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Backpacker Magazine – March 2012

Hiking Switzerland: Around the Alps in 80 Days

Well, maybe 105. But who's counting? Contributing editor John Harlin defies conventional wisdom with a 1,400-mile circumnavigation of this mountainous kingdom.

by: John Harlin, Photos by Patitucciphoto

The author climbing Monte Rosa Glacier (John Bird)
The author climbing Monte Rosa Glacier (John Bird)
The author at Hermance, Lake Geneva (Jay Sherrerd)
The author at Hermance, Lake Geneva (Jay Sherrerd)
Ofenhorn (John Harlin)
Ofenhorn (John Harlin)

Online Exclusive
View an interactive map of John's route and read his daily trip reports at backpacker.com/switz12.

YOU DON'T WANT IT TO END
I had two worries about this expedition: my body and my brain. The body survived a 50-foot fall; it would get me through. But could I maintain the mental edge for more than two months at a stretch? Would I get lonely, worn down by the constant routefinding and risk assessment? 

I never had the chance to find out. On September 12, 2011, as I was hiking down from the summit of Mont Dolent, where I symbolically completed the Swiss loop, my mind replayed the 105 days I’d spent on the border. Somewhere along the line I was supposed to have wished it to be over, to be put out of my misery. Perhaps it should have been that time I woke up with freezing water pooling inside my tent. Or maybe those blistered days before I changed boots. Or the day I descended 9,000 vertical feet as fast as I could—through snow, boulders, rain, and a cliff-steep forest that left me dangling from trees—to reach the valley before dark. Nope.

Sure, my Swiss adventure was hard sometimes, even dangerous when I wasn’t wise. But at its best it was simply a long backpacking trip in glorious, wild terrain. And what could be better than brewing a morning cup of joe in a tiny tent, navigating ridges and valleys all day, and crawling into a sleeping bag at night? At the very end, as I hiked down from Mont Dolent, I wasn’t celebrating inside. Instead, I wondered: Shouldn’t a circle keep going? 

Contributing editor John Harlin is planning a book—and guided trips—based on his adventure (johnharlin.net).




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