Friday, 18 March 2011

The Matterhorn Trail - the Last Day

So the journey to Zermatt is over but as I started the route with the Eiger Trail it made sense to finish properly with the Matterhorn Trail for an up close view of the mountain and its surroundings.

The Matterhorn Trail can be done in either direction. If starting at the top - which is the way it is usually done - the cable car is taken to Schwarzsee at 2583m to begin the 10km descent to Zermatt. The path is easy throughout with wonderful views. In an upwards direction the route involves an ascent of 1000m which I suppose is why most choose to go downwards.

Hotel Restaurant Schwarzsee Sustenance can be obtained at the Hotel Restaurant Schwarzsee which is a short distance from the gondola station. This is the start of the Matterhorn Trail in a downwards direction or the finish if you have walked up from Zermatt in which case the gondola will be very welcome!

Matterhorn Trail The beginning of the Matterhorn Trail in a downwards direction.

Schwarzsee The small chapel of Maria zum Schnee - Maria of the Snows - beside the mountain tarn of Schwarzsee a short way down the trail. The tarn is at the foot of the Matterhorn's Hornli Ridge.

Matterhorn North Face The North Face of the Matterhorn dominates the view in the initial stages.

Matterhorn from Stafel Looking back up towards the Matterhorn from Stafel where the forest is once again reached.
On the Matterhorn Trail Views down from the Matterhorn Trail below Stafel towards Zermatt in the valley.

Haybarns above zermatt Haybarns near Zmutt typify the lower part of the trail as it returns to the valley.
Back to day 8 >>> Randa to Zermatt
and back to the start >>> Grindelwald

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Grindelwald to Zermatt day 8 - Randa to Zermatt along the Europaweg

The most direct route from Randa to Zermatt would be to continue on the valley paths which would make for a pleasant and easy walk but though I followed these from Randa to Tasch - the next village going towards Zermatt - I took a steep path up through the woods east of Tasch (the one south of the Taschbach stream) towards Taschalp which is also known as Ottavan. When the wide easy path of the Europaweg is reached about 700m above Tasch, turn south (right) towards Sunegga and Zermatt instead of continuing to Taschalp which is still about a kilometre in the other direction.

If you have followed the trail north of the Taschbach gorge then you will pass Taschalp where refreshments are available. Either way this is one of the best days of the route with most of the climbing done early leaving the ever improving views to be enjoyed for little effort. If you want more effort then walk the full Europaweg from Gasenried (postbus from st Niklaus) instead of going to Randa. That way is much harder than this one which is a relatively easy walk of about 16km or 10 miles.

Along the Mattertal A first view (almost) of the Matterhorn (4478m) from a section of the Europaweg trail above Tasch.

Europaweg footpath This section of the Europaweg is a fascinating trail traversing the steep slopes above the Mattertal. On this trek we effectively do the last third or so of the Europaweg which on its own is a two day hike. The last section is interesting but fairly easy.

Mischabel Peaks from the Europaweg Looking back to the Mischabel peaks. The central summit of the Dom (4545m) is the highest mountain entirely within Switzerland - Monte Rosa being on the Italian frontier.

Weisshorn Across the valley rises the Weisshorn (4505m) one of the most impressive of the peaks here if not so famous as the Matterhorn.

Breithorn and Klein Matterhorn The Breithorn and Klein Matterhorn from the latter stages of the Europaweg near Tufteren. For an account of hiking up the Breithorn please see this post

Findeln Valais The meadows of Findeln beneath the Rothorn (3103m) with the cable car building visible on the summit. There is a shorter way to Zermatt direct from Tufteren but this is surely the finest approach.

Matterhorn The path descends now in its final approach to Zermatt while the Matterhorn towers overhead.

Path to Zermatt The rooftops of Zermatt appear through the trees. We are almost there.

Zermatt The view from my hotel balcony. I arrived just before the weather came in.

Back to day 7 >>> St Niklaus to Randa

The last day >>> The Matterhorn Trail

Monday, 14 March 2011

Grindelwald to Zermatt day 7 - St Niklaus to Randa

A rest day really after the rigours of the High Alps where one can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Mattervispa - the river descending from the glaciers up beyond Zermatt. The villages and meadows of the Mattertal are quite charming and best seen from the trail rather than the trains packed with Zermatt-bound tourists.

Mattervispa Herbriggen Valais A pleasant valley trail leads alongside the Mattervispa river near Herbriggen.

landslide near Randa Valais The landslide debris between Herbriggen and Randa. The massive slide occurred in 1991 and is a reminder that the Alps here are still being shaped by nature.

Mattertal view Looking back down the Mattertal from the final rise through the meadows just before Randa.

garden with goat A typical garden in Randa, goats and all.

Randa Mattertal The main street of Randa will make the route out of town the next day. Looking up the valley towards the Mettelhorn (3406m).
Back to day 6 >>> Oberems to St Niklaus
On to day 8 >>> Randa to Zermatt

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Grindelwald to Zermatt day 6 - Oberems to St Niklaus over the Augstbordpass

From the route's lowest point at Turtmann we journey to its highest at the Augstbordpass joining for a while the path of the Walker's Haute Route. Today is a journey through one of the most tranquil and unspoilt valleys in Switzerland and up to the edge of the High Mountain zone before descending at last to the Mattertal - the Valley of the Matterhorn.

My only regret on this stretch was in taking the post bus to Gruben, for while a road does head through the Turtmanntal, it would be worth spending an extra day to walk through it. Maximum altitude 2894m (9495ft)

Gruben in the Turtmanntal
The peaceful village of Gruben lies in the Turtmanntal, one of the most unspoilt valleys of the Alps. The village is as far up the valley as the postbus goes and is the start point for the hike to St Niklaus over the Augstbordpass.

Bernese Alps Once above the treeline the path heads into remote country with views back to the Rhone Valley and the Bernese Alps.

Ober Stafel above the Turtmanntal The stone shelters of Ober Stafel (2369m) high above the valley made a good lunch stop before crossing the pass.

Augstbordpass At 2894m or 9495ft the summit of the Augstbord Pass isn the highest point of the trek. The sign we now follow is the one for Jungu-St Niklaus.

Saastal peaks from the Augstbordpass Looking east from the top of the Augstbordpass the depths of the Mattertal are still largely unseen but the distant Saastal peaks etch the skyline with snow.

Tarn on the Augstbordpass The path is signed right for St Niklaus and Jungu/Jungen just before this small tarn is reached.

Mattertal After crossing a rough (but not difficult) section of path, the Mattertal comes into view a long way below. Here is a pathside viewpoint at about 2400m that was a good place to stop for a while.

Mattertal Looking up the length of the Mattertal from nearly the same spot. The Breithorn (4164m) is the peak in cloud at the head of the valley.

Jungen The tiny hamlet of Jungen sits on a shelf overlooking the Mattertal. It is accessed by a small cable car from St Niklaus and is a popular spot in summer.

St Niklaus The distinctive onion domed church at St Niklaus is close to where the gondola descends from Jungen.
Back to day 5 >>> Kandersteg to Oberems
On to day 6 >>> St Niklaus to Randa

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Grindelwald to Zermatt day 5 - Kandersteg to Oberems by the Gemmi Pass

Following the road south from Kandersteg brings one in a short distance to the Sunnbuel gondola which saves a climb of 750m before crossing the Gemmipass - a fascinating pathway through the Bernese Alps and the watershed between northern and southern Europe. The far side of the pass also has a gondola down to Leukerbad. Not using either gondola and walking all the way will add a day to the total route though the track to Leukerbad is built into the cliff face and looked so good that I regretted getting on the cable car.

From Leukerbad I had intended getting a bus to Visp in the Rhone Valley and another to Turtmann but I was offered a lift there by the Husky Man - not on the husky sled though - which saved me much waiting at bus stops. My night at Oberems was spent at the Emshorn Hotel where I was welcomed like a friend.

Doldenhorn from Sunnbuel The spectacular valley of the Gasteretal seen from Sunnbuel en route to the Gemmipass. The high peak on the left is the Doldenhorn (3638m).

Gemmi Pass trail The wild landscape of the Gemmipass. An easy trail crosses the Bernese Alps here - a route that has been in use for centuries from the Kandertal in the North to the Rhone Valley in the South.

some random cows Trail companions!

Gemmi Pass landscape Half way to the top of the pass, the trail climbs a shallow step of about 150m - looking back towards the Kandertal.

Daubensee Gemmipass The Daubensee at 2206m lies just north of the summit of the pass

Gemmipass The first views of the Pennine Alps where we are headed. The summit of the Gemmi at 2322m is more like the edge of a plateau than a col with high country to the North and a sharp drop off to the South. It marks the watershed between northern and southern Europe with rivers to the North draining towards the Rhine and ultimately the North Sea while those to the South feed the Rhone which drains to the Mediterrannean.

Leukerbad Looking down to Leukerbad from the edge. It's about 1000m down and there's a choice of a sensational looking path or the gondola.

Turtmann Turtmann in the Rhone Valley was the lowest point of the route at 640 metres or 2100 feet. An unmanned cable car ascends from here to Oberems.

Oberems Turtmanntal The charming hamlet of Oberems in the canton of Valais overlooks the Rhone Valley and the southern side of the Bernese Alps.
back to day 4 >>> Griesalp to Kandersteg
on to day 6 >>> Oberems to St Niklaus

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Grindelwald to Zermatt day 4 - Griesalp to Kandersteg

This was the point where I made the biggest - in fact the only real - deviation from the planned route. The obvious way from Griesalp to Kandersteg is via the pass known as the Hohturli which is a long day covering about 15km or almost 10 miles with an initial climb of 4500 feet from Griesalp. There is a signed path all the way and the route is considered slightly harder than the Sefinenfurke reaching an altitude of 2778m after a steeper ascent than the previous day's. I would still recommend this as the better way being the most direct line towards Kandersteg from where we will cross the Bernese Oberland algthough building in a rest day at Griesalp would avoid 2 long days in succession.

The route described here and in A Long Walk in the Alps was something of an adventure being completely off the beaten track and not clearly marked though technically it was much easier than the high alpine passes. It would make a good alternative in bad weather as it did here when the weather was so "good" that it was only suitable for lying in the shade in close proximity to a cold drink.

An over enthusiastic sun was threatening to roast the valleys to over 32 degrees (90 F) again so not fancying the long steep climb to the roof of the Alps, my day began with the morning post bus to Kiental Village and another to Ramslauen which is normally accessible by gondola. My walk took me to Frutigen where there is a regular train service to Kandersteg.

Alpine meadows above the Kiental
An easy and pleasant trail leaves Ramslauen above the Kiental amnd journeys through more idyllic meadows en route to Bachwald and Frutigen.

Niesen and Thunersee
Right on the edge of the mountains here - the view towards Thunersee from the little used path 1000m above the Kandertal just after the farm known as Furggi. This was where I stopped heading west and turned south.

Kandersteg The tranquil lake behind the Hotel des Alpes where I stayed in Kandersteg. The hotel has a friendly and welcoming owner and is situated just south of Kandersteg centre on the way to the Sunnbuel cable car.
Back to day 3 >>> Murren to Griesalp
On to day 5 >>> Kandersteg to Oberems

Friday, 4 March 2011

Grindelwald to Zermatt Day 3 - Murren to Griesalp by the Sefinenfurke

A longer day today with 14km of walking, 1000m of ascent and 1200m of descent. We cross the mountain wilderness to the West of Murren and leave the Jungfrau Region behind. Maximum altitude 2628m (8622ft) at the Sefinenfurke.

Leaving Murren in the early morning for the Sefinenfurke. The village is a fairly upmarket but still charming place on a grassy shelf high above Lauterbrunnen.

Spielbodenalp Murren The route soon enters an idyllic land of verdant pasture in the region of Spielbodenalp at almost 1800m. Refreshments are available from the small berghaus.

Rotstockhutte After a steep section of path the lower pastures are left behind and we enter a wonderfully wild valley where is situated the Rotstockhutte (visible) at 2039m.

Jungfrau Region from the Sefinenfurke Approaching the top of the Sefinenfurke at 2628m and a last look back at the Jungfrau Region.'s familiar peaks. The way to the Sefinenfurke is steep here but not difficult and the views are easily worth all the effort. This route could be treacherous in bad weather - especially after any significant snowfall so check before heading out.

sefinenfurke New Horizons - looking west from the Sefinenfurke summit. The narrow saddle of the pass is a great lunch spot and the location is the first really remote country so far.

sefinenfurke The first part of the descent is steep and loose but is made easier by wooden steps and a rope handrail. Care is needed here but it's not so difficult and no one fell off while I was there!

Kiental The way descends into the upper part of the Kiental - a veritable wilderness. There are no buses or trains here - you must walk all the way so be sure you can before leaving Murren. A wonderful descent brings us down again to the trees and finally to the hamlet of Griesalp.
Back to day 2 >>> Wengen to Murren
On to day 4 >>> Griesalp to Kandersteg