Back to Nature
Certified mountain leader Cherries has been taking guided groups out of their comfort zones and into nature on tailored walks in Verbier for nearly 15 years. We caught up with the Swiss guide to talk Alpine escapes, edible produce and her favourite spots to admire the view
What is your job and how did you get into this line of work? Have you always been outdoorsy?
I’m a nature guide, I take people on hikes all year round. My parents are American and moved to Switzerland in the 1960s. Where we grew up was very outdoorsy and natural, we were always outside playing. I first came to Verbier in 1999 and worked seasons for about 5 years, and then I decided I should live here year-round. I heard about this mountain ranger thing and looked into it and thought it seemed quite serious with all the exams but decided, ‘what the heck’. I kind of randomly fell into it, I guess.
How do the hikes work? Do you tailor them or have set routes?
In winter it depends on snow and avalanche danger; in a whiteout there’s no point in going up a mountain. Outside of snowshoeing season, it more depends on the person’s physical capability. The hikes range from a half day walk, which is about 2-3 hours, to 10 days of walking together. It’s really fun to take people out every day and move from one hut to the next. The first day they’re just kind of orienting themselves and by the third day they just completely zap out of their lives and enter nature.
Do you have a favourite season?
I don’t think so. People ask if I get bored of this view – but how could I when it changes all the time? It changes dramatically, sometimes from one day to the next, whether it’s spring, summer or winter. I think that’s what makes it exciting. It’s fun to have people in the summer because not a lot of people go to the Alps in summer. But I’ve found off-season is getting more and more popular because it’s less stressful and there are no crowds. Walking in the Alps is such a no-brainer, what’s not to like? You can always find something that’s going to be of interest to someone because it’s so varied and that’s what makes it so fun.
In terms of plants and wildlife, what do you typically see in the area?
The special thing to try to get people to see in terms of wildlife are chamois, marmots and bouquetin. The plantlife is super varied. One of the really fun walks that I like to take people on is at the end of the valley here where all the edelweiss are growing. It has this idyllic reputation and people like to see it and there’s a carpet of them and it’s really wild. Botany is a huge part of getting the mountain leader license and learning about plants is a nice way to bring the group together. Everyone can maybe recognise a dandelion or stinging nettle down in the valleys but once you get into the higher areas there’s so much more to look at. I find that if you learn something about it then you’ll look at it differently and also remember it.
When it comes to edible plants and produce, what can you find in Verbier?
A lot – there’s everything! There’s lots of berries that you can eat straight from the tree. I do group outings where we spend two or three hours hiking around and we pick stuff and then we spend an hour or two preparing a meal and then spend the rest of the day eating. There’s a lot of stinging nettles, yarrow, wild spinach; things you can easily make into salads and sandwiches. There’s walnuts and hazelnuts down in the valley and you can use wild flowers to decorate.
Is there anything that you definitely shouldn’t pick?
Oh yeah, there’s things that will kill you. The crocuses have started to come up and people think it’s saffron. Saffron does grow in the Alps but it grows in one particular valley and all the others that are growing are highly toxic. Aconite (Wolf’s bane) is one that will definitely kill you. It’s pretty and grows all over the place because obviously no one is picking it!
Do you have a favourite view or spot in Verbier?
The top of the Pierre Avoi is special. In the old patois they used to speak here, ‘avoi’ means ‘place to see’, so Pierre Avoi means ‘the rock to see’. When you hike to the top you have this 360-degree view where you can see Mont Blanc, the Roman valley below and all the way to the Bernese Oberland. It’s just beautiful. But you don’t have to go that high to get that kind of view. I really enjoy the view that’s below the Pierre Avoi from La Marlénaz restaurant. You look back on Verbier and you have the entire mountain range. I just love being there.
If you could summarise it simply, what is it that you love most about nature?
I think the way it adapts to everything. Every hike I go on – whatever the season – the plants and the animals… everything has adapted to being somewhere specific. Everything you find, everything you see, everything you encounter during a walk, it has to do with survival. It really amazes me.