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(2015 - Fall Issue)


A surprise Swiss mountain climb gives two Amazing Race Canada rejects the confidence to win second place on a European tour based on the reality TV show.

One hundred kilometres south of Zurich, in a little cottage pub at the foot of the mountains, the waiter set down in front of us what we had—for several hours—been longing for: two cold bottles of Swiss brew. We poured the beers into glasses, raised our pints and proceeded to drink them—in about seven seconds flat. We looked down the table at the rest of our fellow (all American) travellers and the look on their faces was something out of a movie: jaws dropped in utter shock that we drank our beers that fast. “Oh we forgot,”one of them said, finally breaking the silence. “You’re Canadian.”

A Gruelling Itinerary

Let us back up for a moment: a few hours prior we had arrived in Andermatt, Switzerland, the fifth location on our trip through Europe. We had been passed over about six months prior by the producers for the second season of the Amazing Race Canada TV show, so finding Competitours, an Amazing Race-style tour company, seemed to be the next best thing (spoiler alert: a better thing). Those beers marked the end of our most physically gruelling challenge yet: a mountain climb fittingly dubbed “the devil.”

Up until this point, we had competed in a chocolate war in Belgium, a round robin fencing tournament in Maastricht and a race through Europe’s largest outdoor shrub maze near Vaals. We had been fumbling and stumbling, performing mediocre at best.

So when we wound up in Switzerland and were told our next challenge was to climb a mountain, well, we knew things were looking up—literally, and in the competition. See, our friendship was formed while working together at an adventure travel magazine, and we have since hiked Algonquin backcountry, jumped out of a plane, gone “extreme zip lining” and more. This was our kind of challenge.

Perhaps the best thing about Competitours was, like the Amazing Race, the possibility and intrigue (but without a film crew following your every move). All we knew going into the trip were our inbound and outbound airports—Brussels and Venice, respectively. We were never given more than one day’s notice about where we were headed next, and you could hear sighs of elation when our trip leader Steve told us we’d be whisked from the snow-capped Alps to the stunning Amalfi Coast. And we never really knew what the challenges would hold until we shuffled into the storefront of a tiny gelato shop in Sorrento or stood shivering (with excitement) at the foot of a mountain in Switzerland.

An Iron-clad Path

Some people in our group were quite hesitant that day in Andermatt, and we watched the lumps in their throats rise, as their eyes followed the iron-clad path to the crest. This was something many of them had probably never dreamed of doing in their lifetime. (A 68-year-old man competed with his son and an 11-year-old girl competed with her father; we’d later congratulate them for their perseverance that day.) But our wandering feet were ready for anything—especially this mountain.

Called the “Iron Road” after the reinforced trail leading up to its summit, via ferrata is a tradition in the Swiss Alps. It’s designed to give adventurers the ability to climb mountains with no official training and very minimal gear. Today we were to climb via ferrata at Les Diablerets as the sixth challenge of our trip.

This wasn’t any average hike or climb: over the course of our three- to four-hour journey we encountered no other travellers other than those in our group. We could stop and sit on the edge of the mountain and take in the beautiful, postcard-worthy scenery: a rushing river breaching the foot of the mountain below or a distant Swiss village hemmed in by a cloud-filled sky. At various points throughout the climb we were completely enveloped in cloud and had to rely on our recently procured bright winter vests to spot other members of our group.

We made sure to check in with each other at various points throughout the climb, as we’d decided to go at our own desired pace, but wanted to reach the summit together. We were a team, after all, and that camaraderie was one of the many things that set this trip apart. We’d pause with fellow trip members on the side of the mountain for a rest, and whenever we decided to journey on, you would hear a resounding “Jen?” tumble through the bluffs, followed by a reassuring “I’m still here.”

Looking back, climbing that mountain together was the turning point of this trip. We found our footing, and our confidence, and it truly solidified us as a team. We started to win almost every new challenge thrown our way: dinner in the dark in Zurich, dancing in Sorrento, gladiator games in Rome. Everyone loves a good underdog story, so we rallied. And while one other team (out of 10) beat us out of the top spot by just a few points, the second place $2,100 prize helped our egos—and our wallets.

But more important than winning were the friendships we formed. They were forged from wins and losses and working together, from the dance halls of Sorrento to the small cottage pubs where we bonded over favourite poets and shared beers and pots of Swiss fondue.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Competitours: competitours.com

Switzerland Tourism: myswitzerland.com/en-ca/les-diablerets-via-ferrata.html

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