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Switzerland: Matterhorn Hiking

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Matterhorn Hiking | Switzerland | Europe

[Visited: July 2011]

When our train entered the tunnel between Spiez and Visp, it looked like it was going to rain, and we wondered how wet we would be the coming days in the mountains. Personally, I feared the cold - even thought it was July, it was far from warm, even at valley altitude. But when our train reached the other side of the Lötschberg tunnel, we found ourselves in a sunny landscape of snowy summits and chalets on the green mountainside. It all looked perfectly Swiss, and after we changed trains in Visp, it only got more beautiful in the Matter valley. By the time we reached Zermatt, we were all ready for our hike. It was still fresh, but as we climbed out of the jet-set town, from where we could already see the Matterhorn, we soon got warm working our way up next to a small brook coming down the mountain. We climbed out of the tree limit, passed modest waterfalls, and quite soon reached Trift. A short break turned traditional when a guy started to play the typical Alpenhorn, and we worked our way further up with a great view on the Trift glacier behind us, and the views got better the higher we got.

Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Clouds around the summit of the Matterhorn in the early morning

Clouds were coming in at lower altitudes, but we could still see the summit of the Dom, the highest peak in Swiss territory, the Monte Rosa, the Ober Gabelhorn, and many other peaks. When we rounded a rock a little higher up, the Matterhorn again appeared before us, this time, appearing much closer. Like us, the clouds were climbing, and were now hiding much of the famous mountain. We soon found a nice place for lunch, and sat on the green grass behind a rock, hiding from the winds. The sun made it a comfortable lunch, in which colourful insects came by in search for a bite. Meanwhile, our eyes were focused mostly on the Matterhorn, and we were mentally sending the clouds away for a clear view of the uniquely shaped mountain. Every second, the situation was different, which also meant that the clouds might just leave the mountain alone. We had already reached a higher altitude at around 2600m, and from here, not much more climbing was required. The Zmutt valley below us, and mighty glaciers at the end of the valley, but also above us and on the other side, made us feel dwarfed. In one spot, our path was blocked by typical black-headed sheep, which looked very cute and fluffy ingredients in a rough, wild, and unforgiving environment. We walked down, almost to the valley floor, crossed a river, from where we climbed again, squeezed between a small ridge on our left which was temporarily hiding the view of the Matterhorn, and the valley wall on our right, again topped by a glacier. In the end, we had to zig-zag our way up a mountain to the hut we would be spending the night in, tucked against the rocky wall on our right. After freeing our backs from our bags, we walked to the edge of the small meadow, from where we had a fantastic view over the Zmutt glacier right across the valley, and the Matterhorn on our left. Seeing the enormous walls of ice, it seemed illogical they would be able to stay in their precarious position for long, and indeed, every now and then, a chunk of ice fell off and we could hear it tumbling down the mountain with a lot of noise. This spot was great for immersing ourselves in the sweeping views of the mountains and glaciers around us - which we did until the sun was really gone. Just before sunset, the Matterhorn was finally released of its cloudy cover and showed itself in all its big-mountain glory.

Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Banner clouds over the ridge of the Matterhorn

The next morning, I was up before sunrise, and since I could not see what the outside conditions were, I walked down the stairs and into the open, and found myself in a foggy world. I could see nothing, but our Schönbielhut, and feared for the rest of the day. After a sanitary stop, I was very surprised to suddenly have a pretty good view of the valley, and even the Matterhorn on the other side of it. The clouds were moving fast, and once again, I realized how unpredictable the weather in the mountains really can be. The first sunlight managed to pierce through the layers of clouds, and set the summit of the north face of Matterhorn on fire with a subtle orange light. The spectacle of moving clouds, of light playing on the almost 4,500 metre high giant in front of us, kept me glued to the platform of the hut in the mountains, even though I was getting colder and colder. At one moment, I realized that light snow was coming down. After breakfast, we started walking down the valley again, this time keeping to the small ridge which allowed for great views of the valley, the glaciers, lakes, and cloud-surrounded mountain tops on all sides. A little lower, the sky above us closed, and it started to rain. After crossing the Zmutt river, the weather cleared to a point where the Matterhorn became visible again, looking wilder than before as clouds were racing around its pyramidal shape. We climbed more and more, until we were threading through snow, and reached the foot of the Hörnli ridge, on the northeast side of the mountain, with the Hörnli hut almost within the reach of our arms. This is the most common route taken by mountaineers to climb the Matterhorn; we had lunch, and contemplated climbing to the hut. As we sat there eating, we saw it disappearing in the clouds, and ended up deciding to go down and take a longer route on our way back to Zermatt. As we climbed down, partly over via ferrata, into the valley on the other side of the Hörnli ridge, it started to become always more cloudy, until hail and snow started to come down. Before we knew it, we were walking over big boulders, stones, rocks, with a downpour of wintery precipitation coming down on us. A strong wind made sure that we were always colder, and I deeply regretted not having taken gloves or a hat, or even a winter coat. When we reached the Trockener Steg hut, we were happy to find a hot chocolate and a dry place to warm up. When we walked down, it was dry, and we had a pleasant hike down to Zermatt, in which we did not only see a marmot, but also a small herd of ibex, grazing in a meadow high above the valley floor. When we reached Zermatt and looked back, the clouds around the Matterhorn lifted once again, allowing us a last, exciting view of this symbol of Switzerland.

Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): The Matterhorn seen from one of the many trails
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): View of the Matterhorn from Zermatt in the late afternoon
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Looking west over a ridge through the Zmutt valley towards Zermatt
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): The summit of Matterhorn in the early morning sunlight
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Zmutt glacier coming down the high Alps
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): View of Matterhorn surrounded by clouds
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Glacier running over the rocks above the Zmutt valley
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Zmutt glacier veiled by early morning clouds
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Matterhorn surrounded by clouds in the early morning light
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Small ridge at the foot of the Hörnli ridge, leading straight to the top of the Matterhorn
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Clouds hiding glaciers in the Zmutt valley with waterfall and trees
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Monte Rosa mountain range covered in snow and ice close to the Matterhorn
Picture of Matterhorn Hiking (Switzerland): Ibex in its preferred habitat: the mountains

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