Wednesday, March 26, 2008

19 Below Zero. And no mercy.


During our weekend in Zermatt, my parents and I took the cable cars up to Klein Matterhorn, the highest point you can get to without risking a mountain climbing injury. This trip involved a set of three cable cars: one six-seater and two huge gondolas that each probably held about 100 people and their ski equipment. On the final gondola we reached over 12,000 feet and were swept into a cloud.

It was my third ascent in three years to the top of this mountain, but definitely the coldest at -19 C with no account for wind chill. It was so beautiful though, that I had to take photos. But by the time we came down from the viewing platform and went to warm up in the ice cave (a strange concept), my fingers felt numb and my toes were starting to protest as well.

After our tour of the ice cave, complete with a pose at the ice bar we were sufficiently chilled and headed back to meet the gondola, which runs every 20 minutes. I waited in the bathroom for the next to arrive as by then I was a little scared for my fingers.

When the gondola did arrive, we stood back to let the pack of wild skiers out, politely standing to the side. After the skiers were out we went to get on, but the driver had shut the door. So we stood and motioned to him that we wanted to get on. But he just stared at us freezing in the wind and continued to sit there. Two minutes later, he descended, leaving us standing on the platform with our 70 CHF tickets.

Politeness, you see, does not pay off in Switzerland. One must charge ahead to get on any form of public transport or literally be left in the cold. In Switzerland, schedules matter. But people don’t. In this case however, it didn’t really make sense because it’s not like we were late and deserved to be left in the freezing wind.

So I headed back to the bathroom to get warm. When the next gondola arrived, we braced ourselves and stood by the door, ready for the stampede of skis. We held our hiking poles in front of us as self defense and pushed our way on while the skiers got off on both sides of the gondola. And that my friends, is survival in Switzerland. Pushing, shoving, and a few battle bruises to show for it. And if you don’t learn this before you arrive at Klein Matterhorn, you will learn it there. Or die.

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