Yesterday, when failing the long weekend (when not working the traditional way, the bank holidays and long weekends, like this now in Switzerland, tend to go without me noticing before it’s too late) I took the micro-adventure option and set to Alpstein for a little solo hike. During the tour, I got to see again the Seealpsee in the sun, and Meglisalp, one fo the most remote and cutest little villages I’ve seen in the Swiss Alps, and the terrifying Fählensee and the magnificent views down to Sämtisersee and up to Altmann. And the high ridges with their alpine hiking routes, which yet aren’t the most enjoyable to hike (later in the summer though…) and a bit scary thunderstorm. I also got to see again how trendy trail running is, especially in the Alpstein area (maybe because Alpinsight/Elevation?) and no matter style or season, the third time really proved that these places are worth the effort, always.
On this solo hike, I thought
a bit a lot about the pros and cons of solo hiking too. Because solo hike, in the mountains especially, is a very interesting concept (especially if you tend to be as philosophical as I am during your loooong hikes alone). On the one hand, you take a risk by going alone, especially when in the higher elevations, in remote places. You’re on your own and there’s no one else by your side if something goes wrong. You don’t have a partner nor the society keeping an eye on you, which is both a risk and a blessing.
If and when the hell breaks loose aka you jump few centimeters up from your loner seat when the thunderstorm suddenly roars right above your head, echoing in the valley between the mountain faces, by a remote (though there was a road to this particular lake, so the remoteness can be discussed) lake at 1471m’, between 2500m’ peaks, you most likely wish you weren’t alone. When you in seconds scan your surrounding and realize that you are by the lake in an open area where storms are the real kind of storms and that you just crossed slowly an exposed snowy pass in where you definitely should not be during storm, you most likely wish there’d be someone saying it’s gonna be alright, we gonna make it safe. You might even wish there’d be someone holding your hand then. Or at least that’s what I’d wish and really wished yesterday, when by that lake the hell broke loose like that.
And not to think even more serious scenarios of hike gone wrong, twisted ankles, dehydration and low blood sugar. So on one hand, going solo is not the wisest move. But on the other, hiking solo you aren’t relying on any false comfort. Someone saying “It’s gonna be alright”, and holding your hand doesn’t really make it alright. Harsh but true. It’s comforting and stress reducing, but it’s not really anything concrete. And if you twist the ankle in the mountains, you’re most likely gonna get flown home/to the hospital by Rega (btw if and when spending time outdoors in Switzerland regularly, you should check Rega) and not carried down by your camerado.
Someone taking the longer route or the sketchier one with you doesn’t, in most cases, really make the route more secure, nor reduce the risk (we can later discuss the certified mountain guide exception as well). When hiking with someone, there might be someone by your side if something happens, you might be the someone by the other one’s side if something happens. Or most likely you are just double trouble together.
On your own, you observe and think more than with others. On your own, you don’t take the sketchier because it’s sketchy and the weather is worrying – or you take the sketchy because you know you can do it and the weather is permitting. On your own, you evaluate, calculate and make thoughtful decisions, which I believe are more careful when you’re on your own. Simply because you have more time and reason to keep an eye on the details, and concentrate on the essential (and not ie. the butt of your handsome fellow hiker ;).
With other people, the bias for false authority comes many times in question too, and even though the more experienced person is more experienced and knows more, they most likely aren’t aware of what other people really can or can’t do (again the certified mountain guides are an exception). And honestly speaking, it shouldn’t be anyone’s responsibility to take care of other adults in the mountains.
After all, in 99% of the cases, it’s your responsibility to get yourself home safe, and learn the skills and facts needed to make the best possible decisions and actions for you, and whenever with others (professional, paid guides excluded) for them too. Mountains are very good, if not the best, place to learn humility and the positive selfishness, the self-awareness, which come handy in many places, not only when hiking.
When you’re on your own, there’s no other noise than yours, and it’s kinda good to learn how to live with the noise. And come to the conclusion that you are a kinda damn capable person, with or without other people. Of course, and even more probably, you might also come to the conclusion that there’s still
something a lot to learn. But then, you just go learning them, to do more awesome things and to do better the things you’re already doing. And you learn to not purposely hurt yourself, or anyone else, when hiking, or whatever challenge you’re doing, and to not fail the same way all over again. You learn to take care, first of yourself and then of others. Like they say in the aeroplane, always put the mask on you first, and only after that help the others.
So, in nutshell and for the closure of this mental health week too, I do suggest you go hiking alone. At least once. It does good for you, mentally and physically. It doesn’ really matter where you go as long as you go, but if needing inspiration for a bit more challenging solo hike destinations I can highly recommend this Alpstein and Meglisalp in here. Because these places are just awesome and they also give nice of a perspective on things. Just see the humans in the last pic for scale.
But please do note that they also might make you think how you really should be carrying an ice axe with you whenever you climb over 1500m in May… Or maybe it’s just me who haven’t really learned the lesson in the first two times.
I’ll stop by the gear store on my way to the next high alpine adventure though.
Where: Hike Wasserauen – Seealpsee – Meglisalp – Fählensee – Sämtisersee – Brülisau, appr. 18km & 1500m ascent (map)