September 24, 2007

Dispatch from Zermatt, Still

The hotel had a sumptuous breakfast buffet and very attentive and energetic staff. I had only to poke my head in the door for the very model of a German-style host to greet me, except that he smiled and seemed genuinely warm. He got me a table and before I could get organized, there was real, hot coffee placed in front of me.

Of course, it was a clear morning, so right after breakfast, I grabbed my camera and took the Gornergrat Bahn up to the 3200m ridge between Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn for the views.

This train is a cogwheel train or funicular that climbs the steep walls of the valley and up onto the ridge, adding views as it ascends each dozen meters, until it's climbed right up onto a giant viewing platform for over two dozen 4000m (13,123') peaks and more than a dozen glaciers. It rides on rails, but has a third rail in the middle which is basically a flattened out gear, a line of cogs, which a gear wheel of the train presumably contacts. The train can, therefore, climb pretty steeply -- and it does. Other than that difference, it's a regular commuter style train car and very quiet, as the motors are electric.

I'd been given a map with a bunch of walking tours for the hills above town and the guide lists several good ones, too. But, after fourteen straight days of walking, I was due for a rest day. So, I opted to get my views without breaking a sweat today. Don't feel at all guilty, either.

The views were worth every penny of the fare. It was truly amazing. For the first thirty minutes or so I just wandered in circles taking it in. The big peaks of the Berner Oberland to the north, Weisshorn (4506m) and Ober Gablehorn (4063m) and their neighbors to the left of the Mattertal, Dom (4545m) and her neighbors to the right. Then, turning to the west, the Matterhorn (4477m), tall, iconic, and dusted with the recent snow. To the south, Theodule Pass (3300m) and the Breithorn (4159m), and to its left, the Monte Rosa massif, at 4634m. Below them are a collection of glaciers that all spill their melt into the Mattertal. Once I oriented, I spent the next hour or more snapping panoramas, portraits, and vignettes. See the photo album for the results.

Upon descending back into the valley, I had a nice lunch and visited the Matterhorn Museum, which is a pretty nice little museum. It's built under a central square and has exhibits about the famous first ascent of its namesake mountain, but also about the climbers and guides, both foreign and local, who climbed the other local peaks and the routes they took and, in some cases, the deaths they met. It also had exhibits about how, before the advent of mountain tourism, the people lived in that tough and steep land. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Soon, it was time to meet a couple of fellows who'd been recommended to me through family collections and who were arriving on the train this afternoon. I had heard about Paul, because he's a long-time friend of my wife's family, and he was traveling with another member of that extended family, Steve.

After collecting them at the station and getting their bags to their hotel, we found ourselves a place to get a beer and got to know each other. That soon turned into dinner (I had a nice venison dish) and before long, the evening was late. It was a great meeting.

I had to leave a little earlier than I might have otherwise, because I had to pack and, I thought, make a 6:08 train the next morning. Just to make sure, I used the hotel's free wireless to check the Swiss Rail site for the schedule. Sure enough, there was a 7:30 train that would get me my connection down the line in time, without getting up and out before breakfast. Still, I'd looked at that timetable at home several times, and I never saw that. It always looked like the 7:30 and 8:30 trains arrived at the same time -- too late for me. Now, it was different, so I went downstairs and checked with the front desk.

It was true! The 7:30 would work. Since the train station is about two blocks from the hotel, that meant I could get breakfast. Always important.

Sept. 21 from Zermatt, Switzerland: map, 1606m (5269').

Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/18.

Link to photo album

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