Touch the sky in Valais

Holidays. A time for new places and the wonderfully unexpected. But even though we have more and more opportunities, it’s becoming harder and harder to find those undiscovered places and experiences. It’s certainly by no means as easy and straightforward as it used to be.

Yesterday’s insiders’ secrets have become today’s “in” places. It’s partly thanks to Instagram and Facebook. Influencers and other would-be gurus tell us where the most beautiful and interesting places in the world are. Then hordes of people go there and feel that this makes them incredibly interesting themselves for a few hours. They turn on their cameras, send up their drones and take exactly the same unique picture, or make the same YouTube video, in the same place, as the one that made them go there in the first place. Then of course they post it online. And the next wave of people promptly comes along. And so it goes on. Been there, done that. It’s not original, but it’s the modern way.

Tom and Hilde don’t want to be modern. They don’t want to mingle with the crowds, they want a unique experience in the mountains. They come from Belgium. There are no mountains there. The highest peak is exactly 700 metres. And they had to cheat a bit and pile up stones on a mound to even get a 7 in front. Naturally, that’s not good enough for our two alpine climbers. That’s why they keep coming to the Swiss mountains. The wild and romantic valleys, the rocky canyons, the banks of compacted snow and the mountain-top crosses – these are the places they always seek out for their holidays.

Sunstar’s “My first 4000 m peak” package at Saas-Fee appealed to them immediately. The key element is, of course, the mountain guide. That brings a big adventure within reach, even for lowlanders. Toni is a complete professional. You don’t need to be told, you can see it just by watching him: every hand movement is just so, every hold is in the right place, deliberate and precise. On the first day, Tom and Hilde not only discuss the route with Toni but also do some practice and training with high-alpine equipment: carabiners, harnesses, ropes and crampons. What do you put on first, which strap goes where and what should the knot look like in the end? The guide knows all the answers and the “Belgian rope team” is quick on the uptake. By the end of this exciting day, crampons and ice axes have become familiar objects for them, too.

One more sleep. Tomorrow’s the day. Let’s hope the weather holds. Wisps of mist drift around the hotel. A sudden change of weather in the mountains is something nobody wants. But a bit of uncertainty is inevitable, after all, climbing a four-thousand-metre peak isn’t a walk in the park, it’s an adventure off the beaten track. Tom and Hilde are delighted.

Two four-thousand-metre peaks makes one eight-thousand-metre one! But let’s take one thing at a time. The Valais, with over 40 four-thousand-metre peaks, is an undisputed El Dorado for climbers and anyone who wants to get up, up and away for their holidays. Following the success of their “My first 4000 m peak” package, Sunstar Hotels is now offering a second package: “My next 4000 m experience”.  

Anyway, as we said, one thing at a time: “My first 4000 m peak” is the Allalinhorn. It’s an “easy” mountain, but at no less than 4027 metres, it’s still pretty high! But don’t worry, on the first day you don’t get down to the nitty-gritty quite yet. First of all, an experienced mountain guide teaches you all about the equipment and technique. During the training, you practise moving about on snow and ice, attached to a rope. It’s fun and not so hard after all! The second day is when you begin in earnest. The alarm goes off at 4.30 a.m., the crack of dawn. Then you start by going up a few hundred metres on the cable car. But when you reach the top station, there’s no more cheating. Soon it’s time to put your crampons on and put your muscles to work. The mountain guide has everything in hand. The route, the tempo, the weather. When you reach the ridge, first of all you take a break for breakfast. Then you tackle the last stage: the path to the top. One step at a time in air that’s getting a bit thin. Then you’ve made it, you’re on the top and you can almost touch the sky. Simply fantastic! And what can you say about the view! If you’ve never been up there, you have no idea, and if you’ve seen it, you know that it’s indescribable.