I’ve recently had the opportunity to return to Switzerland for a work trip and take the weekend to further explore the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland. When I first came to Switzerland in 2017, I was simply astonished by the beauty of its landscapes and the unbelievable skylines, mountains, valleys, and waterfalls. When the opportunity to spend some more time hiking came up, I couldn’t wait to explore the stunning region even further.
Having my previous hiking experience, I was ready to take on the mountains once again. Switzerland in general, is a very well-organized country with almost impeccable infrastructure and public services. From their airports, to their trains, down to the hiking trails, the maintenance is excellent. There are two types of hiking trails in the region – a hiking trail, characterized by a paved track or firmly compacted gravel, and a mountain trail, which is what we on the east coast of the USA are used to – a typical dirt hiking trail through the woods. All paths are clearly marked and usually have some kind of roped off system that visually keeps you on the right path.
Knowing all of this, hiking in Switzerland is one of the safest places to do so, especially if you are a solo traveler, like myself, but regardless of that, I still managed to get myself into some potentially risky situations, which inspired me to write this post. Of course I realize that the safety level in a lot of places around the world is not comparable, but I feel that the rules I am about to present apply universally, regardless of where you are.
Rule #1: Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Besides telling your family/friends/spouses, who are not with you and may be in a different country and/or in a different time zone, tell someone LOCAL where you are planning on spending the day. It could be the concierge at your hotel, someone you met wherever you’re staying, or someone who sat next to you at breakfast. The point is that in case something happens and you need to be found, someone local knows the general area of where you may be located and can provide information faster than your family members, etc., who are not in the same location.
Rule #2: Get a Data Plan, It’s Worth It
Even if it’s just for the day, make sure that if you’re hiking anywhere remote where 3G is going to be slow or not available at all, spending the $5 for the day to have LTE is well worth it in case you get lost. This actually happened to me during my hike because the trail I was on was covered in very big patches of snow and it became very difficult to follow the exact path of it. I wandered off the path and down a very steep hill and had to inevitably pull out my phone and check the map to see where I was with respect to the trail. Because I had purchased LTE that day, I was able to take myself right back to the trail that I was supposed to be on. The main point is that although you may have paper maps, which I had 3 of, to generally navigate you around the region, they become completely useless when you accidentally wander off the path. This is where LTE comes in. Not to mention that if you need to make an emergency phone call, this will also help. Another point to consider is that if you are out of the country and roaming, your phone battery will get depleted much faster than at home so make sure you bring a portable charger with you on your hike. This leads me to the next rule.
Rule #3: Use Social Media to Share Your Progress and Keep Track of Where You Are
You’re going to want to post your epic hike on Instagram anyway – so do it while you’re at it. Post your progress and make sure to geo-tag your posts, so that in case something happens, people who follow you, aka your friends and family, will know where you are and can trace your steps more easily if they need to find you. This is helpful in several ways, especially if local authorities need to be contacted. It’s also a visual map of your progress that you can refer to in case you need to retrace your steps for any reason.
Additional Common Sense
Research the area you are hiking in – it’s always good to grab a paper map locally and familiarize yourself with the general layout and trail options before embarking on a major hike. It’s also helpful to understand elevation changes so you can better prepare yourself physically.
If you are day-hiking and you’re not sure what your options will be to refuel/use the facilities, bring PLENTY of water with you. Yes, I know it’s heavy, but it will be worth it to keep yourself from dehydrating. People often forget how much more water they drink when they are in foreign conditions – different weather, different altitude, etc.
Bring plenty of snacks – keep your energy levels steady to hike all day. This is best done with taking frequent water breaks and having nutritious snacks to keep you going. I prefer nuts, fruit like bananas, peaches, apples, and protein-heavy granola bars to keep me going.
If you are hiking in the mountains, like I was, make sure your outfit for the day consists of layers – temperature can shift with varying elevation so this is extremely useful in keeping your body temperature comfortable. Also make sure to bring a waterproof jacket with you because you never know when you’ll need it. If you don’t have them already, I highly recommend investing in a good pair of hiking boots – they offer a lot more support and protection than sneakers and are generally more weather-durable so your feet will be a lot more comfortable during a long hike. My favorite ones are these
Last, but not least
Enjoy the heck out of your solo hike – take the time to appreciate yourself and your surroundings and take in the peaceful nature that comes with it. I find a lot of inspiration when I take solo hikes because they force me to be present and focus on the moment, which inadvertently clears my head and restores my positive energy levels. Not to mention the fact that this is one of the best forms of cardio.
Always remember to use your intuition – if it doesn’t seem or feel right, you probably shouldn’t do it.