September 24, 2007

Dispatch from Zermatt

I awoke feeling better, though still sick, and, for a while, I wondered if I'd have a voice. (Not that there's that much need for it on the trail.) I let everyone else get up early, so by the time I got going there were just a few people still at breakfast. It was good, with a choice of cereals, bread with ham and cheese and jam, and good instant coffee. (This hut keeper knew her stuff.)

It was again cold, but clear. (In fact, it never did get above freezing above 2000m that day, even though it was sunny. There was ice in the shaded puddles even at 3:00. But the sun was warm.) I was about the last one out of the cabin, so I only saw a few of the slower hikers during the day. I wasn't in a hurry to finish this, just yet.

The trail starts downhill for a good way. (That's the uphill approach! In knew there had to be one.) Then, of course, it climbs back up. It continues this for much of the first half, as it moves into and out of slide-prone areas. At one point, the trail uses a tunnel to get around one particularly big chunk of rock. As it curves, there is no light in the middle, but the keepers have wired it with lights and a switch.

Another interesting section crosses a big slide area with avalanche protection. For the trail, this means a long set of overhanging rockfall shelves, which you walk under. These are punctuated by culvert tunnels that bend into and then out of the debris slope, to another overhanging shelf. These allow stuff -- water for instance -- to flow down and around the shelves. There were also bridges and ropes on this segment, but the whole tenor of this day was mellower.

It could have been the views. Weisshorn, of course, now directly across the valley. As it fell behind, it revealed some of its neighbors: Schalihorn, Zinalrothorn, Trifthorn, Wellen Kuppe, and Ober Gabellhorn. And, of course, the Matterhorn, growing larger and more impressive with each rib of the route turned. And, its neighbor, the Breithorn, sitting, as does the Matterhorn, on the Italian border.

With each rib, the trail improved as the ridge mellowed. By the time I turned into the deep valley which contained the Täschalp, it was a nice, high-ridge traverse. By now, too, I was seeing dayhikers, more as the day progressed. It was easy greeting people in the French-speaking portion of the trip -- "bon jour" would always do. But I received a variety of greetings, some of which I couldn't really even get, to my standard "guten tag."

I stopped at the restaurant in the Täschalp for a hot chocolate and a chance to gaze at some new mountains, including Rimpfischhorn, and its big glacier.

Another couple of hours hiking around ridges, in a steady, slow descent brought me to the village of Findeln, which has a terrific view of the Matterhorn, and a steep -- and being actively maintained as I used it -- trail down to the valley bottom and Zermatt.

I walked through town, because, of course, I entered at the high end, to the train station and the Tourist Information. In the square, there, I met four of the Americans I'd spent the Europahütte night with. Later, I met the couple from Boston.

I went into the Tourist Information bureau to find our where my hotel was. This hadn't been a problem any place else, as the other places were small enough that you could see everything at a glance. When I asked where the Le Petit Hôtel was, the young woman behind the desk asked my name, and then told me that Le Petit had problems with its water and couldn't take me. Instead, they'd booked me into the Hotel Butterfly, a three-star, at the same rate. Not only did this amount to a free upgrade, but the hotel was right around the corner, as opposed to halfway back to the other end of town, through which I'd just walked; downhill, I might add.

I had just completed the Chamonix to Zermatt Walkers' High Route!

After setting my damp clothes out to dry, taking a shower, and stretching out on the bed for a while, luxuriating in the space -- and the end of the walking -- I set out to wander the town.

Zermatt is posh. It is bigger and busier -- more international -- than Chamonix, at least in this season. There are lots of Japanese in town, and a surprising number of Indian tourists.

Gradually, as my wanderings began to focus on the restaurants' posted menus, I realized I was hungry. By that time, the Whymper had filled up, so I tried the Burgener Hotel Restaurant, which was very nice and uncrowded. I had a very good green salad and a chicken dish similar to the one at the Hotel de La Sage, but better (roasted, with a peppery rub). It came with steamed vegetables and a saffron risotto.

Sept. 20 from Zermatt, Switzerland: map, 1606m; accum. 183 km, 10,844m gain, 10,807m loss (5269'; accum. 113.7 mi, 35,577', 35,456')

Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/17.

Link to photo album

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