Friday August 26: Zermatt Switzerland
Today turned out different than we expected. The plan was to take the train up to Gornergrat, which gives a really good view of the Matterhorn and the surrounding big mountains and glaciers.
We made a quick breakfast for ourselves--essentially yogurt, scrambled eggs, and toast. The electric stove seemed somewhat anemic. Amy started heating a pot of water for tea, but it was taking forever. I found a water heater in the cabinet, and that ended up boiling the water in about 30 seconds. It was actually amazingly fast.
Then we got the half-price card and a ticket to Gornergrat. The forecast called for dry weather with partial to mostly sunny.
There was quite a bit of cloud cover, but we hoped that it would burn off. There were so-so views of the Matterhorn as we went up in the train. However, the clouds got worse as we got higher, and by the time we got to the top, we could barely see the Matterhorn.
We went into this Zoom exhibit, because it was free and not so crowded. We first saw a pseudo-surround video, and then went to a virtual hang-glider trip over the Matterhorn. For this, one sat in a suspended chair with VR goggles on. There was a fairly large crowd that came in after us, and I found the VR flight less than enjoyable. It was triggering my fear of heights. Because of this, and to give people behind me less of a wait, I bailed early.
Outside, we went up to the viewing deck. At this point, the clouds were worse. We could barely see any of the Matterhorn. Even worse, we could hear rumbles in the distance fairly regularly, which we think was thunder. Sam climbed up to the top of a rock pile next to the viewing area, just to be a little higher.
There was a small loop trail around a rocky outcropping next to the viewing area. Sam and Amy loved it. I found that even though it was a wide path (4-5 feet), it dropped off quickly enough that it was triggering my fear of heights. I opted to not go around the loop.
There wasn't much more to see from there, given the clouds, so we took the train down to the next stop down: Rotenboden. The plan was to get off there and hike down to Riffelberg, where we would get lunch. This should take about 30-45 minutes, we thought.
We got off at Rotenboden. Just as we were about to set off downhill, we felt the first drops of water falling. It wasn't too bad, and Amy was optimistic and wanted to keep going, so we did. The main problem was that we didn't have our raingear. I had on my red fleece shell jacket and a baseball cap. Sam had on my down vest. Amy was just in a light short-sleeved shirt. Strangely, even though Amy had the least clothing on, she was the happiest and least concerned about the weather.
The further we went, the more committed we were. In theory, we could have turned around and ground our way uphill to the train stop where we left the train, but the further downhill we went, the less appealing going back up was.
The two big landmarks you come to early on the hike are the Riffelhorn, a much smaller "horn" that one could climb as practice for the Matterhorn (no thank you very much), and a small pond, the Riffelsee, where you can get a good reflection of the Matterhorn, presuming of course, that the pond wasn't covered with raindrops and the Matterhorn was actually visible.
Part of my concern was that I had no idea how much further it was, or whether the rain would get heavier. We went over a number of rises, and eventually we crested one and saw the buildings of Riffelberg. The "settlement" consisted essentially of the train station, a self-service buffet cafeteria, and a hotel/restaurant. Once I spied our destination, given that Sam was cold and damp, I went ahead with Sam to get out of the rain sooner. We stood at the entrance of the buffet and watched Amy make her way down. We were cold and unhappy enough that we opted for the real restaurant, even though it promised to be expensive.
The hotel/restaurant was pretty posh, although I imagine it would be a pain staying at the hotel, given how inaccessible it was. On the other hand, you could wake up to a great view of the Matterhorn.
Speaking of the Matterhorn, last night I thought it was quite close to the town. It is actually both further away and bigger than I thought. Also, the taxis here are said to be all electric (as are all vehicles here). They look rather strange. Some of the "roads" here are quire narrow. The taxis are somewhat narrow and somewhat tall. They literally look like narrow rectangles on wheels. It also appears that e-bikes are popular here. Particularly with the rate that I see some bikers blasting uphill, they must be riding e-bikes.
Amy got some sort of curry. Sam and I opted for some ravioli, which seemed fairly safe and only slightly too expensive. I also opted for a half bowl of Alpine Hay soup--both to help warm me up (although I was already warm by the time it came), and because I was curious as to what it was like. It turns out that I'm still not sure what was in it, although it was pretty good.
I was hoping to delay the end of lunch until it had stopped raining, and I even got an after-lunch coffee to drag things out a bit longer, but while it looked a little clearer, and the rain was a bit lighter, it was definitely still raining when we left the restaurant.
We walked uphill to the train station. Amy got to see the black-faced sheep that this area is known for. I did not envy the shepherd, herding a flock of wet sheep around in the rain; although he undoubtably was more dressed for it than we were.
We stayed under an overhang until we heard the train coming, then we ticketed our way through the gates and got on the train. I would have liked to have gotten off and wandered around the next stop down, Riffelalp, but not dressed as I was in a cool light rain. We just rode the train all the way to the bottom, and went back to our hotel (which is only about a minute or two from the train station. The tracks run right next to our place, but amazingly enough, there isn't a lot of train noise. Even the cog train is a lot quieter than, for example, the Mount Washington railroad).
Amy changed into some dry clothes, and started recharging her phone (which she uses as a camera, and whose battery she had killed on the mountain taking pictures).
I got some raingear and went over to the tourist information place. We had watched a travel program about Zermatt, and the host had talked about walking alpine pathways among quaint alpine buildings, and stopped at one or the other of them for a bite to eat. When I watched it, I thought that it would be obvious, but I can't find anything like that here. I asked the woman at the info place, and as I expected, my description was vague enough that she couldn't really help me. She gave me a map of the town and pointed out to me a hiking path along the east side of town.
Amy didn't want to do much more walking, (Actually, she had already really exceeded expectations in terms of how much she has been able to walk, particularly uphill and at altitude) so I decided to go out by myself and explore things.
Ironically, now that we were down and off the mountain, it stopped raining. I started off wearing my raincoat, but I quickly took that off as I was too hot. I ended up walking in just a tee-shirt. I was slightly cool, but not enough to put a long sleeved shirt on.
I passed by one place in town that had pumpkins and squashes all over the place. They were lined up along the sides of the driveway. They had a few "animals" covered in squashes. I have no idea what the story behind that was.
It was just as well that Amy didn't join me. As one might expect from being in a valley, the start was a steep climb, initially along streets, and then when I found what I thought was the start of the trail, the trail itself. It wasn't well marked, so I asked a woman who was also going the same way that I was whether this was that trail, but she didn't speak English, and I couldn't decipher what she said in reply.
It turns out that this was the right trail (the "AHV-Weg"), and after an initial climb and a short descent, it pretty much leveled out. I don't know how many trails back home have barricades that can be lowered across them saying "trail closed due to avalanche conditions".
Strangely enough, even though I was sort of in the middle of nowhere, I did find two or three fire hydrants along the side of the trail.
The trail eventually meets up with the railway line up to Gornergrat. There is the first station there, at Findelbach, where the train crosses a high bridge over a narrow but deep chasm. Of course, the best view of the bridge is not from inside the train. When I got to that area, I opted for the high road. The trail climbed steadily, and eventually at the end of one of the switch-backs, I got a partially obstructed view down to the bridge. I took some pictures and started briefly further up the trail, but I had no idea where the trail went (I was just off the edge of my map, which this time I was using), and it seemed to keep going up, so I turned around and went down. I then took the low path which was labeled "Zermatt". I found that a short side trail led to a quasi-overlook with a view of the bridge from below. To get a good view, I would have to cross the "private, no trespassing" fence, so I only got a so-so view from there. Just as I was about to head down, I heard the train going by, so I grabbed some more pictures of the bridge with the train going over it. I don't know how good they are--I suspect that the best pictures would be from a drone.
I continued down until I left the trail and joined up with a street. It was little more than a wide pathway, but that is how many streets in Zermatt are. I saw the name of a hotel that I was passing, looked it up on my map, and found that I was indeed where I thought I was.
This tee-ed into a larger street, the Staldenstrasse, which the info person had highlighted as a path for me. The issue, however, is that it went in a large loop. I opted to take a smaller, more direct route through the Bielaweg. It was not only more direct, but it went through some gray areas on the map, I was curious as to what those were.
This "way" was only slightly better than a hiking trail. In fact, I've seen some hiking trails in better condition that this "way". Eventually, the buildings got fewer and fewer, and the way got steeper and steeper. Apparently the gray areas on the map are those areas that are too steep to build on.
Then things started getting strange. I started passing little micro shrines on the side of the way, where each one was a Station of the Cross. I was going in the wrong order, however, starting from the last one and heading towards the first one. The trail dropped steeply through some switch-back stairs, and then after the first station I found a larger shrine. The trail continued to drop, and I passed some cables that looked like they belonged to a small cable car. At the bottom, I saw that it was, in fact, a private cable car that was reserved for guests at some hotel at the top.
I came out to a real street, the Schluhmattstrasse, and saw this structure sticking out of the hillside. It was the entrance to a large tunnel that went straight back as far as I could see. I think that this was for some other hotel--rather than have a cable car to get you up to the hotel, I'm guessing that you went deep into the hillside through this level tunnel, and then took an elevator up to the hotel. Very strange stuff.
I went along the street and then dropped down and went along the river. There was a small foot bridge crossing the river, and a large road bridge one story higher. The view of the Matterhorn was noticeably better than earlier, and the higher road bridge would give a better view, so I went back up to that level and crossed the bridge, after taking a number of pictures of a partial Matterhorn.
There was a large cemetery next to the road, so I took a bunch of pictures for Amy, and then continued towards the main commercial street of the town. Before I reached it, however, I recognized this figure in front of me. I randomly had stumbled into Amy!
She had visited a section of town with very old buildings, and visited some of the local graveyards. She showed me one that we were passing through that seemed to mostly contain people who had died climbing the Matterhorn.
We continued on our way, eventually going down that main commercial street. Amy got a dish of some mango sorbet that was very good. When we passed the grocery store, I went in and got some spaghetti, sauce, and more yogurt for breakfast.
We started cooking that up when we got home. We used the largest (electric) burner, but it seemed very anemic. I eventually used the water heater to speed things up, but it still took forever to come to a boil. When we added the spaghetti, I couldn't keep the water boiling. I think that this burner has an inner and outer heating element, and the outer one doesn't work. Eventually, I transferred the pan to a different burner that worked slightly better.
After dinner, I took a shower and Amy did the dishes. I was hungry for dessert, so I went back out to the center of town. The only thing that was open was bars and McDonald's, so I got a frappe from there.
I wrote this up, and now it is time for bed. Amy crashed a short while ago. I just need to brush my teeth and then join her.