Swiss mountaineers do not mess around. One look at our group’s footwear—a mix of trail running sneakers and amateurish hiking boots—and they told us we should go back to bed. We were in Saas-Fee and pumped to be ascending the Mittaghorn via ferrata. Lucky for us, a local sporting goods store opened early to outfit us with crampon-compatible hiking boots. It was October, but the top of the mountain was slicked with ice and snow. The feeling of being so high up in the mountains—really dangling off a ledge with just a cable preventing you from plummeting back down to the village—is a mix of terror and ecstasy. Our Swiss guides had been leading hikes up these peaks for more than 40 years and despite their years (one was pushing 70) barely broke a sweat. When we reached the summit, marked by a cross of course, we paused to enjoy the otherworldly views of the clouds and distant peaks as we refueled with cheese sandwiches and Swiss chocolate.
One would think the descent would be a welcome break after all of the hours of uphill climbing, but the steep downhill switchbacks left my quads burning and my toes numb from banging up against my new hiking boots.