Hiking in the Swiss Alps is incomparable. There are innumerable well-marked trails (by yellow signs, yellow diamonds, and red and white stripes), all of which offer stunning views. You will generally pass some quaint stone or wood chalets that are over 100 years old and part of your hike will most likely be accompanied by the sound of cowbells. Depending on your elevation, you will pass vineyards, deciduous trees, pine trees, mountain meadows, and moonscapes. The hikes are easy to get to via public transportation, and you can often find a way to get partway down or up a mountain by cable car or bus. As A. and I like to hike up but not down, we seek out the places where we can go down by some form of transport other than walking.
Most of my prior hiking experience was in California. The largest mountain range there, the Sierra-Nevadas, is about as different from the Alps as you can get. The Sierras are more rounded rather than peaked and have wide foothills leading up from the central valley. When you are in the valley you cannot see the tops of the mountains and vice versa. I think this is one of the reasons why the Alps are so striking to me: in the Rhone valley where I have been hiking recently (the Swiss canton of Valais), you can reach a peak 1500 meters or more above the valley floor and see all the way down to the valley, which is truly spectacular (and especially amazing when you just hiked up from the valley!).
Another difference that struck me on my hike today is that the Alps are really quite densely inhabitated compared to the Sierras. In the Sierras, even if you are near a campground, you can go on hikes that take you to areas in which you at least *feel* like you are in the middle of nowhere (granted, if you are near a drive-in campground, you are not really in the middle of nowhere. There are large wilderness areas in the Sierras that are truly accessible only by hiking, but unfortunately I cannot say that I have been to any of these). In the Alps, the trails criss-cross roads and ski slopes and pass by cabins. When you reach a peak, you will often find that there is a way to drive up to the peak (perhaps not publically accessible, but at least for maintenance) or a cable car (which is, of course, quite convenient). There are “mountain huts” throughout the high Alps where multi-day hikers can spend the night; these huts often have potable running water and serve hot meals. Some of this is quite convenient, and the fact the Alps are more populated (and this is Switzerland) means that it is easy to get to remote places by public transporation. However, I do miss that sense of being away from all human creations, of it being just me and nature.
A few more notes/observations about hiking in general:
- I have long, straight hair, and I have discovered that the best thing to do with my hair when hiking is braid it in two pigtails. This works much better than a single ponytail or braid down the back, as that results in my hair getting matted at the base of my neck.
- I did not have recent or extensive hiking experience prior to coming to Switzerland, and thus I do not really have the appropriate clothing. I do have excellent hiking boots and hiking socks, but the rest of my clothing has consisted of cotton underwear, cotton tee-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts, and an old windbreaker, none of which is ideal for sweaty uphill hikes. I am eager to obtain better hiking clothes, but I don’t think Switzerland is the place to get them, since everything is rather expensive here.
- After hiking either one or two days every weekend for the past several weeks, I have definitely increased my stamina and strength. My calf muscles speak for themselves 🙂 Now I just have to keep it up so I don’t lose what I’ve gained.