Preparation is everything to making a successful hiking trip, and perhaps the most often overlooked element is training. It is a lot easier to check your gear list and reserve a hotel room from your desk than it is to get out of bed on a drizzly morning to pound the pavement or drive to an early aerobics class. The Swiss Alps offer superb trails, excellent lift system, and a national transport system designed with hikers in mind, but even the gentlest trails in the Alps involve ascents and descents.
Be prepared aerobically for the climbs, and be sure to concentrate on building your quadriceps muscles to take the strain off the knee joint on descents. Many a hiker has had a ruined holiday with sore knees. When choosing your routes, don't fall into the trap of thinking that descents are easy. Downhill travel takes its toll on joint bones and tissues. Ascents are more strenuous, but they build the muscle and strength needed to come back down! Some hiking companies actually advertise tours that are all down hill. Perhaps they have a business arrangement with an orthopedist! Remember, the Alps are big mountains: to enjoy them fully, be prepared for the ups and the downs.
In addition to sore knees, a couple of other little problems can spoil a holiday. The first is blisters. If, as advised, you travel with well broken-in, properly fitting boots that are above your ankles, you should be okay. Nonetheless, it is important to be prepared in the event of blisters. Travel with mole skin and foam, second skin, antibiotic salve, small scissors, gauze and athletic tape in your first aid kit. Stop the moment you feel the slightest sensation of warmth or rubbing in your boot and cover skin that has not yet blistered with moleskin. If you do develop a raised blister, construct a mole foam donut around the blister. If you have a disaster area, debride the blister, apply antibiotic lotion then second skin, build a foam donut around the wound, and cover the entire structure with gauze then tape. Using this approach, you will probably be able to continue hiking in relative comfort.
Sometimes, you will find blisters in unusual places. Consider yourself an engineer and use your materials to take pressure off the painful spot, whether it is on the spur of your heel or between two toes.
A second, and not uncommon difficulty is insomnia. This is often related to dehydration. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your hike in order to maintain your health and equilibrium. The Alps are high, the atmosphere is thin, and the air is dry. You will need more water than during comparable exercise at home.
Thanks to Karen Walker of Ryder Walker Alpine Adventures for sharing her knowledge about Swiss hiking with us!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication