|Kleine Scheidegg — would we live to see it?|
Every month we feature funny or inspiring anecdotes from Rick Steves' tour alums. If you have a true tour tale to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a photo that illustrates it, please attach it. Don't forget to tell us which city and state you live in. We'd love to hear from you!
If you can't trust your guide...
Travel is full of surprises, even when you're a tour guide. A few years ago, while I was guiding a Best of Europe tour, my group and I spent a couple of nights in the beautiful village of Gimmelwald, Switzerland. I always enjoy the chance to take my groups on a hike during our free day there, so I picked one of Rick's favorites: the 2½-mile panorama hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg.
We had with us an assistant guide, Jacquie, who was on her first tour, learning the ropes of guiding. Before coming to work for Rick she was a US Army sergeant. Jacquie was looking forward to getting some exercise while also seeing the beautiful Swiss Alps, and our group was ready and eager to come along.
It was May and the morning was a bit chilly. Before taking the nearly-vertical gondola ride up to Männlichen, I asked about the weather 'up top' and was told that the trail was open and free of snow, even at the 7300-ft level.
Our group took lots of pictures of breathtaking views as the gondola took us higher and higher above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. But I noticed that clouds were quickly gathering up ahead. Change was in the air.
By the time we walked out of the Männlichen station and onto the trail, snow was coming down hard. The group looked a little nervous as we hiked into the swirl of white. Jacquie, meaning to be reassuring, was not helping the situation by telling everyone her experiences with hypothermia and getting stranded in the snow during her Army training. After a few hundred yards, Jacquie's own anxiety got the best of her, and her inner-sergeant ordered the group to turn around and head back before we all succumbed to hypothermia. I thought, "Wait a minute, I know this trail and I'm the guide!"
I could see my group doing the mental math: bad weather, no shelter, one easy-going guide (me), and one very alarmed guide (who is trained to know what can kill you). Things weren't looking good. I didn't want to get into an argument with Jacquie 'in front of the kids', but I really thought the hike would be safe all the way to Kleine Scheidegg. I tried to reassure everyone that there was no need to panic, but some of the group decided not to chance it, and they headed back to the hot-cocoa-stocked Männlichen station. A dozen decided to stay and trust my judgment — including Jacquie, in case we needed her survival skills.
As we made our way along the path, sure enough, the snow intensified to whiteout conditions...and I took a wrong fork in the trail. As soon as I realized my mistake, I stopped and told the group we were heading the wrong way. Well, that caused a commotion to say the least, and people openly challenged whether I really knew the route. I told them not to worry, and to keep following me.
We got back on the right trail, gritted our teeth, and continued on our disappointing hike. About five minutes later the snow stopped. Soon after, the clouds parted...revealing the most spectacular, sparkling panorama of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger peaks I have seen in my 12 years of guiding.
Everyone was so happy to be there, sharing that moment. We laughed at the silliness of the situation, with Jacquie laughing the loudest.
It ended up being the best hike ever.
—Matt in Edmonds, WA
Fine print: We reserve the right to edit and post all Tour Tales submissions. Please provide us with your full name and city/state. We will not print your last name or email address in Tour News.