This is the last blog for our trip to Switzerland. Zermatt and the Matterhorn were our final destinations. Click on the hyperlinked text to navigate to the other blogs.
Zermatt is surrounded by a range of fabulous mountains, among which is the highest in Switzerland, the Monte Rosa. It is famous because it lies beneath the incomparable and legendary Matterhorn. The entire town is a combustion-engine car-free zone. Almost all vehicles are battery driven and almost completely silent. There are only three main streets so nothing is further than a 30-minute walk and the Matterhorn (14,690 ft) dominates the sky no matter where you are in the village. Below, the Matterhorn and banner clouds at sunset are viewed from the village's main street.
For all of you weather fans, the picture above includes the Matterhorn banner clouds. The steep faces of the mountain and its isolated location make it prone to banner cloud formation. These clouds form by the air flowing around the mountain producing condensation of the air on the lee side and also creating vortices. The most famous banner clouds routinely form along the side of the Matterhorn sheltered from the wind.
Exploring and Hiking Around the Matterhorn
After a day of traveling by train, we began our trek to the Matterhorn early the next morning. The map below shows our gondola/cable car trip to Kleine Matterhorn in purple and our hiking trail from Trockener Steg down to to Zermatt in orange.
First there was a gondola ride from Zermatt to Furi then a cable car to Trockener Steg (9,642 feet).
A cable car brought us from Trockner to Kleine Mattorhorn.
Below is a view of Zermatt from the cable car as we climbed toward Kleine Matterhorn. The tall peak in the upper left corner is Weisshorn (14,783 ft).
Our destination, Kleine Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn), stands at 12,738 feet and towers over the mountain valley and surrounding peaks. It is the highest place in Europe that can be reached by any means of transport. A tunnel from the cable car leads outside to the Breithorn Plateau, on the Theodul Glacier on the south side of the peak.
At the summit we entered a different world! We were overlooking the year-round ski trails on the Breithorn Plateau.
When you're at an elevation over 12,000 ft, you look down on the clouds that surround the Matterhorn.
A few other interesting pictures taken from the summit.
This is a picture of the Monte Rosa massif. Similar mountain geology is described in the 5-day W trek in Torres del Paine. The main summit of the massif (center of the picture) is Dufourspitze; at an elevation of 15,203 feet it is the highest mountain in Switzerland.
In this picture, the Gorner Glacier nestled alongside the Monte Rosa massif. This glacier retreats about 98 feet each year.
The Breithorn peak at 13,361 feet is considered the easiest 4000 meter Alpine mountain to climb. Wish we had done that climb!
The Matterhorn peak through the clouds. What a feeling being here.
Matterhorn Hike (9.2 miles)
Disclaimer: It was impossible to stop taking pictures of the Matterhorn on this hike. Every few minutes brought a different angle, view, cloud formation, etc.
Actually, Dave thinks that it's impossible for me to stop taking pictures of any vistas, but he's gotten used to it.
For our Matterhorn hike we chose the following trails:
Matterhorn Glacier Trail: Trockener Steg to the Schwarzsee Station
Matterhorn Trail: Schwarzsee Station back to Zermatt
Before starting the hike we had to return to Trockener Steg. This was the view that greeted us at Trockener as we started the Matterhorn Glacier Trail; the Matterhorn reflected in the Theodul Glacier lake. We were so fortunate and couldn't have asked for better weather. The trail began by circling the glacial lakes and bringing us toward the base of the Matterhorn.
From our start at Trockner Steg, it was all '360 degree views'. In this region, the Matterhorn is just one of 29 peaks greater than 13,000 feet. We were lucky to have a clear view of some of these giants. In the picture below Ober Gabelhorn (13,330 ft) is visible in the far left; the sharp peak of Zinalrothorn (13,848 ft) is visible in the right center; and Weisshorn (14780 ft) is visible in the far right by the clouds.
Here's a short panoramic video of the summit view.
This hike offered amazing insights into the geology of glacial retreat. It's as if we were walking through a text book that described the impact of glaciers on land - what's left as the glacier eroded/shaped the land during the ice ages and then what was left behind as the glacier retreated.
We saw first-hand examples of seasonal glacial melting - the runoff forming streams, rivers and lakes and the power of flowing water transporting rock, sand, and silt away from the retreating glacier.
Glaciers carry all kinds of rock debris from boulders to fine sand and silt, which are 'dumped' when the glacier melts. This mix of materials is designated as a moraine, till or glacial drift. Whatever term used, it was like walking on a carpet of rocks.
Some rocks were bigger than others. So were these large rocks left by a melting glacier or were they the result of a rock slide after the glacier retreated?
Some of the moraines seemed to go on forever. Look at the angle and height of the debris deposited on the sides. Notice the size of the people in the center of the picture at the beginning of this climb.
As we neared the end of the Glacier Trail, our view of the Matterhorn was becoming more of a profile, but still such a stunning peak. The Matterhorn is actually claimed by three countries: the French call it Mont Cervin; the Italians call it Monte Cervino; but the world calls it the Matterhorn in Switzerland!
As we approached the end of the trail, the Schwarzsee Station came into view with a few buildings on the peak below us. The trail was no longer rock-strewn and was now covered with vegetation.
We found a great place for a lunch break with the Zinalrothorn summit reflected in the pond.
The Matterhorn Trail was more of a steady down hill trek through green fields. Our View of the Matterhorn was becoming smaller and smaller.
We only met a handful of people completing this trail.
As we descended further we walked through a small village.
Finally after over 9 miles of hiking the village was within sight.
A long day with a lot of elevation changes and hiking, but what an experience. It was time for a Swiss beer and good meal. Our stay in Zermatt was short but successful. No rest for the weary! After dinner it was back to the hotel to pack for our return flight back to Boston.