Day 10 – Casual day hike in Zermatt

August 3, 2017

Trail: Edelweissweg

Miles: 13.3

Elevation: +3,965/ -3,924

Ok so it wasn’t so casual. 

We prefer trails to crowded streets, and rice cakes and cheese to fancy restaurants. So rather than spending the day ‘relaxing’ in Zermatt, we took to our happy place – the trail.

Our bodies were tired the night before. As we have done most of this trip, we slept soundly.  Following a nice breakfast of yogurt and fruit we wandered through the streets of Zermatt as the 8:30 church bells rang.

We chose a hike that would provide nice views of the Matterhorn without the crowds.

After meandering through Zermatt we hiked out of the valley up toward Trift. The trail switchbacked in the trees following a stream up towards its headwaters at a glacier.

One hour into our hike we came upon a hut with smells of carrot cake wafting out the kitchen windows. Each hut offers food and drink and it is hard to walk past them, but we had miles we wanted to cover.

From here it was another hours walk to Trift, a single hotel at the head of a valley. Switzerland is amazing in this way. You can hike and hike uphill to your heart’s content and find yourself at a remote hut in a meadow or perched on a cliff serving kuchen (cake), soup and more.

From Trift we had a ~500 foot climb up to the high point on the trail. Andy decided to push it and took off while Laurie kept her slow and steady pace. Once at the top we once again traversed the green hillsides.

We walked across the alpine tundra staring at the snow capped peaks and glaciers surrounding us. Unfortunately the Matterhorn summit remained hidden by clouds. Andy referred to it as the “shy mountain.”

The wind picked up as we searched for a protected spot to have lunch. It was only 11 am but after our big all-you-can-eat hut breakfasts, yogurt and fruit didn’t hold us for very long.

After a lunch consisting of hard boiled eggs, cheese with rice cakes, and bratwurst, we continued on, staying high, past more flowers and a flock of sheep.

Eventually we descended into a valley with a hydro-electric plant. It was amazing to see the amount glacier run off and wondered if this plant provided all of Zermatt’s electicity.

Our trail was rerouted around a rock slide so we joined the road and fellow hikers descending from the gondola stop to the town of Schwarzsee.

Neither of us particularly enjoy road walks. They allow us to cover more miles but are harsh on our feet, not to mention boring. We both wished we had turned around when at the high point to make this a more scenic tour (and eat carrot cake!). Oh well.

We descended back into Zermatt around 4 pm. Patrick had allowed us to leave food and a pack at his place, so we headed there to grab our things.

From there we walked to our hotel, where we showered after checking in and ate leftovers. Later in the evening we walked through town looking for chocolate to take home for family.

We ate dinner on our patio looking out at the still partially occluded Matterhorn. “Good thing we got to see it from Cabane Bella Tola because we might not see it in all its glory during our time here” said Andy.

We attempted to go out for a walk after dinner but Laurie quickly faded and fell asleep at 9pm. Andy watched some tv, stayed up way too late and slept around 11pm.

Tomorrow we leave Zermatt and Switzerland to start our journey home. We have loved our time in Switzerland, the cows, the alpine tundra and the mountains.

We will certainly be back again to hike more of this country’s majestic mountains, perhaps a 500 kilometer loop that includes the Tour de Mont Blanc, Haute Route and the Tour de Monte Rosa. But that’s for the future. 

Goodbye Switzerland. Thank you for the memories!

Tonight we are grateful for delicious Swiss cheese and chocolate.

Looking down onto Trift and the sole hut there

Lunch with a view

Sheep!!

Cute sheep!!

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Day 9 – End of the Haute Route

August 2, 2017

Europahütte to Zermatt

Miles: 12

Elevation: +2,256/ -4,383

Total miles: 92.9

Sharing a dorm with 4 other adults meant we pushed our comforters off of us within 10 minutes of laying down and slept only in our silk liners.

Even with the window open and us closest to it, Laurie was uncomfortably warm all night. On the plus side, the beds have been comfortable everywhere we’ve stayed, so we felt rested when we woke up at 6:30am.

We had hoped to leave at 7am but since that’s when breakfast was being served, we didn’t hit the trail until 8:15am.

Under worryingly dark clouds, we left our last hut of the trip and descended toward a new bridge that bypasses an entire valley.

A mere 5 days prior to our arrival, the 494 meter (1,620 foot) bridge opened, making it the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. It took us almost 7 minutes to cross it! 

Being Swiss construction, it is incredibly stable and if you aren’t afraid of heights, totally safe. We were both expecting it to wobble about but even at its midpoint it was quite sturdy.

This massivs bridge exists because the valley it crosses is notorious for rockfall that takes out the trail and previous bridges regularly. So the Swiss went big hoping it will be a permanent solution to an ongoing problem.

Our excitement for having crossed the new bridge wasn’t enough to offset the burn in our quads as the trail switchbacked up the forest and above treeline to meet up with the previous trail.

Along the way, Andy – as ever with his eyes wandering all over the place – spotted a chamois. These goat-like creatures have been the hardest to spot on our trek through the Alps. They move quickly and even though this was the closest we’ve seen one, it was still at a distance too great to see clearly.

Once above treeline we continued our traverse through more valleys with even more surprises. Neither of us had read much about what to expect today, so we were quite surprised to turn a corner and find a tunnel blasted through the mountain in yet another notorious rockfall area.

Once through, Laurie noticed a sign for hikers headed in the opposite direction warning them of falling rocks. “How come we didn’t have that warning sign?” Laurie asked.

“Because rocks only fall on hikers going that direction” remarked Andy jokingly. “Actually, there used to be one for us too but it looks like it was flattened by a rockfall long ago and never replaced. Why bother?”

There wasn’t a lot of evelation gain today but when we did climb they were short and steep. But as always, the climbs were worth it because we stayed above treeline for many miles and enjoyed tremendous views of mountains and glaciers.

Unfortunately the Matterhorn remained shy all day, with its top third hiding in clouds.

No matter though. The views were still enchanting. We turned another corner and guess what? Another rockfall prone area. This has been such a problem that the Swiss have built concrete canopies and blasted tunnels to protect hikers. In some sections the canopies were breaking apart, undoubtedly from the weight of boulders crashing down on top of them. The canopies were at least a half a mile long, if not longer.

We took a snack break under sunny skies, fantastic views of giant mountains and glaciers, contemplating whether to high tail it to town or take our time up high.

The clouds were building and our Airbnb host had to be at work at 2pm. We didn’t want to wait until 7pm (when he got off work) to check in so we needed to be in Zermatt before then. But we also didn’t want to rush off the mountain and into 4 walls.

So we decided to take our time with an eye on the clouds.

We casually descended into Zermatt, seeing more and more people with every foot of elevation we lost.

We’ve heard Zermatt is very expensive and quite touristy, so we wanted to stay in the mountains as much as possible. But we were also excited for fresh food and to walk through a town where cars are prohibited.

After a never ending downhill we made it into the outskirts of Zermatt. Posh hotels and fancy homes all built to face the Matterhorn lined the streets.

We made a plan to get our train tickets, meet our Airbnb host at his work to get keys, and shop for groceries so we can have tomorrow free for more adventure.

Once in the center of town we had wished we’d stayed in the mountains longer. It was hot, there were tourists everywhere, cigarette smoke invaded our lungs and small electric vans whizzed by us at alarmingly fast speeds.

And then there were the cyclists. Many locals use bicycles to get around, and when going downhill they ride way too quickly. No horns, no warning. Just a loud whoosh when they blast by.

We stayed focused amidst the chaos, with Andy bowing cold air onto Laurie in a failed attempt at keeping her cool.

We met Patrick at his work, picked up our keys and made a beeline for the supermarket.

With quinoa, black beans, lentils, veggies, bratwurst, fruit and ice cream in hand, we began our walk through town, in search of home for the night.

Not long into our urban adventure we decided to sit on a massive wave of a chair next to the river and devour our ice cream. The piercing sun was no match for the delicious vanilla ice cream.

But the cigarette smoke from others in the vacinity did annoy us quite a bit. We sat for about 10 minutes, taking turns feeding one another while we watched hikers, mountaineers and tourists with selfie sticks walk past.

Eventually we managed to roll off of the massive chair and continue walking. Andy carried the heavy grocery bag while Laurie guided us.

With inconsistent street signage and hidden house numbers, we had a tough time initially finding the Airbnb. We walked up the hill only to turn around and walk back down again. Eventually we found it, glad to be there and away from the hustle and bustle of Zermatt.

We showered, cooked, ate and enjoyed views of the Matterhorn from the balcony. Around 730pm Patrick came home and we asked him about potential hikers for the next day.

With a plan in place we retired to our room and fell asleep around 930, sad that our hike is over, but proud of our accomplishments.

Tonight we are grateful for fresh vegetables and well stocked grocery stores.

THE bridge

Chamois in the woods. They’re very quiet.

Love the Swiss signs

Nearing the end of the trail

Laurie on a mini ropes course. It was hilarious!

The Matterhorn from our balcony. Not too shabby

Day 8 – Animals and exposure

Tuesday August 1, 2017

St Niklaus to Europahütte

Miles: 11.19

Elevation: +5,392 ft / 1,612 ft

Total miles: 80.9

We had a long day ahead of us and set our alarms for 6 am with the intention to be walking by 7:30. Turns out we both slept through our alarms. Laurie tapped Andy awake just after 7 am.

We packed quickly and went downstairs for the best breakfast of our trip thus far. Fresh artisan breads, flaky croissants, yogurt, muesli, ham and an assortment of cheeses (not to mention the packets of Nutella, butter, tasty jams and honey). We were in heaven but unfortunately couldn’t eat forever. But we did manage to put quite a dent in their profit margins.

By 8:15 we walked away from La Reservé. Equipped with 2 phones and a guide book we made our way from St Niklaus uphill to Gasenried. We walked between houses and past lush green gardens, trying to imagine what it would be like to live in this city.

There was no one else on the trail. Not surprising given most people take the bus to Gasenreid or the train to Zermatt.  We strolled by goats, sheep and a bunch of alpaca.

After a long slog on relentless uphill switchbacks and old dirt roads we made it to Gasenreid and the start of the Europaweg. In a span of half an hour we passed 12 people. Still, the trail didn’t feel busy, especially when our yard stick is the JMT (or John Muir Highway as it’s often referred to).

About 10 minutes later we caught up with Tom and his daughters (the family from Maine, minus their mom, who took the train to Randa due to knee pain). It is nice to see familiar faces on the trail and it made Laurie much more comfortable to know that we were now in the middle of the pack rather than the end.

The climb through the trees was unrelenting. Tom later mentioned that this part of the trail greatly resembles the parts of the Appalachian Trail he has hiked. This validated our lack of interest in hiking the AT.

As we climbed we were quiet, both of us deep in thought. Laurie’s thoughts were about life, her goals and the next adventure while Andy’s thoughts were about the upcoming trail. He wondered when the trail would become exposed and sketchy. Was this as scary as the book described or did he have enough mountain experience to be fine?

Once above treeline, our jaws dropped.

We stood on a grassy plateau looking out at snowy mountains and glaciers with a blue sky backdrop. Laurie felt like she could frolic here forever.

“This is my new happy place” proclaimed Laurie with a smile. We didn’t have to think twice. We dropped our packs and sat on a rock, taking in the sights while snacking.

Andy took off his shirt and literally wrung it out before setting it on 2 trekking poles to dry.

After 20 minutes and 10 pictures later we climbed again toward a statue of St Bernard who is the patron saint of the Alps. The statue of him commemorates the grand opening of the Europaweg in 1997.

On the climb after the statue Laurie noticed 2 brown and beige sheep up on the hillside. They looked like neapolitan ice cream minus the strawberry. How their coats have a vertical line of color separation remains a mystery. As well as how they remain so agile on steep hillsides.

We hiked on, and this is when the trail became even more exciting. We turned a corner and gulped. There was a massive rock field filled with boulders and loose scree. It looked like there was no safe way to get across.

For the first time this trip Laurie felt scared. “We can’t get across that!” she said to Andy. “Let’s see where the trail goes.” He replied

We kept walking, following the trail as it curved around the hillside and then up alongside the boulder field. Slowly we made our way across the boulders, following colored posts and red and white blazes painted on the rocks.

Unreasurringly some of the big boulders rocked as we stepped on them but there were no sounds of falling rocks. We moved swiftly and mindfully, calling out the loose rocks and guiding each other through some of the tricky sections.

The conscious walking continued for another hour as we skirted exposed ledges and walked across more boulder fields. There were ropes to hold onto in some places, most of these we didn’t use, but occasionally they provided an extra ounce of reassurance.

It was interesting to see where each of our comfort levels lay. Andy got nervous stepping down steep sections of fine rock and dirt. These sections did not have a safety rope and it was a long 4000 foot drop to the towns in the valley below.

His solution was to sit down and scoot on his bottom. Laurie was nervous when staring at the large rock fall that obstructed the trail, however once rock hopping she remained calm and enjoyed the adventure.

In addition to boulders and ropes we crossed exposed areas on wooden planks.

The going was slow but fun. It was nice to walk on terrain that required both mental and physical strength and endurance. Plus the sense of satisfaction in the form of views were quite rewarding.

Once through what we believed to be the sketchy section, we stopped for lunch. We sat on a rock only to notice an ibex chilling about 30 feet away. He stared at us as we watched him.

The family from Maine (Tom, Helen, Jane and Natalie) caught up with us just as we were packing up to start walking again. We congratulated each other on making it through the tough section and walked on together.

The sky quickly darkened and we could see storm clouds in the distance.

“The weather forecast said no rain!” Said Laurie disappointingly. We picked up our speed, hoping to make it to the hut before the drops began to fall.

No such luck.

Within 10 minutes we heard the family behind us yelling “stop, stop, no rain” to the clouds. Unfortunately our wishes, and theirs, were futile.

Big drops fell from the sky. We walked even faster, speed walking down switchbacks and across the trail.

We could hear thunder in the distance. We saw a sign that said 45 minutes to the hut. “I bet we can make it in 30” egged on Andy.

As we turned a corner we came to a river. It was nothing like what we experienced in the Sierra and this one had a bridge upstream (but that required another 100 feet of climbing and descending). With rain falling our feet were undeniably going to get wet anyway. So we forged it, walking through the shin deep water.

With wet feet we continued our fast pace, traversing the green hillside walking past flowers and staring down at the towns in the valley below.

With every turn of a corner there lay another surprise. This time there was a bridge over the stream. The rain was steadily falling at this point. The bridge had a sign indicating a 4 person max. We were cautious and determined it to be a 1 person max crossing. Laurie went first, swaying with each step. She knew Swiss designs are thoughtful and well calculated but it still made her a little uneasy.

As Andy stated across thunder clapped overhead. “Great”, he thought, “just the place to be during a storm – please no lightening!”

He made it safely across and we took cover under a cement structure housing the cables for the bridge. We waited about 10 minutes for the storm to pass.

With the sun now shining we set out for the final 20 minute walk to the Europahütte. We made it to hut under clear skies, catching glimpses of the new bridge that we would cross first thing tomorrow morning. Andy got more and more excited with each viewing.

We checked in and took our shoes out to the balcony to dry, grateful we were finally there and proud of ourselves for what we had accomplished. We sat in the sun, creating shade out of chair cushions and chatted with the family from Maine until we got too toasty.

We attempted to play twister with a little girl whose family worked or owned the hut. She enjoyed spinning the dial and laughing at us as we tried to contort our stiff bodies. The game was interrupted by an ibex who came within 10 feet of the hut deck to lick the salt off the rocks. The little girl came to find Laurie and tougher they played more twister after the novelty of the ibex faded.

Eventually it was time for an underwhelming dinner of ramen soup, iceberg lettuce salad soaking in ranch dressing, and mac and cheese with mystery meat and bratwurst.

We were both looking forward to getting to our airbnb in Zermatt where we could make a massive meal with fresh veggies.

During dinner we chatted with 3 people from Ireland who have hiked and climbed all over the world. These huts are nice because they offer communal dining which lends itself to trading adventure tales. Apparently Slovenia has wonderful hiking.

We played a few rounds of Connect 4 before our Irish table mates went to bed. Laurie enticed the family from Maine to play pictionary with her as Andy blogged. For better or worse the words were in German so they made up our own words and had plenty of laughs.

The thunder, lightening and rain continued through dinner but cleared around 8:30 pm.

In honor of Swiss National Day, the owner of the hut set off fireworks around 9:45. Typically we are in bed by now but tonight was special. And what a shown it was. We were glad we stayed up for it.

Tonight we are grateful for shade while climbing and the company of wild animals at lunch.

Our kind of paradise

We came through that?

Grateful for the ropes!

Picnic tables in scenic but random and remote places