Forty people pour out of the cable car and into the station on Ebenalp. I step outside, instantly chilled by the fresh air, eager to begin hiking in the legendary Swiss Alps (or, as they are known here in the Appenzell region of Switzerland, the Pre Alps). I zip my fleece and adjust my backpack, my camera still in my hands as I take in the surroundings.
Ebenalp isn’t the highest peak in this area, but from here I can see dips as the cliffs drop to alpine lakes and snow-covered tops on mountains just a few hundred feet taller than this one. Farmhouses dot the landscape; I know from a morning bike ride that the siding on them is probably faded and peeling but the window boxes are overflowing with pink and yellow flowers. Somewhere in the distance, I can hear the hollow, tinny sounds of brass cowbells.
At the top of Ebenalp stands a single cross, which is common in this area. Cows are not anatomically built to handle the steep mountainsides of the Alps, and these crosses are resurrected in order to protect them from falling as they graze along the hills.
I snap a few pictures, trying to capture a landscape that can only ever be remembered—everything looks too flat in a photograph—then I tuck my camera into my backpack and begin the walk down the steep slope. The path is wide and well-marked but covered in loose rock, and I have to concentrate to keep from slipping. Around me, the locals are walking REI stores with name brand gear from North Face and Columbia. Even the toddlers who waddle down the mountain with their parents have hiking boots and miniature poles.
Along the path I stop to take a picture of a single sign that welcomes visitors to a guesthouse with a barn set among the hills. In addition to a bed, guests will find frischkäse, joghurt and milch. I hear the clink of cowbells coming from somewhere beyond the homestead.
Again, I think about how the essence of the Alps can’t truly be captured on film, so I stash my camera and continue my hike down into the valley. That cowbell I hear might be right around the bend.
My trip to Switzerland was compensated by the Switzerland Tourism Board, but all opinions are my own.