Alps log: day 12

Last pass of the entire trek today. I wake up and it’s raining.

Stage 12: Gruben – augstbordpass – St.
Niklaus
Dist: 16km
Ht gain: 1072m
Time: 7 hrs

I put on full rain gear, secure all my items, and walk out of the hotel. The sky has cleared.

The ascent is gentle, despite the scary numbers. Easy over grassland, pleasant through pastures, up a ridge in rock. A few cows leave pies, one frazzled sheep shoos me away from his harem. I pass Tasmanian Mike; glad to see he’s still ticking. The clouds have parted enough behind us, what will be beyond at the pass?

Reach the Augstbordpass. I’m here 30 min under time. Cloud city, but after a long break, it also clears. I see mountain ahead. Behind me, I can see yesterday’s Meidpass directly across the valley. Augstbordpass is my favorite pass of the trek, every step, a varied pleasure. A worthy climax to the high route.

On the descent, I pass a family hiking with their dog. The dog, unleashed, flops along the trail, on and off, roaming toward whatever whimsy, its tongue flapping, deliriously high with new scents, god, I’ve never seen a dog so joyous. I can relate, boy.

I walk down further, and chat with a couple headed the same way. Nora is Finnish, and Peter-jung is from Holland (hollandaise?). They apparently share a passion for salsa dancing, which is the circumstance of their meeting in holland. She does a three-step with a flourish to accentuate the point. He tells me he is an IT consultant, then leans in to encourage me to ask Nora about her job– or “her lifestyle, really”. “Holland”? “Lifestyle”? Was Nora a prostitute???

I ask. She is a… horse whisperer, except she refuses that label. She is a trainer, specializing in troubled horse-owner relations. She travels country to country, gig to gig, although she is currently assisting one noted Horse Master whose name now escapes me. “Gretzel Mandable”? I cannot be far off. I ask her the secret to her powers. She tells me, in a deep tone, about the necessity of selflessness when dealing with animals, who, to varying degrees, can see through our “human masks”, the horse being especially sensitive, and the dog being nonchalent due to an eagerness to please. Her side speciality is dealing with internal strife in humans that animals can detect. She shares the horse’s gift for empathy. She’s getting very intense, and I tell them I have to tie my shoelaces, no really, it’s okay, you go on ahead, yeah, yes, I’ll catch up with you, yup.

I reach the fabled Twära viewpoint, where the cover photo to my guidebook was taken. I try to recreate it with my tripod and remote, but don’t quite pull it off. Mike the Tasmanian catches up with me. He’s walking with an elderly couple and a young woman. She offers to take a photo for me, I return the favor. She smiles at me; she’s thin, lithe, Italian? I chat more and quickly become cognizant that something’s not right with this one. I decide she’s the autistic daughter of this old couple, but Mike later tells me she’s their guide. Whoops.

Reach St. Niklaus. My plan is to bus up to Gasenreid to get a head start tomorrow on the new high mountain path Europaweg. I ask the tourism bureau about the road ahead. Tomorrow’s weather is bad, and there is a landslide zone, requiring a full detour down to the valley and back up again. Eh. The case is made for skipping it and heading down directly to Zermatt tomorrow, thru the classic valley walk.

I stay in the dormitory in the Bahnofbuffet, the restaurant above the railway station. The miracle of the modern, electric, light and quiet Swiss rail makes this possible. In the common area, I meet “Ambrose”, a sometime Swiss local. He has splotchy skin, protruding ears, long shoulder length hair that is somehow thinning on top, a broad creepy smile. He looks like an extra from Lord of the Rings, except he had to spend substantially less time in Hair and Make-up. He tips me off to the open and free wifi at the Bäckerei, near the café du monte rosa, thereby making him a good guy after all.

Wifi till nightfall. Bedtime.

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