This post was written in 2010. I hope that I can do this again soon.
To commemorate the end of the beautiful fun-packed decade of the thirties, I, aka Elliott, the hero of this story, excitedly agreed to Tim’s (my winter-sport buddy) invitation to a hike up a mountain with none other than the Mighty Guru – Jonathan. Legend has it he was once lost in the thick sweltering jungles of Papua New Guinea (click if interested in travel and tourism to PNG) for three days and three nights. His family and the authorities gave up hope. They thought mountain gorillas got the best of him. However, Jonathan magnificently emerged from the jungle with a bright smile, like he was on holiday at the luxurious Beau Rivage.
Apart from Tim and myself, I later learned there were other recruits. These were two former Navy Seal early-retirees-turned-CERN Scientists. Their skillset involved smashing atoms and anti-matter in CERN’s new gadget, a Large Hydrogen-Particle Collider (LHPC). I knew this machine could create a black hole, allowing us to travel to different universes and other dimensions. Otherwise, my understanding of what else this device does is fuzzy. So, I was the official Barney dragon for this journey. In other words, I was slow and unfit. A hike-ola was supposed to get me fit in a day.
The evening before that memorable day, I prepared all my gear. Sadly, I was fooling myself. I was not sure what gear to prepare. I rechecked the email message thread and found that the Guru had given strict instructions, which I knew I must follow if I wanted to survive. They were to ‘bring:
—hiking boots that are happy in sloppy snow (no sneakers);
—clothing for keeping warm and dry (the weather where we are heading is sunny);
—usual sustenance plus water; and
—swimming suit or running shorts (fall-back item).’
That’s easy! But I was not sure what he meant by “fall-back item.” “Swimming suit or running shorts” for a mountain hike? Bizzare, to say the least! Tim, being his good friend, made it all seem pleasant and cheerful. “Oh, we will go for a simple walk,” he said. So, I asked over a previous lunch date, “Tim, do you know where we are going?” Tim replied, “oh no, Jonathan will let us know.”
I thought nothing of it until I mentioned this to Inal (she is famous, so her name is changed for her protection), Jonathan’s daughter. Despite being very ill with some disease from out of space, she had enough energy to chuckle at me, but not with me! It never dawned on me why she was laughing until I reached about 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet) on the mountainside above Fully in Canton Valais, surrounded by perfectly parallel rows of grapevines. This was a strenuous trek. This was a hike that would either make you a human or make you a goat! Either way, you had to climb!
Wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Before that, Tim picked me up in the dark at about 6:00 AM. Poor fella! He was excitedly wide-eyed like a child seeing all the gifts under a Christmas tree on the morning of December 25th. My little knapsack contained sandwiches, elderberry tea in a flask, a Methodist communion wine bottle for fellowshipping with the brothers on the mountain, water, energy bars, and some vital fruits. I was also told to bring an IV of glucose, but I thought that was overkill, and besides, I did not want the guys to laugh at me.
Tim and I drove or slipped and skidded on snowy roads to Jeff’s house in Ornex, where we met the Guru. I understand he is the Guru because, even though his recruits are at least 20 years younger than him, I am pretty sure he can outlast all of us in any hike for weeks after we are dead. Legend has it he was the only survivor of a mountaineering group of 15 people – stranded on the Himalayas during a brutal blizzard. We all greeted each other, wondering why cats and dogs were not raining like it had been all week. Silly me, for once, forgot to check the weather before hiking up the mountain.
We had a beautiful drive to Mazembroz, where we parked the car next to the gate of a waste and recycling collection center somewhere about 400 meters (1,300+ feet) above sea level. I had my smartphone with a neat App, which gave the altitude. I would later regret that thing as it kept reminding me we had so much more to go. We climbed through some beautiful vineyards and even tasted the unharvested grapes to make sure the wines from this region would taste good. Then, we came across workers in the vineyard but could only hear them through the thick cloud that obscured our vision after 5 meters (about 15 feet). Bravely, we walked blind, knowing our objective was to go up! Luckily, Tim had a map, and we had the Guru.
Finally, the sun appeared fast and intense after about 2-3 hours in a haze. Then we saw it!
We were going up there! The guys were so happy; they started to take off their coats. The sudden sunshine and accompanying heat caused us to peel off layers. Now I understood why the Guru always had on shorts from the car. Revelation! Then the sun made some of us insane. Half-nakedness became part of the journey as men decided to go shirtless. After all, we were returning to what men should do. That is, to embrace nature. Our fabulous bodies were not designed to sit in an office in front of a computer and convene in boring meetings talking unendingly and solving very little. We were made to rough it!
Have you ever gone somewhere and kept looking at the time, and it seemed to stand still? As such, have you ever wished for a climb to end, yet it only continues to burn your muscles more? In Antigua, I know that hikes end pretty quickly. You can walk from one end of the island to the next in about 3-4 hours – shore-to-shore. You climb the highest peak, and in 2 hours, you are eating a nice, well-seasoned BBQ snapper or ‘old-wife’ fish, with wood-baked bread and some cold lime-aid at the top. In contrast, this was no shore-to-shore walk. We hiked forever until we got to a mountain village. Yes, a village called Chiboz is about 1,385 meters (a bit over 4,500 feet) high. I climbed like a lizard to this village on all fours while the sun glistened over my head.
My legs were exhausted, so I was happy to use my arms also to climb.
A villager invited us for Valais wine. There was lots of talking between our host and the Guru in some mountain Swiss-maybe-Romansh local language. The Swiss speak French, Swiss-German, Italian (or Swiss-Italian), and a local language called Romansh. Legend has it the Guru can speak seven mountain languages, including Kinyarwanda.
Tim listened, mesmerized by the dexterity of the Guru’s knowledge power. We were indeed enlightened into Valais’ history by the local Chiboz chief hunter of wild game, still wearing his hunting camouflage suit. You may think that’s a wine bottle opener in his left hand, but it was a Valaisian deer killing tool!
Many of us pretended to understand what he was saying and laughed when the Guru laughed because the wine was so good. Besides, we were excited to be off our feet and maybe inebriated by grape drinks. He told us stories about how North Africans invaded the abandoned village on the other side of the valley. He seemed to suggest these people looked Mongolian. Perhaps both were invaded on different occasions. We marveled at his stories of adventure worldwide and his love for hunting.
I was puzzled by the story of the three hearing-impaired sisters who made cheese and only ate 12-month-old cheese and venison Swiss steaks. But I am young and lack an understanding of mountain life. A real man he is [was]. He lived in a lovely house that was seasonally cut off from the rest of the world due to avalanches during winter. He would haul his wife to help him dig their way out of the 12 feet of annual snow to get fresh supplies. The deer horn on the wall of his home and restaurant, Café au Relais des Chasseurs, was just one of the hundreds of trophies he has of his hunting skills.
We thanked him and continued to hike with wine sloshing around our bellies. When my knees started to quiver, I realized that we needed food. So, I begged the Guru, and we lunched at about 1:00 PM. Another group member joined the shirtless club when we returned to the woods. The previous half-naked men got fully dressed just before the village as there were shy Swiss mountain women over yonder settlement!
Eating was gratifying. Furthermore, just getting off my slow turtle legs again was fantastic! We shared jokes and talked of family and children, our youthful adventures, the delightful desk jobs, and how crazy politics was destroying the planet. What a majestic view from our dining room!
We were at such a high altitude that even planes flew below us! We started again, nearing the top of heaven. Zigzag, through paths, under branches, over rocks, up roads, hearts pumping loudly, rip-tides reducing momentum for some and accelerating those on the production end, leg muscles pounding. At last, we saw snow on the other side of the valley and a magnificent view of a tiny town below. The guys pitied the disabled person in the group and helped him with his backpack. By the disabled, I mean unfit and needing a hike-ola. We saw the Matterhorn, the Mont Blanc, and other great sites.
I got renewed energy when I saw snow. Yes, I know it’s weird for a person from the tropics, but I love snow, especially in the mountains. Don’t worry, my Caribbean friends and family; I love the beach more. As we approached what I thought was the summit, I inwardly jubilated that this must be it! Plus, the nutrients from the food had finally reached my bloodstream. Then I saw our objective a little closer. It felt good!
We were headed to that rocky top.
How do we get there? More climbing!
So, up we go on roads in heaven! My legs really hurt!
I notice the avalanche blockers. Hmmm! More useful during heavy snowfall. I was glad this was not a mid-wintertime hike.
The mountain had enough snow to start a snow fight, so we did.
Yet, despite the snow, it was warm enough for shorts. Finally, we climbed to Montage de Fully-Sorniot.
And ohh so beautiful! I think the frozen and partially covered in snow Lac Inferior de Fully.
Finally, at the top! Altitude: 2,100 meters (almost 6,900 feet). The air is fresh! Sun is lovely and warm. Waterfalls are cool and tasty. Sound of nature all around. Oh, and a few other hikers also.
We were gazing at earth’s beauty when we realized that the beautiful sunset might catch us stranded on top of this mountain. Guru was suddenly urgent! “Elliott, move your legs faster!” To avoid a mountainous disaster, never disobey the Guru! My brain warned my legs to obey. Yet, they protested bitterly. They would have revenge for the abuse the days after. Our downhill path was getting darker by the second.
“Which direction is shorter?” “Tim! Map!”
“Let’s zipline down this cargo cable down to Saxè!” someone suggested. “It’s the only way to make it before dark.” Suicidal! Surely!
At some points, we made it through the dark with flashlights and mobile phone lights. The climb, at times, ran descent through thick forest, sliding on leaves, bumping over rocks, skidding on our bottoms, and even walking along cliff edges. Walking backward down a mountain at intervals helps make it easy as it rests some less-used muscles.
Finally, we got to the car by about 7:30 – 8:00 PM back in Mazembroz. It was dark. By then, my brain and body were shattered. This was indeed a memorable day. I plan to do this again soon. Anytime you want to get fit in a day, go on a mountain hike.