Taking the Swiss - Day Four

I change to leave to meet the others and a lace snaps in my fake boots, I forget my knee brace too and in the end I get there 10 minutes late. None of it really matters though as The Jew is on the phone, trying to locate his hitherto lost luggage.

After 15 minutes more of The Jew’s fruitless complaining over the phone, we leave to go snow-shoe walking, the age old pastime that in days gone by would have taken place on something like tennis rackets. These days the technology has evolved into a lightweight metal and carbon fibre shoe that, like a camel’s foot, spreads your weight over a greater area. The result is that your shoe size suddenly reaches about 100, but rather than pierce through the snow with your feet (as had happened to me over the past two days) you now stay close to the top of the shifting surface.
Naturally I worry about my disability, but I've become so guarded, so fearful, that ironically I'm the only one not to fall. The Jew, by comparison has a torrid time of trying to stay upright, frequently clipping his own heels like a shit amateur footballer trying to win a penalty. We head up into the forest along a dedicated snow-shoe route. The snow ahead of us is unspoiled, save for the tracks of an animal I presume to be a deer. After about 10 minutes, though, I find myself with the same defeatist attitude I'd had at the sledging. Meanwhile The Jew and guide marvel at how calm it is up here. They're right, of course, but my legs hurt and I'm going a bit snow blind. It's not a pleasant sensation – a bit like if you hold your breath a bit too long, or shout too loud or huff poppers from the very bottom of your lungs to absolute capacity: little sperm of confusion swim in my vision and I have difficultly focussing on anything in particular. After about an hour we start a precarious decent back to the village and I won't pretend that I'm anything but relieved.

We drop off our snow shoes and poles and walk back into town. The cloud is starting to break, if only slightly, and the snow has stopped for the first time in three days. This means I can get a proper look at Saas Fee for the first time. Truth be told, I'd been holding something against it, primarily that it simply wasn't Zermatt. Now I can actually see the place, though, I can't help but be amazed. The village sits in a comparatively low lying meander of mountains and as such is surrounded on three sides by awesomely high peaks. Knowing how long and dangerous the journey to get here was in a modern coach on a (relatively) modern road, I'm really amazed by the effort occasionally made by human kind. It reminds me of the lengths people go to get oil from the North Sea; every natural hint tells them to give up and yet they continue at extreme human and financial cost. In Saas Fee's case, I think I will always be grateful that they made those sacrifices.
We take a rickety ski lift to one of the northern slopes, in the shadow of The Dome, the highest peak in the Swiss Alps.

We get something to eat up there (more schnitzel for me) and it's predictably expensive – half an hour from anywhere else, high into the heavens, it's little wonder the host, friendly as he seems, charges what he likes.
Soon we're back down the slope and on another lift, this time a state-of-the-art gondola that can take can take up to 90 people. Within about eight minutes we've scaled another mountain, this time to over 3000m and we've barely got a chance to remark how thin the air is at this point before we're on an underground train yet further up the mountain. By the time we disembark, we're over 3500m high and it's hard not to feel a little dizzy. Really luckily for me, though, the cloud has broken, or at least we're so high above it that the views are... hell I don't even know how to describe it. I've never seen anything like it before: ordinarily remarkable mountains stretch below like puny sandcastles. Perhaps it’s the lack of oxygen, but I'm almost overwhelmed by it all.

Soon we're in side the world's highest revolving restaurant, which other than being quite warm is a bit unremarkable, the views are there anyway after all. Next we're being led inside the world's largest ice grotto, which is in fact a museum actually carved into the glacier that hangs above town. While the exhibits themselves aren't all that remarkable, the very fact I'm walking around inside millennia-old ice is astonishing. The place even has a chapel for those who are willing to drag a man of god high into the heavens.

The only downside comes when leaving. Suddenly starved of oxygen, walking up just 25 stairs becomes a distressing business. I feel light headed and struggle to take in enough air. Several times it feels like I've got a nose bleed. I'm not really worried, but it dawns on me how precarious life is in these conditions.
Too soon, though, it’s time to go. I genuinely don't want to leave and for once it's got nothing to do with
Dubai. This is a wonderful country that, completely away from the hassle and expense of skiing, has almost limitless things to offer. You can walk around doing nothing more than keeping your eyes open and be entertained all day. It's the sort of place I can imagine living one day, hell it's the sort of place I can imagine dying: coming home one night drunk, slipping in the snow, my knee giving way beneath as I tumble into a shallow ravine, lying their laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, then closing my eyes to rest – just for a second – as I'm slowly covered in white; my body discovered some time in the spring by a man walking his dog, naturally.