The Heart of the Swiss Cheese

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First of all, Who knew that lizards lived in the mountains of Switzerland? Even if it might actually be a salamander (I am no biologist), their presence in a cold mountain range was baffling.

Now that I have your attention, I would like to diverge back from the wildlife and into some a little more moderately extreme adventure.

Switzerland is a country where citizens take their lunch break and go base-jumping, and the best way to transport a cow is by using a helicopter and a harness. While everybody doesn’t have what it takes either financially or emotionally to do a base jump, they do offer other fun ways to hang vertically off the sides of a cliff. Via Feralta is a fun and relatively safe interactive way to explore the Swiss Alps, and your limits (to a moderate extent). The Via Ferralta is essentially a high ropes course through the mountains, where you dangle safely on the side of a 200 foot cliff, cross bridges under waterfalls and walk on suspension bridges that span massive gorges. An interested traveler can rent out a harness with the necessary ropes, and a helmet for a pretty low price (around 50 dollars for the whole deal). These are in fact very necessary, because you will soon find yourself hanging in a situation like this:141

There is also the option of renting a guide to take you through the mountains, which is definitely a go to if you have a fear of heights, and money is no issue. As a pair of college students, we figured a guide was a little superfluous. Then we encountered a section that almost killed us…

The trail began easy enough, where we were hooking onto the different cables running adjacent to 100 foot cliffs. It felt a lot like hiking, and I began thinking of how I wanted my money back, because nobody needs a harness just to hike.

Then we reached the edge of a cliff, where a series of ladder rungs led from where we were standing, to the corner of a vertical abyss, and I was soon dangling 200 feet in the air. My desire to have my money back was replaced with the wish that I had spent more on the best possible equipment.152

Holding onto ladder rungs, drilled into the sides of the mountain, hopefully drilled in for good, makes for an awkward picture taking predicament. But how could we live with the fact that we had been clinging to the side of vertigo without taking a cool picture to remember the whole thing? Really makes one appreciate a go pro.

Via ferralta has all of the thrills in rock climbing, without most of the danger. The fun of a high ropes course, with the thrill of being high. Really really high. For the most part we were enjoying a safe excursion that went between clinging to the sides of a cliff, and being safely at the edges of a cliff. Then things got exciting.144

Our trail stopped abruptly, and was replaced with a platform facing a 300-foot cliff. 3 cables ran in a parallel line over the gorge to a platform on the other side. We stood scratching our heads for a moment. There where no written signs, instruction, or even an exclamation point to say that what we were doing was closed, broken, the wrong way, or insane. The road had literally just ended without warning. We were now faced with the puzzle of crossing a 300-foot gorge on 3 parallel wires.

To add an extra dimension of mystery while we thought about the best course of action, the clouds surrounding us would temporarily block our view of everything but the platform from our sight. We were both left thinking, “What is it going to be like halfway across this thing, when a cloud comes through and blocks everything out?” Not the place to have a panic attack.

Despite our best attempts at a thorough investigation, nothing turned up that suggested we had taken the wrong route. We could tell that it wasn’t a zip line, because it curved upwards on the other side, and getting caught we be the kind of awkward long-term wedgie situation that nobody wants. The only possible way of crossing was across the top of the three wires.

Soon Spencer was mounting the cables, “I think that we are supposed to start out sitting down, and then stand up like halfway across.” He said, while he clipped both ropes of his harness on the two outer cables, and sat on the middle wire.

“Yeah Spence, that’s the only way that really makes sense.” I said somewhat sarcastically, “But I’m beginning to think we should have gotten a guide. I cant believe they don’t have a sign anywhere around this thing. The trail led right to this spot. How do they expect people to know how to do this?”

“Well this has to be the way.” He told me, “People do this all the time. It is in the advertisements all over town. It cant be that dangerous” (kind of an extreme thing to say casually).

Hung over George was hoping he would back out. I didn’t need this right now. Then he started sliding. Next thing I knew, he was halfway across, bouncing 30 feet up and down through the air, and temporarily disappearing in the mist. He even tried standing up a few times, god bless him.

When he gave me the thumbs up on the other side, I couldn’t help but think that

I was going out to never come back, just because I really didn’t want Spencer telling people he had crossed, while I had stayed back. I clipped into both of the cables, said a Hail Mary, and began to scoot.157

It was halfway across that I realized that I may never get to be in a situation like this again in my life. Weak breezes would come and bounce the wires 30 feet up and down, which began to have a small lulling effect. I took in the panorama around me, the 300 foot drop below, mist to my left, and a small waterfall to my right. I noticed something strange about the waterfall, and began looking more closely.

On a very secure footbridge stood two astounded Via Ferralter’s, gaping at the stupid college kid balanced on a wire showed me that we had taken the wrong way. If I could have brought myself to take a hand off either wire, I would have taken a picture. The image is still seared into my memory.

Safely on the other side, and feeling both victorious and defeated, we met the tourist and guide who had found the right way. One of the men was a French tourist had made the wise decision to get a local guide through this treacherous and misguiding trail.

He translated from the guide that we had just taken a broken part of the Via Ferralta, which had been closed for the past 10 years. Then he emphasized that what we had done was so stupid that we were very lucky that we had not died. We walked away looking ashamed, and then gave each other big high fives and hugs when we were out of view. What a stupidly amazing experience.

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