Friday, September 7, 2012 (Day 21) A hike of epic proportions!
weather: crisp and clear, not a cloud in the sky!
Good morning from Zermatt, the home of the Matterhorn, one of the most famous alpine mountains. I woke up early before the alarm and decided to head down to the bridge where I could take some sunrise photos of the Matterhorn waking up. The Matterhorn faces east into Zermatt, so sunrise is the time to get the best photos, and everyone seemed to know it. I came down to the bridge at 6:30am and found probably 80 Japanese tourists with all levels of cameras taking photos. The orange light of sunrise started hitting the very tippy top around 6:50am and had lit the full mountain by about 7am. So, the show was not too long, but it was great to be able to wake up and see it.
When I came back home, I found Mark already up and eating breakfast as today we are going on an all day hike as recommended in our Lonely Planet book. Its the Hohbalmen hike which is supposed to be lovely with great views of the mountains. We started around 9am by picking up take-away sandwiches in town at Hilde Wilde. Then, we had a bit of trouble finding the starting point of our hike as it didn’t seem to start where all the other hikes start, at the marmot statue.
However, we found our hike towards Trift and headed up. Whoa, and did we head up. We literally climbed straight up a mountain! We could see what we thought would be the top of our hike with a little mountain hut up top and we kept hiking up the switchbacks, huffing and puffing it. We were going up some really steep sections and calculated the average gradient to be about 20%. Many others were out hiking this path as well, but they were in much better shape than we were and kept passing us. =P It was like we hadn’t just been hiking in Switzerland for the past 3 weeks.
Finally, we made it to the top and found the Edelwiess hut……and, oh no! We are really only 1/3rd of the way up the mountains. It keeps going and going. The books didn’t say anything about having to climb for the first 3-4 hours of our hike. We made it the next section of the uphill climb, to the Trift hut which actually labelled itself a hotel and was really quite large considering it took us 2 hours to arrive here. It was now almost 11:30am, and we had a picnic lunch we wanted to eat at the top. So, we took a short break and then thought we’d hike up to the top. We could see it now, right? Just straight up that next mountain is the top.
Hah. We made it to the next top of the mountain to find even more climbing. Boy, oh boy, we climbed and climbed, and finally, at 1pm we made it to the actual top and finally we cleared the mountains and we could see the Matterhorn for the first time since leaving town this morning! We climbed 1 kilometer on this hike and we are only just beginning. Out of breath, and ravenous with hunger, we found a totally awesome place to sit and eat our lunch. Those take away sandwiches were out-of-this-world yummy!!! Yes, they were seasoned with hunger, but they were also really good and we ate nearly everything we brought with us. We sat there, looking out at the Matterhorn, and all the rest of the surrounding alpine snow-covered peaks right next to the Matterhorn. I always thought the Matterhorn just towered up over everything as one pointy peak, but from up here, it really is just one of many peaks in a large range of snowy mountains. Still, it’s awesome.
We finished our lunch near Hohbalmenstaffel and trudged on with the hike. From here, the gradients were much more gentle, still with a slight incline, but really much flatter as we were at the top of a set of mountains and now this was a ridge-line walk. Our favorite hikes are ridge-line walks due to the amazing views. We could see paragliders jumping off a far mountain. We could see way, way, down to Zermatt and way way down to the Edelweiss hut we thought was so high. We could see the whole Monta Rose alpine mountains range and over to the Gornergrat where we will travel tomorrow. We could see so many cable-car ways and rail lines that took tourists up various slopes.
We had rounded a bend and were now hiking towards the Matterhorn, getting closer and closer. We passed many glaciers and didn’t stop to write down all the names. The plant life up here was very low to the ground of course, but I was more surprised to see a few patches of flowers here and there. When we got close enough, we could see the main glacier coming down the valley that leads to Zermatt from the Matterhorn and see how it stops into a river of meltwater. The Swiss had built an incredibly large hydro-power plant down here and we could see all the sections of lakes they sectioned off. Being engineers, this kind of thing excites us. =)
Eventually, we started heading down towards these lakes. We could see off to where our hike might continue to a hut much closer to the Matterhorn where a climber might stay before making the big climb, but we didn’t go that far. We started switch-backing down, down, down and stopping to take in the sights. There were actually two streams going down. One was directly from the Matterhorn glacier and flowing into the massive hydro-power plant. This water was all cloudy-light-blue and limestoney in color. There was another stream that didn’t go to the hydro-plant and came down from the glaciers on our right. This water was crystal clear as we could see it being held by a small dam and then flowing off into a raging waterfall that looked more like what you’d see if you pointed a hose of water off the top of a cliff.
By 4pm, we were mostly finished with our descent and we made it to the power generation stations after the hydro-plant. We still had quite a ways to go, yet, as we hiked back through the valley towards Zermatt. Now the sun was at our backs and the scenery in front of us was turning that lovely golden yellow as it does when the light is low in the sky. The weather has been completely gorgeous today. I don’t think we saw a single cloud and the only thing keeping us warm was the energy we spent hiking. When we stopped, I was almost ready to pull on a fleece.
As the light got lower, the marmots started coming out to play and we saw more than several. At this point, though, we were starting to get anxious to at least make it to a little town called Zmutt where we might find a snack. We didn’t make it to Zmutt until 6:15p and found the tiny, tiny village completely closed off with not a human in sight. The houses were all wooden and traditional-looking and the two restaurants were dark. I don’t know if anyone really lives here or if they just come here to farm during the summer. In any case, the place was locked down and looked more like a ghost town.
So, we kept hiking. We passed through the gates of a sheep farm and were very amused to see several black-faced sheep turn to stare at us. They didn’t run even though we were beside them on the trail, but they just stared at us looking incredibly confused. We stared back, and they stared on. Finally, we headed on, laughing at our staring contest.
Finally, finally, we made it back to our apartment at 7:30pm! Wow, today was totally a hike of epic proportions!!! 21.3km hiked, about 13.5 miles and much of that straight up or straight down. I think I would have just collapsed at the apartment and scrounged around for dinner if it weren’t for Mark. We managed to just drop off our stuff and head back out for a dinner not too far away at a place called Stockhorn. Here we both had a sirloin steak with potatoes and veggies and a salad. We were exhausted.
It surely was a memorable day and the hike turned out to be really cool. I don’t think I would have done this hike if I’d known all the climbing behind it, but I’m certainly glad we did it. The views were well worth it and we really do love these all-day hikes. Tonight we will sleep very well. =)