Saturday, 29 June 2013

Edelweiss



Three days of solid hiking high up in the Alps and I still haven't managed to spot edelweiss. Nor did I bump into a saint-bernard wearing a barrel filled with brandy for that matter. But I'm not fussed about rescue dogs.

I am however pretty desperate to see edelweiss grow in the wild. Ever since I set foot in Switzerland  I have been surrounded by images of edelweiss. Every single souvenir you can buy in this country has some edelweiss painted on it, or carved in it. I know that my countrymen make a ton of money selling wooden clogs to tourists, while no one in the Netherlands actually wears these, but that can't be the same with edelweiss. I just point blank refuse to believe that the Swiss are that calculated.
So in order to give my edelweiss-finding-mission one last chance I book a room in a mountain hut close to Wengen and start planning some serious hikes. Fortunately my friend S. offers to lend me a hand and together we manage to persuade some of our children that hiking is really good fun (don't ask).
It's a good thing that we packed hats, gloves and thermal underwear, because it is snowing (!) when we arrive at the top of 'our' mountain. So we carefully layer up before we set off on our first hike. It isn't long before we bump into the first of many groups of Japanese tourists that are let loose in the Alps. Just like me, they get exited by every flower they see. But although we spot white flowers in all shapes and seizes, edelweiss eludes us.
A thick fog accompanies us on our second big hike. We decide to walk to the nearest village, a descend of a little over three thousand feet. It's an exhilarating hike, following a tiny foothpath that meanders through massive avalanche guards, which presents us with a totally new perspective on the alpine scenery. This time too my eyes are firmly cast down. Partly because I don't want to loose my footing, but also because I haven't quite given up on the idea of finding edelweiss.
My friend S. is game and is busily flower spotting as well. So much so, that both of us manage to completely miss a herd of ibex that frolicking on the mountain side above our head. Luckily my son has been paying a little more attention to his surroundings. He enthusiastically points the ibex out. Hmm, may be I should look up too every now and then. As if to remind me of my resolve, five minutes or so later the sun makes it's first appearance.
We get a first glimpse of the famous alpine trio: Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, towering magnificently above us. Eternal snow glistening on their peaks. The mountain giants - all three of them are well over thirteen thousand feet - never fail to impress me and for the rest of our hike my gaze is directed firmly upwards.
That night we celebrate the completion of a five hour hike with beer, hot chocolate, schnitzels, chips and humongous ice creams. After dinner friend S. and I feel refreshed enough to hike up to the nearest viewpoint. It doesn't matter that the fog has rolled in again and there are no views to be had. It's just a matter of pride to have stood on the top of the peak that lend our mountain hut it's name.
After two days of hiking we let the children decide what they want to do. Needless to say they don't want to hike. Instead we fly down the mountain on scooters. The obligatory trail winds it's way through flower filled meadows. My heart beats a little faster, but my speed is such that I can't really tell a daisy from an edelweiss.
As soon as I get home I wikipedia the elusive alpine flower. 'Leontopodium alpinum (aka edelweiss) prefers rocky limestone places at about six thousand to ten thousand feet altitude' it tells me. And also that 'as a scarce short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas, the plant has been used as a symbol for the rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps'. So it might exist after all. It just doesn't want to be found. At least not by a novice alpine hiker like me. I can live with that.
But then friend S. calls me that evening. She is on her way home from the supermarket where she spotted row after row of potted edelweiss. I am appalled. Edelweiss, as it turns out, does want to be found by me. But only as long as I look for it in the supermarket.


Did you ever spot edelweiss?(If so, please don't gloat...)