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Hiking from inn to inn in the Swiss Alps

Two girlfriends. Two backpacks. Twenty-five years of meeting someplace every summer for a hike. That meant it was time for a big celebration!

It all started 25 years ago at West Side Elementary, where Barb Schultz was "Miss Roesgen" to her sixth-grade students and I worked in the school library. Barb had recently taken up hiking and wanted to know whether I'd go on a backpack with her over summer vacation. The Wallowas lured us in and we had a fabulous trip, even climbing the Matterhorn. We had such a good time that we promised each other we would do a hike together every summer until I turned 65.

Even after Barb moved away, got married and had kids, we managed to meet someplace in the Pacific Northwest every summer for a hike. Granted, there was the summer she was five months' pregnant, so our hike consisted of a four-mile stroll up to a lake in the Cascades. And yet, we kept our promise to meet and came to appreciate more and more how unusual it was to honor that time commitment.

As the summer of our 25th trip arrived, we knew it was time for a special celebration. We'd heard how wonderful it was to hike from inn to inn in Switzerland and decided that was just perfect for two friends who were now both over 50.

Last September, after my husband, a teacher, and Barb's kids had all started school, the girls left town. I flew from Medford to Seattle, where Barb joined me and we boarded a Lufthansa flight to Zurich.

First, some disclosure: Barb and I consider ourselves backpackers, and for our normal summer adventures in the wilderness, we head out with everything we need in 40-pound packs. Switzerland ... well, what we did was enjoy strenuous hiking every day, in incredible scenery, while the amazingly efficient Swiss railway system shuttled our luggage to the next inn. Since so many of the hikes covered terrain that was ski areas in the winter, there were often gondolas to ride up or down the really steep parts. Hardly backpacking, but oh, so enjoyable. And we deserved this after 25 years.

Our first morning in Interlaken, we checked our luggage to the next village, rode a train to Wilderswil, boarded a cog railway and that took us up several thousand feet to the top of the Schynige Platte.

We stepped out of the cars to an amazing panorama of the north face of the Eiger, the Monch, Jungfrau and Wetterhorn. It was a glorious day of hiking on one of the great alpine ridgewalks, with plenty of elevation gain and loss to keep things interesting. Sheep and cattle, all wearing traditional Swiss bells, were in their summer high pastures, and were often right next to - or even on - the trail.

About 9½ miles later, we arrived at the First Gondola, which is among the longest in Europe. We were to spend the night in the town of Grindelwald, which was way below us, so we were only too happy to hop on the gondola and enjoy more spectacular views on the way down to town.

It's hard to describe how wonderful it was to walk into the Alte Post Hotel after a long day of hiking. Hot water for a shower. Real (not freeze-dried) food - which someone else cooked for us. Wine with our meal. A soft bed with a down comforter. What a life! Our only worry was whether we would ever be able to go back to "real" backpacking.

The next six days were a glorious mixture of incredible scenery, perfect weather, nice inns and challenging trails. Most nights we had private rooms in charming inns, complete with the requisite Swiss flower boxes at each window. On two of the evenings, we stayed in a berghaus, which is a simple hiker's hostelry, with shared bathrooms down the hall.

Our most memorable evening was at the Pension Golderli in Griesalp, population 12. Meals were eaten family-style at large tables in the dining room. After dinner, we were invited to listen to the rehearsal of a regional yodeling group. Electricity was expensive, so all lights were turned off and lanterns were lit. The fire was crackling away in the corner stove. The group had excellent singers, but most did not speak English - and our German consisted of "ja," "nein," and "guten morgen." It didn't matter; we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and the singers could tell a lot by the smiles on our faces.

While I've made this sound like a decadent trip, there was actually some serious trekking involved. We hiked about 60 miles, gained about 22,000 feet and lost about 19,000 feet.

The weather was perfect so we never even took our Gore-Tex coats and pants out of our packs. The trails were mostly very good and we quickly learned that we were to follow spray paint on rocks. Trekking poles were used by virtually everyone we saw, and we can attest to the fact that they do make hiking easier on the knees. In a couple of different locations, the trails were so steep there were steps cut into the sides of the mountain, with cables bolted onto the nearest rock wall for stability.

All in all, our inn-to-inn trek in Switzerland was a superb way to celebrate 25 years: spectacular scenery, sheep and cows with tinkling bells, panoramic views of the Alps and their glaciers, quaint villages, and cozy inns reached by challenging hiking. What more could two old friends ask for?

Anne Uzzell lives in Central Point.

Barb Shultz, left, and Anne Uzzell at the Tschingellochtighorn Pass in Switzerland last September.