Saturday, July 3, 2010

Catching up

So much to blog about, so little time! I need to catch up a little with chronicling my adventures of late. For most of the last week, I was in Annecy, France, and did not have Internet access where I was staying. I plan to post separately (very soon) about my special visit to Annecy, where St. Francis de Sales lived, worked, and prayed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

At the moment, though, I would like to briefly recount the mountain hike I took a little over a week ago with all the junior monks at Einsiedeln. Allow me to introduce everyone. In the top photo, from left: Br. Matthias, a visiting monk from Germany who is studying at Einsiedeln; Fr. Gregor, the novice/junior master; peeking over his shoulder is Sr. Nadia-Miriam, who is from a religious community in Zug and is studying at Einsiedeln; Br. Thomas; Br. Mauritius, who will make solemn vows July 11; and Br. Phillip. Br. Thomas and Br. Phillip are from separate towns not too far from Einsiedeln. We were able to see them both during the hike.

In the morning, after Vigils, breakfast, Lauds, etc., we set out on our trip. First, we took a train/bus combination for about 20 minutes to our destination not too far away from Schwyz. We began hiking up what is known as Mostelberg, which rises to the area around the Mythens (mentioned in a previous post). We did not climb the Mythens, which rise considerably higher and more steeply, but we seemed to go about as high as we could without climbing them. That was fine with me. To me, we were climbing a mountain. To most of the others I’m sure, we were climbing a large hill.

The first 45 minutes were the most difficult—straight up about 1,200 meters (the Big Mythen is another 600 meters). Imagine climbing up the steep stairs of a professional football stadium from the very bottom to the very top row—several times over. That is what it was like. About three-quarters of the way up, I was about out of gas, drenched with sweat, my legs begging not to have to lift my body up another step. I kept hoping that things would even out at each crest, but the trail just kept going up, up, up, while above us less courageous (but possibly smarter) souls glided effortlessly over the treetops in cable cars.

Some of the others in our group were chatting as though we were taking a leisurely stroll through the park. I had no breath to spare for that. They made sure, however, that I was still breathing, which I appreciated.

After that, the terrain mercifully evened out, as did my breathing, and I was able to enjoy the spectacular view from our high vantage point (second photo). We hiked several hours surrounded by incomparable natural beauty—through pastures and forests, across streams and up trails with grassy hills to one side and deep valleys on the other. Before coming to Switzerland, Saint Meinrad’s Br. Matthew advised me to take along hiking shoes and a backpack. On this day, I was very glad that I did; it made a big difference.

Early in the afternoon, we came across one of the many small chapels that keep watch over the hills. We prayed together and sang the Salve Regina before descending into a nearby meadow where we stopped for lunch and a long rest (third and fourth photos). Sausage, bread, cheese, apples, and water never tasted so good. After relaxing for an hour or so, we set out again, for several more hours of hiking.

As we descended, for much of the way we were on the ancient cobblestone path used for centuries by pilgrims headed for Spain. The uneven road declined sharply, so those precious hiking shoes had to be placed carefully. Once we reached the valley floor, we hiked a bit further to the town of Alpthal, where we stopped at an inn for a cold drink. From there, Br. Mauritius and I continued on foot back to Einsiedeln (another two hours). The others caught the bus back.

All in all, we spent about eight hours hoofing it. When we got back to Einsiedeln, some of the monks acted surprised that I had survived, let alone returned. “Congratulations. I am impressed,” one joked. “You are not like many Americans.” To be sure, the Swiss are a hardy lot. Later, I was told that one monk here regularly hikes a similar path to say Mass at one of those mountain chapels. He is 86 years old.

American or not, I longed for my bed that evening, and sleep came at once. The next day, I was a little stiff here and there, but not nearly as much as I had figured. It was worth it, though. It was an exhilarating hike.

On Sunday morning, I am accompanying the 86-year-old monk to the mountain chapel. That is, if I can keep up with him.

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