Four Days in Nature

Sonntag, 29. September 2013

by Daniel Davis Wood

Last week at the Ecole, students were able to experience one of our school’s most important, exciting, and adventurous events: the Four-Day Hike. The purpose of the hike is to encourage students to experience the natural environment in a more concentrated and intense way than they do in their daily lives. Breaking up into about a dozen hike groups, students embarked on hikes of varying levels of difficulty in a dozen different locations, and then, on Sunday night, everyone came together in the Grosser Saal to share pictures of their hikes with the rest of the Ecole community.

A number of hike groups trekked out through the southern Alps and across the border into Italy. They brought back photographs of golden grasslands shimmering in sunlight and old stone huts crumbling into dust on rugged mountainsides. Other groups followed more typically Swiss routes through fields of cows, fields of flowers, and even fields of ice. One group led a herd of llamas across the Hasliberg while another managed to get up close to a steinbock and a family of marmots. A third group enjoyed a close encounter with some wild mountain goats while a fourth enjoyed a dinner of goat stew offered to them by some hunters from the area they were passing through. And then, of course, there was the mountaineering hike: four days spent in the company of a professional mountain guide and using a full kit of gear -- ropes, crampons, ice-axes -- to traverse mountaintop glaciers and reach the snowcapped summits of Alpine peaks like the one in the photograph above.

Below, members of the Ecole community share some of their hiking experiences...

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Out in the Wilderness

Kebir Gadio: With Ashley, Melissa, and Alex as hike leaders, I went south to Val Grande, Italy, on my very first hike. Never before had I gone out into the wild for so long. We hiked an average of eight hours a day and we did a lot of steep uphill hiking which I found gruelling. During meals, however, our group took breaks and occasionally found rivers and pools to dive into and cool down. And although the worst fate I could imagine was running out of water while hiking in the Italian sun, our hiking trails led us to plenty of fresh water sources where we drank and filled our bottles and cleaned ourselves.

The food on our hike was surprisingly good. For our dinners we had couscous, pesto pasta, and pasta with tomato sauce, and at the end of the hike we were allowed to enjoy a delicious gelato in the Italian town of Domodossola. After the gelato was gone, we took a walk around Domodossola while waiting for our train back to Switzerland and I took the opportunity to purchase some Italian olives and a slice of proper Italian pizza.

Aside from the rest breaks we took, my favorite parts of the hike were sitting around a fire on a chilly mountaintop, telling ghost stories, and exploring the ruins of old houses abandoned in the foothills of the Alps.

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Closer to Civilization

Photograph by Annabelle Schapals.

Daniel Davis Wood: Back in August, I walked a path that runs beneath the imposing ice sheets of the Eiger, Grindelwald, and Rosenlaui glaciers, from the town of Lauterbrunnen back to the Ecole, and I decided to lead my hike group along the same path for this year’s Four-Day Hike. As a hiker, I love this path for the spectacular beauty of its surroundings, and, as an English teacher, I also love it for its place in world literature. Now more than two hundred and fifty years old, it was once a destination of choice for many of the best-known Romantic writers. Goethe, Wordsworth, Byron, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Anderson, Arthur Conan Doyle, JRR Tolkien, and many others all walked it and drew inspiration from its beauty; and I felt that they were, in some sense, silently keeping company with the fourteen other members of my hike group.

An avalanche on the Wetterhorn.
Photograph by Annabelle Schapals.

We carried full backpacks and mostly kept to the mountain trails, but occasionally we passed through well-populated towns to stock up on supplies so that we didn’t have to take all of our food with us on the steep uphill parts of our journey. The highlight took place during lunch on our third day, when we stopped outside the town of Grindelwald and were lucky enough to see an avalanche cascade down the side of the Wetterhorn, roughly five kilometres away. The snow seemed to fall from the top of the mountin in slow motion, taking a full minute or so to settle over the valley below, but the almighty roar it let out was both a sign of just how calamitous it actually was and a reminder of the awesome power of nature.

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In a Mountain Hut

Photograph by Jody Lam.

Laïs Bürki: My hike began with a train ride to the nearby town of Giswil and then a bus ride up into the alps. We made a base camp at the Ribihütte, a small, cute little hut in the hills that had no warm water. We took daytrips out from the hut, higher up into the mountains. The group was made up of sixteen people, six boys and ten girls, who slept in different rooms at night but spent the hot, sunny days hiking together. We hiked for about five to six hours every day, usually three hours uphill and three hours down. We also had a special guest on our hike: Anthony, the eight-year-old son of two teachers at the Ecole. Anthony did a great job hiking with a group of students who were much older than he is. He was the youngest member of the group and I thought he was amazing. I remember when I was eight years old... I could never have done this hike, but Anthony did it, no matter how difficult it was, and we were all proud of him.

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On the Farm

Hallie Scarbrough: This year’s four-day ‘farm hike’ was a bit different from farm hikes of previous years. Students on the farm hike stay at the Ecole and take daytrips into the hills as well as spending time cultivating the school gardens. Usually, the farm hike group is made up of students who are injured or sick and aren’t able to hike for four days in the wilderness.

Eight students were in the group this time and they took part in a number of fun activities. They split into teams and cooked and baked yummy meals using fresh ingredients from the school gardens. One day they went on a gondola ride up into the mountains to enjoy the view from up high. Another day, they walked around the Hasliberg area and at night they returned to the Ecole to build a campfire where they toasted sausages and marshmallows. They spent a couple more days walking around the local area and working in the gardens for a slow, hands-on experience of the natural environment.

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The approach of winter means that this Four-Day Hike will be the last of the Ecole hikes for 2013, but we’ll be back on the trails after next year’s snow melts and we embark on the day hike we make annually on May 1.

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