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Hiking through the Fralps: Switzerland Maymester

Shing Ann Yeh

During this Maymester, we traversed through not only the German-speaking, Italian-speaking, and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, but we also rode a train up to Chamonix, France, where we spent a few glorious days in that most idyllic town.

We might have had a little too much fun on the train.

We lived in the Hotel Gustavia, which was funny because it was run by a crew of long blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swedes.  Apparently, this town is popular for Swedish people on holiday.  But I digress.

Our hotel had really lovely blue shutters.

In the mornings, we would experience the poetry of Shelley, talk about the conquests of Byron, investigate Truth, passion, and reason while sitting outside, surrounded by the French Alps and playful winds.  In the afternoons, we would seek inspiration for our presentations from the nature and the vibrant town. We rode up a shaky cable car up to the top of Mont Blanc, whose peak boasted a whopping 12,600 feet, and there we stood in a glass box, looking down at the perilous peaks and ice.  While we were on top of the world, there was a photoshoot going on, so I’m excited to see whether we witnessed some real-life Vogue action.  We took a cleverly-designed train to a glacier which had dried up.  We hiked along the French Alps, dubbed “Fralps” by S. and Z., and we were constantly in awe of the view so we stopped at every clearing.  Our breath was taken away by the view, through if we’re really being honest, our breath might have been taken away by our level of fitness.  We got better though, especially when we were passed by a pregnant lady booking it up the mountain.  Motivation at its prime.

A few people vanquished their fear of heights by going in this Willy Wonka-esque glass box!

One of my favorite memories on this trip was when we experienced the sublime, which was described to us by Professor B. through a skiing metaphor.  If one who loved to ski and loved the thrill of skiing skiied down a mountain with an avalanche behind him, he would: a) die, thinking that was the best way to have died, or b) live through it, thinking that that was the most incredible experience.  A few of my friends and I decided that rather than hiking up a long, steep hill to get to an abandoned ski tower, it would be faster to climb up a shorter, steeper face of the mountain.  That was the impetus for the “remember that time when” series.

Wouldn't it be cool if this same model picture that I took appeared on Vogue or something?

Remember that time when we started free-climbed and bouldered through the French Alps?  Remember that time where Z. slipped down the mountain… twice?  Remember that time when we were stuck in the middle of the mountain, where Z. was climbing back up after falling, where I was stuck on a tree, and when S. didn’t know how to go up any further and that was the point of no return?  Remember that time when we were hauling ourselves up by tree branches and roots?  Remember that time when we used sturdy sticks and pretended we were billy goats with four legs?  Remember that time when we drank from that trickling stream, admired that view, and continued our sojourn through slippery, dried pine needles?  Remember that time when we saw a clearing, made our way to the top after four hours, and slumped on the gravel path?  Remember that time we almost died?  Well, reader, you probably don’t, but we do.  It was awesome.

We were free-climbing and almost died, but it's okay.

In the lobby and dining rooms, which was the only place in the hotel with spotty, yet almost-working Wi-Fi, we bonded over some spectacular guitar playing, learned some piano, listened to some amazing singing by K. and M. and our grad student J.  Some people on the trip became great friends with the Swedish people and went bowling, rock-climbed, and celebrated the evenings of friendship together.  We loved the colorful town, which was less tourist-y that I expected, yet was beautiful and quaint.

These presentations were some of the most inspiring parts of the trip.

This leg of the trip was enormously fun.  Yes, I’m back in the States already, and yes I did people-watch in the airport and saw a guy who looked strikingly like Matt Smith, but these Maymester things must be documented!

  • Jay Watson

    Looking forward to the pictures – sounds like a great trip!

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