It is the night before summiting and all through the hut not a climber is stirring unless it's to snore.
We are eight people at the Cesare Fiorio bivouac hut, 2,729 meters high on the south flank of 3820-meter Mont Dolent. The only water here is what we managed to scoop from a trough in the rocks, one cupful at a time. But we're here to party, so we supplemented our liquids with Dale's fine Swiss grappa and Beno's own Italian wine - in moderation, of course, given the circumstances. The celebratory spirit is because tonight should be the last night on my long journey around Switzerland. To my great delight, I've been joined for the occasion by a few of the people who made it all possible.
Our collective goal in the morning - after tonight's rainstorm has passed - is to summit Mont Dolent and then hike down Val Ferret. The top of Dolent is where the French, Italian, and Swiss borders come together. This was my intended destination on the day of my accident 14 months ago; from the summit we expect to be able to look down on the place where last year I fell and was rescued. We won't try to go there as the rock is too dangerous. For me, reaching the summit will be the symbolic completion of the great circle of Switzerland's borders.
With me in the hut is Dale Bechtel, without whom this blog you are reading would not exist. It was his vision that opened the doors at swissinfo.ch, and without this partnership my long-held dream of hiking around Switzerland would still be a dream. Thank you Dale - and the team at swissinfo - for making it happen.
Also here in the hut is Roland Baumgartner from Switzerland Tourism. I can't thank him enough for his help with logistics and planning. He drew recommended routes on the map and helped me modify them as reality on the ground pushed me one way or another. Many times in tight circumstances I'd give Roland a call and together we'd solve the problem at hand. And Roland's help in contacting local tourism departments along the way provided me with a huge measure of comfort with occasional hotels and hot showers just when they were most needed. These local contacts often introduced me to interesting people who profoundly enriched my whole journey.
Here also is John Bird, who jumped on the Swiss Borders Express two weeks ago to bring me safely across summits and glaciers on this last and highest stage of my journey. Thanks, John, for keeping me safe and for your great company.
And then there is Beno, who tied me into his rope on the previous high section, the peaks of Bernina more than a month ago. And Dan Patitucci, my ropemate a month before that, on the glaciers of the Austrian border. They are two of the fittest and nicest people I know.
Also here are Dan's wife Janine and Fabienne Repond, both Swiss women for whom these are their first days on the borders with me. I thank them for sharing their magnificent country with a wandering American.
Judging by the peaceful breathing that gently fills this small hut, everyone else is asleep in hopes of being well rested for tomorrow's ascent. It's time for me to join them in slumber, though my excitement might keep me awake a while longer. This is a big milestone for me - or should I say borderstone? -and I don't know if my brain will shut down. Let me give sleep a try....