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I tripped twice in Engelberg, Switzerland. The first time was over a loose shoelace while walking on the small monastery town’s cobblestone streets, which are bookended by shops peddling creamy cheeses, fancy skis and specialty coffee. Craggy mountains, including the famed Titlis, were beautifully juxtaposed against a blue sky.
A local was the culprit behind my second stumble. As I hiked the alpine valley below those misty peaks, my eyes met the doe-eyed gaze of a cow. With a lustrous praline-brown coat that was smartly accessorized by a large brass bell, she looked at peace. The entire scene felt cinematic (I half expected a singing Julie Andrews to appear) — and then I missed a step.
But at 6,102 feet over Engelberg’s handsome gorge, with my bare hands grasping at jutting pieces of rock above me, I did not trip once — even though both my feet rarely touched solid ground at the same time. I did, however, utter a lengthy stream of choice words each time I nervously repositioned a hiking boot into another narrow crevice.
That late October day was an especially gusty one, so much so that a scheduled paragliding activity — one of many high-adrenaline adventures popular in Engelberg — had been canceled.
At first despondent over the weather report, our group quickly understood that a via ferrata course would provide plenty of an adrenaline rush. Italian for “iron path,” a via ferrata features a tangle of steel cables that a participant navigates with carabiners, which serve as a backup safety net (in addition to a harness). Ladder rungs and steps, reinforced by steel, help guide the way, too.
Our playground was Brunnistockli, a route that features a 660-foot ascent and is recommended for brave beginners. (Engelberg has five more difficult via ferratas; the Furenwand, for example, rises 2,500 feet from its starting point.)
Like rock climbing or tackling an aerial ropes course, attempting a via ferrata is a sport requiring mental sharpness as well as physical strength. With crisp mountain air filling my lungs, I solved puzzle after puzzle for an hour, deciphering which element would best hold my weight, all while wondering why I’m such a glutton for punishment. Intermittent steel steps provided some relief, though certain sections posed more of a challenge. And I couldn’t help but look down when crossing a bridge consisting of a single cable (a rookie move).
But the view from the top — and, perhaps more significantly, the feeling — was completely worth the climb.
The DetailsEngelberg Tourismwww.engelberg.ch