Climbing to Mesmerizing Views in the Swiss Alps
You don't have to be a climber to tackle the Via Ferrata of La Tour D'Ai
Our day started off around 9 a.m. from Lausanne. My friend, Oriane, and I hopped in the car and headed for the Alps. When we started driving up the switchbacks for Leysin, we realized the weather was drastically changing; all of a sudden it was cold, foggy, and slightly raining. Having just done a different Via Ferrata two days earlier, I was aware that rain may make gripping onto metal pegs pretty hard, especially if you don’t have gloves. Nevertheless, we stopped at a sports shop and rented our harness and helmet. We debated whether or not we should rent bikes to leave them at the top of the gondola, but it had rained the day before and the trails were extremely muddy and slippery. We ended up grabbing a two-way ticket on the gondola, which we really appreciated later.
Once at the top, the signs are spars. We weren’t really sure where to go and what mountain we were going to climb. We asked around and when the waiter at the restaurant pointed to the mountain straight across from the gondola, we almost laughed. It was massive. I mean, all the mountains surrounding us were massive, but this mountain had a 90 degree angle face that made you shiver just a little.
We set off in its direction just taking in the surroundings. I should backtrack and tell you that I was actually born and raised in Switzerland. I grew up in Lausanne and left for the U.S when I was fifteen. I’ve come back periodically over the last eight years, but I had never been to Leysin before, even though it’s a forty-five minute drive.
I was baffled. It was so incredibly green, and mountains surround you on every side, giving it such a dramatic feel. A Swiss artist by the name of Saype, created this massive 330x330 ft work of art, made with biodegradable paint, which will disappear when the grass grows out. Even my friend, who still lives in Switzerland, was astonished by the beauty of it all. Before we realized it, we had walked a little over half a mile and the sign at the bottom of the trail pointed in the direction of the steepest hill around. We looked at each other and laughed again. We then started to hike up. And we hiked up for a while. Since it had rained the previous night, it was slippery and a little treacherous. The hike is pretty much 120 degree angle up for about a mile in a half. Perhaps not knowing we had such a hike ahead of us helped us to not overthink it, but by the time we got to the top, are legs were definitely warmed up, maybe even too warm.
We sat and had a small bit to eat at the base of the climb. We had packed a very Swiss picnic, which included dried meats, cheese and a baguette. At that point our legs were ready to go, but our hands were freezing. It had started to drizzle, and it was hard to get our hands to open and close properly. By that time is was already noon, and we realized that we weren’t going to have very much luck with the whether, so we had to either deal with it, or turn back; and we weren’t about to turn back. So we started to ascend. I started ahead of my friend, having done one two days earlier. This was her first one, and being able to watch me ahead of her, gave her an idea of where to put her feet. Within five minutes she was ready to give up and turn back. The first part is the hardest. You start from the ground and within 15 feet you are already extremely high up. I should probably backtrack again and tell you that she had zero climbing experience, unless you count those climbing walls you find at fairs; she is, however, very active, fit, and adventurous. But I watched her as the height took over her fear. It was hard for her to let a hand go to grab the next peg, or to find a peg to put her foot. I could tell she was thinking about the height instead of thinking about the climb. But with a little bit of talking into, she continued reluctantly. However, as you climb and move deeper into the mountain, you begin to realize that the only thing that matters at that exact moment, isn’t how high up you are, but where you are going to put your foot next. It’s extremely technical. There is no climbing the rock, it’s all metal pegs or bars, but sometimes you wonder why oh why, would you put a peg there, and not right here. You become so concentrated on what you are doing that you forget your hands are cold, and when you stop to realize you are between 500 and 1000 feet up, you start to hold on just a bit tighter.
When we were climbing our last wall, the sun came out. The views at the top were so mesmerizing; I think we stood there in silence for over 2 minutes, which we broke with a high five and a hug. The climb itself took us 1h30. We stayed at the top for lunch and headed back down, following the trail on the other side of the Tour D’Ai, which is really just what the summit is called.
The trail back down is just as spectacular, and just as dangerous. It was also slippery, so we were extra careful. But it took us another hour to get back down to where we had to started to hike up. When we started at the gondola, we were chatting and taking in the views, we never realized just how much we had hiked down, before we started to hike up. And at that moment, after a total of about 4 miles not including the climb, another steep hill stood between us and the gondola. I have to admit, I am in shape, but my legs were ready to sit in a hot bath and not move for the rest of the day. But when you don’t have a choice… you hike on.
By the time we reached the gondola it was exactly 4 p.m. We were both happy we had decided against the bikes, since we both had plans that evening and it was getting late. Let’s also mention that by the end of all of that, you are exhausted. It’s very doable, but at that moment, sitting in the gondolas watching the mountain we had just climb disappear, we were extremely happy.
I had never done a Via Ferrata in my life before the two I did in Switzerland. Coming from the U.S. I was really shocked that it was something you did alone, without a guide. But you really don’t need one. It’s pretty self-explanatory. You just keep clipping on and moving forward.
If you are not a climber, but you love the challenge, then I would sincerely recommend this type of trail to you. It’s physically demanding that’s for sure, but you are guided by the iron trail that was fixed into the mountain. It’s an incredible experience, and the views at the top and the most rewarding part. Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and keep on climbing.
For more details, check out Hiking and Climbing the Via Ferrata of la Tour D'Ai
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