The best way to climb hills in Switzerland is by drinking coffee and eating pain au chocolate until late morning, then driving in the coolest car in Vevey with Roland, a 1980s Renault which takes corners the way a car should and has leather door hinges. Tour d’Ai we can see from Vevey and not wanting to waste my talents on Mont Blanc on a Saturday, we decided this plug of glacier scoured rock resembling a clove of garlic would be a fun place to stand on top of. Warnings of violent afternoon storms added to the excitement.
The town of Leysin is where wealthy American and English scions of whatever get sent to finishing school. If it all fell down the hill and buried Montreaux – an act geological trickery – Switzerland would instantly be more cultured. It didn’t and we got the cable car to the top, which might constitute using fixed ropes and so call into question our alpine-style ascent, but the sitting on top and eating cheese is what we were there for.
And wheezing. Legs feeling rotten and poisoned from atrophied blood, lungs failing to suck in anything useful in a glorious parody of an asthmatic’s final pitiful suckings. Many generous pauses to take in the view, several dozen climbers taking the natural short-cuts directly up the vertical and enticing cracklines lining the escarpment.
We made it to the top, shrouded in mist from the breaking clouds with barely enough time to eat a bit then make a run for the last cable-car. The view opened up as if a vast curtain was drawn aside, rows of violently jagged slate black peaks shackled in smooth and featureless expanses of sheer white snow, remnants of clouds dragged upward and shredded on the teeth of each minute peak, coming into view and then hidden again in endless, silent motion.
The return trip down was as fast as the ascent was laborious, making the cradle of the cable-car in less than half an hour, then down, down again by car, through Montreaux – still devoid of fashion and saturated in insensible wealth, and home for a night of beer, wine, taking and eating.