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Kid, You'll Move Mountains!

SWITZERLAND | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [329]

This is my application for the World Nomads Scholarship 2014, the longer version I wrote when I thought the limit was 2500 words, not 2500 characters !

Kid, You’ll Move Mountains!

Zermatt, Switzerland, 13th September 2013. Hiking boots, check. 15 Spekulatius spread sandwiches, check. No idea what we are doing, check. This date marks the day my trusty travel sidekick Mia and I attempted to hike from Zermatt to Hörnlihütte, the highest reachable point on the Matterhorn mountain by those without professional hiking expertise.

This escapade all began with a conversation with a scruffy looking nomad in our cheap dorm room the night before. He told us of the hike he had been on that day; the super breezy Hörnlihütte route. The hike you only need a light shirt and two hours to complete, and definitely no experience required. The idea of an off the beaten track expedition and the promise of an up-close view of the Matterhorn hit us right in our adventurous hearts. Let’s just say the only useful piece of advice we received from the delusional traveller was that our converse sneakers would not be sufficient for the path. This should have been a hint of what was to come, but being young, naïve and abroad, the gleam of adventure was too seductive to refuse. 

From the moment I arrived in Zermatt, I was engulfed by the climate of extreme adventure. The personification of this extremity came in the meeting of a couple from the deep south of the USA. I have never encountered two people who burst with life as they did. If I could sum them up in one way, it would be the fact that unlike most people who would take the train across to Italy, they decided they would climb over the snow-capped mountains to save costs. There was nothing that could stand in their way. Inspired and encapsulated by their infectious conquer-the-world ethos, the expedition to the Hörnlihütte peak was inevitable.


Clad in our matching tie dye and hiking boots, Mia and I caught the Schwarzsee lift to where we would begin the Matterhorn trail. The lift sign read ‘Last ride to Italy.’ We would spend the next few hours toeing the line between Switzerland and Italy in order to look out upon the two countries from the point of view of the Matterhorn. The trail was on a seemingly exponential incline, yet I was so enveloped by the view surrounding me, the burn in my thighs seemed insignificant. An hour in and the route was already far more challenging than I had anticipated. We had crossed a shaky bridge that could have given way at any moment to a 100 meter drop to the valley below. We had navigated our path over boulders and along razor sharp bends, to finally come to the realization that our misinterpretation of the German signs had resulted in us becoming lost. We looked up at the almost vertical path of unstable stones; how did we get here?  


By the time we had found our way back to the path, we were faced with a new set of challenges. The path had become so vertical, ropes were in place to enable us to climb. We were quite literally traversing the Matterhorn, and in way over our heads. The temperature had plummeted to a crisp -10 degrees and snow lined our path. Four hours had passed and I was cursing that delusional nomad who set us on this ‘light hike’ that would take only a couple of hours and a light shirt to complete.The prospect of turning back seemed the most sensible, but we were so close to Hörnlihütte, we needed to push through.  


Hallelujah! We finally set foot at Hörnlihütte. The base camp was under construction and a helicopter would wizz up every half hour with supplies. The construction workers staying at the base camp looked at us with an expression of shock. They were bewildered as to why we were at Hörnlihütte so late in the day. It all dawned on us at once; we should not be here. We were in real danger, and the prospect of making it back to Zermatt before dark was impossible. The construction workers suggested we ask if we could get a lift back down with the helicopter, which was to our dismay, refused. 


In the words of our deep southern friends, we began ‘hauling ass’ back down the mountain as fast as our little legs could take us. We were taking bends on the edge of cliff faces, laden with ice, far too quickly. We had switched into survival mode. We needed to get off this mountain before dark, which was in two hours. The signs recommended Zermatt was still 6 hours away. My knees and shins were screaming with pain at the repeated downhill impact, and the number of tumbles I had taken were reaching into the double figures. Never in my life did I anticipate that I would be racing the sun down a mountain in Switzerland, and oh my, if my mother knew what I was doing!

We reached Schwartzee as the sun set. The lift was closed and it was four hours to Zermatt from here. Despite the almost consuming panic that had set, if I close my eyes to this day I can still vividly see how beautiful the twinkling lights of Zermatt looked from above. Using our iPhones as torches and for the moral boosting act of playing out loud ‘Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride’, we set forth. The path to Zermatt which was lined with trees that more than tripled our height, and below concerning animal feces from unknown sources taunted us. Were there wolves in Switzerland? Bears? Who knew what creatures we might meet in the dark woods.


Civilization! We have finally reached you! Tears streaked down my face as we set foot in Zermatt. The day we had was almost inconceivable, and we could not do it justice in our description to our Southern friends once we reached the hostel. 


I don’t know how we managed to survive the hike to Hörnlihütte, but one thing is for sure; someday I will be bouncing my grandchildren on my lap, telling them believe it or not, this old lady hiked the Matterhorn, and kids, you too will move mountains. 

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