Gillian in silhouette against the mountains in a ballet pose

The Hills Are Alive: Dancing and Hiking in the Swiss Alps

How dare you speak to me of freedom, while yet I see the sky?

The sky is bluer at altitude. Maybe it’s clearer as well. The air is sharper and thinner, and it makes you aware of how you breathe and when, and the effort it takes to walk.

rocky mountains against a blue sky with the sun overhead and grassy foregroud
The gorgeous sights of hiking in the Swiss Alps.

I’m aware of a lot of things these days. When you have little else, you notice the present. The happy moments sail and soar and the dull moments drag. Every night I gather my courage before putting down my phone, because that’s when the existential dread begins.

Sure, I still have a lot of things. I just don’t have a job, a house, or even a city to call home. I am a guest in someone’s home, trying to preserve my savings, and get back to the place where all my opportunities currently are.

Of course, I am lucky and privileged, so I can’t complain too much about my situation. I am well-cared for and well-fed, and I happen to be in a beautiful place, where those high altitude, blue skies are not so far away.

The hills are alive

The mountains don’t really sing, unlike what Pacha from Emperor’s New Groove may have claimed. But they may inspire singing. One of the most popular musicals in history was all about the hills being alive with the sound of music.

You can see where the inspiration came from. The Swiss Alps are toothy and sharp, rivaled in beauty only by the otherworldly landscapes of the north of Pakistan. But where the Karakoram mountains are too restless for vegetation, the Alps have been around long enough to welcome flora and fauna to their slopes.

passu cones in pakistani karakoram mountain range
The otherworldly beauty of the Karakoram mountains in the North of Pakistan.


small road leading up to a meeting of two tall mountains against a dark blue sky and patchy clouds
Khunjerab Pass


The Alps are tame enough, for example, to ski. The Col de Bretaye is a mountain pass around 6000 feet in elevation. In comparison to the most recent pass I’d visited, Khunjerab Pass at the China/Pakistan border at 15000+ feet, it’s pretty tame. Still, it’s high enough that the northern faces still have frost at midday in October, and some of the small ponds are starting to freeze.

There’s no snow yet, though the snow making machines and chairlifts are evidence of its winter activities. That, and the little cottages and flats that remind me of the ones at Copper Mountain in Colorado, and of course the ski images plastered all over the little train that makes the trek up to the pass from the Villars-sur-Ollon main station, tucked further into the valley. It’s steep enough that the tracks include extra gears that the train latches onto.

The trails of Bretaye

There are many treks at Bretaye, but here they all begin from one main T intersection when you arrive off the train. Most people take the gentle, paved road to the left for a half hour walk to the Lac des Chavonnes, a stunning mountain lake dropped into a miniature valley. A restaurant sits right on its shores, rustic and welcoming.

Looking down at a blue mountain lake with pines and hills surrounding
A beautiful view while hiking in the Swiss Alps!

If you go to the right, however, and wind around, you can take a 12 kilometer loop around which takes you right by the same lake.

There are many things to see along the way, such as the Pyramides de Gypse, a random labyrinth of gypsum deposited in little mounds. The path winds around the summits to Col de la Croix and then back again.

It’s not as tough hiking in the Swiss Alps as you’d think and there are many options. This one in particular is not a difficult hike but it’s not easy either, especially because about 3 kilometers in, my left knee decided to do the thing it does when it freezes up and sends up shooting pain when going downhill. I managed with a branch as a walking stick and used the other knee, which started to protest angrily by the 9th kilometer. I was very happy to sit down at the end.

The mountains dance, and so do I

But angry knees or not, the clear mountain air and the vast vistas are impossible to resist. I had my trusty Osmo Pocket with me, and stopped every now and then to do a little dance of celebration. The automatic stabilization of the camera’s gimble makes a huge difference.

I’ve filmed in the mountains before, when I created The End of Wandering at Copper Mountain. But this time I wasn’t going for any dramatics or storytelling. It was just a celebration of the day and the sky and the mountains.

I edited with one of my favorite tracks from David Joseph Wesley, “The Docks” from Music to Smuggle By. The video is out now on my YouTube channel. Enjoy!