Alpinist Shangri-La

Alpinist Shangri-La

Dispatch and Opening Photo by Delano Lavigne

Generally, whenever I venture into the mountains I prepare myself both mentally and physically for the challenge. Early morning wakeup calls lead to long uphill slogs and eventually to the objective of the day, maybe a technical rock climbing route or the summit of a peak.

Then there’s always the descent which can mean retracing steps or heading into new territory that is as arduous, and sometimes more so, than the ascent itself. Many mountain adventures, especially those in Canada and even those that are not technical in nature, often require a great deal of time and exertion to complete.

This is not, however, the case for all mountain ranges.

The European Alps, for example, have unprecedented and, as far as I know, unmatched access to some of the most prolific mountains in the world. Where in Canada you might hike for hours if not days before accessing the mountains, in the Alps trams, gondolas, and trains bring you from the valley floor to the very doorstep of the mountains in less than an hour, and with virtually no energy spent.

Switzerland Climbing
Delano climbing to the top
Photo by Jimmy Martinello

I had heard rumours of such an alpinist’s Shangri-La, especially from my brother who works as a guide in the Alps. Being able to experience this “Euro-style” ease of access is incredible, and explains why alpinism is as commonplace as it is in Europe, especially in the region of Zermatt, Switzerland.

Crampons and ice-axes in Switzerland seem to be as common as flannel and hockey sticks in Canada (the exception being Canmore!). It also gives credence to the influence European alpinism has had on the world, and gives insight into the depth of history of alpinism in Europe, which is partly why we’re here celebrating the 150th anniversary of the summiting of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

But despite the incredible—nay, astonishing—ease of access, I still have to ask myself if I would want the same thing in Canada.  

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