Matterhorn

The week after Swiss O Week we moved to the south west of Switzerland and stayed a t a town called Nandez. We chose it as a central location to some runs we wanted to do, including going to France to the Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley and to Zermatt to check out the trails there.

You have to get the train into Zermatt as in theory there are no combustion engines in the town. If you are driving, like we were you can park just down the valley in Täsch and get a short 15 minute train up to Zermatt. We decided that we would go running first and then have lunch and spend the afternoon looking around Zermatt. Celia and I would run separate routes on this run but we used a route planning site to create maps of our routes, which we each had copies of, as well as having contingency plans and rendezvous times in place. I had decided to head up toward the Matterhorn through Furi, and do a loop on the plateau, a kind of flatter elevated area below the Matterhorn before heading back down to Zermatt. Option B was to head up to the Hörnlihütte and then come back, doing the loop if time permitted.

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The route design and elevation profile from the free planning website.

We rented a locker at the train station, got our gear on and found our rendezvous spot before heading on our way. You can see the gear I carried below, the important things being: vest, bottles, food, hat, sunglasses, wool hoodie, rain jacket, phone, basic first aid and survival blanket.

I only had one of 3 bottles full before heading out so planned to fill them up at one of the many water fountains present in towns in Switzerland. I started off up the main st of Zermatt, dodging tourists before getting on the trails that led from Zermatt to the village of Furi. Interestingly the trails in this part had proper street signs, and there were houses with patches of farmland on the way between the two towns. It seems every bit of land is used in Switzerland, we would often see people cutting hay in small patches of field.

If you are feeling a little less energetic, or want to avoid a bit of climb there is a cable car from Zermatt to Furi, and from Furi you can get cable cars up to other parts of the mountains.

After going through Furi I knew that there was a long climb up to Shwarzsee at the top of the Matterhorn Express chairlift, and I still didn’t have water. I decided to start down a track toward the river in the valley below me. The track started off down the hillside and I could see that the bottom of the valley was a big gorge, it didn’t look like I’d be able to get down to the water in any reasonable time, so I turned back and decided to buy water from a restaurant. Having finally filled up I started climbing toward Hornli. The track was nice and wide, winding up through the tree until I climbed out of the tree line. I could now see Zermatt in the valley bellow, mountains off to the south east, and the cable car hanging above me. The gradient was good for power hiking such that I could get into a nice rhythm and keep my heart rate steady. About half way up I finally found a water source, although I wasn’t sure how drinkable it would be. I was confident there was no live stock at this altitude but decided just to fill a bottle and put it in the back of my pack as a reserve. Tip: always leave with full water bottles. Continuing up the toward Shwarzsee the path crossed underneath the chairlift and offered great views back down to Zermatt and across to Breithorn on the east side. At Shwarzsee you can get these weird hardcore push scooters. They had big fat tires and disc breaks. There is a path which I didn’t get a good look at but I assume is more groomed than most the paths, which you can ride down on the scoorters, all the way to Zermatt. Maybe this would be a good place to do hill repeats!

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Trail ‘style’ with Zermatt in the background
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Looking east across the valley

By the time I reached the top of the chairlift I had decided it would be more interesting to head up to the Hörnlihütte, rather than just run around on the plateau, even though it would be better running on the plateau. The path up to the Hörnlihütte first switchbacks up onto a ridge, and the follows the ridge along to the hut. At the start of the switch backs there are some iron walk ways bolted into the side of the rock which Mum wouldn’t have been fond of! At places this got a bit narrow and there was also quite a bit of traffic. I slowed down for my safety and that of those around me. The traffic consisted of touristy types who were just getting up to the hut like me, and climbers who were either getting used to the altitude or heading up to make their attempt on the Matterhorn. The last kilometre or so got a lot steeper and the trail was very rocky, with ropes in places. Along this part there were also trail works, complete with road works signs! It looked like they were putting in some sets of stairs which should make it easier for any readers who decide to visit in the future.

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Iron walkway
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Good motivation to keep pushing. You can’t quite make out the hut, but it is at the tip of the large ice patch that comes in from the left.
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Road works

There were a bunch of people at the top (for me) hanging out at the hut. Of course there were awesome views of the valley as well as up the Matterhorn which looms over the hut. There is a restaurant where you can get food if you feel like it, in my case I snacked on my make shift running food of dates and Haribo Coke bottles. I ended up going back exactly the same way in order to make my rendezvous time with Celia. It was a pretty fun descent, with the best parts between the hut and the top of the cable car. After the cable car the trail was more open allowing my to stretch out my legs and roll down the descent.

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Almost there!
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Made it!
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Where I had been. You can see Zermatt at the bottom of the valley. The grassy area at the bottom of the ridge is Shwarzsee and the trail from there to the Hornlihutte goes up the sharp ridge in the centre of the photo. Also we see a good representation of the type of people on this trail. On the left is a climber, the couple heading down look more touristy and the man they are about to pass looks more like a hiker.

After meeting Celia back in Zermatt we retrieved our gear from the railway station locker and got changed. We headed to the Snowboat Bar & Yachtclub for lunch. This turned out to be one of our best meals in Switzerland, but maybe that was just because we were starving at this point! I had an awesome burger and Celia had a delicious looking Tuna salad. Once we had filled our bellies we headed to the Matterhorn museum which documented the history of Zermatt and the first ascent of the Matterhorn at the end of the Golden age of alpinism. Tip: the museum is 50% off an hour before closing and only takes about an hour to see unless you really dig into everything. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the Zermatt streets and looking at the preserved old town which contains some huts dating back to the 16th century. Once we had seen as much as we could we caught the train back to Tasch to retrieve our car for the drive home.

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Zermatthof
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The Matterhorn from outside the museum. It got a bit cloudier later in the afternoon.

If you are in the area I definitely recommend checking out Zermatt and some of the surrounding trails. There are lots of trails available and good information on them so you should be able to design a loop to suit your needs.

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