Stuck in the Swiss Alps

So it’s summer break, and you know you should get an internship, but you also want to travel before settling into that 9-5, 20 vacation days per year work regime. Why not both? The best part about interning in Switzerland is that during the week you gain valuable professional experience, and during the weekend you get to travel Europe.

A lot of the other posts give great summaries and tips for this program, and it’s hard to say anything about work since each lab is so different, so I’ll focus on some of our hiking adventures.

Switzerland is known for its gorgeous mountains (second to its cheese reputation, of course),  and we had our fair share of hiking. First stop was Mont Salève, which overlooks Geneva (the mountain’s actually in France). The trail is a grueling 1.1km vertical ascent, with a consistent ~40 degree slope all the way. It’s well worth the effort though, for this great view of Geneva. If you want you can also take the cable car, but where’s the fun in that?

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Round two, hiking by the Matterhorn near Zermatt, the iconic Toblerone mountain. We planned a nice panoramic hike: cog train to Rotenboden to get a nice picture with the Matterhorn reflected in the lake, hike down to Rifflealp and over to Blauherd on the 5-Seenweg, a trail that passes by 5 mountain lakes (map). From there, we could take the cable car down to Sunnegga, and a cog train back to Zermatt.

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So we thought. Turns out the last cable car from Blauherd leaves at 5pm, and we got there at 5:20pm. No problem, we can just hike down to Sunnegga, and take the cog train from there. Except the last train from Sunnegga leaves at 6pm, and according to the trail map, we were 70 minutes away! So began an epic race down the mountainside to make the last cog train–if we missed it, we’d also miss the last train from Zermatt back to Lausanne. Hope was not in our hearts, but we ran all the same, suffering from dehydration and fatigue. Ahead of us was 3.8 km in horizontal distance, 300m of vertical descent. And we made the entire thing in 35 minutes, just in time for the cog train.

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Lessons to learn: Read the timetables! And bring lots of water! Also, be warned that the trails around there are at ~2500m in elevation. This means the sunlight is super strong, so pack up on sunscreen and reapply it often.

Not done yet. Next was Interlaken, and the infamous Hardergrat trail. The trail is “spent on a sharply defined ridge, with significant, even airy, drops on both sides, in some places, 1500 meters of drop” (info here). Excited?

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The full trail is 27km long, which takes around 10 hours. We only walked about a kilo along it, following trail 4 in this map for the most part, since we didn’t want to get stuck on a mountain again.

If walking on a foot-wide trail with 60 degree drops on either side of you sounds like a nightmare, you can still get your adrenaline fix at Creux du Van. It’s a nice pleasant hike that takes you on top of a giant, horseshoe cliff. No danger of falling if you keep your distance from the cliff, but you’ll probably take a risk or two for that perfect Instagram shot.

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Overall, this summer has been a great experience, and one that I would highly recommend. See you soon, Switzerland!

Riley Xu, Carnegie Mellon University                                                                                         Laboratory for Quantum Magnetism (LQM), EPFL

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