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Always be careful

"I have one piece of advice for you," Andrea Vogel told me as we began hiking this morning.

"Always, always pay attention. Always be careful. Every single step for the entire journey. One bad step and the trip could be over."

With this he grabbed his leg and simulated pain. His own experience on the border was generally healthy until he had completed nearly the entire Alps and was here in his home mountains of the Rätikon when he made a mistep and strained some tendons. He taped up his leg and hobbled the last few days until he could paraglide to the Rhine valley.

So it felt ironic when after a very long and hard day and I felt too exhausted to continue to the top of Schessaplana in the evening rain squall, Andrea insisted we go up and then insisted that I walk much faster going down. At first I resisted, reminding him of what he told me this morning. But then he explained that the descent would be dangerous in the dark. Many people had fallen to their deaths when they lost their way. And he was right: it would have been nearly impossible in the dark.

Which nicely illustrated two more lessons from the mountains. First is ambition, which can overcome wisdom. The reason Andrea insisted on topping out on Schessaplana is that it is the highest peak in the Rätikon Range (the border mountains here) and thus an important one on my journey. The other lesson is that sometimes safety IS speed. With weather, darkness, snow conditions and more, safe mountain travel is fast travel.

We finaly made it to Andrea's father's hunting cabin at 11pm, ate a huge meal, and went to bed after midnight. In the morning Andrea alternated between urging me to pack up faster and urgently calling me outside whenever the light changed, waving his arms wide and repeating "This is Switzerland!"

[In 1992 Andrea Vogel became the first to circle Switzerland following its borders.]

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