Hiking in Switzerland
May 8, 2017
Before leaving for Switzerland I was woefully unprepared. Brooke had booked the flights and planned the trip, so I wasn't even entirely sure where we'd be in Switzerland...you could say I "went with the flow". As I started to look up all of the supplies I would need, I realized that it was time to go shopping. Luckily, I was able to borrow Maaike's rucksack to carry along...and Chris lent us his 3-person tent, so none of us would go without shelter for the night. Still, we needed food and I needed a sleeping bag...so we went into town on Wednesday to buy some supplies.
There are actually quite a few nifty outdoors stores in Bremen. We stopped in several and bought some meals that can be cooked with boiled water and some high protein and calorie dense bars for the trip. I also decided to buy a sleeping bag there, which was ridiculously expensive but I figured I didn't have time to wait for shipping and the investment would likely be worth it in the long run. We grabbed several other things from the market in Vegesack and decided we were prepared to go. We loaded peanut butter and alcohol (the kind you use to fuel a camp stove) into Listerine bottles to fit the 100mL limit and got a good night's sleep. This weekend would be long. On Thursday morning, we woke up early and got some breakfast to ensure everyone was on the same page logistically. We grabbed some coffee around 11am and stocked up on sandwiches from the coffeeshop. We caught the 11:07am train into Bremen and we were off!
All of the travel on the way to the airport seemed rather seamless. We caught the trains all right, the S-Bahn wasn't too bad on the way to the airport, and our flight boarded on time at Hamburg. I'm not sure I've had a trip where things have gone so well so early on, but I'm skeptical at this point that something is destined to go really wrong. Because I forgot my earbuds, the flight to Geneva was painfully boring, but I had a window seat so I managed by reading Eurowings' magazines and looking out the window. This also meant that I was the first of Jack, Brooke, and I to experience the majesty of Geneva's mountains. As we flew into Geneva, they became the backdrop and were indescribably beautiful.
Disregarding the mountains that we'll soon be entering, we have plans to keep to. We quickly figure out the currency situation and buy our tickets for the train to Nyon. We hopped aboard the train to Nyon (which was surprisingly reminiscent of the trains in Poland...Switzerland needs to get their shit together) and discussed the last details we would need. I ate some of my saved egg sandwich from the coffeeshop at Jacobs and we all watched as the Swiss countryside and beautiful mountains flew by.
Before too long we arrive in Nyon and enter into French-speaking Switzerland. None of us speak French, so communicating is always an adventure...but we manage through. Before boarding the bus that will take us to the head of our trail we stop in a convenience store and buy some last minute water to ensure we don't die of dehydration. We buy our tickets, notice some schmuck who sounds extremely American, and board the bus. It seems that we're the last stop to be made (all the way out of town) but we don't really mind...there's lots to look at and take in along the way.
When we finally get to our stop, we hop off and acknowledge that we wouldn't be reentering modern civilization for several days. We walk along and tell stories until we finally reach the trail head. It's go time.
The beginning of the trail was on a golf course. We walked along and admired the mountains in the background behind the well manicured lawns all around. There were streams running everywhere and it was rather relaxing. We couldn't, however, find the correct path to continue on the trail.
Eventually, after spotting some horses on the trail, we head to where they exited an make our way up the hill. We make a few wrong turns along the way and Brooke has to yell at me for hiking a bit too fast (I have long legs, what can I say?) but we're on our way up! We run into some guys trail running who warn us of "lynxes", and we all have a good chuckle at their silliness. At this point, it's getting kind of late. Sun sets around 8:30 and we decide to stop and set up camp around 7:45ish to ensure that we don't get caught in the dark. What we forget to take into account is the fact that just because the sun sets doesn't mean it gets dark immediately. It doesn't actually get dark until around 9:45 and we're just kind of chilling and talking until then. We set up our tent and try out some of the energy bars that we brought along. They honestly weren't terrible, which I found kind of surprising. We take off our shoes, stick them in a plastic bag to avoid dew making them super wet over night, and we all slip into our sleeping bags.
Brooke falls asleep pretty early—she seems extremely exhausted and kind of passes out almost immediately after getting in her sleeping bag. Jack and I, however, decide we're going to look at the moon and talk about random stuff. For a while I swear we only talk in movie (especially prequel) quotes––it's hauntingly beautiful. At one point we're getting a bit rowdy and actually wake up Brooke which causes her to call us stupid for watching too much Spongebob. Eventually it gets darker and darker and Jack and I decide it's a good idea to save some energy for the following day, so we crawl into our sleeping bags and try to catch some sleep.
Though I'm disturbed all night by a rock under the tent digging into my back, I manage to get decent sleep and wake up with energy in the morning. I think the energy might just be coming from excitement, but it's surely there. In the morning I'm hopping around and am packed up before Jack and Brooke are seemingly even out of the tent. I wait for them to get prepped and walk around to keep warm...there's fog everywhere around us and it's difficult to see even just 100 meters out. Eventually the tent is empty and I fold it up, so we're on our way. Not too long after, Brooke realizes that she's missing her glasses and THEY'RE STILL IN THE TENT. Well, thankfully I didn't do a very good job of folding the tent up, so the glasses aren't broken. Despite this mishap, we continue on.
We trek up the mountain quite a bit more, and I let Brooke take the lead so I'm not pushing the pace up the mountain. Probably half an hour later we end up on a road with a beautiful view of the peak of the mountain. The cap is covered with snow and there's a hut on our level that travelers could stay in if they are too soft to wild camp. We take lots of really cool photos and are super excited to be so close to our first summit after not too long. As we trek a bit further, we try to enter the hut to fill up on water but we realize that the huts aren't open this early in the season. Great. There goes an easy way to get water on our hike! However, not too far from the hut there's a source of water created by the melting snow on the mountain, so we use Brooke's handy dandy filter and get some water from there. Presto! Clean water!
It's here that we begin the true workout. It's also here that we realize how difficult hiking will be for Jack in the future...his shoes had absolutely no tread. On the first bit up the mountain he continually slipped, foreshadowing future incidents of slipping all over the trail when snow or mud are around. Well, hiking up the peak (about 200m of elevation) took us about a half hour. Of course, this was with breaks to take in the ridiculous view from the top. We could actually see over into France from the top of the mountain and there were pretty cool rock walls lining the mountain...still not sure what the purpose of them was, but they were all over the trail we would later find out.
The top of the mountain was absolutely beautiful. You could see miles and miles of beautiful farm land and mountains and there were people just sitting at the top with their dogs enjoying the view. We had climbed 1670m (La Dôle) to get here and it was so worth it. However, we had ground to cover and couldn't waste time standing around. So, we moved along.
The next part of the hike is absolutely infuriating. We climbed part of the way down the mountain and then did a cross back and went down a rather steep part of the path...it was much steeper going down than the trail going up was. As we were approaching the base of the peak, we realized that we had gone the wrong way. Oh, I was mad. So mad. But there was nothing we could do, so we made our way BACK UP the freaking steep side of the hill in order to turn around and go the correct way. We make it back to the top, turn about 30 degrees from the direction we first took, and headed down THAT path. Luckily, this path was correct. This was our first time going the wrong way and having to retrace our path.
We continued on for a while with little interesting happening until we finally reached a little town called Saint-Cergue. In Saint-Cergue we decided to stop by a little café and grab some warm beverages before heading back off into the wilderness. The lady in the café was super nice and it was a fun change of pace. While there, we researched several other things about the path and re-examined our schedule for the next few days. Everything looked pretty good at the time. We finished up, used the restroom, unloaded some garbage that we had collected, and we were back on our way!...kind of. First, Jack had to stop in a souvenir shop to get some stickers for his water bottle (it's a thing, I guess?). He later discovered that they were St. Cergue temporary tattoos, NOT stickers. Awkward. Also, we walked up a big long street for quite a while to realize that we had made our second directional mistake—we were getting pretty good at going the wrong way.
We stood around and tried to figure out which direction we were supposed to be going and were getting pretty agitated with each other. We kept turning the map and pointing to roads on the map and then pointing to the corresponding roads we thought they were. It was frustrating. Eventually someone pulled out a compass and we discovered which way we were going, so we were then on track. We headed up (another) big hill and walked through (another) meadow...before realizing that we had (again) made a wrong turn. Oops. We walked back to our originating point and looked at the map again to realize WE WERE, IN FACT, GOING THE CORRECT DIRECTION IN THE FIRST PLACE.
So, we head back in the direction we originally went and continue on the path. We see some really adorable cows with wonderful jingling cowbells and then we see their farmer who smiles and waves at us. It was extremely heartwarming. I don't really remember much about the day after this point. I remember finding water coming from a downspout that we filtered to get drinking water and I remember setting up camp by some snow after realizing we wouldn't likely find more water and would be better off melting snow.
From the snow, we make some hot meals with Brooke's alcohol-powered camping stove and we try to build a fire but the wood is a bit too wet. We sit around and talk and pitch our tent in the (seemingly) flattest place possible. Before too long, it's dark out and we're ready for bed. We hop into our tent, remove any wet clothing, and pass out. It was a long day.
The next morning Brooke wakes Jack and I and informs us that it's time to go. It's 8:15 and we hop out of the tent to get on the road. Everything outside is super wet and even greener. Switzerland, while exorbitantly expensive, is really beautiful and green. We walk out into the morning and decide it's a good job to just keep moving. We're not very close to anything, but we must walk and see beautiful things. We walk...and walk...and walk... yeah, that's most of the morning. Eventually we do come upon an opening with a Swiss flag, a cross, and a beautiful view of the mountains...but it doesn't last long and we continue to walk...and walk...and then it starts raining, but we just keep on walking...
Eventually we come upon a bucolic little restaurant in the middle of the woods and decide to stop there to dry off and get some more tea...still expensive, but it's dry and warm. Before too long, Jack and I crack and both order some food. Jack gets a full on entree, whereas I just get a salad. But both of them were VERY MUCH needed. While here we all filled up our waters, used the restroom, and dried up a little bit...but before too long, as before, it was time to go back out into the rain and hike some more.
We didn't last very long. Jack and my feet were wet again—even Brooke was getting wet through her rain coat—so we decided to call the trip early at a forking point. Instead of heading for our next big summit, we headed for a town called Le Orient in order to find some dry. We trekked through snow and mud and toppled over lots of rocks before finally getting to our opening. It took what seemed like hours (I suppose it was actually about 2 hours...) but we finally arrived at an opening. We walked down to the town through farms and fields and walked past lots of livestock.
Eventually we were walking along a river and found a few places that might be able to help but none of them were actually able to help. We stopped at the train station to get a train to Geneva. No luck. We walked to a gas station, but then before reaching it decided to go back to the train station and buy indirect tickets. Well, the plan worked and after a 40 minute wait in the freezing rain we were on a nice warm train.
It took us around 2 hours to arrive back at the airport, but once we did we walked around and found a place to set up camp to sleep for the night. Eventually we found a little cove in the airport with seats with no one around and decided we would stay the night there. Yes, we slept in the airport. We sat there for a little bit of time connecting to the internet and talking until a woman joined us. This woman "only spoke German", so Jack communicated with her a lot, but she was homeless and I think we were in "her spot". Oops.
We didn't want to give up the spot, so we chilled with the lady that I refer to as "The Baked Potato" for reasons I'll mention in a bit. Before too long she was telling Jack that the seat he was in was her seat and basically yelling at him to move. So he did. He joined Brooke further over. She went over to the spot and set up camp...it looked rehearsed and she had very obviously done her process before. She took off her shoes, gave them a good spray with some shoe cleaner, lotioned her feet, and then she set up her luggage in a way that resembled a night stand and bedroom furniture. What a pro. However, what came next ticked her off.
After the lady was getting to the end of setting up she told me (in German), "You're gonna have to move. That's where I put my head." I'm probably the worst person ever, but I replied with "Nein, das ist mein Platz." This did not make her happy. She got angry, but she eventually accepted it. I mean, you can't go into a public place and tell people what to do just because you're homeless. I was there first and I shouldn't have to move just because you say so. So I didn't. Hmph. Jack thought I was nuts.
The reason I refer to her as "the baked potato" is because she had a metallic blanket thing (presumably to keep heat in) that marathon runners use, and the sound of the dang blanket was crumply and loud and kept me up all night. But she looked like a baked potato all wrapped up in it. It was a long night.
In the morning we packed our stuff up and get ready alongside "the baked potato". We hurried so as to get into Geneva as soon as possible, and we eventually caught a train for around $3. When we arrived we were at a loss for what to do. We first viewed the marathon going on in Geneva at the time. There was a guy at the front cruising and it looked like everyone was having a good time. We then went to a few museums. Nothing too spectacular. One thing I'll never forget about Switzerland was the meal I had in Geneva. Brooke and Jack were craving fondue, so we went to a fondue place and ordered. I didn't want to pay a lot so I ordered a $16 salad (that was considered cheap). By the end of the meal we got our bill...the water was $11 for the table and the salad was ACTUALLY $28 because I bought it during lunch time. Fuck that.
At this point, I'm getting cranky and I'm tired from dealing with "the baked potato" the night before. We walked around a bit more, Jack bought a shirt from the marathon, we went to see the Jet d'Eau on the lake, and then we made our way back to the airport for our flight back.
Nothing too notable occurred during out travel back. It was long, but went without a hitch. We had our plane from Geneva to Hamburg, a train from Hamburg Airport to the Hbf, another train from the Hamburg Hbf to Bremen's Hbf, and lastly our wonderful night bus that took an hour from the Bremen Hbf to Bremen-Schönebeck...where we finally walked to Jacobs. Getting to sleep was so wonderful after this, and I actually slept through my class the next day (not a big deal at Jacobs).
This trip was really great. I learned a lot, got out into nature, got closer to Jack and Brooke, learned a lot about myself, and I think it solidified my desire to climb Mt. Denison in the near future. Of course, Mt. Denison is far more technical than anything in the Jura mountains, but I wouldn't mind making a habit out of mountain climbing. Cheers to this trip! And a big "screw you" to Switzerland for your mix of unreasonable prices and inviting atmosphere!