Zermatt Day 2

So waking on day two (of two) in Zermatt itself, at about 1,750m, in a hotel, and not in a mountain hut some 1,000m higher up has its advantages. One, you get a nice shower; two, you get a nice comfy bed; three, you don’t get woken up about twenty times in the night by other climbers in your dormitory shuffling and snoring; and four, you get, if you are really really lucky, a view like this from your own balcony:

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn't want to leave the hotel!

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn’t want to leave the hotel!

So today we had planned a much easier trek than the one the day before, which had seen us do about 22km in total, including a climb to about 3,260m on the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. Today we’d take in a couple of the tourist paths on the other side of Zermatt, the Marmot Trail and the ‘5-Seenweg’, literally the ‘5 lakes trail’.

From the top end of the town (the south, geographically) we walked through town, grabbing breakfast on the way, to the north eastern side, and the rothorn funicular railway. This takes you up entirely inside the mountain in about three minutes to the Sunegga area at about 2,300m. This can be seen in the left middle of the map link below: http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

Blessed again by absolutely cloudless skies like the day before, and even warmer conditions, we set off firstly up the Marmot Trail, (we didn’t see any today unfortunately, but we had the day before) which is numbered 8 on the map.


The Marmot Trail – a different and lovely side of Zermatt.

Then from the Blauherd cable car station at 2,571m we began on the 5-seenweg trail. The first lake, the Stellisee, is absolutely stunning, as you can see from the picture below: We stayed there for a while just to take it all in, as did many other people, it seems to be a bit of a tourist trap, and quite frankly why shoudn’t it be? It’s a natural lake, and just beautiful.

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

Upon leaving the Stellisee towards the next lake, the Grindjisee, the path takes a pretty sharp descent. At this point Verena decided that her knee, which had been giving her problems on the latter half of yesterday’s walk, was too painful to continue with the rest of the walk. She therefore suggested that I carry on with the rest of the lakes, and she made her way back to the Sunnega cable car, only about 20 minutes away. After checking she was ok and could make it on her own, I took her up on her offer, and carried on.

The Grindjisee is at about 2,350m, and is a small and very tranquil place. You’d probably never come across it if you weren’t looking for it in fact. It was in a really pretty area though, and of course you could see a reflection of the Matterhorn in the surface of the lake, what more do you need!

The Grinjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

The Grindjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

From the Grindjisee the walk is mostly flat for about three miles until you get to the Grünsee, which doesn’t have reflections of the Matterhorn, but you can still see it :).


The Grünsee - three down, tow to go!

The Grünsee – three down, two to go!

There was then a pretty steep and narrow trail through the woods towards the Moosjisee, a seemingly man made affair, but stunningly green in colour:


The Moosjisee – and there’s that mountain again!

The Moosjisee is the lowest of the five lakes, and from there after another brief descent with stunning views back towards Zermatt itself, there is a bit of a climb back up to the Leisee, which I unfortunately didn’t photograph.


The walk towards the Leisee, with some very pretty hillside hamlets en route.

Having got back to the Sunegga cablecar station, Verena was thankfully there waiting for me and her knee was fine. There would be no more walking for her though, and so we decided to have lunch at the very lovely mountain restaurant by the Sunegga, it would have been rude not to really! So a beer, a rösti, and some very pleasant views were the order of the day:


Now that’s the way to end a walk!

The 5-Seenweg walk is about two and a half to three hours overall, and well worth it if you are visiting in summer.

After lunch we took the funicular railway back down to Zermatt before a bit of shopping before heading back to Bern, where I would be lucky enough to get to watch Stage 16 of the Tour de France the next day. We’d had a great weekend, and literally didn’t see a cloud in 48 hours.

I’ll leave off with a view more photographs of Zermatt itself. A great little car free town, with lovely shops, and just an idyllic place to be summer or winter. It’s my fifth time here all in all, and it won’t be the last.







So it’s obviously been way way too long since I last put up a blog post. That’s because about 11 months ago I took the decision to stop my apparently futile attempts at high altitude success. I had three or four goes at getting above 6,000m, and they all seemed to end in one thing – me heading downwards feeling like shit. So in the meantime I’ve done some nice sensible things, like change job, move house, and do some cycling.

Lots of cycling in fact, culminating in a fabulous 160-odd mile ride doing the coast to coast in a day. Details of that here of that ride, less the last 6 or so miles as my Garmin battery decided it didn’t want to go for over 12 hours! See Strava section here: https://www.strava.com/activities/623638383


The Coast to Coast was at the end of June, and it was great, but (as is the way with me :)) I finished it and needed a new thing to aim for. And so after a bit of an impromptu flight purchasing, I was off to Switzerland at the end of July for a bit of ‘hill practice’ as they say!

I originally intended to head to Grindelwald, and trek around the North Face of the Eiger, something that has been ‘on the list’ for a little while. But after contacting my friend Verena, who lives in nearby Bern, she suggested that the Eiger and surrounds would be stupidly busy that weekend. She suggested Zermatt instead, as she hadn’t been there before, and would come along too!

And so off to Zermatt it was, for what proved to be an amazingly beautiful weekend in what is such a fabulous part of the world. For those who don’t know me, I have a bit (ok a lot!) of a fixation with The Matterhorn – I just find it a staggeringly beautiful and transfixing mountain. Spellbinding in fact. I also put my only ever Youtube video online with the mountain in it – I could still watch it every day! Skiing down towards Zermatt in 2013:

After a flight to Zurich and a train ride to Bern to meet Verena, we departed at the crack of dawn on the Saturday morning for the drive to Zermatt, about two and a half hours away. After a great drive which went under part of the Alps near to the Eiger in a car train, we arrived in the car free resort of Zermatt and headed up the mountain via cablecar to the Trockener Steg area of the resort. Cable cars aren’t cheap in Zermatt (nothing is cheap in Zermatt in fact!) at about £40 per single ride, but at least it got us up to 2,900m very quickly.

The great thing about the Zermatt area is that from practically anywhere you are, you can see The Matterhorn! It just dominates the place like the outrageous behemoth that it is, towering to 4,478m (14,700 feet), looking all Toblerone-shaped (the Toblerone logo is modelled on it for those who don’t know) and pointy, and just incredible.

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

We had chosen a trail which took us from Trockener Steg down to the Schwarzsee, and then around the west face of the Matterhorn and up to a mountain hut called the Schonbielhutte. I managed to persuade Verena though that en route we should try a tricky path up to the Hornlihutte, which is perched somewhat precariously on the North east ridge of the mountain at 3,260m. Thankfully she didn’t take too much convincing, and after trekking down to about 2,400m initially on what was a fairly uneventful route, we began the very eventful path up.

Approaching the Matterhorn - the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow at about 3pm on the picture.

Approaching the Matterhorn – the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow middle right of the picture.

It was slow going, as a.) we were up at 3,000m and unacclimatised, and also b.) the path has several places where in simple terms a missed footing could be your last ever step on earth. To add to the perils of point b.) the path was still snowy and icy in places, and without crampons (which I have to say weren’t required at this time of year, but a month earlier and you wouldn’t venture up any of this without them) it added to the general feeling of precariousness. Thankfully at the most tricky parts there was a metal rope in place to cling onto, which I gladly took advantage of.

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply....

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply….

...and there are parts where you have something to hold on to....

…and there are parts where you have something to hold on to….

...and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

…and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

It was a really great climb, requiring the use of hands as well in places to add to the mind’s focus. We reached the hut at about 1.45pm, and sat at the terrace for lunch (it would have been rude not to really) and it became apparent as soon as we stopped moving that the temperature when stopped was considerably colder than it had felt whilst climbing up, so jackets and hoods were quickly donned. The views were majestic – including the view directly upwards of the top of the mountain, which whilst still over 1,100 vertical metres above us, seemed much closer. I vowed looking upwards at the near vertical face to never, ever feel brave or stupid enough to try to climb it :).

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

Just to prove I made it there!

Just to prove I made it there!

The area around Zermatt is also home to around 25 4,000m+ mountains, including the Dufourspitze and the Dom, at 4,630m and 4,550m respectively the second and third highest mountains in the Alps, and the highest points in Switzerland.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

From the Hornlihutte we took trail 27 and then a black-marked steep track down the mountain (see attached map) to Stafel, where we intended to begin the trek back up to Schonbielhutte.  http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

However on getting down near to Stafel at about 4.30pm, Verena was struggling with a twisted and sore knee, and so the climb up to the hut at about 2,700m and about three miles distant all of a sudden looked a bit of a long way. This was more relevant given the fact that the hut needed us there by 6.30pm latest (the cut off point for evening meals) and also there was no alternative should we not make it as the hut is at the end of a long and isolated valley.

Near Stafel - the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

Near Stafel – the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

We thus phoned the hut and said we would not be able to make it, and then tried to find alternatives continuing steadily down the mountain towards Furi. Cutting a very long story short (about which I could write not just another blog post, but actually a fairly lengthy novel) we ended up all the way back in Zermatt itself at about 8pm. This at least left us best-placed for the next day, when we intended to head up to the other side of the resort, the Rothorn area.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it's western face.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it’s western face.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

Our route is in the attached Strava link – it was a fabulous walk of around 22km, showcasing some fabulous views of much of the Matterhorn area, and a lot of ascent and descent  https://www.strava.com/activities/643124049

After a very long day, sleep would come very easily, and at the thought of seeing the ‘5 Lakes Trail’ the next morning, where each lake held a different reflection of the Matterhorn, I was very very much looking forward to day 2!


Alpine Introductions Course, Arolla Switzerland. Final Day, 1st July 2011

Sleeping in mountain huts is never easy. You hear every snore, moan, toss and turn of each person in there with you. Every sound is amplified too, as you are so far up in the mountains for there to be not even the slightest hint of any noise outside, and also you are cooked up together – in this case we are 9 people in a 8 x 10 foot bedroom.

And so here we are, the four of us who barely know each other, sleeping with another five people whom we have never met. Everyone snores. I snore too I am told :), but when you are listening to other people snore, that thought doesn’t help you at all. And so begins my final day up in the mountains!

I am also nervous. Looking out last evening at what faced us is a scary proposition. It is literally a case of fall and you will die. There is a 1,000m drop to the valley floor, and we must traverse across the top of it on ice. Being roped in helps hugely of course, but you don’t want to take three other people with you either. Worse still than being in fear of your own destiny is thinking that it may not even be in your own hands. If one of the others falls then that could take me down too. We have all heard the news this week on the Pic de Neige Cordier just over the border in France, where six climbers lost their lives in an apparent avalanche. They were all experienced, and just walking along roped up in two groups of three when tragedy struck.

So when I wake at 1am this morning, my heart is racing. I am at over 10,000 feet in the Alps, and this is the day I am looking forward to more than any other, and also the one I am dreading. I do not know if my increased heart rate (it feels about 120 to me) is due to the altitude or trepidation or both. I resolve try to get back to sleep, although I am not sure that I properly did.

And so 4am arrives. I feel shattered. Everyone in the dorm gets themselves ready and troops zombie-like to breakfast, which is the hut is 4.30am sharp. Just putting my contact lenses in at this time of day is hard enough, but with no mirror, and very dry air and eyes, I use up about three pairs before I am ready to see even slightly straight. By 5am everyone has crampons, helmets and full mountain gear on, and is roped up. It is -7 degrees C, and it is stunningly beautiful outside. It is only just light, the sun yet to climb over the 4,000m+ peaks that crowd the Italian border to our east.

I feel so tired that I am not ready to make a conscious decision that I want to do this or not, but decide that my desire to get to the top is the overarching thought. It is why I am here. The summit is everything, or thereabouts.

Here are the views at 5am as we step out of the door of the hut:

The view as day breaks from the hut looking back down the valley - the cloud level below us at about 2,500m.

After an initial traverse which is fairly scary, principally because there has been another serac fall in the night across our path, we set off for the ridge which will lead us up to the summit glacier.

The snow on the glacier is perfect for crampons. It is very cold and so the crampons bite perfectly, the snow and ice having frozen overnight. There are about four other groups going for the summit alongside us, and everyone is a fairly similar pace, crawling up the glacier like some bizarrely slow ant chain.

As the sun rises (or reaches us in any case) at about 6am we are making good progress, and for me I am just delighted that I am apparently not holding anyone up. The views meanwhile are utterly spectacular. Before long the Matterhorn, Breithorn, Monte Rosa, and Dent Blanche come into view, and we have a panorama of snowy 4,000m peaks, shining like lighthouses in a sea of tranquility, as the cloud level in the distance sits below each of them, and indeed of us. I think there are something like a hundred 4,000m peaks in the Alps, and it almost feels this morning like you could reach out and touch all of them.

The ascent begins and the sun finds its way onto us, as the mountains in the distance come into view

The trek up towards the summit of Pigne D'Arolla, looking back down as we take a breather.

I check my altimeter – we have reached 3,600m, only 200 or so vertical metres to go. I feel for the first time that I am going to make it, although our own summit is not yet in view. I am drinking copious amounts of fluid in the fiercely cold and dry air. I carried four litres with me, and ended up drinking it all. The amazing thing is the air. It is so crisp and clear. This is what it is all about. I am for one moment completely overwhelmed by it all, and feel a surge of emotion come over me. I now know that wild horses will not stop me getting to the top of this thing – I will be carried on adrenaline alone.

And then after another hour or so of very hard effort, there it is, the summit of the Pigne D’Arolla – I am almost there! The very top is all of a sudden incredibly windy, and really cold – it feels like 20 or more below. Reaching the summit at 3,800m I am utterly elated, I hug Andy and Kelly, and reach for my camera and take some shots of the view, which is out of this world:

Summit panorama shot, Pigne D'Arolla - 1st July 2011. Breathtaking.

In a moment of total emotion, I realise why I am here. The utter joy of a summit top is so many things, but it is the culmination and indeed conglomeration of so many emotions and tribulations which makes it such an event. The summit is always the climax, the achievement, a pinnacle in both physical and emotional senses. The Pigne D’Arolla does not disappoint at all. I have the (almost) same feeling of elation as I did when I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, but without the altitude difficulties, so it is just wonderful. I feel actually invincible, for just that brief moment in time. I lift my ice axe above my head and punch the air in delight.

The moment of unbridled happiness.

Andy, Kelly, myself and Tim - a moment to celebrate.

We did not linger on the summit much past taking a few photographs. It was too cold, and we need to get out of the wind. But what a fantastic (and that is an understatement) feeling it is.

We thus head down and make our way back down the glacier, and it is still just 7.45am.

At around 9am we pass the Vignettes hut again, and the view of it from the other direction is even more staggering. I wonder how these things are built in the first place, and am grateful that I had not realised just how precariously perched we were when I was lying in bed last night.

The Vignettes Hut, seemingly hanging from the side of the mountain (middle right of picture).

Another shot of the Vignettes Hut on our way down.

The rest of the descent down the mountain is fairly straightforward, if very tiring. Kelly in particular has ‘jelly legs’ but we are all feeling it. We ended up doing just under 800m of vertical ascent since this morning, all on crampons, and then 2km of vertical descent, about 1.2km on crampons.

The views of the summit on the way down make it look improbable that we were even there in the first place.

Looking back up to the Pigne D'Arolla from the glacier on the way down.

The views of Arolla coming down the mountain are quite beautiful – it really is a beautiful valley;

Arolla finally comes into view in the valley below.

We reach Arolla at 12.20, and stop for a well earned beer, and then have lunch in the only restaurant in town. Arolla has two shops, a post office, and three hotels. It is lovely though.

The garden of the Kurhaus Hotel in Arolla - the snowy summit of the Pigne D'Arolla in the distance.

After a much needed bath and a few hours shut-eye, we join Andy for our last dinner in Arolla, and we have Raclette, which is great. We are also joined the four other guys from the other Jagged Globe trip whom we shared the dorm with last night in the hut. They are staying at the Mont Collon for the night, and The Shining jokes come out once more. It is really strange if only because this is the first time in the week that there has been anyone in the hotel at all apart from us. It’s a shame for the hotel really, about which I should say more in a subsequent post, but it has all been fine, and better than that really, despite my initial reservations and recoil. The hospitality, food, and service have all been really excellent. The family who run the place simply could not do enough for you in any regard. I shall miss the place, I really will.

So tomorrow morning I will leave here by two bus, train, plane and finally car to get home. I will be sad to leave. The week has been everything I hoped it would be, and a whole lot more. To anyone considering going on this course I would just say “go” – you will learn so much; about the mountains, about alpinism, about technical glacier travel, and ultimately about yourself.

Alpine Introductions Course, Arolla – Day Four – 28/06/11

Perched up at more than 9,000 feet in the Swiss Alps, I was awoken in the Aiguilles Rouge Hut by our climbing instructor, Andy, around 4.45am. I slept badly, tossing and turning for most of the night, and so breakfast was not really going to go down well at that time. I knew I had to eat however, as we were about to burn a whole host of calories ascending the glacier.

Following a hearty Swiss breakfast of muesli and cheese and the like, we set off at around 5.35am. We would walk for about an hour up a steep and rocky ridge to around 3,100m before getting to ‘crampon point’, where we would no longer be able to travel up the glacier without ropes, ice-axes and crampons. The Pointe de Vouasson, its summit just under 3,500m, lay in wait for us.

5.30am - we set off up the rocky pass, the sun just appearing above us.....

As we set off the sun was yet to hit us, blocked out by all manner of peaks that slowly came in to view. The views were nothing short of superb. Before long we had a stunning view of the Matterhorn, all 4,478 majestic metres of her. Then other peaks such was the Dent Blanche (4,356m) came into view, and many other 4,000m + beauties, that Andy would stop and point out to us, but whose names for now I cannot recall, but will do so and fill in here at later date.

'Crampon Point', at about 7am - The Matterhorn in the far distance over my left shoulder.

By the time the crampons and axes came out the sun was on us already, at about 7am. The snow on the glacier was really hard work though – the weather being so warm meant that the snow on top was wet and soft, and sometimes you would sink down to your knees and find it hard to get out.

I struggled quite frankly, and found it exhausting. I am conceding 20 odd years in age to each of my fellow course members, and so I was undoubtedly the slowest of the group. With ‘normal’ trekking you can stop and take a rest, but when you are roped up on a glacier, you either have to keep going, or ask everyone to stop with you. I did so probably six times on the way to the summit, and it made me feel bad and frustrated, and sorry for them that they had to stop for me.

Stopping for a breather climbing up the glacier.

We reached the summit eventually just before 9am. The summit is a very small rocky outcrop at about 3,500m. It was my first Alpine summit. Andy shook out hands and congratulated us, which was really nice. The summit gave me a bit of vertigo as the drops were precipitous on all sides. But what views!

My altimeter worked! This is the summit, Mont Blanc in the far distance.

Andy told us that Point de Vouasson has one of the best views of all Alpine peaks, as much as anything because it is unobscured by other tall peaks around it. With clear and cloudless skies we had views all the way over the Bernese Oberland to The Eiger, stunning views of the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa to Italy, and then to our west, Western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, stood defiant, her saddled top betraying both the majesty and the difficulty of her steeply sensational beauty.

One of the best things of all about this peak was that we weere literally the only people on the mountain that day – we did not see another soul going up or coming down, and that is priceless. We could also only see mountains, and snow-capped ones at that, in every direction, as far as the eye could see.

I made it! My very first Alpine summit 🙂

Panorama shot with Tim at the summit - glorious views all around

View from the summit showing our 'virgin' tracks up the glacier - we were literally the only people on the whole mountain that day

We stayed for around 20 minutes at the summit, dealt with a small injury of mine where I had stabbed my left leg near to the knee with my right crampon, courtesy of some very soft snow on the way up, and began our descent. I led this time, much more comfortable in this direction, though it was still hard going due to the soft snow.

About half way down, we reached a precipice with a small lake around 200 feet below. As we approached, Andy told me to just carry on straight over the edge. I turned round, assuming he was joking (Andy likes his jokes, believe me!) and said that I didn’t think so. He said “no, go for it”, and I realised that he wasn’t joking at all. This was to be our crevasse rescue training! I therefore carried on until the edge gave way, and I plummeted about 15 feet down the face of the wall. I screamed I have to say – it is the most unnatural thing in the world to do, and if the rope had not held me I would be dead, simple as that. Here is a photo of me hanging there, clinging on grimly:

My view looking up - I thought I was going to hang there forever.....

.....whilst the others secured the rope from above in the snow before hauling me to safety.

The drop below me is about 100 feet to a frozen lake. I was literally clinging with all I had.

The rescue took about 20 minutes or so, and I have never been so relieved in my life to be off the rope and standing up again. We then took turns at practicing with each of us falling over the edge and pulling the other ones up, apart from Kelly who refused to go over the edge. I don’t blame her. In fact I ‘had the chance’ to have another go, and I politely refused – once was enough for me.

Following this we returned all the way to 2,850 metres and the sanctity of the hut. It was so nice to get the mountain boots and crampons off (we carried approach shoes with us and waked down in those). We lunched at the hut (if you ever go, take a wheelbarrow of cash with you – the service and food is great, but 8 quid for a bottle of water is a lot of money, although I do appreciate that they have to bring everything up in a helicopter).

We set off back down the mountain at around 1.30 – it seemed already a long day from 4.45am. The descent from there back to Arolla was around 2 hours – by the time we got back it was really hot. We were all very glad to get clean (my shower felt fantastic) and just to chill for the evening.

We start to reach civilsation (well some cows anyway) towards the valley back down to Arolla

View towards Mont Collon as we get closer to Arolla

Back to Arolla itself, which is very pretty - it even has two shops!

Tomorrow we will be climbing and abseiling in some tough place down the valley. This will be the day that I dread. Vertical rock faces upwards or downwards are almost too scary for me to think about. I’d rather be thrown into a crevasse…..