I promise that I won’t title every post “Swiss adventures” or “Exploring the Alps”, but this past week I felt that I had a chance to truly experience hiking and a bit of mountaineering in the Alps. And, yes, I considered myself fortunate almost every single moment!
As I’ve said, the program with which I’m working emphasizes the outdoor education component. After all, we are smack-dab in the Alps, and we try to take advantage of that location! For a “normal” school day, we have class from 8:00-11:20, and then activities from 11:30 or so – 4:00 or so, and then class again. The schedule keeps the students and teachers busy! However, it’s been quite a bit cooler (or colder) in Zermatt than is normal at this time of year, and the weather impacts activities – no climbing in the rain because it’s just too slippery and dangerous on the rocks.
The Friday schedule is a bit different – in the morning, students sit through 6 classes in a row, and then everyone leaves for weekend trips/activities. This past Friday, we split the group in two, and my group departed around 1:15 for Trift. It wasn’t a long hike there, so we took our time, stopping a few times to eat lunch and to regroup. We hiked a bit in the fog and mist, but there were a few breaks in the grey sky. I kept thinking “This is my Friday afternoon – how cool!”. Yes, I’m overly enthusiastic about EVERYTHING right now.
We hiked along the side of the mountains that flank Zermatt to the west, but then we made our way down to Trift, which sits in a small valley.
While the huts are designated so by the Swiss government and also throughout the Alps there is a “hut system”, this one wasn’t all THAT rustic – it was more of a hostel. The people who run it, Hugo and Fabienne, are very Swiss. When we arrived, he barked out specific orders for our group, which was fine because trying to organize 20+ teenagers is always a challenge. We settled in for the night around 5:00 pm, which is quite early, but it was warm inside and very brisk outside! After a pasta dinner, which we had brought in with us, we all crowded in one room and two of the faculty members read Edward Whymper’s account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. The purpose of this reading was twofold: to instruct or illuminate young minds about the Matterhorn climb (all from Whymper’s perspective) AND to put them to sleep (it’s a lengthy account dating from the 19th century). I was delighted that we sent the students to bed around 8:45, because I was probably asleep by 9:00! The hut, while a bit chilly, was comfortable but definitely not luxurious. There was a common bathroom area, a warm dining room thanks to the wood-burning stove, and then several rooms with a different number of beds. We weren’t the only guests – there were some German and maybe Italian hikers and climbers who were there as well. The huts are quite busy during the summer season and most shut down in the fall. I’ve wanted to hike hut-to-hut one of these days for a while, and last Friday’s stay just convinced me that it would be an amazing way to experience the Alps.
Saturday morning, we were up and at ’em fairly early – breakfast at 7:15, 8:15 departure. Hugo treated us with an Alpenhorn good-bye:
And then we set off on the hike back to Zermatt, which was a longer trip than the hike to Trift. The morning light as we began our descent was pretty spectacular. I was also still cold!
It was a lovely, lovely hike from Trift back to Zermatt. For most of the hike, the faculty kept saying “This is our office!”. The students were positive and enjoyed the hike as well, so it was a great experience all around. Win/win!
As if that experience didn’t fulfill my fun/beauty quota for the week (or month or year), on Monday, rather than a regular day of classes, we climbed Breithorn, one of the peaks quite close to Zermatt. On Sunday, we picked up our crampons in town and did a quick ‘practice’ with them on Sunday night, and Monday morning, we met a lift which took us most of the way up the mountain. Breithorn is known as one of the easiest 4,000 meter climbs around. It isn’t very technical, although there is snow and ice, so crampons are advisable, as are knowledgeable guides. Again, after the first week of iffy weather, we lucked out with a great day – not too windy, although there certain was a breeze at the top! We were in groups of 6 or so, a guide leading each group, and it was fun to experience climbing with crampons.
While not the most technical climb nor strenuous, it allowed us to appreciate where we are in Switzerland as we took in views of Mont Blanc in France (the tallest peak in western Europe) and of the Italian Alps. It’s amazing part of the world – if we had stepped a bit more in one direction, we probably would have crossed into Italy!
There are more experiences to come, and I can’t believe that I just left the US 12 days ago because so much has already happened. I also can’t imagine what it would be like to be one of my students, to take all of this in as a 15 or 16-year-old. This is definitely a work hard/play hard experience, but we’re also able to sit on the side of a mountain, eating a chocolate bar as we take in spectacular vistas.