Outside My Comfort Zone

On a hike years ago, I met someone who was there on the advice of his therapist. “What?” I wondered. “Yeah, I know. He suggests that I hike up a mountain at least once a month.” I don’t remember anything else about the conversation, unfortunately, although I am sure the therapist had a good reason. This memory came to mind during our recent trip to Switzerland, which was planned with the desire to experience nature … up close.

We rented an apartment in Crans-Montana, an area in the French speaking part of Switzerland that is popular with skiers in the winter and also hikers in the summer. The hiking trail we chose was one of many in the area that parallel an irrigation channel, called bisse. Le Bisse du Tsittoret, the channel we walked along, was built in the fifteenth century; just downstream from a waterfall, the river was partially redirected in order to provide water to the area’s dry climate … “with the irrigated pastures producing grass both for grazing during the warmer months and, once cut down, for animal feed in the winter.” [thank you Internet].

Up and up the mountain we went, where the air was cooler and my sweater struggled to contain my pounding heart. Am I out of shape? Sort of. But at these altitudes, it’s hard for anyone to breathe in enough oxygen. The path was steep and rocky, and sometimes muddy because of drainage. Sometimes it was wide enough for a car – sometimes it was barely 18 inches wide. The land rose dramatically to our left and dropped dramatically to our right. With each break in the row of pine trees came a gasp … yet another spectacular view of the mountains and valley.

“Is that peak Mount such and such?”

“Yes, but it isn’t the highest peak in Switzerland. That would be the other one.”

“And could that be the Matterhorn?”

“Yes, that’s snow in the concave areas of the mountain.”

We passed a couple of farms along the way, some selling cheese and sausage out of a small self service-labeled refrigerator hanging off the side of a barn. We also refilled our water bottles at troughs of water along the way – some had spigots. The sound of cow bells was omnipresent, which also meant that cow pies were omnipresent. The huge animals lollygagged across the fields, their tails engaged in a losing battle with flies. “Happy Swiss cows,” our Swiss friends remarked. They sure looked content. Fellow hikers were mostly locals — our friends could identify their dialect. Otherwise, remote was the word.

The hike was supposed to last three hours one way. At its end point, we could catch a free shuttle bus back to the parking lot. But the starting point of the trail was poorly marked, and along with constant photo ops, frequent pee stops and short cuts down steep terrain, we were out for almost six hours. To be fair, this included a one-hour break at a mountain-top café where I enjoyed the most delicious rosti with bacon and cheese and topped with a fried egg. Always a silver lining, I say …

Sweaty and pooped and just north of cranky, we boarded the bus back to our parked car. What an exhilarating day! To be out in nature for such a long period of time. To be away from Wi-Fi for so long! Back home, I babysit a computer all day long and then head home in a crowded subway car full of crabby commuters. Up there in the alps, that life seemed a million miles away. Well, actually it was …

Who knows why that therapist suggested monthly hikes. Perhaps the patient was being nudged out of his black and white routine and into gray ambiguity. For me, this hike was like a huge trip beyond my own comfort level, the polar opposite from anything I would ever do. And it was fine. I would highly recommend it.

To view my photos from this trip, click here.


  • Ahhh, to be a Swiss cow and commute into town! Truly beautiful images makes me want to follow in your footsteps. Thanks for the inspiration and sharing your trip.

  • Thank you Gilbert!
    So glad for you to have had this time — and that we could travel with you. At least in flavor- – toothsome writing, vivid.


  • GIlbert, These photos are delicious. So crisp and clear. Full of depth and personality. Bravo. Your journal made me chuckle a few times. I enjoyed that, too.

  • Great blog, Gilbert. Sounds like a seriously. unique experience, well told!

    We did some intense hiking in Vietnam. Across very isolated rice paddy terraces and right through different tribal villages, where sometimes, women would hike with us for a while as they knitted colorful wearables. It was very much a world unto itself for a few hours. I can relate to the “are we there yet” feeling as well as the exhilaration. Great photo journal, as always.

  • Hi Gilbert, love your commentary. I can feel the fresh air, high altitude, wonderful food and quite the adventure. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your photos (the patterns in your Iceland photos speak “Gilbert!”) Cheers, Dena

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