These train rides are slowly becoming therapeutic. They give me an opportunity to consolidate everything—it’s just me and my next destination. It doesn’t matter if I am sitting alone or if I am surrounded by people traveling the world or even those just heading back home, I still feel at ease when I know that I am on the train and I am heading somewhere. I always somehow manage to find myself in conversations with strangers. Even when I have no intention to, it’s as if I am just a magnet for small talk—or maybe it’s me who is searching for it.
As much as I claim to be an introvert it’s moments like this that I begin to doubt myself. How can someone who loves conversation so much still consider himself to be inward? There is nothing more captivating to me than to hear people’s stories. It’s amazing how much people give away in a conversation. If you really listen, really really listen, you can learn a lot about someone.
Once the train arrived I searched through the carts trying to find my reserved seat. Score! It ended up being a four seat section that was empty. These are a luxury on trains because have a table in the middle which is perfect for, well, everything. A few minutes later two girls from the United Kingdom joined me. Within a few minutes we were talking about our travels and where we were headed. By some stroke of luck we were staying at the exact same campsite.
The next few hours consisted of small talk and power naps. I was beyond exhausted and I really couldn’t keep my mind focused on the conversation. I think they sensed it too, plus they had each other to talk to I wasn’t really needed.
Finally the train arrived in Interlaken West, Switzerland. It’s about 3:30 pm and extremely hot. The sun is beating down on me through the window as I get my stuff together. I throw my large bag onto my back and my day pack over the front of me. I’ve finally figured out that this is the best way to do it. Having around 25 lbs hanging from my back was doing me no justice. Before I looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame, now I feel more like a pack mule. Sometimes you just have to pick your poison!
I followed the girls as we searched for the tourist center. After figuring out where our hostel is they wanted to purchase their train tickets for the next day. I realized how smart of an idea that was and I did the same. Although, I thought it was silly to only stay in Switzerland for a day who am I to judge, I was only going to be here for two.
What looked like a short walk on a map, turned into a 20 minute walk in the sun. I started to almost pity a pack mule. Here I am strapped front and back with bags in the heat sweating as if I was in a sauna. I was drenched by the time we reached the campsite but I was blown away.
I chose this site because it was one of the cheaper options in Interlaken and I figured it would be nice to camp in Switzerland. I was a little confused reading the hostel description because it said that sleeping bags were not permitted. What kind of campsite was this? On arrival I realized that it is really a hostel with canopy tents and bunk beds instead of brick walls and concrete.
The reason I was blown away was not because of how it was set up but where it was set up. Behind the tents was one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. It was three mountain peaks each set back slightly from each other. The closest one was lush covered in tall lanky trees that smothered the surface like moss. The second was almost mirroring its brother’s size and shape but felt naked with stones that broke through the top of its trees. The third one was the smallest on the horizon but its white texture was blinding from all angles. It was the first time I had ever seen a snow capped mountain. I was just blown away.
After checking in the girls and I split off. I eventually found my tent and I packed my belongings away safe. It was about 5 pm by the time I was fully settled. I made my way into the main area and saw a few people sitting around a table. Normally I would wait around and listen for an opportunity to jump into the conversation but I didn’t feel the need to. I realized how silly that is when all I had to do was sit down and join in.
There was multiple seats available but I chose the one that would put me in the middle of any conversation. This seat was perfect because it made the group into a semicircle. I walked over and asked “anyone minded if I sit here?” Of course the answer was no, but it was a natural ice breaker. From here on conversations flowed along with beer. Across the street was a supermarket and after about 30 minutes of chatting me and two guys from Virginia headed over there.
I was always told that Switzerland was a very expensive country to live in. I mean I don’t doubt it, I would gladly pay a lot to wake up to the Swiss Alps every morning but I have yet to experience it. It’s almost hard for me to believe that it’s true when three tall boys of beer, a fairly large pre-seasoned pork chop, and frozen garlic buttered vegetables came out to less than $8.
What made this campsite so great was that it had everything you could possibly need in one place even a hot tub, a pool, and a barbecue all for free. We even managed to time it perfectly because someone else had purchased coals and the grill was still going. All we had to do was throw it on there and wait!
The three of us cracked opened a beer, gave a little “cheers” and headed back to the group. A few new people joined us so we all introduced ourselves and enjoyed each the conversations. I find it so interesting how open people are while traveling. It’s not like everyone is running around spilling their secrets, it’s more than that. You can just talk without the cloud of self-consciousness over your head. These people may or may not ever see me again and that’s okay. It’s the universal language we all understand before a word even gets uttered. That is what makes these conversations so great!
We sat up the whole night drinking and eating until we had a few complaints from the hostel workers to keep it down. We eventually decided it was time to stumble to our tents.
I woke up the next morning completely drenched and slightly hungover. The idea of sleeping in a canopy tent in the middle of the field seemed wonderful until you realized that there is a total of 6 people sharing a tent with no ventilation in the middle of summer. I essentially slept in a sauna for the last 8 hours.
I rolled out of bed, changed my clothes and headed straight for the grocery store. Still out of it from the night before the first thing I had to do was make sure I had enough food for the day. I planned on using as much of the day as I could to hike. I wasn’t exactly sure which route I was going to take but I knew I had to be prepared for it.
Considering the only way to cook food is on the grill I decided against buying eggs or really anything that takes preparation. I managed to grab myself some fruit, bread and a block of cheese. I wasn’t really sure what kind of cheese it was, but truthfully it didn’t matter as long as it was edible.
My next stop was at the front desk where I could find out more information about where to hike. I knew that there was a few different places to start but it really all depended on how much time I wanted to spend hiking. After talking over the options I decided a hike up to Mürren would be best. The only catch is that I have to adventure through a few local towns by public transport. Luckily the first town, Wilderswil was a 10 minute walk from the campsite.
I was about 10:30 am when I finally was packed and ready to go. I headed up the busy road out of the way of traffic just admiring my surroundings. The sky was crystal clear and the wildflowers were everywhere. It felt like I couldn’t have picked a better day to hike if I tired.
Eventually I made it on the train and was heading about 6 miles south to Lauterbrunnen where I would begin my hike. I was told to stay on the train until the end because that was where I would be getting off. It was also recommended that a mile or so west of the village I could find a nice waterfall before starting my hike. I wanted to make sure that I had enough time for everything so I spent most of the train ride attempting to look at the trail map entirely distracted by the views outside of my window. A few times my attention drifted to the announcements, not that I understood a word of it, I was just hoping to pick out a few names I could recognize on my map.
Finally the train came to the stop. I knew this was the last stop because of how many people were leaving. I waited for most of the people in the cart to get out, than I followed the crowd of people. As I stepped onto the platform something seemed a little off. I was told that the village I was heading to would be a nice size but not too touristy, but his place was extremely touristy. Everywhere I looked I saw ads for Mt. Jungfrau ( a mountain that is nicknamed the top of Europe). I even saw a large building that said tourist center just to the left of the platform. However it was a sign that caught my eye—a large blue sign and white letters with the inscription Grindelwald.
I looked at the sign in disbelief. I mean I know I am notorious for getting lost but this time I had no idea how I could have possibly ended up in an entirely different town. My instructions were simple. Get on the train, stay till the end, and get off the train, that’s it. I should have arrived in Lauterbrunnen, case closed. But that was not the case. I went into the tourist center waited on line to try to figure out what went wrong. The lady looked at me in disbelief when I explained the situation. Apparently they made an announcement saying that only the front half of the train would be arriving in Lauterbrunnen while the rear would end here in Grindelwald. Now whether that announcement was made in English, German, French or Italian (all the languages spoken in Switzerland) I’ll never know but here I am 9 miles in the wrong direction.
For a day that started off so wonderful it was quickly turning into a hell of a day. The next train back wasn’t for another 20 minutes. On top of that I have to back track about 6 miles to the scene of the crime where my last train decided to sever itself in half. From there I would finally be able to catch a train a few stops from Lauterbrunnen.
By the time I arrived in Lauterbrunnen it was about 1 pm and I had two new friends. I managed to sit near these two bubbly Australian girls. I’m slowly starting to realize girls come in sets of two here. They were on a 45 day trip throughout Europe but it was booked through a tour company. Personally I don’t think I’d want to travel that long through a company. I think it would take away a lot of the adventure but then again they probably didn’t traveling in the wrong direction either.
Since I planned on taking the hike up to the Staubbach waterfall I asked if the girls would like to tag along. They had no plans for a few hours and I figured why the hell not. I even considered asking them if they wanted to come on the real hike with me until I realized that this was probably the first time these girls have even hiked before. Not that I would consider steps alongside a mountain to a waterfall really a hike but you have to work with what you have sometimes. They were nice and friendly, don’t get me wrong, but the last thing I need while hiking in the heat up a mountain for a few hours in a couple of posh barbies complaining. After taking a few photos and making our way back down we exchanged info and headed our own ways.
I headed back into town and asked a few locals where I can find the start for the Mürren trail. Nobody seemed to know the exact place but they pointed in the direction of the mountain. Eventually I followed the bends and turns up hill until I found my golden ticket or in this case a yellow sign that pointed in the direction of the trail.
The last few weeks I have been surrounded by metropolises—nothing but concrete and the occasional tree. This was the first place where I had the opportunity to experience nature; I forgot how much I enjoyed it. It’s been well over a year since the last time I really went hiking and even then I was with people. This time I was just me and the mountain.
Since this was my first time every hiking solo, let alone hiking across the globe, there are a few moments where I thought about all of the “what ifs”. What if I fall, what if I am lost, what if I don’t have enough water, what if it gets dark before I’m back, what if I get lost and no one knows to look for me. All of these thoughts crept in the farther and higher I trekked. Throughout all of that I knew that this is exactly what I wanted to be doing. To me there is something pleasurable about the struggles of hiking. It’s just me and the woods.
There are very few places that I have experienced the same kind of tranquility that I get on top of a mountain or hell even just standing in the woods. Being surrounded by trees that and landscapes that outdated everything I’ve ever known engages all the senses. Something about the smell of the woods, that raw earthy scent paired with the contrast of green and brown activates the primal instincts that we all out hardwired inside of us. As much as I love our modern day luxuries nothing can compare to the feeling nature can give me.
After about an hour of hiking my body starts to get tired and my mind starts to wander. This is where I really start to enjoy it. Not because I enjoy the pain and exhaustion but because this is the point where those vivid senses start to slip away. My body goes into autopilot mode. Nothing matters but one step after the other. Soon it starts to happen without any form of conscience thought.
Ironically enough the best way to describe this for those who have never experienced it, is driving a car. When you first learn you are so focused on the placement of your hands on the wheel, the amount of pressure being placed on the pedal, the constant glance in the mirrors although you know no one is on the road that you almost forget that you are driving. These are all thoughts completely overwhelm you making it nearly impossible to think. But as time passes soon you are able to sing, dance, and contemplate what you would like for dinner all at the same time. This is autopilot mode.
I stop for a moment and reach into my bag for my water bottle. I couldn’t help but turn around see how far I have come. It amazes me being able to looking down on the same town I was in an hour ago as if it were a toy model crafted by some architect. Immediately my train of thought is disrupted by a loud scream. I violently turn my head down the slope of the mountain. I my eyes frantically search through the trees but I see and hear nothing. Then it out of nowhere I the scream comes again this time echoing off the mountains. I look up and see the source. It is about 6 separate paragliders souring through the Swiss Alps enjoying every moment of it. I reach for my camera and attempt to focus in on them but the wind grabs them and it’s too late. I continue along the trail with a smile on my face just trying to imagine how many different emotions they are experiencing.
Two more hours go by as I cross over streams and walk across bridges made by fallen trees. As I round a bend I can see that up ahead is an open field. A childlike curiosity overcomes me. I begin to jump from rock to rock briskly moving through the trail attempting to keep the balance of safety and adventure. Finally I can see through the trees that the open sky while the sun glares down on the empty patch of grass. As I walk into the vast space it’s hard not to take in my surroundings.
The trail splits the field into two separate parts with two entirely different views. To my right is the field bending and rising into the top of a tree covered mountain way to steep to ever dream of hiking. But to my left is a view I will never forget. After several hours of hiking I have a view of a life time. To my left is two separate mountains that perfectly contrast each other. One is covered with green grass and grey rock but this isn’t what catches my eye. Sitting behind it is a snow capped mountain. This is the first time in my life that I am close enough to one that my eyes can see the details in the rocks. This is why I love Mother Nature. She is able to create such natural beauty that no building or 3D model can ever recreate. It is really the sheer size of it that blows me away.
I continue to walk into the field and realize that there is just one bare rock in the field. I couldn’t help but think that the mountain itself had left it there to in its own vanity. As if now we have earned the right to appreciate it. I sat down on the rock and let the view, the smells, the sounds of birds chirping, and the warmth of the sun soak in. Twenty minutes went by before I decided it was time to push forward. I was about half way through the hike and I didn’t want to risk the sun setting.
I really forgot how exhausting hiking can be. Especially when the terrain isn’t the most forgiving. A lot of the hike consisted of slow upward slopes which seems good on paper until you realize that the mountain itself is pretty high, about 5,400 ft. This means as good as it feels to take a nice relaxing hike there will be a long, hard and breathtaking climb to make up the difference. I tried to put that thought off for as long as I could. I was doing pretty well at it too until that long, hard, and breathtaking climb came.
What I really enjoyed about this part was that someone had built two shelters to either catch your breath or have your lunch. I was pretty captivated by them simply because of their age. They didn’t look to be new at all, however you can see some of the restorations done to them. I wanted to reach Mürren so I hurried along only stopping to take a few photos and to explore inside to read some of the carvings in the wood.
The road split into three separate trails all labeled with time frames. I could reach Mürren in an hour and half by taking either of the two paths. However, the third was labeled Mürren along with Winteregg but with a time of two hours. I contemplated taking that route until I realized that it was a nearly vertical trail. No chance in hell I was going to put myself through that.
It’s strange how accurate some of the trail times are. I somehow made it to at almost exactly an hour and a half after I choose my trail. This was an awesome path it went through the woods using log bridges to cross over streams and mini waterfalls. After hiking for 4 hours I had finally made it!
Although I will admit I probably should have done a little more research for this hike. I didn’t realize that Mürren was actually a town on the top of this mountain and not a mountain with a viewpoint. I actually found it so hard to believe that I backtracked 10 minutes thinking that I must have missed a trail maker but finally realized that this was it. I was half starved and nearly out of water but I was here.
I decided to take a walk through the town, it’s the least I could do considering I just spent four hours hiking here. But I was beyond starving. I knew that I had the my lunch still in my bag but I wanted to find the perfect spot to eat it. I needed to find myself the view that I earned. Ironically enough it was in the center of town. This view was as jaw dropping as the one from the open field but it was enough for me. I reached into my bag and took out my apple, bread and cheese.
It’s funny how quickly the body can adapt to situations. The last few weeks my breakfast or lunches have consisted of fruit, bread, cheese and the occasional deli meat. Before this trip I had never gone to the supermarket or any market just to buy a loaf of fresh baked bread or fruit before but it’s was the norm for me now. Back home my bread was sliced bread similar to Wonderbread occasionally I’d get potato or whole wheat but these loaves where never fresh.
It must have been a combination of dehydration, starvation and exhaustion but when I tell you this was one of the best lunches I had ever had I was not exaggerating. Every bite tasted like a little bit of heaven. For the first time I realized that I can tell the differences between different breads apples and cheeses. I would take turns chomping into the apple and biting into cheese or bread to get a mix of flavors in my mouth.
Once I felt ready to head back down I realized that if I take the same path back it will be cutting to close to dark before I reached the bottom. I took the map out and tried to figure out a solution. There were trams at a few of the mountain tops including this one but I didn’t want to take it if I didn’t have to. At least not without seeing another peak. I realized that Grütschalp wasn’t terribly far and that I could probably get there in about an hour or so and it had a tram leading straight down to Lauterbrunnen. The only downside was that I had to backtrack a half hour and head up to Winteregg. That dreaded path I told myself I’d never go up. But it’s either that or call it quits which was not something I was going to do.
Normally I don’t listen to music when I hike. I just like get into the grove of things with nature but I was exhausted and needed something to push me through this hike. I put on my headphones and turned on my music.
After a while I realized that my phone was starting to get low on battery. I turned my music off and continued heading back until I reached the path leading up to Winteregg. At first it was fun. It was a really steep climb that engaged almost every muscle in my body. From my hamstrings to my quads to my arms to my back all trying to keep balance. It was entertaining for the first 10 minutes. But then it hit me. This was just the beginning.
As far as my eyes could see looking up was a snake-like trail that taunted me which each and every bend. I started to become so exhausted and frustrated that I couldn’t help but yell. It wasn’t out of anger but out of sheer frustration. I was screaming things that didn’t even make sense but felt so good. The word fuck is such an extraordinary word when it comes to reliving anger. It can be used in so many different ways and I promise you I used them all.
My body was aching and my water was running low again. I could have sworn that this was never going to end and I was nearly right. Clearly this trail was untouched for a while because I had to constantly step over broken branches, cut my way through overgrowth and pray that none of it was poisonous. Later I realized that this climb was a 1,000 ft climb in the width, not the length, of a football field. If I would have known that I think I would have rather rolled down the hill like some Pillsbury doughboy than ever consider this, but it was too late to turn back now.
After about 40 minutes of sheer torture I made it to the top of this cardiac killer. Just to realize that I might be, and most likely am lost. I had to lift a latch on a gate that separated the trail from the road. Something that didn’t seem normal for a hiking trail. This road was split into two separate roads that intertwined back and forth. One was a dirt road the other was gravel that eventually turned into pavement. I truly had no idea where to go.
I took out my map for the millionth time and realize that this was of absolutely no use. The only thing that I helped me with was that Winteregg was south of where I thought I might be. Now I just had to figure out which way was south. As strange as this may be I was lucky that it was later in the day rather than mid day because I was able to see that the sun was retreating down the horizon in front of me. That means if I remembered correctly from middle school, Never Eat Soggy Waffles, that west was in front of me and south was to my left. This was all I had to go on, soggy waffles, 3rd grade and a retreating sun.
The trail, I’m being generous even calling it a trail at this point, became even stranger. The thin road bent and curved for no apparent reason taking the longest way possible up hills. There was even a point where a farmers tractor turned around the bend nearly running my over causing me to jump off the trail into a small trench. I don’t even think the man realize because he kept trekking as if nothing happened.
I didn’t even bother to flag him down because as long as I knew people still populated this road that I am at least not stranded and that itself was comforting. As I continued up the road I came across several log cabins. It took me a while to realize that although this is an adventure for me I am experiencing what an average day in this part of the country is like.
For ever step I took the more and more I accepted that I was not making it back before dark. I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I wouldn’t make it. Every time I felt the weight of what was actually happening I just took in the smells and sounds around me. It still had the same calming ability it had earlier in the day. I also kept a note of how far every cabin was from the last in case I reached the point of having to turn back and ask for help or shelter. But at least if I was going to get lost this was probably one of the best places to do it. Everywhere I looked was beautiful mountains.
The trail for whatever reason split off into a dirt road that to me seemed like the closest thing I was going to get to being the right trail. After a few more minutes I was greeted by a big beautiful yellow sign. I have never been so excited in my life to see a sign. In big bold letters it said WINTEREGG. I couldn’t help but let out a boisterous “YES”. The funny part is that this wasn’t the first time or the last time I was talking to myself. This entire half of the hike I was just ranting out loud about nearly everything and nothing. I was just truly happy to know that I was going to sleep in my obnoxiously hot tent tonight and not some strangers’ porch.
By this point I was about a half hour from Grütshalp where I was finally able to catch a cable car back down to Lauterbrunnen. I have officially survived my first solo out of country hike. Although what was supposed to be a half day hike turned into a 10 hour day I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it is here. Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places to get lost in. Truthfully I would do it all again, except next time with more water and few more snacks.