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The Chrinnenhorn Summit

25 Sep 15
Heidi Kumm
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I have done a terrible job of planning ahead for any part of my Switzerland wanderings. The actual events of my life are rarely planned beyond the upcoming 12 hours. Heck, prior to showing up at Chalet Martin I’d usual start my day with no real plan for where I’d lay my head that night. It was freeing, liberating. Waking up in the Glecksteinhutte was no different. I got up, ate breakfast, stared out the cabin window…and made the impulse decision to do a day hike up one of the “alpine mountaineering” trails leading to the peaks surrounding the cabin.

Now, I wasn’t a complete fool — I had been listening to the other hikers/mountaineers talking about the technicality of the trails and the weather forecast. I knew the trail to Chrinnenhorn had exposure but didn’t require extra equipment and that the day’s weather forecast was spectacular. When my Canadian dormmate returned for his hike with reports of a fairly easy ascent my decision was confirmed…I was chasing down a mountain summit! Finally.

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I stashed most of my gear at the cabin and headed out with just rain gear [just in case!], warmer layers, first aid basics, snacks and water tucked away in my UD FastPack. Somehow, after days of hours and hours on the trails my legs were feeling fresh and happy. I took off up the rocky trail like the trail runner I pretend to be — hopping, jumping and skipping from rock to rock. I was happy. Elated, really.

About 3 minutes up the trail I realized my phone [and subsequently, my main camera] was still hanging out in the cabin. I looked behind me. Sure, it was only 3 minutes of climbing but the cabin looked so far away! Luckily I did remember the GoPro I have been packing around…time to learn how to use it properly. Maybe.

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For the next 30 minutes the trail was a mix of dirty single track and rocky scrambles…all leading up, up, up. Having left the majority of my pack weight in the cabin made running uphill seem easy. At it’s heaviest my pack was maybe 25lbs, but apparently that makes a huge difference over time! half that weight was “just in case” gear since I was wandering around solo in unfamiliar mountains and while I rarely used any of my JIC gear the weight was worth the peace of mind that came with self sufficiency.

At one point the trail split, marked by some colorfully painted rocks. I had no idea which was the “right” way, white or white/blue? I’m still not sure where white led, as I opted for the white/blue markings I had been following since I left the cabin. This trail led me across a wide chunky scree field dotted with a few car-sized boulders. Still loving life I bounced from one rock to the next, stopping occasionally to take 23 photos [seriously, the GoPro Session was set to 1 photo ever half second…there was a LOT of deleting when I got back to civilization!].

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On the opposite side of the rock field the mountains shot straight up to a knobby ridge. At this point I still had no idea which summit I was chasing…I was simply following the painted rocks. Maybe not the smartest idea, but if something felt off I always had the option to spin around and head back to the cabin. So, I continued on, following the painted rocks directly up the mountainside along mini zig zagging switchbacks.

By now the trail had gotten a little more technical. I needed my hands to help stabilize my steps, testing the rocks before stomping down with my full weight. There was risk of a fall, but a fall would have done little more than bruise or bloody a knee or elbow. I’m a big fan of “calculated risk” and even my terrible math skills were able to conclude this was a pretty low risk endeavor. Then the trail narrowed, and dropped. Well, the mountain dropped…the trail continued on.

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— not the best photo, but that winding road below is where I started the hike…and the lower edge of snow is the trail I was on —

This was about the time the GoPro got tucked away — as entertaining as it would be to get footage of my fall to death I preferred to avoid the fall all together! The remainder of my scramble to the summit required a little trust in my shoes [the Montrails did surprisingly well on flat rock!] and a lot of balancing. There was no technical rock climbing involved but having a little background in off setting body weight came in handy!

Ultimately, the summit is doable for pretty much anyone in a pair of tacky trail shoes as long as you keep your head on straight, play it smart and pay attention to where you are going. Like I said, there is risk…and everyone has their own way of calculating risk vs reward. For me, it was worth it and I never felt unsafe or insecure with the trail or my ability to navigate it.

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— looking up to the summit, standing just below the drop pictured above…just a few more painted rocks to the top! —

And I promise “burning desire to summit” was never factored into my risk calculations. There was no burning desire — I just wanted to play in the mountains for the sake of enjoying the day! The mountain summit was just a perk!

As I settled in at the summit of Chrinnenhorn I looked around me, in amazement. Here I was, on a mountain summit, with snowcapped mountains still towering above me! Granted, my summit was rather small [only 2737m/8979ft] in comparison with the famed peaks around me [Eiger is 3970m/13024ft].

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It was hard not to compare these mountains to the mountains of Colorado that I know — they are nothing alike! Sure, they are both rocky and snow capped and mountainous, but the Alps are steeper and more jagged while the Rockies seem to have more open meadows and gradual ascents. Ultimately, they should not be compared — they are too different and I refuse to pick a favorite!

After a few minutes of taking it all in at the summit I bailed off it — I had no time constraints or big plans for the rest of my day but it was chilly and I still had some energy to burn! The descent off the rocky summit felt more sketchy than the climb up. Wrapping my mind around the idea of trusting a random rock to stay put when I drop my weight onto it really slows me down on the downhills!

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Roughly two hours after I left the cabin I was back…but I wasn’t quite ready to leave. I blew my budget for the day on a plum tart + amazing mountain tea and lazed around on the outdoor picnic tables for a bit. Eventually I talked myself into loading my pack back up and heading down the mountain. During my tea break I decided to make my way down to Interlaken for the night before spending half my Sunday on trains en route to Chalet Martin.

At some point, as I neared Grindelwald, I remembered the passing comment from a stranger — the Jungfrau Marathon was in Interlaken. Uh oh, marathons in tourist towns = expensive hostels…or no hostels! I used up more data than I care to admit while sitting on a rock along the trail, searching for one of the last reasonably priced beds in the city. And that is how I ended up at Balmers Hostel, pretending I was only 24 years old…

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But, before I made my way to my hostel I had to get off the mountain side and to the train station, where I would cram myself into a standing only train for the 30 minute ride into Interlaken. I timed that perfectly — the majority of the marathoners were making their way back to Interlaken and I managed to hop on a train with a few Swiss runners + Canadian tourists. We took our train chatter to a restaurant patio and befriended an American marathoner over a few drinks + dinner. I’m a terrible person and don’t remember everyone’s names but they were all fantastic people — so welcoming, so chatty, so happy. Eventually we went our separate ways, only laughing a little as we watched the marathoners attempt to walk down stairs!

All in all…it was a pretty spectacular day! I woke up on a mountain side, snagged a mountain summit, spent 9 hours hiking along beautiful trails in the Alps, befriended some amazing people, acted 24 years old in a hostel night club and resisted the urge to punch the girl in the dorm that thought 5:30am was a good time for a phone conversation. It’s the little things that make a day memorable!

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