The day had finally arrived. I woke up to see the surrounding mountains crowned in snow. Eager to get out and play, I convinced my hosts to go for a hike. In no time at all, we were cosy in the car, on our way to Engelberg.
Engelberg is an alpine town nestled in the Uri Alps mountain range. This small, wood-house village paints the quintessential picture of a Swiss town.
When we arrived, I realised I was very underdressed. The plan was to hike an hour up to Ristis, a small hut about 3 km from the sleepy town of Engelberg. But the boys got adventurous and wanted to see the snow. The new plan was to take a cable car up to Ristis, and hike to the next hut, Brunnihütte, beyond the snowline.
The Ristis station is located at 1 600m above sea level and offers a splendid view of the Engelberg valley. It was here that the first signs of snow were evident. We took the cable car, which is 40 CHF up and down.
Once we arrived at the top, the boys dived for the snow and began hurling snowballs at each other. My camera was the victim of a few rogue snowballs. After nosing around the Ristis station, we picked up our trail and began making our way to our next destination: Brunnihütte.
For the second time this year, I realised how inexperienced I am in the snow. My first snowy excursion was to Norway in June, where I did a three-day hike from Finse to Vassbydgi, over Aurlandsdalen. I also realised that I am no better at dressing for the snow. My Asics trainers were no match for the cold that quickly bit into my toes.
“You should have dressed warmer,” the boys told me off.
“The plan was to hike in the forest, not in the snow,” I retorted.
My fingers snapped eagerly with the camera, but my happy snapping was also a way to ward off the chill. Fingerless gloves were not a good idea.
However, I soon forgot about the cold as we fought our way up the slippery slope. The snow was fresh and was beginning to melt and refreeze as ice. Thick fog was also swirling around us, hiding our view of the landscape. We took care on our ascent.
We picked up the 3a trial, which was scenic and not too difficult. It didn’t stop the boys from heading into the forest for a little exploration. I happily obliged. It felt like I was in a Disney movie. I marvelled at the thick swathes of snow that clung to the pine trees. It grew darker as the trees grew denser. I was in a winter wonderland, and the cold felt far away.
After an hour, we reached the Brunnihütte. We tucked inside and made ourselves comfortable at a large, wooden table. The interior was crowded with jackets, beanies, scarves and laughter. So this is a typical Swiss vacation, I thought to myself. I’ll have one of those, please.
Although I was dying to try coffee from the local roastery, Engelberg, I was seduced by a sign that read “Special Swiss Hot Chocolate”. Eager for the full mountain experience, Marc and I each got one of those. The waitress disappeared to the counter, and a few minutes later presented us with this delicacy:
I dipped my spoon into the cream on top. It tasted like apple pie. It was also drizzled in cinnamon, making it taste very exotic. Once I finished, I took a sip. The hot chocolate bit sharply into my throat and I choked.
“That would be the ‘pear liquor’,” Marc laughed.
My eyes were watering and I tried another sip. “It’s strong,” I said. And it was. I sipped on it slowly. I never know how to treat hot drinks mixed with alcohol. Do I sip it like a glass of wine, or do I slurp it like a hot chocolate?
Outside, the sun was finally piercing the clouds. I tried to finish my special hot chocolate as quickly as I can, but the pear liquor stung my throat. I abandoned my treat and went to catch the sun.
I was not disappointed. From our vantage point, the entire Engelberg valley lay sprawled in front of us. My eyes drank in every detail of the snowy village, before scanning the skyline and catching every fold of the snowcapped mountains. I stood in silence, in awe of this alien landscape.
This world felt so unfamiliar, so different from the Klein Karoo where I grew up. I had seen these places in movies and dreamt about being here one day. And now I was, and I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to run, shout, jump, scream. I looked at the paragliders gearing up to take a fateful leap off the mountain. All of a sudden I could understand why they choose to fly.
We flew in a different way. We hopped on the ski lift and glided down the mountainside. I watched the paragliders float above the sunlit valley. Beneath us, the snowscape gave way to forests, and then grass. When we finally touched down, I looked up at the mountain behind us. It had been a whole different world from up there. With a smile, I ventured home.