While John Harlin III was living in Switzerland as a boy, his father fell to his death opening a new route on the north face of the 13,025-foot Eiger, a story recounted most recently in the 2007 Imax film The Alps. Last summer, at 56, Harlin, the editor of The American Alpine Journal, safely completed his own Swiss epic: a hike, climb, paddle, and bike around the Alpine kingdom’s serrated border. The result was a wild 1,200-mile adventure, the second of its kind, in one of the most well-traveled countries in Europe. It took 105 days, 688,000 vertical feet of elevation change, and two broken feet to complete.
1. June 23, 2010: Harlin’s knees flare up on day one after a 12-mile hiking descent from Leysin to Lake Geneva.
2. June 24: At the Col de Verne, the clouds part to reveal that the border is actually a 400-foot vertical wall. With no climbing partner, Harlin must go around.
3. July 1: While descending the Aiguilles Rouges du Mont Dolent, Harlin dislodges a body-size boulder and falls 50 feet. He breaks bones in both feet and calls for a rescue. It’s Day 9. He heads to Mexico to lick his wounds.
4. October 10: At Schaffhausen, Harlin spends days bicycling around the border’s bulges and loops.
5. October 22: Harlin follows trails upstream along the semi-wild Doubs river, finding some of the best mountain biking in the country.
6. October 29: Harlin trades his bike for a kayak to paddle 60 miles along Lake Geneva. He must wait till summer to return to the Alps.
7. July 6, 2011: Harlin meets the only other person to have circled Switzerland in this manner, Andrea Vogel, who did it back in 1992. Together they cross 9,725-foot Schesaplana in 16 hours.
8. July 30: Harlin teams up with an Italian mountaineer to tackle 4,000-meter Piz Bernina.
9. August 30: Harlin checks into Margherita Hut, at 14,940 feet the highest full-service hut in the Alps.
10. September 12: Harlin scales his final peak, 12,542-foot Mont Dolent. He peers down the north side, where he fell the year before, and decides to go down the south side instead.