Troop 410 Swiss Alps High Adventure 2012
Several years ago, Troop 410 Scoutmaster Keith Arnold had a vision. That vision was to take a group of older scouts to the Swiss Alps for a High Adventure Trek of a lifetime. This summer, that vision became a reality. With 1 year of complex planning and coordinating (by Mr. Arnold, Committee Co-Chair Karen Miller and other troop volunteers) with multiple entities in Switzerland, the airlines and scout’s families, we had a trip!
14 Boy Scouts and 6 adult leaders signed up. We trained on multiple shakedown hikes, up and down many serious hills in West Austin’s neighborhoods for months. This past July, we left for our base camp in Kandersteg, Switzerland; THE International Scout Center (KISC). Our flight took us from Austin to JFK in NY to Zurich, where we rode the trains onward to our base camp. KISC is run by scouts and guides from around the world (called “Pinkies” because of their pink shirts they all wear). They welcome over 12,000 Scouts and Guides per year from more than 40 different countries (in 2011 they counted 48). Most international scouting groups include girls, and there were many at the camp, both as “pinkies” and as attendees. We stayed in a large chalet that was built in 1923. We attended a weekly campfire, and were entertained by each of the approximately 15 troops from many different countries. Our scouts did a great job with their skit as well, and had complimentary quotes repeated to them afterwards. We saw 95 Scottish scouts in full uniform, which included an array of different kilts, they were a sharp looking group. After a day and a half of activities and altitude acclimation in Kandersteg, we were ready to hit the trails for a 7 day / 6 night trek through the Alps. We split our group into 2 crews (East and West) and each crew started on opposite ends of a series of arduous trails through and across the alps totaling about 40 miles. Each day we would hike for about 5 hours reaching our daily goal of a hütte. These hüttes were built way up in the mountains 40 to 75 years ago, made out of stone and wood. There are hosts that live in them 3 months out of the year, and they provided clean bedding, restrooms, dorm like rooms with group bunks, each new hütte being different than the last. A few even had showers! They offered three meals a day, we chose the dinner and breakfast plan. The 4 course hot dinners were very welcomed by our tired crews! Swiss cuisine starts with soup, a meaty pasta dish, bread, fruit and desert. Always different and delicious. The breakfasts were high energy cereals with fruit and yogurt. We purchased and packed fresh local dry sausages, cheeses and breads from Swiss shops every few days, for our lunches. Many of our lunch breaks involved sitting on the side of a trail overlooking some of the most beautiful scenery anyone could imagine, yet very unique each day.
The trails were usually Very steep, either going up or down. Our packs averaged around 25~30 lbs plus 2 liters of water or more. Many of us used hiking poles. About half our trek was at or below the vegetation line, the rest was above. The trails were well worn, some being up to a foot deep, while others were hard rock (some set, some loose enough to cause great concern), some paved areas (near civilizations); soft forest floor to mountain ridge razorbacks 24 inches wide that dropped off several hundred feet on either side. We hiked through mud, snow and ice; through thick cloud banks with 10 ft visibility; through snowing clouds, raining clouds and sunny skies. We stayed in Gspaltenhornhütte perched on the side of cliff in a black rock mountain area overlooking a large black glacier that had ice caves with 200 foot openings into the glacier and that exited the same way with large glacial rivers rushing out and down toward the valley below. While at that hütte, we watched the clouds come up from the valley below and totally inundate us and the hütte with a 3ft visibility range. We crossed rivers, streams, snow packs, glaciers, boulder fields and crevasses. There were metal stairs on the side of mountains to climb up (or down), we had to use steel cables, chains or rope to hang onto to keep from slipping and falling off the mountains; wooden steps, rock steps, metal bridges, wood bridges and log bridges.
Arguably, I think we hiked during more beautiful sunshiny hours than not. Both crews met at our half way point of the trek at the Rotstockhütte. The tired crews were happy to reunite for the 2 nights we spent there, recounting their respective tales, telling of things to come for the other group; who had a rougher time of it - boys being boys - boasting and one-upsmanship! Also allowing time to do a little laundry! A new small crew formed for a day hike up to the top of Schilthorn, a peak overlooking our hütte. The top of this peak has a restaurant and tourist area that was filmed for a James Bond movie. Beautiful views of all the major peaks in Switzerland and even a view across to the Black Forest in Germany. Several of that crew’s boys took the time to take a dip in an alpine lake that was just barely above freezing, a dip was about all anyone could withstand! Both crews took their opportunities to ride the cog train from Klein Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch, the highest observation point in all of Europe. The cog train travels up for about 10 minutes of scenic views, then through a tunnel through the mountain range, for 40 minutes more. It takes you to observation decks, ice cave gallery, museum etc. The views of the glaciers, mountains and valleys were remarkable. The boys had a blast playing in some really thick dry snow up there, including the inevitable snowball fights!.
Swiss cowbells are a stereotype that we found to be justified! You could almost always hear the cowbells clanging on the necks of their cows (sheep and goat bells as well). A musical cacophony that was befitting of the scenery from which it arose. I could not help but smile and even laugh when we would pass near a herd of cows, with all those BELLS!
We saw wild ibexes (an alpine goat), chamois (another type of alpine goat), foxes, kites (small falcon like birds), salamanders and other wildlife. The alpine flowers were abloom everywhere! Even where it appeared no vegetation was present, just a barren rocky landscape, suddenly we would come across a lone small plant - in bloom. Unfortunately, we never saw any edelweiss blooming in the wild (we did see some that were blooming in planters).
At the end of our journey on the trails, both crews headed back to base camp in Kandersteg. Rest and recovery for some of us (OK, just Me!). The boys participated in a pioneering competition, feeling confident in their skills learned in Austin. Much to their surprise, the coordinator of the event mixed up all the scouts into teams with inter-mixed languages to make the games more challenging and for better interaction between the scouts. Our boys really enjoyed meeting and talking (or trying to talk) with other scouts from other countries. Again, new groups were assembled for some extra adventures, such as canyoning, zip lining and wheeled sled runs all in the grandiose splendor of the Alps! They had a granite ping-pong table with a wooden slab for a net that kept many scouts and adults entertained during free times. Shopping for souvenirs, food and other unique items was also done in the small town of Kandersteg, which was just a short 15 min. walk from the chalet.
It was time to go. We packed up the night before and awoke very early, donned our packs and hiked down to the train station to take us back to the airport in Zurich, onward to JFK and finally, back to Austin.
The experiences we had, physically, mentally and spiritually, will stay with each of us forever. We pushed ourselves harder and longer than ever before, and have lived to tell about it. Our scouts now have a shared unique set of memories that they will remember and share for the rest of their lives. And that is a big part of what scouting is all about.
We would like to express our thanks to Highland Park Baptist Church, who has supported, housed and encouraged our troop, as our Charter Organization, for 55 years.
East Crew :
Adults: Karen Miller
Adults: Keith Arnold
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