It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. —Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first people to summit Everest.
There’s nothing like standing below an iconic mountain peak to remind you of your place in the universe’s hierarchy. Make that mountain peak an infamous one like the Eiger, and you can see why some people need a moment.
The Eiger, in the Bernese Alps, is infamous. It has a magnetic pull for mountaineers and over the years has become etched in mountaineering history. It is imposing and beautiful — quite the backdrop for our recent hiking Pioneer trip.
On Thursday evening, our four hiking Pioneers Reimund, Udo S, Andrea and Robi along with their komoot hosts, Iris and Manu, gathered in the Alpine village of Grindelwald in Switzerland. The first evening of any Pioneer trip is usually a chilled affair, an opportunity for the group members to meet each other and “warm-up” ahead of the action. This trip was no different.
Before meeting in the restaurant that night, some of the group took advantage of their early arrival and headed out on some short walking loops around the area. Robi, just having started a new job and keen to take advantage of the break, was one of them. Needless to say, by the time the meal was served, there was already plenty to talk about.
Almost immediately there was a great, effortless vibe amongst the group, partly due to the fact that some of them already knew each other (unbeknownst to the organizers). Andrea and Udo, for example, are known as the “komoot couple” in their hometown, having met on a komoot Tour planned by a mutual friend.
Reimund’s life philosophy, that outdoors is an attitude towards life, not just a place, is a sentiment shared by the whole group, so it was easy for everyone to chat comfortably before retreating to the cozy chalets in preparation for the days to come.
What was to come were three days of Alpine hiking – including the longest route many of them had ever done. Robi, usually a mountain biker, was particularly aware of this, ensuring he had plenty of training under his belt before he arrived. There was a distinct air of anticipation of the adventure that was about to unfold, even for an experienced hiker like Reimund (who completed his goal to walk around the world, i.e. cover 40 000 kilometers, or 25 000 miles, in 2016).
Warming up at 2000 meters (6500 feet)
On Friday the Pioneers stepped onto the trail spritely and excited with a hearty packed lunch each and a light day pack. The heavier luggage was sent ahead so that they could enjoy their walking days without being bogged down by the weight of heavy packs. As a result, they ascended quickly from the village, finding themselves up amongst the mountain peaks in no time. The trail took them up up up, until they reached the famous Kleine Scheidegg hut.
As you might guess, the hut sits atop the Kleine Scheidegg Pass, and as its situation might suggest, it boasts some pretty spectacular views. It is also a popular spot for watching ascents of the Eiger’s North Face – especially significant in the late 1800s when climbing was coming into its own and first ascents were being attempted.
For our Pioneers, the hut was the halfway point for day one. It’s busy though, so they walked onwards to a nearby hut for a well-earned lunch break.
The second half of the day was spent descending into Wengen — a postcard-perfect Alpine village of timber chalets. They followed a trail which, in wintertime, is a famous downhill skiing route, pausing on the way down for a short break, and in Andrea’s words, “the best iced-coffee I’ve ever had.” They arrived in the village in good time, joyful at the ground they’d covered. They celebrated by heading straight to the bar for a refreshing beer, to discuss the amazing trail they’d just walked and ponder what the next day would hold. The conversation flowed so easily that evening, that after the beer and dinner and the post-meal conversation, they had run out of time for the sauna!
The Big Day
The second day of hiking was a big one. It was the longest day of the trip and the longest hiking route any of the Pioneer group members had attempted in one go. With this knowledge in the back of their minds, the group set off with a little more trepidation than on day one. After the previous day’s hiking, they were also a little less energetic.
However, with such good vibes among the group, there was a natural openness, and together they rose to the challenge of the day!
The route on day two took them through very different scenery to day one – it was wild, big mountain country with glacier-worn valleys and a desolate feel. It passed through fewer villages, which added to the isolated feel, as well as to the adventurous vibe of the day. There were fewer places to stop and bail!
Arriving at the halfway point — a true moment of reckoning —, the Pioneers were clearly tired. They had just got to the village of Murren, and with it, their last opportunity to take public transport. That being the case, lunch was a time for some serious discussion: push through and complete the full day’s walk or duck out here. The route was long, but it was also tough, with steep descents and some technical sections of trail. The decision wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
This bunch had grit. And more importantly, they had each other. Together they made the decision to rise to the challenge and push on to complete the full route. With a shared mindset that pushing their comfort zone would be a rewarding experience, they buoyed each other’s enthusiasm. They set off after lunch full of motivation, although at a measured pace – there was a massive climb up to the Rotstockhütte (an isolated mountain hut at 2040 meters (6693 feet)).
Once up and over the pass they spent a few hours descending, and as they approached the town of Griesalp, their final destination for the day, they heard it: The boom of a traditional alphorn sounding through the valley. It’s a lovely sound on a good day, but as it coincided with the Pioneers’ growing sense of elation at having completed the route, it took on a spiritual quality. Arriving in the town felt like a child’s joy at Christmas. The Pioneers were so excited at their achievement and celebrated it as a team win. All agreed that it was a fantastic day. But they did go to bed quite early.
A short descent to wrap up the weekend
The final day was short by almost anyone’s standards – a four-mile (6.4-kilometer), two-hour descent into the town of Kiental. After the high of the previous day’s achievement, walking down to the departure point was bittersweet. Amazing memories of the previous day, and lovely mountain scenery of the current route, mixed with the feeling of tired legs and an awareness that the adventure would be over soon. And it was.
In Kiental, the group collected their luggage and hopped on trains in the direction of their respective homes. No doubt they napped on the journey home!