April 13, 2015

Lost in Via Ferrata

When Tobias Mews set out to explore the Swiss Alps with his wife, Zayne, he certainly didn’t expect to be clinging to a Via Feratta in a torrential downpour. Truly an adventurous couple, they may have gotten more than they bargained for on this trek.

“Honey, I think we should turn back.”

“Don’t be such a wuss,” my wife Zayne shouts back from somewhere above me. ‘This is supposed to be an adventure,” before adding, “And you call yourself an adventurer!”

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This conversation occurs as I hang precariously to the side of a cliff edge, gripping on to an ancient iron ladder of a Via Ferrata. We were supposed to be trail running the Swiss Alps, I think, not climbing! The fact that we were without a harness, helmet, rope or a clue of where the route would lead us was, you could say, somewhat unsettling. Moreover, neither of us had much experience of Via Ferrata.

But it was a beautiful summer’s day, the world lay 6000 feet beneath us, and we felt like gods. Or at least my wife did.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I shout to Zayne, now almost out of sight. With neither a map nor the right gear, I tend to err on the side of caution. “I think we should turn back.”

“It’ll be fine, Tobes!”

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But then, as though the weather gods had heard her, they flicked a switch. One moment we could see 50 miles all around us, the next, we could barely see five feet. The summit had completely disappeared from view in a black cloud. The heavens opened. What was initially a bit of fun had suddenly turned into a desperate attempt to get off the mountain.

First we needed to gingerly reverse our way down the Via Ferrata—easier said than done even in calm weather, let alone the gauntlet of hammering rain through which we were attempting to maneuver. When we’d finally descended from the wall, soaking wet and, frankly, a little afraid, we took an all-too-brief rest under the ledge of the ski station. Ordinarily, we might have stayed put to wait for the storm to pass, but with limited daylight hours, we had no option but to quickly make our way down.

Ordinarily, we might have stayed put to wait for the storm to pass, but with limited daylight hours, we had no option but to quickly make our way down.”

As is often the case, the descent was more treacherous than the ascent, and we slid down a slippery rocky trail booby-trapped with mud, gravel and streams of water. It was unpleasant work, but the prospect of a dangerous nighttime descent in these conditions spurred us on.

Finally, after what seemed like days but was in reality only a little more than an hour, drenched and muddy, we emerged out of the clouds to see the town of Rougement beneath us, awash in evening glow, as though oblivious to the storm raging above them. Realising that the danger has passed, and that we could ease off a little, I turned to look at Zayne, desperate to say “I told you so.” My face must have said it all, though, because before I could open my mouth she smiled and merely said “I know, I know—you were right!” before continuing to scamper down the mountain.

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Later, I listened to a radio interview with a couple who had been married for sixty years. The host asked the husband, now in his nineties, what the secret was to a long marriage. His advice? Always answer, “Yes, dear!”

But when the earth is miles below and the heavens are rapidly closing in, I’d argue there are occasions when sometimes a loud, “No, dear” is precisely what’s needed. Just don’t tell my wife that.

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