Between Torsten’s sailing blog and Sören’s mountaineering blog, my life feels blog-less and dull. You see, I am in desperate need of a hobby that also allows me to ramble about maps, distance covered, knots, and a life of adventure. Lacking such exciting pastimes myself, the best I can manage are glamorous appearances as guest blogger, which is why I enthusiastically accepted Sören’s request to write an entry about our summer vacation hiking the Bärentrek in the Berner Oberland.
Through many years of experience, I have learned the hard way that it is safest to travel with my brother in packs. The reason is quite simple: for any given type of vacation, every additional group member who is not a Sören is going to decrease the average level of physical suffering and risk. What this means in practice is that Anke only wanted to go if Anita joined us, and Anita only agreed to repeat her 2011 experience because it wasn’t just Sören and her this time around. It also meant that we were careful to manage expectations in advance: we constantly joked about all the extra equipment Sören was going to carry for us (e.g. a telescope for watching the stars) and about how we would watch him labor up the mountain from the comfort of cable cars, taking the easy way up.
With expectations thus aligned, we ultimately had a great time hiking for nine days, covering the distance from Meiringen to Adelboden with some great vistas along the way. In good spirit, Sören led the way as self-proclaimed Turnvater Jahn, who wanted to shape the jellyfish-like bodies of his fellow co-travelers. “Pain is weakness leaving the body”, we were told, which ultimately only served to organize the collective resistance of us jellyfish (we were all too happy to endorse this group identity). Meanwhile, we spineless ocean dwellers had some small hope that the trip would allow Turnvater Jahn to quit his summit addiction cold turkey: he was constantly allowed to see, but not touch! Granted, there were some small lapses along the way, including the Schilthorn, the Bunderspitz, and the Ammertenspitz. I am sorry to report, alas, that the trip has only added fuel to the flame – which probably comes as no surprise to long-time readers of this blog.
Along the way, we had some fantastic accommodations. The Hotel Rosenlaui was the destination for our first day and a truly memorable one at that. The decadent colonial style of its interior is a wonderful contrast to the surrounding scenery, and one can only marvel at the lavishness of times long past. It certainly did not hurt that we had booked a “traditional night”, which included an opulent dinner and a Swiss male choir performing traditional folk songs. Another great night was at the Bunderalp, where we slept on top of a cowshed, had Swiss raclette for dinner, and listened to the wonderful sound of Alphörner saying good night to each other. I have a hard time imagining something more Swiss than that! But fear not, we also preserved some cherished German traditions while on our trip, primarily by spending quite a few evenings with Doppelkopf. In fact, Anita could not get nearly enough of it, so please challenge her to a game or two, if you have the chance! ;-)
This being my first longer hiking trip in the Alps, I was struck by the overall level of convenience. Opportunities for showering were far more common than expected, the food was great, and the weight of our backpacks immeasurably lighter than having to carry the full camping loadout. This was definitely a welcome, jellyfish-approved change to the more isolated and rugged Canadian wilderness experience that I am used to (and also love). At the same time, it’s absolutely crazy to see how the Swiss have succeeded in using every inch of land they’re given. No matter how steep, no matter how small, they have engineered cog railways, cable cars, and supply trails to make the alpine accessible like no one else (things like the Jungfrau railway take this to the extreme). And while the alpine pastures certainly are scenic, it makes me shudder to think of all the labor and toil that was put into them over the centuries. Overall, this trip has certainly expanded my ideas about Switzerland, which so far had circled around xenophobia, shady finance, and a suspicious level of prosperity (keep in mind that I live in “poor, but sexy” Berlin – arriving in Zürich always feels like a different world entirely).
As always when escaping to the great outdoors, the vacation had the effect of compressing one’s belongings to a small backpack and one’s activities to a selected few: walking, eating, and sleeping. Life can really be that simple! Especially since starting a nine-to-five office job, I cannot think of a better way to regenerate. What’s also great about leaving civilization behind is that it reminds you of all the good things about civilization! At some point, you really want that couch; to listen to that track whose lyrics you have half-forgotten; to wake up and not be anxious at the look of dark clouds gathering. That being said, I am already looking forward to the next opportunity for the jellyfish to explore new habitats! ;-)