June 29th, 2017

compass rose


Mountain Secrets

Samstag, 17 Juni

I woke in the night and had to go to the bathroom. When I got snuggled back down in my sleeping bag liner, I couldn't get back to sleep. I am mere feet from the edge of a cliff, I thought. Now, yeah, I was in a very solid stone hut that had stood there for 115 years. I was in no danger. I knew that. But I had a very hard time convincing my acrophobic lizard brain that it was okay that I was right on the brink of a cliff.

Eventually, I did fall asleep. But I was up early in the hut, as usual when we're on a trek. Various cards hung on a wall by the kitchen, and I read through them. One said,
Ich fühle mich, als könnte ich
Bäume ausreissen!
Also kleine Bäume. Veilleicht Bambus.
Oder Blumen. Na gut.
Gras. Gras geht.
Auf Englisch that reads,
I feel as if I could
Well, small trees. Maybe bamboo.
Or flowers. Yeah.
Grass. Grass counts.

Early morning Moon over the mountain shoulder

Early morning Moon over the mountain shoulder
The Moon doesn't seem so far away up here


Breathtaking view

We had the usual Swiss breakfast and said our good-byes. By 8:52 we were off down the mountain. We were in good form and determined to make good time. It's a lot less tiring to go down the mountain, be it noted, but it hurts just as much. Just different muscles to be abused.

Heading back down

Heading back down
Watch your step



After two hours of hiking down we got to the sign that said it was only an hour and fifteen minutes up to the hut. Man, we're slow Flatlanders. Time for a packs-off break. Find a potty path. Take painkillers. Then, it's off again, this time heading for the Oeschinensee. Various mountain streams leap and burble across our path.


Crossing the stream

Falling water

Falling water
A view uphill from the bridge

We came to a warning sign. There was a need for it. We had to spider climb down a ravine while holding onto a cable driven into the rock face. The locals walked up and down this as if it was nothing. I don't suppose we were in danger of much beyond skinned knees and hands if we'd slipped, but still, I wasn't planning on slipping. I thought to myself, there is adventure -- and then there are the Disney-fied faux adventures that most Scout camps offer. I like my comforts, but man, it's cool to get out and touch the edge of the raw for myself. And that's what we offer in our brand of Venturing.



At 12:32 we reached the road between Kandersteg and Oeschinensee and stopped for lunch. The sign said it was two hours up (we took four hours going down). Oy. A mom with an eleven-year-old son came up, preparing to hike up. She asked if we had a plaster. Her son was wearing blisters on both his heels. We, of course, had a full first aid kit with us. I would have fixed his feet fit for the day, but Mom fixed 'em her way. Her prerogative. She was very grateful. We were glad to have done our Good Turn for the day.

By 1:10, we were off to the Oeschinensee, a glacial lake up there somewhere. The road rose steadily, brutally. It rose about 500 feet in the space of barely a mile. We had to caterpillar it. Having descended several hundred meters already, this is the point at which we decided that the Swiss national motto must be "Uphill both ways" (Beideweg Bergaufwärts).

Up again

Up some more
Oh, be joyful

Just when we were about ready to drop -- and still the road rose some more -- we suddenly came to an open spot with people . . . eating ice cream. We had discovered a lost civilization on a hidden lake, with a restaurant!


Hidden lake, surrounded by mountain cliffs


We watched these guys across the valley all day long

Having restored ourselves with coffee and ice cream, we hopped a little tour bus that ran from the Oeschinensee to the Gondelbahn (cable car). All the sensible people take the Gondelbahn to the top of the hill and then walk down to the Oeschinensee. We were among the very few who walked the whole blinking way up. Ah, but now we would ride down in style.

All aboard the Gondelbahn

All aboard the Gondelbahn
Down at last

We got to the bottom of the valley at 4:30. No bus was available, so we started hoofing it back to Kandersteg. The sign said "15 minutes," and for once it didn't lie. Even as sore as my leg was on asphalt, I could just keep that pace. We caught the bus to KISC in town, and by 5:00, we were back and waiting for dinner.

All seemed well, when T.C. noticed that his phone was missing. He was sure he left it up at the hut. His life was in that phone, and he was all but ready to start walking back up the mountain to get it. The staff at KISC called up to the Doldenhornhütte and were told that new guests had arrived, so they couldn't root through our sleeping room to find his phone. We would have to wait until the next morning to see if it could be found.

While we were up on the mountain, a Scout Troop from BSA's Transatlantic Council had moved in for the week. Also, a bunch of TAC Cub Scouts were in camp, and they would be conducting an Arrow of Light ceremony later on. It was interesting to meet up with so many Americans over there. My reactions to them was -- mixed. I value the experience of going new places and meeting new people, exploring new cultures. TAC is mostly about transplanting the experience of America wherever you go. Each has its virtues, I'm sure, but I had little interest in hanging around with all the other Americans.

We spent some time watching the TAC boys at play. One African-American Cub Scout had a straw hat which he left abandoned on the basketball court. Another boy started to pick it up. We told him to leave it alone, since the other boy would remember to look for it later. After a while, a boy about ten or eleven came over and started talking rapidly to us in a language I couldn't recognize. He was very blond, very blue-eyed, and his words had lots of k's and l's and v's. I figured him for one of the Finnish Scouts who were in camp that week.

I pointed to him and asked, "Suomi?" That's what the Finns call themselves. He nodded. I said we didn't speak Finnish. Could he speak English or German? He said, in English, "a little bit." Then he asked us if the boy's straw hat were "traditional." We said no, it was just a hat to keep the sun out of his eyes.

He seemed satisfied and wandered off. After he left, I suddenly "got" what he was asking. He must have thought the African-American boy was actually an African-African. He wanted to know if his straw hat -- an unusual item to the Finnish boy -- were part of some cultural costume peculiar to his country. Nope. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

We had some time left in the evening and walked the rest of the campground, which we hadn't had a chance to do before.

The Tower

The Tower
You can rent quarters in this now, but when the Tunnel was being built, this was the power house for it


A "place of quiet" (Ort der Stille)

Campfire Ring

Campfire Ring
Cub Scouts gathering

As the day drew to its close, I looked up at the mountains again, and the words of Psalm 144 returned to me.

Touch the mountains that they smoke

Touch the mountains that they smoke
God is with us
compass rose


Last licks

Sunday, 6/18

We acquired some new neighbors while we were up in the mountains. Right next to us was a tent with two teen-aged German-speaking girls. T.C. was a little surprised at the Bustenhalter hanging off the tentpole in the morning. Notions of modesty differ from culture to culture; drying your underwear this way wasn't a big deal to them.

Flying your flag

Flying your flag
Move along, nothing to see

Sunlight on a lone tent

Sunlight on a lone tent
God is smiling on the camp

It was a delightfully slow morning. It being Sunday, we put on our best uniforming and went to church in the village. We got there just as the service was starting.

There was a baptism. The fact that there was a baby being sprinkled probably seemed as odd to T.C. as the fact that the service was in German. Later on, I asked Alane if she understood what the baby's name was. Yes, she said, it was Freeda. No, I replied, Friede means "peace" in German. The baby's name was Nola.

The first part of the service was in the local dialect -- called Schwyzerdütsch by some -- but when the time came to preach, the pastor ascended the pulpit and read the Bible and preached in standard Hochdeutsch. I could understand much of that, but the local dialect was a burr of musical sounds I couldn't break apart into words. The Scripture reading was from the book of Ruth. He had a lot to say about Flüchtlinge, and about being strangers far from home. I mentally translated that as "exiles." Talking with him later outdoors, he corrected me. It means "refugees." That Sunday was Refugee Sunday all over Europe, apparently -- or at least, among the Swiss Reformed congregations.

There were lots of hymns, with good tunes. I enjoyed singing them. At the conclusion of the service, the pastor gave the benediction and walked out the door. We thought it was time to go, but the congregation all stayed seated throughout the long organ postlude. When it finally came to an end, they all applauded the organist -- and then got up to leave.

We walked slowly back to KISC, looking for someplace to do lunch. Though we wanted something Swiss, we finally settled on the pizzeria. There, we found that Swiss pizza is something a little different. We each had a personal pizza, prepared to order. The waiter warned us that in Switzerland, "pepperoni" doesn't mean spicy sausage, but what we would call sliced bell peppers. It was all very good, and dessert was ice cream (sorbet in T.J.'s case).

At the pizzeria

At the pizzeria
A delightful lunch

Returning to camp

Returning to camp
Just never get tired of looking at mountains

Back at KISC, we got word that T.C.'s phone had been found -- or, at least, a phone had been found. I confirmed our return airline flights. And we decided to return to Geneva by way of Brig. That way we could say we went through the Lötschberg Tunnel. Things were coming together.

T.C. asked me if this had been a good retirement trip. Has it ever! I told him that sometimes I can feel God at work on a trip. I certainly felt that in 2000-2001 when putting together our Trip of the Millennium to Tanzania, but not the next time I went. Most of the time, I told him, God expects you to apply yourself and make good judgments and sweat it out. But sometimes -- sometimes -- you can feel the flow of God's Spirit moving all about you, and you know -- you just know -- that you are in the very center of God's will, and everything will work out okay.

KISC has a full-fledged Finnish sauna building -- a gift from the Finnish National Scouting Committee years ago. I rented it for the evening. We built a fire in its stove before supper and immediately afterwards, I stoked it up as hot as I could get it. Meanwhile, T.C. got his phone back at supper, and everything was good on that score.

Getting steamed

Getting steamed
Something special

I was really looking forward to the sauna. I had built Indian sweat lodges before in various camps. A good steam bath will clear out all your pores and re-condition your body and soul. We gathered in the innermost room by the stove. Alane was uncomfortable with the heat, even before we added water to the hot rocks. She moved to the outer steam room. After the first dousing, she went to the outer room where you leave your outer garments and waited for us. We three guys steamed ourselves dry. We poured bucket after bucket of water on the hot coals until we couldn't stand it any more. Then we went next door to the shower house and each stood in a shower stall and hit the COLD water.

"How long do we stay under the water?" asked T.C. "Until it starts to feel cold," I said. Afterward, we were light as feathers. Ahh.

The next day, T.C. and T.J. wanted to go swim in the Oeschinensee. I wasn't happy about going back. We would spend a lot of money to indulge them via cable car. But as long as we were back in time for lunch, I'd go along with it. We decided we wanted to go to the super-traditional Swiss restaurant across from the 4-Star (and owned by the same) and get fondue for lunch.

Monday, 6/19

At breakfast the next morning, T.C. said to me, in an insinuating manner, "Don't you just hate it when you wake up and your hair is everywhere?" Unruffled, I replied, "Ya hate it a lot worse when you wake up and your hair is nowhere."

We went through the checkout drill. I decided that the first three English phrases a pinkie must learn, if not a native English speaker, must be, "Cool!" "OK" and "No problem."

I asked about the interesting knot that the pinkies wore on their neckerchiefs. I was told it's called the Friendship Knot. You're not supposed to tie it yourself; you're supposed to tie it on somebody else's neckerchief when you've made a new friend. One of the pinkies -- a young man from Denmark -- told me that uniforms have fallen out of favor in much of Europe. Not practical, he said. So a Scout t-shirt or polo with a neckerchief serves as universal Scout wear.

We hustled ourselves over to the foot of the Gondelbahn, where we paid an eye-watering amount for return tickets, in order for our guys to fulfill the suggestion that they go jump in the lake. I endured some mild kidding about riding up, which I supposed I deserved. I had told them beforehand that I don't like cable cars. But I sure wasn't going to walk up that doggone valley again. At the top, we caught the tour bus to the Oeschinensee, and there, T.C. and T.J. took the plunge.

Oeschinnensee again

Oeschinensee again
Cows were roaming everywhere this time

Getting wet

Getting wet
It's official now

We took the tour bus back to the Gondelbahn and the cable car to the road. We walked back to town and grabbed a bus to the Rüdihus. We were just in time. It was 1:45, and the kitchen was due to close in 15 minutes.

The Rüdihus staff all wear traditional Swiss costume. Fondue is a specialty, but they also do wine and cheese tastings, parties, etc. I had noticed the number of houseflies all over the valley -- a function of the cows that graze everywhere, I suppose. The windows were open, which meant that the flies are very much a part of high-end traditional dining.

The fondue was excellent. T.C. ordered a plain cheese fondue. T.J. and I shared a big one with speck (bacon, of a sort) and onions. Alane had one with morels in it. We dipped hunks of rye bread in it. We drank iced tea -- but what iced tea! We asked what was in it, and we were told it was just "Swiss Ice Tea." I think they sweetened it with something like elderflower syrup, rather than sugar. It was delightful.

T.C. suggested we do fondue for the crackerbarrel at the Winter Rendezvous. Hmmm . . . Alane said they'd just criticize it for being bad nacho cheese and wonder where the chips were.

Fondue at the Ruedihus

Fondue at the Rüdihus
Traditional Swiss cuisine

Well, it was magnificent, but it was also very pricey. Our meal cost us 154 CHF -- about the same for a simple lunch as the fancy meal at die Krone. Still, it's all part of the adventure. Glad we did it.

Back at camp, we grabbed our stuff, waited for the bus, then waited for our train. Then we were off through the tunnel. While waiting for the train, I went looking for something to read in a little kiosk there. I expected only stuff in German, and that was all right, but all the German language novels were "moderns," i.e., boring. so I bought some German language comic books: Asterix und der Kupferkessel and a big Disney collection. Scrooge McDuck in German is called Dagobert Duck, by the way.

The high tunnel passed quickly through the mountains and then began to descend slowly down the side of the same mountains to Brig. We changed there for Geneva. Once we reached Lac Leman again, we passed through Vevey. I told the Crew that this town's namesake is Vevay, Indiana. Vevay is the county seat of Switzerland County, Indiana. It was settled and named by Swiss immigrants who liked its hills.

The train's terminus was at the Geneva airport. Everybody got off. We struggled with our luggage into the main lobby of the airport and looked around for somewhere to crash for the night. A Swiss-Canadian "ambassador" for KISC had warned us that we might get hassled by the police there, but it looked to me as if half of Geneva had decided to spend the night at the airport. We immediately met a lady from St. John's, Newfoundland, who was trying to get home from her son's wedding.

We were staying in the airport because our flight left at 7:05 a.m. the next morning, and we needed to check in two hours prior to that. So, we were in for an uncomfortable night, but you do what you have to do.

I read some in my German language comic books. I had thought comics would be simple reading, but it turns out, they're very difficult. Comic book language is highly compressed and highly colloquial. They're actually a workout for someone who isn't a native speaker/reader. But I enjoyed them.

Going home

Going home
Never mind the discomfort, you can always sleep on the plane

Tuesday, 6/20

I was up at 4:00 a.m. I had really overtaxed my legs -- especially my right one -- the day before. Now, a night spent in a chair with my legs dangling down had made my foot and ankle swell severely. On top of everything, I had had to quit taking my aspirin and Celebrex two days before because of some upcoming medical tests after I got back home. I was hurting.

I noticed that the people in the shops at the Geneva airport spoke less English and were less friendly than the shop people in German-speaking Switzerland. Maybe I just caught these on a bad day. Who knows.

I was pleased to see that Turkish Airlines did not charge us for our extra bag! One up on United! And . . . T.J. got stopped going through security. For what, we never did find out. But eventually, they waved him through.

Seating was very cramped on the shorter flight to Istanbul. The swelling, especially in my right leg, was very painful. Had to get up and move. T.C. had an extra seat by him, so I sat there and massaged my leg to get the blood moving.

Istanbul was a big airport. U.S.-bound flights were all at the far end. We went through multiple layers of security. There was the initial transfer-screening, then two more document checks, then a luggage and personal check where they swabbed our hands and wanded every compartment of our carry-on luggage. We had to take off our shoes, too. Then Alane had to have her camera checked through separately (which none of the rest of us had to). We never could figure out why. Oh, well. As my friend Zach told me, Turkish security is no joke.

T.J. was dying for a hamburger, and a little restaurant there made him a good one. I had a Gösleme -- sort of a floury tortilla rolled up with cheese in it.

Then came our long flight: Istanbul to Chicago. Turkish Airlines had great food and lots of swag to give away. Repeated drink service, too. Seats were reasonably wide and comfortable, even with my aching legs. I'm a fan, now.

At O'Hare, we didn't have to open our bags again as they went through Customs, but we did have to go through several screening steps (again). We ate American food at a restaurant. Beef tasted good after so much time in Switzerland. There are lots of cows there, but they're all dairy cattle. Pork, pastry, cheese, and chocolate are Switzerland on a plate. But there comes a time when you want a hamburger and fries.

And then came our little hopper flight to Indianapolis. Kara met us there. We grabbed our luggage and drove back to Ellettsville. My truck was waiting at the parsonage where I left it. I drove home and got in the door about 1:30 a.m. Our wonderful Swiss adventure was over, and I was home and dry.

God be praised for it.