Reflections on Hiking in the Alps

Zach Cohen
September 28, 2016

“So, how far are we going?”  

“We’re gonna climb about 2500 feet”  


To an avid hiker, I’m sure a 2500 ft ascent is nothing.  But by any definition of the phrase, I am not an avid hiker.  Mount Titlis - still covered in summertime grass and topped with a snow capped glacier - towered in front of us, and I felt as though it were taunting me.  Sure, at 10,000 ft, Titlis doesn’t even come close to being the tallest mountain in the Swiss Alps.  Yet, when faced with an entirely uphill climb, I was worried things could go downhill fast.


My lifelong relationship with hiking has been rocky. When I was a kid, I dreaded going on hikes, and would frequently voice my concerns through groans, moans, and blargs.  My disaffection was furthered by the fact that, to my father, the phrase “we’ll turn around after five more minutes” would really mean “onward ho, we march until the sun meets the sky!”  On one hike, my incessant complaining eventually led me to stomp off and mope by myself, after which I was promptly bitten by a rattlesnake.  Needless to say, 10 year old Zach and hikes did not get along.


Yet, I have to thank my parents for showing me the natural world, even when I didn’t want to - and for encouraging me to keep going, even if I was tired.  Because while I may have never become may particularly ‘skilled’ at hiking, I developed an irreplaceable appreciation for the beauty of nature that I might otherwise lack.


After taking a Gondola from the mountain’s base in Engelberg, we were already about 6500 feet up, and were deep within the Alps.  From there, we were presented two options; the easy hike, which was a stroll around a lake followed by a visit to a cheese factory; or the hard hike, which we were to do if we wanted to “get some exercise.”  Now, 10 years ago I have no doubt that I would have gone on the relaxing walk and indulged myself with a block of cheese at the end - but I have decidedly changed over the past decade, and I threw myself at the challenge instead.


Motivated by the promise of stunning viewpoints and personal achievement, we embarked up the mountain.  And I was very quickly out of breath.  And we continued up the mountain.  And my legs burned.  I don’t need to describe the process of walking in any further detail, so the put it bluntly, it was exhausting.  Eventually, my friend Chris and I fell to the back of the pack, but as we made our way up the final turn, I felt nonetheless accomplished.  We weren’t at the actual top of the mountain, but the pseudo-peak on which we ended our hike looked out all across the valleys below.  Let me tell you, stunning was an understatement.



Observing the world from such a high vantage point was a reflective moment.  But I have to admit, while I wish I could just say that ‘I was reminded just how small we all are in the world, but how we can still achieve such great things,’ that wouldn't be entirely true.  To tell the full truth, the most pressing thought going through my head as I gazed onto the Swiss Alps surrounding me was that “the hills are alive....with the sound of music.”*




*Yes I am aware that the movie takes place in Austria


Zach Cohen

<p>Hello! &nbsp;My name is Zach and I am so happy you are here! &nbsp;I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and am currently a Junior at Occidental College, where I am double-majoring in History and International Relations. &nbsp;I&#39;m fascinated by the connections between the past and the present, and the role that history plays in modern diplomacy. &nbsp;Be sure to keep up with my travels as I explore Freiburg and the European Union this semester!</p>

2016 Fall
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International Relations
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