mom cover your ears) but we decided to at least go check it out.
The rockslide we heard had merely crumbled over a section of our trail. Over the course of the day, the valley was an endless cascade of rockslides echoing off one another. Though we never actually saw any falling rocks, we scrambled up, down and over evidence all day long. It was intense, exhausting and quite honestly the most adventurous day of my life.
My intro paragraph did ruin the suspense of whether or not Zach and I would make it to Zermatt. But just to clarify, we did make it. There were at times doubt, illustrated by a direct quote from Zach on the second day, “Did we bite off more than we can chew?” But mamma we made it.
We more than made it. Finally walking into Zermatt felt like we earned it. Like we really deserved to be there. I’m sure that if you asked the people simultaneously rolling into Zermatt on the train, they too would think that they deserved to be there. But it was different for us.
The walk was humbling. Only carrying what we needed on our backs and only moving as fast as our leg could carry us. We covered 54 km, hiked (but did not see) one of the most beautiful trails in the world and lived to tell the tale… barely. And that was enough for us. At least for now.