STAFF: Stefanie (USA) Can it really be June already?


I arrived in the Swiss Alps at the very end of February, when thick snow covered the Adelboden valley like clouds of whipped meringue.  Now the soaring peaks that surround the Chalet’s hilltop are (mostly) grassy and dotted with the vividly blue gentian flowers.

I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to experience two distinct, glorious seasons here in Switzerland.  From snowshoeing, tobogganing, and skiing in the winter, to hiking, waterfall excursions, and canyoning in the spring, I have had some truly spectacular Alpine adventures.

In fact, the adventures are what I’d like to share about my volunteer term at Our Chalet.

Falk, the Swiss Scout who selected the location for our world center, felt that it’s possible to find “both adventure and peace for the soul” here in the stunning Adelboden valley.  I couldn’t agree more.  My most memorable and profound experiences have been moments when I’ve connected with the surreal natural landscape that is the backdrop for Our Chalet, and I am certain that it’s the mountains that I will long for most when I’m back home in the United States.

I am definitely an outdoor enthusiast.  In the US, I work as an outdoor educator and trip leader for Girl Scouts, and I have plans to one day hike the entire Appalachian Trail (all 2,184 miles) from Georgia to Maine.  I thus knew early-on that I would want to spend many of my days-off exploring.  So, let me take you on a mini-photo tour of just a few of the highlights of my past three months.

Stefani sledging

Mid-March: Karin from Sweden and I hiked into town while carrying wooden toboggans over our shoulders, which was pretty intense in-and-of-itself.  We then spent an entire afternoon on Tschenten’s two sledge runs.  Note that tobogganing in the Alps is a full-body workout; I had black and blue welts darkening my knees later that same day from leaning into the turns on the course.

Photo description: At the top of the Tschenten toboggan run.
Stafani in Thun

Photo description: In one of the four towers of the schloss (castle) with the city of Thun below and the Bernese Alps in the background.

Early May: Carly from Colorado, USA and I traveled to the medieval city of Thun.  We visited two castles and walked beside the River Aar, which flows into the stunning Thunersee (Lake of Thun).  Despite typically preferring rural areas, I really fell in love with this city – I think it was the cobbled streets and turquoise-blue water. My favorite part of my trip to Thun was my visit to the Wocher Panorama, the oldest existing panorama painting in the world.

Prior to the invention of film and cinema, panoramas were a popular form of entertainment.  The 360-degree mural depicts the city of Thun from a rooftop vantage point and is incredibly intricate.  Townspeople peer curiously from windows and interact with one another in those lovely aforementioned cobbled streets, and the Bernese Alps tower in the background.  I was literally moved to tears (yes, it’s true) while viewing the panorama.  I’ve never had such a powerful connection with a piece of artwork; it was both emotionally-draining and wonderful.  I even had to purchase a print of a section of the panorama as a souvenir.

Early May: I decided to go on a full-day solo hike up nearby Luegli (elevation 2138 meters/7014 feet) on another day-off.  Luegli was my third summit, as well, so I earned another five points toward the (eighty-point) Staff Challenge.  I hiked up and then used snowshoes to glissade down.  “Glissading” is a method of sliding down a steep slope of snow or ice…and it’s super fun.  I nearly flew down that mountain.

Stef snowshoing

Photo description: My snowshoe-clad feet on top of Luegli.  This is also the same area I skied in March.

Stef canyoning

Photo description: Maximizing splash upon water entry with a cannonball.

Mid-May:  Three of the other spring volunteers and I visited lovely Interlaken to go canyoning through the Saxeten Gorge.  We donned some pretty snazzy wetsuits and spent an afternoon rappelling, scrambling, and leaping in and out of the river.  What an exhilarating blast.  The river was at an all-time high, too, due to heavy rains over the previous few days, so we enjoyed some turbulent “big water.”

Late May: I planned a personal “Waterfall Day” to Reichenbachfälle and Trümmelbachfälle on another day-off.  Reichenbachfälle is the very waterfall of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “The Final Problem” (1891), where Sherlock Holmes famously battled his nemesis Professor Moriarty.  Reichenbachfälle, according to Doyle, “ […] is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.”  I had a fantastic time hiking through the spray of the powerful falls and stood on the very ledge that Holmes supposedly fell from.  I then traveled toTrümmelbachfälle, a series of ten glacial waterfalls inside a mountain made accessible by tunnels, paths, and platforms.  Here I had another stirring experience with nature: when I held my hands against the sheets of rock, I discovered that I could actually feel the reverberations of the pounding water coursing through my body.  I’m so grateful that I was able to simply pause, listen, and fully revel in the experience.

Stef and Sherlock

Photo description: Sherlock Holmes and I contemplating a puzzle after my ascent up Reichenbachfälle.

Stef klettersteiging in Kandersteg

Photo description: Traversing the first cable bridge on the klettersteig with the breathtaking Kandersteg valley as my backdrop.

Late May: On my final day-off, Programme Manager Katie and I did the extreme adventure sport of klettersteiging in the village of Kandersteg.  A klettersteig (German for “climbing path”) is also known as a via ferrata (“road of iron” en Italiano).  These mountain routes are equipped with fixed cables, staples, ladders, and bridges.

Stef klettersteiging

Photo description: Climbing up the “Double Helix” ladder on the klettersteig route.

(History: During WWI, both Italy and Austria competed for control of the Dolomite mountains. To help troops move about at high altitude in very difficult conditions, permanent lines were fixed to rock faces and ladders were installed so that militaries could ascend steep escarpments. These were the first via ferratas.) This particular klettersteig route is ranked a 4 out of 5 and is one of the most difficult in Switzerland. It was like a high ropes course and mountaineering all mixed into one!

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to my adventurous expeditions in the Swiss Alps.

Stefanie Ashlyn

Massachusetts, USA
Spring 2012 Volunteer