Whoever thought it was a good idea to take a night train to Interlaken is an idiot. Our train had to make three changes. Our first, in a German town called Stutgartt, we got off the train around 1 in the morning and our next one didn’t arrive until 3. Since it was an outdoor platform, there was only one room we could hole up in and wait away from the cold harsh air. We walked in, and honestly thought it was a homeless shelter. Every bench was occupied by sleeping, hairy and smelly men. It was almost comical. As soon as we sat down, a man on a bench in the opposite corner ripped out the largest fart we’ve ever heard in public, immediately followed by a snore so large it shook us out of our seat. Lovely. It felt like something straight out of a horror movie. Or a comedy. We’re still not sure which one.

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Two drunk boys walked in and immediately noticed the two blonde Americans, sticking out like sore thumbs, and began to bother us about our travels; food flying from their sandwiches and their mouths. A large German woman was dying laughing at us. We needed to get out of there.

We beelined it to the train station and waited for our train there, instead. Our next stop was in Bruschal, where we occupied a small 5-foot square of tile in the basement of a train station, aching for just an hour and a half of sleep.

Our next train took us to Basel and finally to Interlaken, where we arrived there around 10 a.m. Not wanting to waste any time, we hopped on the gondola that would take us more than 1000 meters up the mountain to our hostel in Gimmelwald.

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We stepped off the gondola with eyes-popping and jaws-dropping. Gimmelwald is a tiny town nuzzled into the side of a mountain. Goats graze on fields of dandelions, fresh water flows down the mountain and little wooden lodges are skewed across gravel paths up and down the mountain. It looked like a fairytale.

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Across from us was a mountain with peaks so high and majestic, even the clouds had to take a rest on top of them. Waterfalls streak down the mountains, creating soft mists on the unforgiving terrain. The beauty was overwhelming—it felt like no other world existed.

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As tired as we were, there was too much exploring to be done in our little town. We set off, following the bells of goats that were traveling between pastures. A few homes down the street from our hostel was a house for sale. We strongly considered snatching two goats and making a living for ourselves right here in Gimmelwald. We never wanted to leave.

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We hiked up to the neighboring town, called Murren, about a 45 minute hike uphill. We stopped to chat with every goat, cow and pony we passed. When we arrived to Murren, there was hardly anyone in sight. We had this whole mountain to ourselves.

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We filled our bellies up with wine and soup and took shortcuts back down to our little town, where we talked amongst other backpackers that were staying in the same hostel. Three from Texas, an Australian and a guy from Seattle. One of the best parts of our trip was so far has probably been all the people we’ve met, swapping stories and advice over beer and fondue.

After a goodnight sleep in our hostel room (we are in a room of six beds, but we’re the only ones in there, right up next to the heater) we shoved some Nutella and bread into our mouths and headed out the door.

The weather was not as good as our first day we arrived in Gimmelwald. The clouds were curled around the midsection of the mountains and it was a little chilly and gray, but we were hiking in the Swiss Alps so our optimism was at an all time high. And our bellies were full (kind of)…on Teddy Grahams (the last of our food supplies from back home).

We set off for a point on the map noted as Chilchbalm at an elevation of 1631 from our hostel at 1363 meters. The trail followed up a beautiful stream coming from melted snow off two mountains we were headed toward—Gspaltenhorn and Buttlassen. The water running off the mountains formed crystal-clear water that was clean enough to drink straight from the streams (which we did…it tasted as crisp and clear as any water we’ve ever had).

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There wasn’t a single soul on the trail. Just a mountain goat that took up residence on the sagging roof of an abandoned cabin about a half mile from Chilchbalm. Everywhere we turned walls of mountain and ice rose above us to meet a ceiling made of clouds and fog.

The hike was fairly easy, just rocks and crossing streams. As we got closer to Chilchbalm, the path became snowy, slick, and a bit more steep. Cori managed to sink her entire left leg into a snow bank (Jordan describes Cori’s hiking as “with wreckless abandon”).

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Chilchbalm dead ends into what looks like a monumental glacier so large it’s hard to describe sufficiently in words—just a bank of snow and ice that was untouched by anyone or anything.

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On our way back, Jordan gracefully slid down 20 feet of ice on her feet. She challenged Cori to do the same, but 3 feet in she was on her ass, sliding down the snow until she skidded out at the bottom (that was trip #26, #27 and #28…*Note: Jordan is still at #9).

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Our original plan after Chilchbalm was to head to the right of the mountain and make it to a point on the map called Birg, from there we could take the gondola up to the 2970 meter peak of Shilthorn. We knew some trails would be closed due to snow and ice; but Cori mapped out a plan that kept us in the evergreen portion of the mountain for the most part.

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We continued to climb further and further up the mountain. Our next stop was another 300 meters above Chilchbalm—which meant more snow. The trail we were following veered steep uphill. We turned a corner and faced a giant 50 foot-wide sheet of ice going straight up the mountain, careening into a foggy ravine below us. On the other end, we could just spot the trail marker. The only way across was climbing across the giant sheet of ice. Below it was a drop-off and around it was rotten, brown dead grass. Neither of us were equipped with shoes that would give us a grip on the ice. Sliding down the ice and into what looked like an icy landing was not on our list to-do. On our hands and knees, we grabbed deep into the dead roots of the grass, uprooting some of it, and clinged for dear life—nothing like having your entire life depend on the roots of dead grass. As we went, Cori’s foot slipped and a rock bounced down, down, down. We watched it fall further and further, echoing as it went, until we couldn’t see it anymore. We knew that one wrong slip, and that could easily be us. Silently, we bear crawled vertically next to the ice until we reached the top and could crawl above the ice and slide back down to the trail.

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With a we-didn’t-fall-off-the-cliff-victory! high five, we headed up the trail only to face another sheet of ice, twice the size of the last with and even more of a drop-off, too.

In the distance, we heard what we thought was a storm beginning to form with claps of thunder and a spitting of rain (given we were literally in the clouds—we knew avoiding moisture wasn’t a possibility). But the thunder sounded too close—right behind our ears—to be a storm. We turned around, and on the mountain across from us, an avalanche began sliding down, crashing as it went. Then another. Then another. It was both eerie and foreboding. With jaws dropped, we watched the avalanche come to a stop half way down the mountain—thankfully we weren’t at the base of that mountain anymore.

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We both looked at the ice we were crossing and hurried across, not wanting this snow to mirror the avalanches on the other mountain.

Again, we got on our hands and knees and crawled up the side of the ice. We silently agreed not to talk about the perilous, icy death that loomed under the soles of our feet. As we reached the trail after another bear crawl across the sheet of ice, we gave each other a we-didn’t-fall-off-the-cliff-or-get-caught-in-an-avalanche victory hug. Again.

We thought these were the worst of our worries. WIth a little adrenaline in our step, we made it to our next point of reference on the map: Oberberg. It was a small cluster of homes, abandoned, of course. From here, we planned on taking a trail to our next point of reference: Rotstockhutte, just another hundred meters higher than Oberberg. The terrain was soggy and snowy, our shoes were soaked through. Keep in mind, avalanches were still crashing across the mountains behind and across from us. Who knew what loomed over our heads.

We followed a fork in the road and came face-to-face to more sheets of ice stopping us from easily walking on the trails. This time, the area was much less steep and if we slipped, the hike back up wasn’t a grave one. After walking across three sheets of ice; the next one was insurmountable. This drop-off was much more steep than our first, and the clouds were beginning to envelope us, we couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front or around us. We had to turn around, but we couldn’t go back toward Oberberg, there was no way we could cross that again without slipping, so we had to take an unknown trail back toward Murren.

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We managed to lose the trail after crossing the ice—having to jump from snow bank to snow bank trying to reach our trail again. Impossible to climb back up the way we came, we knew we had reached the point of no return. We had to keep pressing onward, as the weather started to turn for the worse.

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We eventually reached a trail marker and hopped a closed gate to the trail (foreboding?). On the other side was a sheet of broken, black rock, as if God had taken a giant sledgehammer and took a big baseball swing at it. It was practically gravel under our feet, sliding out from under us and tumbling into whatever nothingness lie on the other side of the clouds. It was probably a blessing we couldn’t see what was below us.

Since Cori is a more experienced hiker, any sign of terror or fear would probably set Jordan off. Everything that we spoke was positive words of encouragement. There’s something about fearing for your life (and the thinning air) that makes you loopy. We’d watch rocks tumble downward and laugh uncontrollably. But inside, we were scared for our lives. We kept thinking that if one of us slipped down the mountain into the clouds, the other wouldn’t be able to find their way in the fog to find them.

As we continued to Murren, the clouds were so thick, we lost each other for a little, even though we were only 10 or 15 feet apart. At one point, the clouds were so bad Cori made Jordan wait at the last trail marker while she continued on to make sure there was another marker we could follow on the trail—disappearing behind corners and trees into an unknown abyss of fog.

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Then it started to hail. Then snow. Then sleet. Then rain. Then, it began to blizzard. We knew we were still a good 500 metres from where we needed to be. Once the snow started to stick and we couldn’t see the trail markers, we wouldn’t be able to find our way down until morning. The snow picked up, starting to fall down on us harder and harder, slowly hiding the trail.

We grabbed each other’s hands and blindly set out on the trail, hopefully home. All we could make out was dark, ominous shapes in front of us—not sure if it was trees, the side of a mountain or homes.

Right as the snow was so thick, we almost had to walk with our eyes closed, we were standing on top of a peak. Below us the trail curved sharply down a steep mountain. We could almost make out 4 or 5 trailmarkers that lie below us. Beyond there, we could make out the shape of what looked like another cluster of houses—a beacon of hope.

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Practically running down the mountain, snow still thick, sliding from one mud bank to another—we reached flat ground. We looked behind at the mountain towering over us and wondered how—or why—we crested the mountain the way we did.

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From there we quickly hiked to Gimmelwald, still an hour away, finally arriving to the comfort of our warm beds and away from a ravine that could have been our graves.

It was absolutely the most terrifying yet exhilirating experience either of us have had. On the mountain, both of us thought of our families sleeping in bed while we tumbled face first down a mountain, never to be found again.

It was a blessing we made it out of there without a cut or a bruise. Well, there are bruises. It was a face-to-face encounter with God himself. Maybe we complained about the rain too much so he threw us through some hoops so we could be thankful again. I think we had some guardian angels guding us that afternoon.

After napping, we hiked up to Murren to stop by a grocery store. There, we ran into our Texas friends. We picked up pasta, fruit and bread and they bought eggs, sausage and cheese and we cooked a potluck in the safe confines of our Mountain Hostel—feeling full for the first time this trip.

We ended our night with a backpacker from Minnesota playing his guitar while a girl from Canada joined in on her banjelele.

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It was a hike that we will surely never forget. Not even this story comes close to the fear that encompassed our minds; but in the end, we’d do it again.

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Always craving spontaneity (and the thrill of clinging to a mountain),

C&J

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