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First Person Hiking the Alps seemed so romantic, but it was the worst honeymoon ever

Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

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In a small village guest house somewhere between Chamonix and Zermatt, I woke to my husband’s hand rubbing my back. A lump caught in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. I held my breath, pretending I was still asleep. We had been married only a year and were on our year-late honeymoon, hiking the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. But halfway through our journey, I wished we hadn’t come.

Throughout our honeymoon planning, we considered our options. But since we became engaged while hiking, why not continue the trend?

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It had all seemed so romantic: hiking through the Alps, stopping to eat and sleep in small villages, where we would sip apéritifs and nibble on local cheeses after perfectly temperate and moderate days of hiking. It would be a honeymoon so different from others we’d heard about.

Our flight into the romantic city of Paris would be followed by a series of trains that would land us in the picturesque mountain town of Chamonix. As with everything else, I fantasized that the train would be a sightseer’s paradise through the French countryside, oohing and aahing as we gazed out the window.

But when we landed in Paris, the heat and humidity was so thick you’d think we had landed in a southern bayou on a hot summer day. The stifling weight of the heat was almost unbearable, and it wasn’t long before my yoga pants melted into my skin, causing me to sweat in all the regions I had hoped to keep fresh during our romantic getaway. The train was not air conditioned. So, legs spread and arms in the air, desperate for a breeze, my husband and I closed our eyes and let our bodies succumb to the heat.

The real journey began the next day, as we hiked out of Chamonix, thus beginning our nine-day, 180-kilometre hike to Zermatt. I had spent months creating our itinerary, carefully mapping out each day through valleys and small mountain towns, even splurging a bit on our overnight accommodations. I wanted us to be adventurous, but I also wanted some romance.

This was not to be the case. Navigation was horribly difficult, and the two weeks worth of clothing and gear I carried weighed heavily on my back as we consulted our guide book. Before long, we were parading through a golf course, fighting loudly about directions, while receiving angry stares from golfers who knew better than we did that we were, in fact, going the wrong way. Embarrassed and demoralized, we charged forward, but the quick elevation gain into the mountains took us by surprise. The climb out of Chamonix and then down into a small valley town was back-breaking. Blame it on altitude sickness or the temperature, but by lunch, we were drenched in sweat and grime. I felt unable to continue and was appalled by my physical inadequacy.

I couldn’t have been happier to finally reach our first alpine hut. Before even taking off my trail shoes, however, I knew my pinkie toenail would be blue and dead. I looked forward to a hot shower and well-deserved predinner nap, while my husband rubbed my sore feet.

My hopes were dashed when we were shown to our room – a loft with about 30 mats side by side, a shared dorm. To make matters worse, the showers were also shared. Later, as I prepared to join the shower queue, I realized I hadn’t packed flip flops either. I washed in fear that the bacteria lurking around the tile floor would find a happy home under my dead nail.

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Later that night, too exhausted to care, my husband and I kissed goodnight from our neighbouring mats, savouring this one intimate moment, while strangers breathed heavily around us, uninhibitedly passing gas as they drifted off to sleep.

While booking through foreign websites, I had not even considered consulting WordReference or Google Translate, but it now occurred to me that perhaps my French and German were not as polished as I’d thought.

The remainder of our 180-kilometre hike consisted of much of the same: mammoth ascents out of towns and over mountains, followed by steep, toe-curling descents into the next destination. Each day, I dug my poles into the ground, determined to be the first hiker to get to the showers, and the first to choose the best sleeping mat in the shared dorms. There were no candle-lit dinners or what usually follows a romantic candle-lit dinner. Instead, we were met with bedbugs, bunkmates who snored and cranky hut keepers. By the end of every day, we were too frustrated and demoralized by strange customs, body odours and high prices to even attempt romance. Secretly, I began looking forward to going home.

When I woke up crying, somewhere between Chamonix and Zermatt, I wondered whether or not my husband and I were flawed. I could not let go of the romantic notions I had built up in my head. Although many experiences have taught me that expectations are premeditated disappointments, this one was a hard pill to swallow.

Once home, we felt like Amazing Race losers instead of winners in the TV series Bachelor in Paradise.

We did manage to share intimate moments on mountain tops with peaks as far as the eye could see, and in quiet valleys full of wild flowers buzzing with bees. We found our sweet honey in each other’s company – not in expensive hotel rooms or bubbling bottles of champagne. True romance existed between the two of us, without the upgrade add-ons and enhancers.

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I look back at our unconventional honeymoon and realize none of it was necessary to create what already existed between us. In the end, it wasn’t the divine views or Swiss chocolate and cheese that made our honeymoon sweet, it was the silent and very simple bond we share.

Erica Frischkorn lives in Calgary.

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