Words: Thomas Oschwald
Pics: Fanatic SUP International
Switzerland is famous for its mountains – massive alpine monoliths stretching up towards the sky. But in the middle of this barren mountain world you can find peaceful havens – the Swiss mountain lakes for instance. They are hidden between valleys and will enchant visitors at first glance. Some of them are vast but there are also smaller stretches, all sparkling like pearls between peaks. Fanatic rider Thomas Oschwald tells us his story of escape, wilderness and getting off the beaten track.
The Swiss mountain lakes are a massive magnet of attraction. Not only because they are beautiful but also because they are concealed. You can only reach them with big efforts and hours of walking. Sometimes hikes can take up to eight hours just to go paddling on a lake smaller than a soccer field. That might sound crazy but that´s exactly what is appealing and why I do it again and again. I never question why I force myself to scale mountains when it would be easier to paddle a lake at ground level. I would rather escape from the daily routine and do something different.
If alone or together with my girlfriend it´s the adventure within nature that is most important. I escape from civilisation looking for thrills in my homeland. I hardly travel far, instead I look for challenges in my local environment. This way I can reduce my footprint and experience adventures on a smaller budget, right outside my house.
Starting spontaneously is not goalless. Proper organisation and panning of the route, as well as having the correct gear, are essential components of each trip. But I always like to keep a bit of uncertainty in the mix. This is, after all, what makes physical activities challenging. Overcoming these challenges is the goal.
Switzerland has many stunning mountain lakes. Some are easy to reach by bike, others only via an exhausting climb. Depending on how much time I have and how motivated I feel I will either plan a short tour or a longer hike stretching across a couple of days. There are lots of possibilities with different degrees of difficulty close together – something for everyone.
I would recommend starting with an easier route for those coming to the area for the first time. The weight of an inflatable SUP on your back is not something to underestimate. If you also take gear to sleep over somewhere on the way, that additional luggage can easily weigh more than 20 kilos. So after the first three hours walking, or biking, the load of backpacks will take its toll on bodies.
Often hiking or biking with my girlfriend we save weight by only taking one inflatable SUP with us. Like that we can split other gear into three bags and share the board for paddling once at the lake. Sometimes we stay over in one of the abundant mountain huts found close to the water. If you want a bit of normalcy on your tour this is for sure a good option – nothing wrong with a comfortable night‘s sleep and a hearty breakfast.
Personally I prefer the uncertain and unsettled. That´s why I like to sleep under the stars or in a small tent which I carry with me. You have to consider that it gets really cold at night, even in summer. Long pants and shirts are absolutely necessary – even when daytime temperatures are around 30 degrees. I once made the mistake of starting a tour only with one pair of shorts and tee. I fell in the water and did not have spare clothing with me. Luckily I did have a warm sleeping bag. But it was still chilly during the night. Since then I would rather save weight in other areas.
For example you can use your SUP board bag as a sleeping pad and you can use the lake and river water for drinking. To be sure it´s drinkable you can always take special water cleaning tablets with you. I personally save a lot of weight like this because on a normal mountain tour I drink 3 – 4 litres of water per day, which is definitely too heavy to be carrying.
I invest so much time and energy hiking all the way up mountains just for short paddling periods. As a passionate surfer and extreme paddler I’m used to spending a lot of time on the water. So why carry a SUP for hours up the mountain while you could paddle on any other lake easily reachable by car? I actually ask myself the same question sometimes. The answer is quite simple: It takes me out of my comfort zone and takes me to where I can unwind and switch off from real life. Or in the words of Paul Gauguin: The biggest challenge in life is to overcome the boundary in yourself and go to a point you never would have thought you would ever go.
Some might look for the perfect wave whereas I am looking for the perfect moment high up in the Alps. In the shadow of the mountains each paddle stroke brings me closer to life.
About the author:
Always looking for new challenges in sports and everyday life, Thomas Oschwald strives to hit his limits. His inner conviction is what brings him bigger and smaller challenges in life. They make him acutely aware of experiences away from daily routines. As an extreme paddler he does not want to go the easy way. A journey or an adventure should never lose the uncertainty and always give opportunity to make the impossible possible. This pursuit of trying new routes and never standing still makes him complete.