“J, what would you like to do for your birthday treat this year?”
“Skiing or sledging.”
J was born in July. Usually a month associated with sun, beaches, holidays and gelati, my son decided to flip the norm and present us with a challenge. Fortunately, we live in Switzerland and are only an hour away from Mount Titlis and the Titlis glacier.
Midsummer’s Day dawned, and whilst Druids were witnessing the sunrise at Stonehenge, we were dragging out our winter weather gear and heading off to find summer snow with two of J’s friends to celebrate the (nearly) six years he has been on this fascinating planet. (Little did we know it, but half the population of India and China were doing the same, but more of that later). Mount Titlis is located in Egelberg, part of one of the largest ski networks in Europe and, at a height of just over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), is above the all important snow line thereby giving us the opportunity for summer sledging. Engelberg-Titlis is all about the outdoor adventures; hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking, fishing and all manner of other -ings can be done at Engelberg. It boasts beautiful alpine views, plenty to do and a central location, and is only an hour from Zug.
We arrived to a huge (reasonably priced!) car park and a landscape dominated by the mountains. Heading over to the cable car station to begin our ascent to the summit of Mount Titlis we laughed at the sight of the mountain wearing a cloak of white mist. “Don’t worry, when we get to the top, we’ll be above it. It’ll be just like when we went to Pilatus.” We were looking forward to our ascent via two cable cars and one rotating cable car (apparently the first of their kind in Europe), with scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service playing through our minds and we joined the ‘queue’ for the first part of the ascent. Now, we all know how well the Swiss queue (actually, really badly) but it appears that the Chinese and the Indians are also completely oblivious to the queuing code of honour. I don’t get it, what part of the concept is difficult to grasp? I mean, the first person starts the queue, then the next person who arrives stands behind and patiently waits their turn, then the next person and so on. It is not rocket science, it is something we are taught to do at school and I remember the outrage felt when slandered with the title of ‘Queue Barger’ when legitimately going to the front of the dinner queue thanks to early lunch passes for lunchtime clubs or duties. However, I digress. We eventually entered our first cable car (which seated six and as there were seven of us Steve got shoved into the next vehicle) and off we went.
As we ascended, the mist, instead of clearing, became thicker. The spectacular views we had been promised en route up the mountain were confined to the trees and rock face immediately surrounding the cable car. A third of the way and on we went. Hmmm, first glimpse of snow on the ground, or maybe that was just a scarf, no, no, balaclava would be more appropriate, made of mist encasing the mountain. Two thirds of the way and off we get to continue our journey in the Titlis Rotair, giving us a wonderful opportunity to gasp at the spectacular Alpine scenery. Except it didn’t. We were herded into the Rotair with the Indian group who tried to push the children out of the way of the window, we stood our ground, but to be honest it was more for the sense of justice and space than any optical benefit. Our sense of direction disappeared as the Rotair spun gently through the air giving us time to wonder if this was really such a good idea. We arrived at the top, carried out of the car on a sea of elbows rising and falling in the rush to step out into the summer air.
We stepped out into a blast of icy air. Tiny crystals hitting us in the face and feeling like an assault from a thousand tiny arrows from an army of cleverly hidden Minpins. The sunglasses went on and we realised that visibility was down to about three metres, the wind was whipping the snow and the shock of the cold was just too much for our young charges (read: us adults) to bear. We managed to walk about ten metres from the door, threw a couple of half hearted snowballs at each other, got a photo and then staggered back to the mountain station feeling as if we’d spent an entire eight hours on the piste.
Whilst our trip did not go entirely as planned (sledging or snow tubing being completely out of the question thanks to the rubbish weather) we did manage to cross Europe’s highest suspension bridge, walk through the Titlis Glacier ice cave, and have a more than passable Rosti. It will definitely be a birthday treat that J, and the rest of us, will remember; not just for the atrocious weather but also for his friend’s remark when we descended at the end of the day, “We should come back and do this again in the summer.”