All the walks described here are very briefly outlined on the brochure map “Panorammakarte/Plan Panoramique/Panoramic Map” which is available in tourist information and accommodations for free in Zermatt. Also on the www.zermatt.ch website. Hiking routes are graded and times estimated. See also the Cicerone guide to “Walking in the Valais”.
Five Lakes Walk – 5 Seenweg
2 1/2 hours, mostly downhill. Start – 2 funicular lifts from Zermatt to Sunnegga then to Blauherd. Finish – Sunnegga, funicular transport back to Zermatt.
An underground funicular railway took us from Zermatt to Sunnegga and then a cable car to Blauherd at 2571m. Immediately we were on a high mountain shelf with sweeping views of the valley far below, alpine meadows and the higher snow capped peaks. The Matterhorn in the distance towered above everything.
Sidling the hillside led to the Stellisee, crystal clear water, the snowy dome of Monte Rosa as the backdrop. Wild flowers, herb fields, the Matterhorn ever present. Classic, iconic Switzerland. Cath walked ahead, like “Heidi”, in high spirits. Sunshine. Views from postcards in every direction. It was hard to take it all in as the path wound down gently and occasionally more steeply in switchbacks. The Grindjisee was partly surrounded by stands of fir trees like scenes from a fairy tale. Down lower we crossed a stream torrent. Crimson flowered low heath, more small fir trees and boulders edged the Grunsee. Then it was steeply down a narrow trail beside another tumbling stream to the Moosjisee, a man made small lake of opaque aqua. Finally over a small rise to the Leisee. This lake, closest to the cableway, had a beach, seats for relaxing and was the swimming spot for hot days.
On a varied, gentle, spectacular 2 1/2 hour walk mostly downhill we had become fully immersed in the Swiss Alps.
This is a serious full day hike involving the use of crampons and ice axe to ascend the top snowy valley and final peak but without the danger of crevasses. 1800m of ascent and descent. “Superlative…for many years it was seen as one of the two classic training climbs of the region….” Kev Reynolds, Cicerone Guide to Walking in the Valais.
The trail to Trift departed from the village centre of Zermatt. Between hotels then old wooden cottages and into the forest the steep path zig zagged upwards. 300m higher the Edelweiss Alterhaupt perched on a promontory overlooking the whole valley and offered drinks and food. Onwards and upwards, hard snow covered the cascading stream in places. A deep gouge made a furrow through a section of ice to the next section of trail which switch-backed through steep rock where thick ropes had been attached as handrails. The grassy slopes were laden with a hundred different types of windflowers – yellow, white, pink, purple, blue, red. At the edge of perception I could almost hear tinkling cowbells and yodelling. Another 400m up I reached Hotel du Trift set wonderously at the base of a huge cirque – the Zinalrothorn, Mettelhorn and Unter Gabelhorn towering above. The hotelier, breakfasting with guests at a table in the morning sun, offered advice on the weather.
The trail branched off into steep herb fields flanked by another tumbling stream. As the altitude increased the Matterhorn became visible above a ridge line. Over a rise I reached snow patches in a hanging valley where I threaded my way up on exposed grassy and rocky areas until there was only snow. It was soft enough underfoot to be secure without crampons and it steepened towards a high col. Here the view into the next valley opened out – a snow slope dropped down into a bowl where an exquisite small blue watered lake lay enclosed by ice, and below this the valley wall plunged way down to then rise up opposite to snow and ice covered peaks along the range to the north to the perfect, jagged summit pyramid of the Weisshorn. Cloud moved slowly through the landscape, alternately obscuring then revealing the surrounding mountains. Fairly confident I could retrace my steps if the mist came in and stayed, I put on crampons and swapped walking poles for my ice axe. The snow was still soft on the surface.
Occasional glimpses of the summit of the Mettelhorn beckoned me across the snow (neve) below the Platthorn and then further to a steeper snow slope that led up to the final rocky section. Feeling the altitude I moved in sections, each interspersed with short rests, zig zagging upwards. The snow slope was edged by a massive drop into the valley.
At the top I rested, lunched, photoed. Took it all in. Hung my legs over the void. Watched the mists and cloud swirl and drift. Figured the mountains in the 360 degree panorama, made some plans for climbing futures. Felt glad to be alive, overwhelmed really, thankful to be healthy, on top of the world.
Then down. Concentrated. Took great care. Each step placed carefully, to catch a crampon spike or trip would have led to a slide, and hopefully a self arrest with the axe but much better not tempt fate with a fall. Cramponed feet kept apart. Down past the col as the incline lessened I could relax and slide a little with each lengthened stride and make good pace. Back at Trift I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate. Just out of the oven an apfelkucken appeared as if by magic, with cream. Nearby a Swiss flag fluttered above a garden of flowers and in front of a gushing waterfall in the middle distance, while above glaciers caught the afternoon light. Down through the fields of flowers. Everywhere tumbling water sounded through the stillness in tune with my own sense of gratitude and vitality.
Matterhorn Glacier Trail
A half day hike traversing the lower shoulder of the mountain. Gently undulating from Trocker Steg (2 cable car rides from Zermatt) then down to Schwarzsee (cable car descent back to Zermatt). Like being in the “throne room of the mountain gods” Galen Rowell.
The cable cars swept us straight out of the valley to the snowy shoulder at the true base of the mountains. We wove the path between stoney rises and glacial lakes. On one side was the icy ridge of the Furgsattel that led up to one side of the Matterhorn, Italy lay just beyond. In front the lower glaciers gave way to sheer rock walls that led up into the clouded summit of the famous mountain. My eye was continually drawn to the Hornli Ridge that faces directly towards Zermatt. This is the popular and historic climbing route that one day I might hope to climb unassisted by guides. We walked slowly from vantage points to lakes and then to stop to just drink in the scene. Stupendous. Monte Rosa, brilliant white, behind, the rounded dome of the Breithorn almost directly above, and the sharp peaks that lead to the Weisshorn. It is hard to imagine a more sublime mountain scene. The cliched shape of the mountain seemed to retain some of its mystery and power by being partially shrouded in mist for much of the time. Following the season of enormous snowfall and probably due to some extent by global warming the whole scene was alive with flowing meltwater. The Hornlihutte stood on a level section of the ridge above, enticing.
This must surely rank as one of the finest short walks in the world.
Via Ferratta/Klettersteig Zermatt
3 seperate but linked “iron ladder” via ferratta routes have recently been established on the crags above the village on the west side. The access trail leads up from behind the railway station or off the path to Trift, signposted. 15 minutes hike uphill from Zermatt to the start of Route A or B.
Route A – good intro to techniques and to a little exposure
Route B – intermediate to advanced, steep, exposed, some strenuousity
Route C – continues on from Route B to a high grassy slope
Linking all three routes takes about 3 hours plus another hour for the descent via a hiking trail (if you know what you are doing). An info brochure is available from either the Tourist Info office near the railway station or the Zermatters Alpine Centre. There is no cost for the activity if you have experience and equipment (helmet, harness, via feratta set – these can be hired in the village). Guides can be paid to take you through the course and provide instruction – see the Alpine Centre.
The real climbing started beneath the main cliff face with a steep ladder up blank rock. This was followed by a series of traverses on half logs, natural foot holds and iron bars and rings. These were linked by ladders in a mix of natural climbing and use of the ironwork, all protected by newly laid cable. At a particularly exciting part you are high on this cliff way above the village in quite hostile terrain below a large overhanging roof system with another overhang below. Spectators from the village can watch people climbing across the black, grey and yellow rock. At the top of this section you hike along a vegetated shelf to a larger cliff which is ascended on a series of ladders and natural foot and handholds. The cable is always at hand to affix the via Ferratta carabiner cords and also to use as an aid to climbing. As you ascend the views just keep getting better. After another linking short walk I met up with a pair of “amigos” from Barcelona. For the third and final large cliff of steep and spectacular climbing we photographed and videoed each other, chatted about climbing in Spain, Chamonix and Australia and had fun in each other’s company.
This is the easiest of the 4,000m peaks in The Alps (4164m). Half a day. Start from the top of the Matterhorn Glacier Express lift from Zermatt. Equipment required – ice axe, crampons and walking pole. People who are not comfortable with use of crampons and ice axe and not experienced with glacier travel should hire a guide from Zermatt.
My concern going solo was crossing the glacier which could contain hidden crevasses. Without a climbing partner on the other end of a rope there would be no chance of stopping a fall through the snow into the hidden chasms in the ice. After much research on the possible dangers and risks I decided to go up and have a look and assess conditions as I found them on the day. In beautiful weather I walked along the ski run following a pair of other climbers and not far behind a guided group. A route across the glacier was well compacted by the feet of many others. I could not see any sign of crevasses so followed this pathway over the snow. Other groups roped up and put crampons on and some just hiked across like me. On the other side where the slope from the summit dome of the mountain steepened I put crampons on and got out the ice axe. Most people were now roped together however some others walked up unroped and skiers ascended also unroped but with ski crampons on.
On the day it seemed safe to make the crossing. Also I presumed that the guides take on full responsibility for their clients by having them roped in. There was also the possibility that they try to maintain an atmosphere of peak adventure and an air of being necessary for the climb. Previous reading had indicated that they did get fed up rescuing people who were not properly skilled or equipped or prepared – fair enough. The angle and runout closer to the top was such that an uncontrolled slip from someone unroped or unable to self arrest with an ice axe would have resulted in an accelerating slide off the mountain.
The summit is truly spectacular. There is space to sit safely for lunch or stand and appreciate the magnificent view of peaks all around and the valleys plunging way below. There were certainly a number of other people to share the experience with but being climbers and skiers, all with an interest in the challenge and aesthetics it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The altitude affected people in different ways – there were some really struggling to keep up a slow pace and others who were probably better acclimatised. From the top the safest and easiest way to descend is to follow the same route down. Down the narrow furrow of footsteps in the snow back to the glacier.
An exciting alternative for the confident and sure footed is to continue along and then down then narrow snow ridge to the east. On the northern side of this ridge is an almost vertical drop of thousands of feet to the rocky talus below and on the southern side it is slightly less so. Passing the occasional person necessitated one person to leave the narrow foot pad and stamp out some foot placements in the snow on the steep slope just off the ridge crest. The feeling of moving through the mountains was intense – grand scenery, concentration, brilliant aesthetics, physical exertion and mastery. From a saddle further on it is possible to ascend to the next summit on the ridge which consists of a narrow cornice. To climb further and keep following the ridge would be fabulous real climbing over steep mixed rock and snow in a classic alpine position, probably requiring a buddy and a rope. Next time I’d have both and aim to do much more – the Matterhorn, Monta Rosa and maybe even the Weisshorn and Finsteraahorn. The list grows but also becomes clearer with each step into this landscape.
Back down to the saddle it is then a straightforward trek back down to the main trail. A single narrow but deep crevasse, easily crossed, kept me focused. The snow had softened by early afternoon making the walk back a little tiring, though it was all downhill or flat.
Gonnergrat to Riffelalp via the Mark Twain trail
The third in our series of “this must be one of the best short, easy hikes in the world”. 2 1/2 hours though more time is recommended to fully immerse in it. Start at Gornergrat, having most likely caught the train up from Zermatt to 3089m.
The main trail downhill leaves the stupendous view from the lookout platform. With the crowds of tourists seeking a pleasant walk through the iconic Swiss mountains you wander down a network of trails towards Riffelsee. The wonderful mountainscape of the Breithorn, Castor, Pollux, Liskamm and Monte Rosa rises up above the Gornergletscher glacier below. Huge hanging lumps of ice cling to the mountain tops ready to crash down. Rapidly melting rock strewn glaciers feed raging torrents. Silently standing aloof the Matterhorn beckons the walker onwards and steadily down. Wild flowers become more prolific as the altitude drops. A thousand photo opportunities present themselves with the mountain as the backdrop. Even I, who wholeheartedly loves the mountains and the natural world, was surprised at how much pleasure everyone was gaining from its presence. Beautiful alpine lakes bubble into an alpine stream past the rocky bulk of the Riffelhorn. Most of the tourists depart the outer trails here heading for the Rotenboden or Riffelberg stations.
The Riffelseeweg trail leads into the Mark Twain Weg which is an absolute cracker of a walk. At first the route winds down following the stream between rocky bluffs and flowered herb fields. Around every corner was a new scene just made for a toblerone advertisement. It was hard to move past the notion that we were walking in some fairy tale or through the “Sound of Music” or that we might have been “Heidi’s” grandparents in another time and place. This was actually real. Across the face of the hill the track is dug into the steep slope and this is where the flowers intensified into fields of yellow and white that covered the grasses which dropped away into the Gletschergarten gorge. Crimson alpine rose undergrowthed small fir trees on the steep rocky sections that led us down to Rifflealp.