Best Day Ever in the Alps?

I am the luckiest person I know. I’m talking about my jobs working for Rick Steves and running Imprint Tours. I can hardly believe my good fortune. Of course there are rough days, challenging tour members, highly stressful disruptions, and occasional disasters that make me want to pull my hair out. But quite regularly all the variables align to present me with a perfect tour or a perfect day. And in those moments I have to pinch myself to be sure its real. Such a confluence of factors occurred when I took a group to the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. Of course I’ve been there scores of times and often the weather is clear and the hiking glorious. But I don’t believe I’ve ever had a more perfect day than this past July.I was running a Family Friendly Europe tour and, for my first time, staying in Wengen on the eastern shelf of the Lauterbrunnen valley. I have always stayed down in the valley or in Gimmelwald and Murren on the western side.

Jungfrau from Wengen - last light

I had never realized what a stunning view one has of the Jungfrau from this vantage point. After dinner on our first night we all gathered in the gloaming light of dusk to listen to some live Swiss music. I must confess I usually find these music evenings to be a bit on the hokey side. But this time it was truly magical. The mighty Jungfrau shown brightly in the last rays of the sun as backdrop to our alphorn and yodeling serenade. My group was enthusiastic and there were many volunteers to try the alphorn and then yodeling. There was laughter and enthusiastic applause, and the group yodeling didn’t sound half bad. The brisk, utterly fresh mountain air seemed to energize everyone. The music ended as the last light of the day faded. But the evening continued for me and a handful of tour members. Our hotel has a piano lounge and the pianist was brilliant. We must have sat there another hour listening to him play a string of popular songs. It became a game to identify each song, only resorting to our smart phones when we just couldn’t quite come up with the tune. What a great evening - and that was not the day I started out to write about.

Swiss cow

After a great night’s sleep in the cool mountain air, serenaded by the sound of rushing water and distant cowbells, we rounded up our group post-breakfast for our hiking excursion. It was one of those rare, perfect weather days in the Alps. Not just sunny and clear, but almost none of the usually ubiquitous haze that characterizes the region.

It was stunning! We took the group up the Mannlichen lift for the Kleine Scheidegg hike. I have never done this hike that it was not enjoyable but it was particularly rewarding this time as the assistant guide was Travis Smith, son of my friend and boss, Steve Smith. Over the years, the opportunity to work with apprentice guides has been one of the special rewards of my job. I have known

Hiking in the Berner Oberland

Travis since he was a young boy, but it was a great pleasures to get to know him as a young man. He progressed quickly from being the son of my friend, to being my friend. So the hike from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg was memorable - great weather, stunning vistas and clear air, and great conversation. At Kleine Scheidegg we grabbed a quick bite and

Hiking down from Kl Scheidegg

then gathered the group and gave instructions for getting back to Wengen. Travis had told me about a hike he had done with another colleague. I was anxious to see a new route so we headed out with two tour members. The trail swings wide out from the usual upper trail, eventually skirting the cliff top above Trummelbach Falls. The views were spectacular, enhanced by the shear drop inches from our toes. It required steely nerves to belly up to the retaining fence - but what a reward. We all took pictures, but this was one of those vertiginous vantages that is truly spectacular to experience but can’t be captured in a photo. It took about 2.5 hours to wind all the way back into Wengen. We were footsore, hot, sweaty, tired, and ready for a frothy beer.

I grabbed a couple of cold ones at the Coop Grocery and retreated to my room for a shower and power nap. Then I joined Travis on his Jungfrau-facing balcony. We drank our beers and reveled in the outstanding day we’d had, all the while the western horizon fairly filled by the looming massif. By the time we’d finished our brews the light was beginning to fail. Unusually, the air was still quite absent any haze or clouds so we decided to tarry, hoping to see alpenglow reflected on the glacier-clad peak. Our patience was rewarded as the great mountain, bathed in reddish-gold, seemed to fill the entire sky as the foreground valley receded into shadow. We snapped pictures every few minutes

Jungfrau dusk from hotel balcony

and remarked repeatedly on the extraordinary confluence of good fortune and perfect conditions experienced on the day. I’m afraid the words “Wow”, “Awesome”, “Amazing”, “Look at that Alpenglow now” and “What a day” got seriously over-used. In the final analysis, the cultural highlights of Europe, wondrous though they are, can’t hold a candle to the magnificence of nature. What a show! What a job!