Friday, 11 July 2014

Switzerland: Gornegrat to Zermatt

A brief glimpse of the Matterhorn
A brief glimpse of the Matterhorn
Ready to write the day off in town on Monday morning, I awoke to see the Matterhorn had made a brief appearance. The sight of this iconic mountain perked me up, and blue sky had me making my way down to Tasch to take a taxi up to Taschalp for my first planned walk.

Thankfully, I popped into the information centre in Tasch to order my taxi, and the assistant asked me which route I was doing. "I'll be walking back to Sunegga along the Europweg" I said, but she quickly informed me that the route was closed all year because of rockfalls and avalanches. The morning was disappearing and I had to come up with an alternative!

A quick coffee at the station, I returned to Zermatt and with the weather still in my favour, jumped on the train up to Gornegrat.

Today, Gornegrat, at 3135m, was cold, and most of the 4000 metre peaks were shrouded in cloud.  A storm was forming behind the Matterhorn. Oh well, better start my walk; a descent to Zermatt.

Schwarzxegletscher, Breithorngleitcher, Triftjigletscher
Schwarzxegletscher, Breithorngleitcher, Triftjigletscher

Pretty soon, I was being buffeted by the wind and it even began to hail, but I was moving and keeping warm, so I wasn't too concerned. My route took me part way along by the railway track, before diverting off down to Riffelsee, a lake sat at the foot of a large lump of rock that is the Riffelhorn.

Riffelhorn
Riffelhorn
Visibility below the peaks was good, although walking in the presence of the mighty Matterhorn, an appearance would have been welcomed. Instead, I kept a wary eye on the activities in the valley to its right, where the odd glimpse of lightning and the ensuing rumble enamated.

The hail was short lived, and the sun even managed to warm my back, but this was occasional and very brief.

Looking back to Gornergrat
Gornergrat
Wildflowers
Wildflowers
Riffelsee sign
Riffelsee
Riffelsee
Riffelsee
It appeared I was following the Riffelseeweg, and I took a left turn down towards Gagenhaupt.

left turn to Riffelberg
Left turn to Riffelberg
Riffelberg area
Riffelberg area
Here, I noticed everyone else was carrying straight on to Riffelberg, instead of taking the longer route, and so for this section I was alone. This is a lovely diversion, following a mountain stream, but soon it veered right, and at a fork I took the right hand path towards Riffelberg. Over a brow, the station and impressive mountain hotel stood before me.

Path towards Gagenhaupt
Path towards Gagenhaupt
Path across Riffelberg
Path across Riffelberg
Riffelberg
Riffelberg
I moved quickly through Riffelberg, mindful of the storm approaching, and picked my way down an "airy" path that, for the initial section, hugged the preciptious drop to my left. Controlling my anxiety admirably, the path soon widened and the drops were more a gentle slope.

Airy descent to Riffelalp
Airy descent to Riffelalp
Wildflowers
Wildflower
Wildflower
Wildflower
Riffelalp left me with some choices. I had planned to take the pine forest route via Station Riffelalp, down to Findelbach and into Winkelmatten, but with rain soon to hit, I opted for a quicker descent via Blatten.

Riffelalp
Riffelalp
Ritty Zermatt
Ritty Zermatt
At first, the descent through the forest, via a small mountain restaurant called Ritty, was a delight. The scent of pine was heavy in the air, and it would have been nice to have lingered on this section. However, the claps of thunder were all around me, and when I had reached the road called Zermatt Strasse, the rain began to fall and lightning was strobing above. 

Ritty
Ritty
Reached Strasse Zermatt
Reached Strasse Zermatt
I stepped up my pace, descending under, to my concern, an electricity pylon, and then cable car, to a wooden bridge that crossed the Gornera. I had no time to take a photo and admire the gorge that this river had cut and raged through, the rain was now torrential. I hurriedly climbed a rocky path away from the gorge and was relieved to see a restaurant before me; I had reached Blatten.

I took a seat under the awning outside, ordered a coffee, and waited for the rain to ease. Now I was left with a simple walk back into Zermatt, largely following the Gornera into the town.

It had been an enjoyable walk, despite the lack of the Matterhorn as a back drop. I think I have been spoilt on my previous visits so it was inevitable I'd be unlucky at some point. The weather played its part in making this a different experience and not one, in hindsight, I would change.

And the route: