Ghetto Gaiters (Part One)

Disclaimer: After carefully reflecting on the events I share with you in this post, I want to point out that despite my lighthearted tone (which has more to do with my style of blog-writing rather than a lack of expressing the seriousness of an issue), I urge you to take the threat of avalanches seriously when venturing out on winter hikes. I do not endorse and highly discourage snow hiking in unsafe conditions. Please read the comments for further discussion.

"It would make a lot of sense to be wearing snowshoes right now," Isaiah declares as we make our way to Seealpsee, a small lake nestled in the mountains of Wasserauen, for a winter hike.

We've made this journey before, though conditions were much different back in October. This February day is relatively warm and marvelously sunny, but the snow is, for the most part, knee-deep powder. It is untouched, save for a few hundred meters of tracks left by a previous hiker, who undoubtedly stopped and decided to turn back, for whatever reason. Now it's up to us to continue where our predecessor left off and create our own tracks. I offer to go first, since I'm wearing my ski pants and less likely to deal with snow creeping into my socks. I make about three giant steps and I realize this is too much work.

"Um, babe, do you mind taking over?"

Luckily, Isaiah is up for the physical challenge, though soon he grows annoyed at the snow creeping into his socks. To solve this problem, my mountain man whips out his new Swiss Army pocketknife, some string, and begins to construct a set of "ghetto gaiters" (i.e. strings tied around his ankles and boots to keep snow from riding up into his pants). Check out the close-up of Isaiah's boot at the beginning of this post to see details of this elaborate project.

Meanwhile, I take advantage of this pause in our hike to take a little break and snap a photo of my snow-covered boots.

With his new system for keeping out the snow, Isaiah is able to work a little more comfortably as we head to our destination. Oh, but what's this?

"Babe, is this the leftovers of an avalanche?"

"Oh yeah, look at that. We probably shouldn't stick around here for too long."

"Ok," I stammer, and pick up my pace.

We continue on, occasionally startled by the roaring sounds of ice and snow breaking loose from the cliffs above us. We're not too startled, of course, to marvel at the beautiful scenery. (Look at how we sink into the snow!)

By this point we're taking off our coats because the sun is that warm and we're working up a sweat. In the near distance we see what we've been heading toward: the restaurant near the lake. Although it is closed during the winter season, it is on its front stoop that we hope to take out the picnic we've packed and enjoy our lunch.

After lunch, I recline on one of the benches and soak in the sun. Isaiah goes off to snap this photo of the ... um... lake? Yes, the open space of white is a small lake, frozen-over and now covered with snow.

Well-rested and re-energized, we begin to make our way back to the car, thrilled that the way back will be easier. After all, now all we have to do is retrace our steps and take the same path, stepping into the holes we (Isaiah) created. All is going well; I even decide to take the lead. I'm carefully climbing over the remnants of an earlier avalanche when all of a sudden I hear a rattling coming from a large crevice in the mountain we're trekking upon.

"Amanda, grab my hand!"

"Huh? Wha... Oh my God!" I look up and see a river of giant masses of snow, stone, and dirt pouring out of the crevice and coming directly toward us.

I reach for Isaiah's hand and together we clamber back toward the direction of the lake and manage to get out of the way of the avalanche, just in time. As I sit on my bottom, my heart pounding (still gripping Isaiah's hand, realizing I was most likely dragged out of the way), we stare at the continuous flow of menacing snowballs that have now buried the area on which we stood only moments ago.

Immediately, Isaiah and I realize the gravity of our situation.

"This was a bad idea. Note to self: don't take your wife hiking where there is evidence of avalanches."

"It was an honest mistake, babe, really. One we can learn from. There is a reason this place is closed in the winter, and we should mind that."

"Yes, now let's get the hell out of here!"

We are moving significantly faster than before and just when we think we're in the clear, we stumble upon. This:

"Um, babe, do you remember seeing this sea of snowballs on our way to the lake?"

"Nope. It looks pretty fresh."

"Oh, this is probably the result of that rumbling we heard during lunch."

"Yeah, probably."

We trudge along, doing our best to stay calm.

Stay tuned for more of our brush with danger...


  1. Uhhhhh. SCARY!!!!! Those balls look mean.

  2. Note to self: never snow hike without asking someone who knows - like the tourist office or a guide. Especially if it is untouched. It can be dangerous if you don't follow those simple rules. Really. Gotta respect the mountains!

    Just a thought: most people dying in avalanches in Switzerland are non swiss...

    (I reposted to get the email follow-up)

  3. Oh my dear. Believe me, we have learned out lesson! I have never been so frightened in my life - or felt so foolish.

    My husband spent his teen years (doing what boys at that age do) tempting fate in the back country of Montana, USA, which is not unlike the mountains of Switzerland. The problem now is he forgets that this sort of living-on-the-edge adventure is not my cup of tea!

    We've had very peaceful snow hikes in areas marked, groomed, and designated for winter wandering without any problems. Our mistake was entering into territory that is deliberately closed during winter.

    The craziest thing is that people do this sort of thing for sport. These experienced snow hikers pack avalanche beacons "just in case" so they can locate buried friends and dig them out. How do people take these kinds of risks knowing full well the consequences? Though perhaps we are crazier for taking such risks not knowing the consequences...

    I think everyone is safer if we all do as you say: respect the mountains. We are no match for nature!

  4. I couldn't really tell from the tone of your post... but I'm glad to read you're careful now :-)


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