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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.

It was late morning on day four and I was seriously stressed. I had just climbed unroped down a 200-foot cliff, which had scared me badly—on or off the exact border, I was finding some dangerously steep terrain. I felt both stupid and stuck, as there was nothing but cliff between me and the glacier below. Suddenly, a half-dozen ibex appeared on the rocks at my elevation, a couple hundred feet away. Oh, the relief! All I had to do was find where they’d come up and follow their route down. After all, an ibex is a 200-plus-pound, four-legged beast with unwieldy horns, whereas I’m an experienced climber with sticky shoes. 

Then, one after the other, the ibex casually wandered across a steep slab of smooth limestone. Their hooves were sticking to rock I wouldn’t touch without a climbing partner and plenty of gear. I didn’t dare follow. Later, I learned that an ibex’s cloven hooves are split into two “toes” that can operate independently, with a hard outer edge for gripping the tiniest features and a soft inner pad for suctionlike traction. 

Eventually, I found an alternate way down—and learned never to trust anything that walks on two toes. I also vowed to be more careful with where I wandered. But adventure happens somewhere in the blurred middle ground between caution and confidence, and despite being humbled by the ibex, I would soon discover that I still hadn’t found a reasonable balance.   

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