Outside My Comfort Zone

Years ago, I went on a hike and 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.” It would be great to know the reason for this; alas, I don’t remember anything else about the conversation. This snippet of conversation came to mind during our recent trip to Switzerland, which was planned with the desire to experience nature up close and — more importantly — see the alps.

We rented an apartment in Crans Montana, adjacent towns in the French speaking canton of Valais that are popular with skiers in the winter and with hikers in the summer. The hiking trail we chose was one of many in the area that paralleled an irrigation channel (bisse) built many years ago; Le Bisse du Tsittoret, the channel we walked along, was built in the fifteenth century. Just downstream from the Tièche waterfall, the river was partially redirected to create Tsittoret 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 pounding heart struggled to remain in my chest. 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. At one point, we walked under a gondola lift and someone said “Why didn’t we ride that thing?” Wait, did those words come out of my mouth?

We passed a couple of farms along the way, some selling their 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 seemed 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. The fellow hikers we passed were mostly locals — our friends could identify their dialect. Otherwise, remote was the word.

Did you bring the sun block? The sun is much stronger the higher up you go. Look over there, that is Mount so and so? No, 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. Wow, is that a glacier? Yes, and over there is another even bigger one. Look across the valley – it’s like we are at eye level with the mountain tops. Awesome! Wait – are those blueberries? Yes, and you can eat them. Wow, are they sweet. Did you also see the raspberries along the trail a while back? It’s getting a bit chilly – let me put on my jacket. How on earth will we last six more days without WiFi?

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. Somehow, I always find a silver lining …

Sweaty and pooped and just north of cranky, we boarded the bus — over the moon that our trek had ended — and rode back to our parked car. But for me, the day was also exhilarating. To be out in nature for such a long period of time, to enjoy all of that open space, all of that quiet! To slow down … Wow. In my daily life, I babysit a computer for hours on end, and then I head home in a crowded subway car pressed against crabby commuters. Up there on the mountain, that life seemed a million miles away. LOL – 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, it was sort of like that — this hike was an extended break from my own comfort level and the polar opposite from anything I would ever do. And you know, it was fine. In fact, more than fine. My senses were restored my view of the world was rebalanced. I would highly recommend it.

To view my photos from this trip, click here.

5 Comments

  • 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.
    John

  • 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.
    Andy

  • 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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