Water bottle, hiking shoes, heavy socks, ham and cheese sandwiches, banana, apple, and backpack. Check. Ready to start my five-mil hike up the mountain in Murren, Switzerland. Fourteen young women and me. Our fourth hike for the week. The longest, most difficult, and most strenuous. The other hikes included time to stop and play on the playground, take pictures of cows and sheep, and smell the flowers. We are promised a surprise on this hike. The weather is surprisingly warm. Not much rain either.
It’s 7:00 a.m. Just finished breakfast. We meet in the lobby of our residence. Only one participant is sitting out this hike. Maybe the difficulty level scared her. She is tired and not sure she can keep up with the group. I have my doubts. The altitude is high, and we are climbing even higher. I decide I need a challenge. I tell myself, “Don’t be a wimp.”
We walk out of the lobby. Fill our water bottles with the cold natural water coming out of the fountains. Five minutes later, we meet our hiking guide at the beginning of the trail. She is in her early forties. She leads hikes at least once a week.
She checks everyone to make sure we are wearing sturdy hiking shoes. She discovers one girl who is wearing a pair of sandals with socks. Thea likes to feel the earth under her feet. She walks on the ground outside of our retreat center in her bare feet. She says she is getting “grounded”. Another girl is wearing a pair of sneakers. Doris, our guide, isn’t too sure she will be able to walk safely. Doris is prepared. She hands both of the girls walking sticks and keeps her eye on them.
Doris tells us some history about the surrounding mountain. We listen carefully. I take a position at the front of the line. I don’t want to look like a slacker. I don’t want to get left behind. I walk with Holly who is an avid hiker and the only person close to my age. Most of the girls are between the ages of twenty-five to thirty-five. I am sixty-two.
We walk past so many beautiful wildflowers. Pink, blue, yellow, and purple. We hop over fresh cow poop. I try not to trip. That is my biggest worry. Past abandoned homes used in the winter time. The dairy cow and sheep farmers stay in these places to keep the animals fed and cared for in the very snowy times of the year. Cows can’t graze in the winter.
An hour into the hike we begin to climb. At first, it is a gradual climb. It becomes steeper. I am a desert dweller climbing a mountain in the alpine country. Like a snake crawling up a mountain. Holly is in front of me. I am huffing and puffing. I ask Doris, “How much further do we have to climb?” She doesn’t answer. I am huffing and trying to breathe normally. I just keep going up and up. I stop to take a breath and drink from my water bottle.
Doris has a lot of energy and strength. She does this twice a week. I do it once every five years. I wish I could be Doris. She promises there will be a surprise when we reach the top. I look towards the heavens and ask Sumio to help me out. He loved hiking. I was almost ready to give up. But, where would I go? There is no turning back.
Doris encourages everyone to keep on. Another stop. A drink of water. Breathe deeply. We finally reach the top. There it is. A bird’s eye view of the green pastures, and glaciers hanging off the mountains. Just like the pictures in the brochure. Incredible.
It is warm. I am sweating. There is a waterfall. I walk behind the waterfall. A curtain of water right in front of me. I put my arms out to let the cold water rolling off the mountain flow over them. I am so happy to finally reach the top. I walk carefully. It is very slippery. From here it is all downhill! We exit the waterfall and walk another twenty minutes.
We find a spot at an old farmhouse to eat our lunch. There isn’t much shade and the sun is hot. I find some shade on the side of the barn. Holly joins me. We eat our lunch. I am very tired. Doris tells us, “You can turn back here if you don’t want to continue.” I think about it. The rest of our hike is laid out in front of us. I can see where we will go next. It doesn’t look too difficult. I don’t want to go back alone. I will get lost. I am good at that.
We start walking again. Down the trail. In front of some very big cows. Doris warns, “Don’t look the cows in the eyes!” “Don’t approach cows who have babies.” Everyone is from the city. Some of the girls take selfies with the cows. They don’t have cows in New York city. We arrive at one of the small dairy farms. They have fresh milk for sale. I open the little refrigerator. Pour myself a small cup of milk. Put 5 CH ($5) into the little box. The milk is so sweet and smooth. Cows that eat fresh grass and wildflowers produce sweet milk. They are happy cows.
We continue the hike down. Forty minutes later we come to a farmhouse. It is very common for the small farmers to offer food and drink to hikers. We stop. I have a cup of coffee and some cheesecake. Everything is homemade. A family of four is at another table savoring their fondue. The sky is blue. The air is clean. What else can I ask for? The hike back to town is much easier.
This hike taught me a lesson. No matter how hard something is. Don’t give up.