Midnight hike: Rochers de Naye

What happens when you put 27 people together and decide to watch the sunrise?

Caux, Switzerland, faces west, which means that we see beautiful sunsets every night, but in my three summers here, I have never seen the sun rise. The ideal sunrise location is the tip of the tallest mountain in the region, a place called Rochers de Naye, which is the last train stop on the line that goes to Caux from Montreux. The trek to Rochers de Naye is something of a pilgrimage. Most people who have passed through Caux for any extended period of time have done it, and speak of it with  awe and terror. 

This being my third year at Caux, I decided that this was the year to do it. It’s not the hike itself that’s the problem, it’s the fact that it begins at 2 am, meaning that not only are you hiking 12 miles, but you’re losing out on a full night’s sleep as well, compounding your exhaustion. Sleep is a precious commodity at Caux in the best of times, so voluntarily missing out and exercising rigorously is not always the wisest choice. Regardless, we found ourselves meeting in the lobby at 2 am Friday morning. Our turnout exceeded all expectation; there were 27 of us, when I had expected 10, at most. (Largely, this is due to the intern coordinators, who brainwashed the interns into thinking it was a good idea. Which it obviously was.)

bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?

We set out, laden with jackets, hats, scarves, bread, cheese, sandwiches, and chocolate. We soon found the winter gear unnecessary, as the night was shockingly warm. The first hour or so were easy, pleasant, and on a paved road wide enough to walk three across. As time wore on, however, we found ourselves hiking up a precariously pebbled path, single file, careful to stick close to the cliff wall, as one false step could send you over the twine “guardrail” and into the valley below. While it was too dark to see our surroundings, the density of the night lessened when we emerged from the forest, on our final stretch: we had only a half hour’s walk left to the peak. The sun was just starting to show itself, and we were almost worried that we would make it to the top too late.

That last half hour proved the most challenging; not only was it the steepest climb of the entire hike, but the early sun let us see where we were going, and now we were aware of how steep it actually was. After three and a half hours total, we finally made it to the top. To the east, the Alps looked more like ocean waves than mountains, and to the west we could see Caux Palace and Lake Geneva, tiny in the distance.

See that little speck on the mountain? That’s where we came from.

We waited nervously for the sun to show up; what if we had come all this distance, just to have the clouds obstruct our view? While a sunrise had never seemed all that important to me before, I was struck by how disappointed I would be if the sun didn’t actually show itself. After a few minutes of frigid anticipation (we were thankful that we’d packed so thoroughly, as there was still snow on the ground and a chill wind), the sun finally emerged from behind the clouds, and we rejoiced.

Literally jumping for joy.

We breakfasted, and returned home. Although the return trip was completely downhill, simply being able to see how far we’d come and how steep it had been made it a more terrifying journey, though we were thankful that we didn’t need to huddle around the shared light of an iPhone flashlight app any longer. We returned to Caux amidst the morning sounds of cowbells and birdsong.

A slightly less flattering, though still beautiful, angle of Caux Palace.

Our trip was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting, and though I’m still tired and sore days later, it was a sunrise and experience that I will never forget.

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