Europe: Is cold. This is a subjective, grammatically-incorrect statement: however, this is my blog post so I’m going to establish it as fact within the bounds of these internet margins. I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, where people wear their heaviest puffy coats when it gets to be 40 degrees. Coming to Atlanta for college even required some adjusting to, and so when I prepared for January in northern France I tried to be optimistic, thinking “Eh, there’ll be snow so the cold will be worth it.” Fast-forward to January 17th-ish, when I’ve been at GTL for almost a week, the winter-wonderland effect has worn off, and I’m looking back on December 2016 Maddy in pure, unadulterated jealousy.
Dramatics aside, the fall season doesn’t get nearly as cold. Compared to the spring when my cheeks became freezer-burned on the walk to school, a measly low of 32°F is entirely bearable. My southern disposition was scarred, though, and so I began planning my fall around minimizing the amount of time spent as a popsicle. I knew I wanted to experience the Alps in the warmest weather possible. I started researching popular day hikes near Metz, keeping in mind that the first and warmest weekend was also unfortunately shortened by a day. All of the hikes that I found were incredible, of course, but they were mostly farther than I wanted to travel. I had heard of Interlaken from my friends that did the Oxford program in the summer and thought to look it up. Turns out one of the “best hikes in the world” looms right over the incredible town of Interlaken, called the Hardergrat. I saw some photos and was hooked immediately.
I’m going to say it out loud: I am an adrenaline junkie. I love any and everything that goes fast/high, but I also do like to keep safety in mind (death prevents you from continuing to go fast/high). I am a somewhat experienced hiker, having gone to Colorado and Utah to do some pretty amazing stuff in the past, and so I felt prepared for what the Hardergrat was asking of me. Boy, was I in for a surprise. We set out early to get hiking poles and get up the mountain, taking a cog train to the Harder Kulm, a restaurant that overlooks the Interlaken valley.
We spent maybe 10 minutes here admiring the view, and then we set up to the first part of the trail: summiting Augstmatthorn. The trail up to this point was honestly one of the hardest hikes I’ve done possibly ever. It was like climbing stairs for miles, with incredible views, yes, but so SO difficult. There were some horizontal pasture areas with fields like you see in The Sound of Music, but most of it was along a densely forested uphill ridge with an incredible view of the Interlaken lakes.
After about 2-3 hours of huffing and puffing, we could finally see Augstmatthorn. Our hearts sank. Not only was it a good ways away, it looked MUCH steeper than what we’d been conquering since 9 am. We took a quick “I’m tired, but not defeated” break and started on our way.
We maybe took oh, I don’t know, seven breaks to climb Augstmatthorn? Yeah. It was insane. Some of the stairs had the height of my legs, so I wasn’t necessarily waltzing up like my two tall marathon-running companions. In fact I was nearly
climbing. When we got to the top I collapsed, partly from exhaustion but partly from the scenery. We took in the view while I shoved a sandwich into my face as quickly as I could. You could see off both sides of the ridge we were on: to our left were beautiful pastures and farmland, while to the right were the lakes and the edge of Interlaken. You can see the glaciers and white-topped mountains in the distance: it was absolutely breathtaking.
At this point, we had to decide if we wanted to continue to the actual Hardergrat trail (which we hadn’t even gotten to yet), or if we wanted to make our way down. I only had a little bit of water left, and even though the Hardergrat was the reason I’d
chosen to come to Interlaken in the first place, we figured it was better safe than sorry. The photo on the right is the rest of the Hardergrat trail.
Going down was almost as hard as going up, simply because of how steep and slippery the eroding dirt path was. We ran into some cows, had to say hi of course- aren’t they beautiful?? I’m no cow expert but those are some good looking cows.
At the bottom was a cheese-making restaurant, in which I promptly spent ten euros on cold water without looking back. It was worth it.
Long story short: Switzerland kicked my butt, but if it hadn’t then it wouldn’t have really been Switzerland.