22 November 2007

Why my camera is somewhere in the Swiss Alps (or, A Story from a time when I was in Switzerland)

"We got here to Grimmewald sometime in the morning. We traveled here from Interlaken, a beautiful city at the base of the Alps. We took a train, then a bus, and then a gondola up here to Mountain Hostel. Around one in the afternoon, we left to go walk and hike around. We hiked up the road through the villages. There are a few hundred people and only one road. We stopped at a place where a man sells sausage, milk, and cheese. Emily bought some sausage and cheese. The sausage was from a lamb and the cheese from a cow, and it was delicious. Possibly the best cheese and sausage I have ever eaten in my life. We stopped on a bench and had a small picnic. Emily stayed on that bench but we all went on and left her behind, trusting her with the responsibility of checking into our hostel once the reception desk opened. I was an idiot and promoted hiking the Jungfrau, the highest mountain in Europe. There was snow on the top. I was feeling that crazy sense of adventure, the one that says enthusiastically, "You are only in the Swiss Alps once, blah blah blah." We opted for a more practical option, though, the Schillthorn. I was excited to summit it. It has been a long time since I have been hiking or climbing at all. We began our journey.

We left the trail rather early on and decided to follow the creek, or river, up the slope. Unfortunately, I had the idea to cross the river. I discovered my lack of adventure and ability to leap across rivers easily. I took my shoes off and wondered for a long time how I would cross. Finally, I decided a place. As I was crossing, my camera dropped out into the river. I realized it immediately but didn´t do much. I said, "Crap, I just dropped my camera," to Rachel and she bolted into action while I just stood there, watching all of it play out. I did not have much hope. We saw the camera case and they got it out for me but the camera itself was long gone. I threw the case into the river. I did not want it anymore. I had been carrying the camera by holding it with my cardigan, tied around my waist. It was a rather ingenious way, I thought, but the river crossing could have used a bit more preparation. The cardigan was a little loose and the initial big step was not at all conducive to security as far as holding it was concerned.

We continued to climb. Then the mountain started getting steeper and steeper, and the grass turning into more and more rock. It was almost a vertical climb and we were not sure what to expect. There was a place at the top where we could see the grass ended but we were not sure if it wound around another side or just transformed into imposing cliffs. Rachel went ahead a little bit to explore. I was starting to feel really stupid and bad about the whole thing. I did not see any way to get down and was not sure there was a way to get up, either. Going down on that kind of terrain seemed suicidal to me. It was very steep and slippery, and rocky. It looked from where we were like Rachel was giving the thumbs up so we climbed up after her. When we got to her, it was clearly impossible. She said she was thinking it would be okay to attempt to climb some rocks (pure rock climbing without any gear) but when she tried, the rock was so eroded and came off in her hand every time she grabbed a hold. Rachel´s terror began at that moment. Apparently she is morbidly scared of heights. We were pretty high up and to all appearances, simply stuck on a rock. I felt horrible and hopeless. We saw a gondola going up to the station at the summit of the peak not too far away. It was odd to know that they probably saw us, and that we needed help, but what could they do? I started to imagine a helicopter coming to get us after being stuck on the mountainside for so long. I wondered how long we would have to be stuck on the mountainside. Dallin was confident he could get us down, though. I looked at him and placed all of my trust in him. I did not have any confidence in my own ability to get myself off the mountain, so I told Dallin that if he would help me down, I would follow him. And he did help me down. He was rather optimistic and encouraging. My confidence was building. He was telling me where to put every foot, pretty much. It was ridiculous, actually, but he was patient with me. Then I slipped and started to slide and that is when we had our slide for a few feet. Dallin started to slide with me and put his arm out to stop me and we were all right. But it killed any confidence I had gained and I was quite nervous and scared. Rachel and Dan were pretty far behind us and we saw that Rachel kept stopping, completely immobilized for long periods of time. The mountain was evening out and I started sliding on my butt instead of climbing down. Eventually, I told Dallin to go back for Rachel. He said she would refuse any help. That much was certain, that much was clear. I said he did not have to help her, simply make sure she kept moving. I made my way toward Christina who had been at the bottom earlier because she turned around ealier than we did. I fell once in making my way to her and it hurt for a while, but I got over it. Christina and I kept walking further and it started to rain. We found a huge rock that provided an overhang of shelter on one side and waited there. We were there for a long time and Dallin and Rachel´s progress was slow. They looked very small. I felt like I was watching something on the news about a rescue mission or something. When it started raining harder, though, we sought the shelter of the inside of the rock again and could not watch our friends. At one point there was a massive rumble of thunder. It was the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my life. It was absolutely terrifying. Lightning quickly followed. The lightning was very close and our situation seemed more dire by the second. It was getting dark, too. We needed to get off that mountain.

Eventually, they made it and we made our way down in the rain with absolutely soaking shoes. Finally, we got back to the hostel, and it was glorious when we did. Dallin was not so enthusiastic as he had been. His continual and indomitable optimism on the climb itself were invaluable, even ridiculous almost, to me. He remained absolutely positive the entire time. But in the end, we were all exhausted."

What adventures! No wonder I'm scared of mountain climbing these days.

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