Monday July 31, 2017
Hotel Schwarzhorn to St Niklaus
Elevation: +3,714/ -3,221
Total miles: 69.71
We slept well with fresh mountain air flowing in through the open window. The sun lit up the mountain at the head of the valley as we ate breakfast.
We set out a little after 8, heading straight up. The sign indicated that it would take 3 hours to get to Augstbordpass, our final pass of the Haute Route; we hoped to make it in less time.
The climb was gentle compared to those of the past week. We wound in and out of forests and meadows, walking on soft dirt and breathing in the crisp morning air. It was quite the pleasant climb.
As we climbed above tree line, the sky darkened considerably. Gray clouds surrounded us on all sides but nothing looked too threatening. We kept hiking, hoping it would pass.
Instead it started to rain. We pushed on for another 5 minutes but the rain didn’t let up, so we stopped to put on our rain pants, jackets and pack covers.
We slowed our pace so as not to create a sweat box inside our rain coats. The wind ripped by and clouds poured over the mountaintops.
The rain continued for 45 minutes. Suddenly we were walking in a cloud and couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of us. Even in foul weather Andy can’t help but look in all directions while hiking. When looking back he noticed clear skies. “It’s gonna pass in a few minutes” he yelled to Laurie.
Just as he predicted, 5 mintes later the rain stopped, but the weather didn’t improve. Fog rolled down the mountain from the pass and the wind picked up. The sun pierced through the fog, making everything very bright. We still had horrible visibility and now had to squint to look ahead.
We climbed slower.
Almost as fast as the fog rolled in, the wind blew it away. We could now see the final pass – Augstbordpass. Before reaching the last few switchbacks we had a rock scramble to contend with. The rocks were slick, so we took our time and focused on our footing.
Once clear of the rocks and back on trail, we made quick time to the pass. In less than 10 minutes we were treated to beautiful views of new mountains and glaciers. We dropped our packs and Laurie scrambled up the rocks towards Schwarzhorn peak. There was no trail or obvious route so she turned back after 10 minutes.
It was around 11 am when we began our descent to St Niklaus. We wound down through rock fields, lush meadows and soft dirt trail. The walking was easy and we were happy to be enjoying the sun rather than rain.
St Niklaus is a major division point for Haute Route hikers – some take the train to Zermatt, others (like us) hike the Europaweg which is a 2 day hike into Zermatt, while others hike along the valley floor to Zermatt.
It took longer than we expected to descend into Jungun. The trail traversed the hillside through boulders covered in lichen. After many long switchbacks we reached the town of Jungun around 1:30pm. From here there was an option to take a gondola or hike another 90 minutes down to the valley. We opted for the gondola. One of the best things about hiking in Switzerland, besides the exquisite views, is the option to save our knees by taking mechanized forms of transportation downhill.
Shortly after we arrived at the small unoccupies gondola station, the small gondola left with nobody in it. We were told by other hikers that it wouldn’t leave until 2pm so we patiently waited on a bench. At 1:45 another gondola arrived with 4 people in it.
The woman who disembarked spoke English and informed us that we could get in. Then a man started speaking to us in German. Laurie looked up and saw a camera. Apparently we could have gotten in the first cable car. Oops! Lesson re-learned! We should always investigate for ourselves instead of assuming others know better.
It was a fun 10 minute ride down to St Niklaus. We shared the 4 person gondola with an Israeli couple. We packed into the little cable car, placed our backpacks on luggage racks on either side of the car ansb drifted down into the valley. At times we were at least 300 feet above the ground.
Once in St Niklaus we wandered around the streets, unsure if we wanted to eat or find our hotel. This happened in town on the PCT and it’s happening again here. We have a clear purpose on the trail, but once in town we get overwhelmed and it takes longer to figure out what we want.
Eventually we decided to look at a town map to identify the location of our hotel. Once equipped with a direction to walk we found a grocery store. We bought food for a late lunch and an extra large chocolate bar.
We attempted to buy bratwurst and Andy looked up the translation to ask if they were cooked. The register clerk laughed and said “nein” while shaking her finger. Darn!
We bought a tub of ice cream and sat on the cobblestone steps next to the store, eating more than half of it. It feels so good to gorge on creamy cold deliciousness after a hard, hot hike.
Once full we walked another 10 minutes to our hotel. We showered and lounged all afternoon. It feels so luxurious to be done hiking by 3 pm.
Our appetites are finally catching up with us and today we were hungry! Even though we had a big lunch we were hungry by 6pm. Considering we had a pizzeria in our hotel, and since we were too lazy to walk back to the center of town, we went downstairs to gorge on pizza.
With full stomachs we headed to the conference room to charge our phones with the only outlets that our international adapter would work with. It was almost 1030pm when we finally went to our room and to bed.
Tonight we are grateful for short lived rain storms and gondolas in tiny mountain towns.