The irony of our project The Way Up may be that with all our attention being on some of the Alps most beautifully situated peaks, and the highest accessible with running shoes, and the experiences to be had with friends… now that I’ve done one solo from my front door, it may well be my favorite. It’s a peak few have heard of, and unless you live here in the Jungfrau Region, why would anyone do it? And yet yesterday it gave me everything I love about going to the mountains.
Ultimately, maybe it’s not at all about the peak, or even the views – it is all about what you feel that day, the little things experienced, not the big things checked off.
The Schwalmere is a peak we look at right from our home in Matten bei Interlaken. For us, it’s always present, and it is something we quickly did when we moved here. But, I had always wanted to do it from the house, this was the year. With its summit at 2777 meters, simple arithmetic showed it would be a significant 2200 meters of vertical from home, and based on the weather forecast I was studying at 6 a.m., it would be quite cold and potentially very wet. The radar showed a large cell headed our way. I took it as a challenge and opted to head up anyway, hoping to stay ahead of the cell and make it to a small house I knew of on the climb where I could take shelter.
About 1300 meters into my climb an ink black sky overtook me. Soon, huge rain drops driven by the gusting wind began pelting me from the still distant cell. With an enormous tailwind, lightening strikes all around, and explosive thunder, I arrived to the farmhouse just as all hell broke loose, and there I stood under the eaves questioning my decision to start. Now I was committed to wait it out, or go right back down. It was really raining… torrentially so. As goosebumps began forming on my entire body, a window on the farmhouse opened and a classic Swiss farmer poked his head out, studied my bright clothes and foolishness, and asked me in.
“Bisch alei unterwegs?”
Finally, I had a chance to actually speak Swiss to someone that was highly unlikely to speak English, something that is rare these days. “Yes, I’m all alone”, I answered in Janine’s accent.
He opened the door and nodded me in where I stood marveling at what little scene I had chanced upon. I’d gone from being in my own world of listening to The Black Keys on a mountain run, to being chased down by a massive thunderstorm, getting soaked, and then entering this man’s world of cheese making.
“Chan ich äs Foti mache?”, forever the image maker, I went straight to work.
For the next 45 minutes I watched the farmers go about their morning ritual of cheese making, bombarding them with questions about the process, all of which were likely to have been asked in the style of a small child. As the clouds started to break, I wondered if I’d be continuing up or heading back down. One more check on the radar revealed the rain had passed and the day should remain dry. Off, and up, I went.
For the next few hours I ran alone, seeing no one, with soaked, squishy shoes leaving mud smears on my calves. As I approached the base of the final climb to the Schwalmere I looked far below and in the distance could see our town, and knew just where our house sat. The feeling was good, to have come so far, to have been drenched, seen what I saw, dealt with some discomfort, and then somehow as a result just disappeared inside myself and run through the landscape, very, very content to be where I was.
With a cold wind stinging my bare legs, my summit stay was brief, I was still wet, and the sun without the strength to help me out. Down I headed, knowing I would forever look at the Schwlamere in a different way.