A relatively new sport custom made for me!

Interlaken Travel Blog

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I woke up, rolled over and groaned at the piercing pain shooting up my spine and dispersing amongst every muscle and bone in my body. I never even knew it was possible to ache in so many places at once. At just 20 years old (at the time), I was in above average shape and knew I should not be that sore, yet I was fairly certain the pain wouldn’t subside for days. But remembering the thrill of conquering that canyon made it all worthwhile….

It’s been 24 days since I first stepped foot on European soil, fleeing my comfort zone and leaving behind everything familiar to spend five months embarking upon, what would become, the greatest adventure of my life. I have visited 12 cities in seven countries, slept on the floors of train stations more nights than I care to count, helped free Austrian refugees, assisted in capturing an Italian stowaway, and taken in about every museum and cultural attraction I can bear. Only five days remain until I am set to move into my flat in Edinburgh, Scotland, and my inner mountain woman is busting to get loose while I have such amazing opportunities at my disposal for just a limited time (Those who know me are most likely laughing at my self-professed description as a “mountain woman,” as too often than not I am tagged as somewhat high maintenance.).

Having been a backpacking guide in the great outdoors of Arizona and Utah for two consecutive summers, it may come as a surprise that I haven’t yet taken advantage of the abundance of prospects that have been at my fingertips for the past three and a half weeks – so far my experiences have been restricted to art museums and European bars and men, aside from that one mild trip to the Italian Prealps. Therefore, final destination on my whirlwind Tour de Europe: Switzerland. Intentioned pursuit: Extreme sports.

After visiting Bern, Lucerne and Geneva, I decided to stop by Interlaken for my final days of travel on a recommendation by an American backpacker I had met in Salzburg, Austria. Apparently, every other American had the same idea as me, as I checked into my hostel and heard nothing but English for the duration of my stay. The first people I met even happened to be from Vanderbilt – a university a mere 70 miles from my hometown in the United States. But nevertheless, my whole reason for visiting Interlaken was the possibility of extreme sports, and where better to enjoy your first (and possibly only) try at skydiving than in the amazing Swiss Alps?

However, much to my dismay, when I visited the extreme sport guides, I discovered tandem jumps were only offered Monday through Thursday. I arrived on Friday and was only staying through the weekend. Crestfallen, I returned to my hostel and retreated to the basement bar to drown my sorrows. I met up with the guys from Vanderbilt again, and they recounted their day’s events of canyoning – an extreme sport I had never heard of before. Their faces absolutely lit up as they talked about their adventures, and the more I heard, the more I knew this “sport” was something I had to try. Apparently, canyoning consists of making your way from the top of a canyon all the way to the bottom – by scaling cliffs, climbing rocks, rappelling, sliding down natural rock slides and jumping off 50-foot ledges. The sport can only be legally practiced in Switzerland and New Zealand, due to the countries’ lax laws. By the way, did I mention 19 people died in the very canyon in Interlaken four years before after being washed away by a flash flood? Definitely a sport customized for me.

I immediately returned to the outdoor company and reserved my spot for the next canyoning trip out that was to leave at 7 a.m. When I arrived the following morning, I was surprised and somewhat comforted to find that the other 11 members of my group were Americans, most of whom were just as scared if not more so than I. But our guides – Mark, a native of Switzerland; Timmy, from Australia; and John, born and raised in New Hampshire ironically – were all easygoing, friendly, not bad to look at either, I must add, and instantly eased my fears. They first suited each of us up in a wet suit, wet boots, a wet jacket, windbreaker, lifejacket, helmet, harness and carabiner (apparently, the laws aren’t that lax) and drove us an hour away to the top of the deepest canyon in Switzerland. I’m not going to lie, all the garb made maneuvering slightly more difficult than normal. Not to mention, we looked a bit like a spaceship of aliens that had just landed on Earth for the first time. I can only imagine what passersby must have been thinking.

We hiked even further up the mountain after we reached our destination and finally entered the canyon. The initial shock of the water temperature was enough to make me want to turn back immediately. Keep in mind, it’s mid-September in the Alps, and the water can’t be any warmer than 50 degrees. After we eased into the water, there was quite a bit of hiking through the streams to be had before we hit any of the big stuff. When we reached our first jump, I froze up and wondered if it was too late to turn back. Not one having ever been afraid of heights (or anything else, besides sharks, for that matter), I was positively terrified. I could hear a sorority girl from UCLA behind me start to cry, and I knew then I would not make it to the bottom of the canyon alive. One by one, I watched my group members disappear into the depths below me. Then, it was my turn.

“Okay, my love, step to the edge and look below you,” Timmy advised me. “You see that two-by-two-foot pool of green water below? You must land in that. If you jump a foot too far to your left, you will crash into a massive rock shelf and, well, that won’t be good for anybody.”

Thanks, Timmy, for alleviating my fear. After several attempts at jumping on three, my feet finally left solid ground and I did manage to land in the two-by-two-foot pool of green water. From there, the day turned out to be similar to a trip to an amusement park. By the time we reached the bottom, every one of us was sliding through natural rock tubes (though I did scrape up my nose pretty badly, but it was worth the ride) and doing back flips off 20-foot ledges. Six hours later, we had forgotten just how cold the water was and just how crazy we all were for risking our lives for a cheap thrill. We finally emerged from the depths of the canyon and celebrated our triumph, and well our lives, too, with a block of cheese and some Swiss beer.

I later recounted the story to my mother, who did not seem quite as thrilled as I did about my adventures. But hey, you only live once, right? This fall, I’m going back to Switzerland, Interlaken to be precise. I’ve already been doing my research, too. Again, skydiving isn’t an option, as it’s only offered in the summer. But I’ve found a suitable alternative. It involves being enclosed in a transparent plastic ball and thrown off a snow-covered mountain high up in the Alps….

Craigy says:
I'm heading there in August and have a fear of heights and I suck at swimming. Sounds like the perfect activity for me, I can't wait :)
Posted on: May 20, 2012
Traveling_Brian says:
How funny... I just finished uploading my blog, photos, and video about canyoning. :)
Posted on: Nov 04, 2007
AndiPerullo says:
I love how adventurous you are. Now let's see if we can get you over your shark fear! ;-)
Posted on: Apr 24, 2007
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Interlaken
photo by: sherryshakarob