food / travel

This Man Is Hiking Every Mountain In Switzerland

By the end, Pascal Bourquin will be 75 years old. It will take him 25 years to achieve his goal of walking every Swiss hiking trail, the equivalent of circling the earth twice.

Still a long way to go for Pascal Bourquin
Still a long way to go for Pascal Bourquin
Marie-Laure Chapatte

GENEVA — Pascal Bourquin’s Mount Everest isn't a mountain at all. It's many mountains, whose walking trails are marked with yellow signs and have fascinated him for years. The Radio Télévision Suisse journalist stops, contorts himself, takes a picture. A couple of hundred meters further, he repeats the process and takes a second snapshot. They remind him with every step about the challenge he undertook in December 2013: to explore every single one of Switzerland's walking trails.

Bourquin and his Japanese sneakers still have a long way to go to fulfill his dream of what he calls his "life in yellow," walking the 65,000 kilometers (40,400 miles) of the country's hiking trails. That staggering figure, though, is actually an underestimation. Bourquin has noticed that despite his careful planning, he will have to walk some paths more than once to complete the titanic challenge.

In terms of kilometers, he intends to cover a distance roughly equivalent to walking around the Earth twice. To map his goal, the man whose parents once thought he would become a scientist simply used a calculator. “I divided the distance by the number of weeks in the next 25 years,” he explains. Which means that every weekend Bourquin must cover at least 45 "new" kilometers (28 miles). His employer agreed to give him an extra day off every week, Mondays, so he has more time to walk. "What I didn't foresee was that most mountain inns are closed that day," he says smiling.

For this language and photo lover, “This project must come together in harmony. My only chance of seeing it to the end is to be well in my body and in my mind.” He has the full support of his wife Marie-Claire, he says. But don’t tell him it’s a mid-life crisis that pushed the now-49-year-old to this extreme goal.

His strength and stamina were shaped by sports competitions when he was younger. But his mother’s early passing in 2012 may have helped trigger this new challenge. Bourquin now wants to live something exceptional.

Not his first rodeo

Of course, the mountain-climber and journalist has reached many summits in his career and knows the dangers they entail. Among his accomplishments is the ultra marathon la Petite Trotte à Léon, a grueling six-day mountain race. The PTL, as it's more commonly known, has demonstrated that Pascal was, and is, not invincible. He failed twice, forced to stop after giant blisters formed on his feet. But he was persistent. Last September, he finished the race after 135 hours of pain and exertion.

Photo: Pascal Bourquin

His sports partner Fabio Bernasconi believes Bourquin’s strength lies in his analytical mind. “For example, we forced ourselves to sleep or rest, and that way we were able to keep high vertical and horizontal speeds," he says. "He had prepared everything on paper and had perfect knowledge of the ground.” This old friend is confident Bourquin can succeed “because if a pitfall occurs, he would lay everything flat on the table. He’s capable of stopping to restart better. He’s not the sort of person who would lose it.”

But for this lone wolf, motivation remains a constant challenge. Every weekend, Bourquin hops on a train and heads for a new region, because he has already walked all the paths in his canton of Jura. On the day we’re traveling with him, the "life in yellow" turns to white. "I didn't really take into account the hazards of winter," he admits.

Painfully, as far as we’re concerned at least, we walk, kilometer after kilometer, and as the wind rages, Bourquin sees enough beauty in a twisted tree covered in snow to make his day. He walks towards it, stops, then takes a picture. Another time, it’s a ray of sunshine between two clouds or three deer behind a rock that propel him onward.

Photo: Pascal Bourquin

Taking photographs is his way of sharing his adventure. He publishes the pictures of each stage on Facebook and on his website, where the number of followers grows every month. At lunchtime, in a cafe in Lamboing, near Bern, he takes out his smartphone to check his social network profiles. “I love photos, but I do that without pretension. That said, I notice it creates a connection with people who themselves become sources of support, especially when my motivation wanes,” he says.

In the evening, he updates his statistics. This week, he reached the 5% mark. “You have to know that it’s a bit like wealth distribution: 90% of hikers use 10% of the trails, so this is my way of showing them other, more remote parts of the country,” he says.

Photo: Pascal Bourquin

He has already published one book with his best photographs, and he has signed a partnership with PostBus Switzerland. He’s now in talks with the hiking association Suisse Rando. And Bourquin is confident that other sponsors will follow.

But he’s in no hurry. He plans to reach the virtual finish line in front of the federal palace in Bern, for the 750th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation's establishment, in 2041. He will be 75 years old.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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