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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.

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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