The Snowy Summit of the Meidpass

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Europe » Switzerland
July 11th 2014
Published: October 22nd 2017
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Geo: 46.2098, 7.7043

(Erin this time.) Waking up in the Hotel Weisshorn is exactly like waking up in a cloud: whole villages and even birds were below us. Just as with dinner, we breakfasted in the dining room in the sky (sliced meats and assorted cheeses, yogurt and museli, breads with jam or Nutella). Although we could see no Alps for the rain clouds, still the view was all green hillside and rocky cliff, lovely and green the way Idaho is for maybe 6 weeks out of the year.
We set out on our 8-mile hike toward Gruben today, descending sharply from the isloated hotel. We crossed and recrossed a stream, the trail spongy with moss and mud. Even in the sheets of mist and drizzle, filtered sunlight brightened the bloom of bluebells and buttercups all around us. Very soon, we began climbing again, headed for the Meidpass at about 9,000 feet. Sean set our steady uphill pace as we wound our way around sunken boulders and past hidden green lakes. We followed the flag-like trail markers painted on rocks in a trio of red-white-red, little friendly confirmations that we were on the right path. We were in high spirits, so far only slightly apprehensive about the reports of snow on the pass.

After an hour or so of hiking, we did indeed reach snow line and an ominous charcoal-gray rain cloud was speeding toward us from the west. Without gators or adequate footwear for snow, my feet were soaked in no time. Every step brought a fresh onslaught of slush and chill to my toes. The nearer the top we climbed, the deeper the snow became. Now to my ankles, now to my calves, sometimes over my knees. And yet up we trudged. The knife-edge ridge of the Meidpass was in sharp view up ahead, a thin horizontal line of black bisecting the clouds from terra firma. When we finally reached the summit, an icy wind stung my cheeks and I was too cold and concerned about the descent down the other side to care about its being the cultural border between the French and German regions of Switzerland.

After a quick group photo (they were kind enough to indulge me in the whipping wind and snow!), we began our descent toward Gruben, somewhere way down below in a world I could only hope was green and full of sun. I can honestly say this was the first time I have ever been scared on a hike. The trail edged narrowly along the mountainside through the snow, and I felt as one often feels next to a cliff or canyon rim: the extra strong gravitational pull that wants to suck you downward. All the footsteps in which I stepped for footholds were sloped downhill so that with each tentative step, I slid perilously forward.My day hiking boots were barely up to the task and I am certain that without Sean's steady hand to help me down, I would have been stuck on the face of that pass until the thaw.

But finally, after what seemed a thousand steps, we reached level ground again and it became possible to hop from rock to rock to avoid the slush. A lake below came in and out of view beneath a curtain of fog, and we could just about glimpse the edge of the valley, inside which we were sure to find the village of Gruben, our home for the night. I was much relieved.

An hour or so later, we came upon a herd of shaggy sheep which created such a quintessential picture of Switzerland, I thought we had stumblend into a painting. Ragged cliff, green hillside strewn with boulders, sheep clanging around with their telltale bells, and all of this mirrored in a glassy mountain pond. I pursued the sheep for some photos, but stopped short once one of the rams began pawing the ground, threatening me. He made it crystal clear not to take one step closer. But I was close enough to giggle at their cute black faces and oddly curled horns. All traces of fear from the Meidpass descent had evaporated with the fog.

Finally, we came out from under the worst of the weather and dropped into a charming hamlet on the side of a hill. Two mountain bikers roared past us down the impossibly narrow trail, calves and knees bloody but they were whooping with joy. Then came the forest and flowers back to greet us with each step farther down toward the valley floor. Now we were shedding layers to cool our skin. I couldn't believe that I was sweating from the warm air on the same day I had felt so cold. Such is the climate in the mountains!

By the time we reached Gruben at the bottom, footsore and smiling, there were as many patches of blue sky as we had seen in days, and the village was as cute as could be. Red shutters, more geraniums, and narrow rushing river, milky with glacial silt. We checked into the Hotel Schwartzhorn (easy to find the only hotel in town), and after refreshing showers, reveled in a three-course dinner of soup, pasta, and flan. Sean and I fell asleep easily beneath our separate down comforters. We left the window open to the mountain air, chilled by the nearby Turtman glacier.

Additional photos below
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16th July 2014

holy cow! what an experience in the snow! glad you arrived safely.

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