Winter Walking in Zermatt, Switzerland

11 Feb

 It decorates everything from chocolates, to sugar sachets to beer bottles, but nothing prepares you for the real thing.

  
 

My first view of the Matterhorn was a pure ‘pinch me’ moment. Almost wherever you go in and around Zermatt the stark, thrusting shape of the Matterhorn defines the horizon. Whatever its mood; wreathed in cloud, white snow drift spinning off its black peak, or completely blanketed in snow, it draws the eye upwards. 

 

I’ve learned that some strange individuals climb the Matterhorn in winter as well as summer, but I seriously question their sanity. The Matterhorn has chewed up and spat out more than its fair share of souls. In my opinion it should be treated as indigenous Australians treat Uluru, that is, with respect from a reverential distance. 

July 14, 2015 marked 150 years since the first climbers stood on the Matterhorn’s 4,477 metre high peak. To mark the occasion the mountain was closed to climbers. As every climber and armchair adventurer knows, only three of that party of seven lived to tell their stories. And oh, how those stories varied. An excellent book published to commemorate the 150th anniversary recounts in three languages the detail of that first ascent, including transcripts of the inquiry into the fatal accident. I read it cover to cover.

We paid our respects to climbers and guides who’ve died on the Matterhorn (close to 600), many of whom are buried in Zermatt in the graveyards of the Catholic and English churches, as well as those who have a plaque dedicated to them in the cemetery and on the walls of the English church. Heartbreakingly young so many of them. 

 
Michel Cruz was the French guide who fell to his death on that first descent. 

    
 The English Church as it is called. The Matterhorn even adorns the altar cloth. 
 
We had to search for Lord Francis Douglas’s plaque on the road outside the Monte Rosa Hotel from whence the climbing party set off. 

 

Anyone with a few hours and internet access can verify the human toll the mountain has taken and continues to take annually. This is an honest, contemporary first person account.

Sadly Matterhorn ‘summit’ madness shows no sign of abating. If you do decide to climb the Matterhorn (or any ‘killer’ mountain for that matter) at least take Edward Whymper’s words to heart. He was the sole non-guide who got down from that first ascent alive. The deaths of his compatriots stalked him for the rest of his life.

‘Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.’ Scrambles amoungst the Alps, 1871.

  

So what do earthbound individuals do in Zermatt when snow sets in and you can’t see more than three metres in front of you on the ski slopes? Why leave your skis at home and go walking in the snow instead of course! 

Zermatt has hundreds of kilometres of winter walking trails accessible from downtown by foot, train, bubble, or cable car. 
Trails are fairly well marked with pink poles and can be negotiated comfortably in waterproof boots. We sampled three moderate level trails.

The first trail we took runs from downtown up to Furi cable car via the Taugwalder Family’s Blatten restaurant for a coffee stop then up to Nadine and Robi Perren’s Les Marmottes cosy restaurant for lunch. They serve the best vegan curry soup I have ever tasted. 

    
    
 

The second trail I hiked by myself runs from Riffelalp train stop down to Chami Hitte restaurant and on through a pine forest then down to Moos and along an agricultural track to Zermatt central. 

    
    
    
 

The third trail we walked started at Riffelburg train stop and ended at the excellent Fluhalp mountain hut at 2620 metres. It seems a particular haunt of the Scots as many of the loyal patrons with their name plaques on the walls hail from Scotland.

    
    
 

We are leaving Zermatt on a glorious blue sky day, and as with the Dolomites, the lure of walking the pistes we ski on is so strong we’re considering extending our trip to allow time to return to Zermatt in early summer to hike some of the higher trails. Care to join us? 

    

Views from the train.
    
 
We took the train to and from Geneva airport up to Zermatt. The return trip by day was a white wonderland. And this serendipitous shot of the mountains reflected in Visp station’s walls was too perfect.

Special mention for a few of our favourite vegan-friendly Zermatt eating establishments:
Sparky’s

Grizzly’s

Gee’s 

The Bubble

Schweizerhof (has live traditional music nightly) 

 Gee’s
   

Zermatt’s main street.
 Finally, the elegant piano bar at the historic Park Hotel Beau Site has great value drinks with free nibbles and easy on the ear live music from 6:30pm.  

 

Next stop Madrid and back to Amor de Dios to prepare for Jerez Festival de Flamenco XX!

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