BATHING IN THE CLOUDS – EXPLORING THE MOUNTAINS IN A WHEELCHAIR
TEXT: NANE STEINHOFF, C.C. SCHMID
Exploring the mountains in a wheelchair? Kim Lumelius lets us in on that experience.
The high mountains, at least that’s what it looks like from the valley, are a world of steep slopes, sharp rocks and sharp ridges. A world of mountain farmers, hikers, climbers, skiers, and a world in which you need to make full use of your hands and feet, one might think. However, people with physical disabilities, like Kim Lumelius, can also experience their deep summer blues and greens, and their high Alpine mountain wonders – for example, in the Swiss Aletsch Arena, in the UNESCO region of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau Aletsch. This young woman even goes into the air – and without her wheelchair, ‘Lutzi’. Here, she experiences an unprecedented form of weightless freedom.
“I was actually always fixated on the sea,” says the Mannheim native with the contagious laugh. She doesn’t let her wheelchair slow her down. On the contrary, Lutzi – “As in: ‘Let’s go Lutzi’,” she smiles – is always there as a four-wheeled companion on her travels through the world. Kim Lumelius reports about it on her blog Wheeliewanderlust, writes about beaches on Greek islands and on the Gulf of Mexico, about trips to Thailand, Mauritius, London, Paris. Always also, but not only, from the point of view of a person who cannot use her legs. She has a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which is causing her to have less and less control over her muscles. The mountains are no place for you, Kim Lumelius had always said to herself.
Until now, that is. Already at the valley station of the cable car to Bettmeralp, she felt that things could be completely different, uncomplicated and she felt like she didn’t have to make such a big fuss about her wheelchair. First comes the climb upwards. The way up becomes a journey through time, a journey into a decelerated world. She, the well-travelled woman that she is, is still hugely fascinated at this new opportunity: “Up there, the clocks seem to go differently, even the eggs take longer to cook.” And there are no cars in the little village with the romantic chalets in the UNESCO region Aletsch Glacier. A very special experience for the mountain newcomer: “Everyone was traveling at the same pace as me, and even the ‘Aletsch-Express’, an electric car that connects the two towns of Bettmeralp and Riederalp, was able to take me and Lutzi with it.” So in the end, there was enough time to talk to people, to ask where they came from and where they are going, or just to look out at and enjoy the scenery: the breathtaking Valais mountains with their mighty 4,000-metre peaks, with the summer clouds sailing past on the other side of the valley.
She experiences a view almost like that of a paraglider. Kim Lumelius, however, first explores the barrier-free hiking trails of Bettmeralp in her wheelchair. Breathe in the mountain air, listen to the wind between Alpine pastures and lakes, feel the sky and maybe even forget your job – as a civil servant in the Ministry of Education of Rhineland-Palatinate, in Kim’s case. A true travel blogger, she recommends the Bootshüsi for a break at Bettmersee, which reflects the opposite mountain peaks in a romantic way. “Mountains and wheelchairs go together after all,” she laughs. “It just needs the right infrastructure.”
The gondola lift to the Bettmerhorn also has the right infrastructure for her: with a ramp, Lutzi can easily go up to almost 2,650 metres. This is where the Aletsch Arena demonstrates its sense of drama: “We had brought a wall of smoke up with us – nothing could be seen, absolutely nothing.” It remains grey in grey, impenetrable for an hour, then the curtain rises. “It was breathtaking!” she enthuses, and continues: “A comfortable wooden path leads out to the vantage point. And then there is this huge stream of ice, the longest in the Alps, the Aletsch Glacier. “The view is sensational – I’ve never been so close to a glacier…” When a herd of goats then roams through the rocky desert and she – as she describes on her blog – deposits a lucky stone, the mountain experience is complete for Kim.
Time to make her dream of paragliding come true. The team heads over to Fiesch, but makes a little stop at an adventure playground in between for Kim to do something she has never done before: she will climb trees. “I’ve always liked being in the forest, but I never would have thought that I would swing from trunk to trunk,” Kim explains. “A funny idea,” she adds, and is enthusiastic about “the cool things you can do as a wheelchair user”.
And so it goes straight on, up to the launch site for the paragliders of the Flug Taxi flight school on Fiescheralp. An in-house construction made of light metal allows people who do not have strong legs to be able to take to the air as passengers. Kim was more than a bit excited: “We had to wait three hours for the fog to clear!”
The most exciting element of it all is quickly over, however. The start, the rolling over the gentle slope, the take off. “The moment we were in the air, I was completely relaxed.” All thoughts of what could go wrong that I had during the last few hours are gone. “I couldn’t find the words. The gliding through the air, the view of the tiny towns in the valley, the view over the mountains – it was just incredible.” Kim Lumelius was left with a great passion for the mountains. At some point she wants to come back to the Aletsch Arena in winter, because the region is barrier-free there, too. Maybe she will even be able to make tracks through the snow? Thanks to dual skis, a seat mounted on two skis, and specially trained instructors, wheelchair users can also romp around on the slopes up here. But she is still experiencing a different kind of freedom, circling through the thermals of the summer sky with a paraglider, while deep down an old acquaintance appears: the icy giant, the Aletsch Glacier. How was your flight, we ask? For her it was like “bathing in clouds”. This is how it feels when the chains stay on the ground: weightless, a dream of freedom.
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