The top of Gornergrat is at 3135m (10285 ft) above sea level. This is the location which many tourists and locals travel to for a perfect view of the famous Matterhorn (Monte Cervino) with peaks at 4478m (14691 ft). This is also one of countless places in Switzerland which locals enjoy hiking and mountain biking on gorgeous summer days.
On this day in August, I considered the dreary weather report and hoped for the best. Left my friend’s home before 8am with my day pack and a sense of adventure. Inside the day pack was a lunch, snacks, water, prayer flags from Nepal, fleece, rain jacket, gloves, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, phone, money and my Swiss Flexi Pass. I just brought the basics but enough in case I decide to hike a bit.
The ride to the top was beautiful. I forgot what city life is like with pollution and traffic noise. Glimpses of hidden waterfalls. Watching the train bank a corner to reveal another valley, another village. Little wooden chalets in the distance. Cows eating grass, ringing the cow bell around their necks. I felt like a little city girl, giddy and jolly – fascinated with what nature has to offer. A couple of times, I wanted to turn to the person beside me and say “Did you SEE that!?!”
After my arrival in Zermatt at 1608m (5275 ft), I was quite impressed and disappointed at the same time. Impressed because the train station has 6 tracks and of very recent construction. Disappointed because it was packed with tourists and sprouting with construction of new chalets. The serenity I collected on the train ride dissipated. Though I was intrigued by the car-free space.
I found out I had to walk to a different train station to head to the summit. The Gornergrat bahn (train) stops at 3089m (10134 ft). The slow climb up to the top refreshed my fascination with nature with its beautiful landscape. The views at the top proof to be stunning and well worth the journey! It reminded me of my visit to the base camp of Mount Everest back in 2008, though I think I had better visibility then.
Throughout the day I played hide and seek with the Matterhorn. I think I got close to a full glimpse of its peak a couple of times but that was that – No clear view of the Matterhorn. However, I didn’t mind it all that much. I was happily entertained by so much more. The 360 degree view at the top was stunning. There is even a Solar Neutron telescope at the summit alongside a little church
As I was trying to find a suitable place for my prayer flags, I found a small trail below the peak of Gornergrat that followed the ridge line to the next peak. Originally I had meant to hang this prayer flag that’s been in my luggage for the last 2 months in Turkey but when I saw several chalets with prayer flags in Switzerland, I started carrying it around. I was worried if I tie the flags to something man-made, the Swiss authorities will remove it. So I tried my best to find a suitable locale. I saw this plaque and decided this would be the place.
Somewhere between this spot and walking back to the train station, I decided that I will definitely walk down to Zermatt. Luckily I did not buy a round trip train ticket from Zermatt, else I would be wasting a LOT of Swiss francs! One-way journey on the Gornergrat bahn is 42 CHF (as of August 2014).
If we just take a second and do some math… 3135m (Gornergrat) minus 1608m (Zermatt) equals 1527m (5010 ft). That’s how much decent I have to complete to return to the Zermatt train station. How many kilometers will I have to walk!?!???!
Then I saw this sign… it says it is standing at 3090m and it will take 3 hours and 15 minute to arrive at the Zermatt train station. Now you would think a person with structural engineering background would understand math!! Or the shear fact that she’s not a regular hiker, that that amount of decent might freak her out a little bit. I mean seriously, HAVE I LOST MY MIND!?! Where is my common sense???
HOW do I think that was actually possible?? I am a city girl through and through! So I tacked on another 2 hours into the math for my slowness, snack time and photo ops. That would mean I should arrive in Zermatt station by 6:30pm at the latest.
Talk about dreaming!!!
With my fleece and gloves on, water bottle topped up at the sink (all tap water in Switzerland is potable, unless noted otherwise) – I started my decent. Oh what did I get myself into??
The skies was blue with fluffy clouds when I arrived. Now as I start my decent it was grey and gloomy. I just crossed my fingers, toes, legs and arms in hope that it does NOT start to rain!!
At first I was happily distracted by the mind-blowing landscapes. All the different alpine plant life took my breath away.
Yes my trigger friendly finger clicked away over 700 photos on this one day alone. I don’t know if there is a cure for this illness. I always do this. Somehow I think I must capture every single angle of a beautiful locale. What do I do with the photos in the end? Not much… Just shear madness when I am caught in the moment I guess.
I learned it the hard way that despite the clearly marked trails in Switzerland, some parts of the trail maybe disguised as large boulders, creek beds with running water and unthinkable shear drops (for a city girl)!! Mind you the photos is not doing justice to the incline/decline of some of the trials!!
I guess I started very late because only 3 groups of people passed me close to the start of the trail. Then I met less than 10 groups of people climbing up the mountain. So I had the trail to myself most of the time – this proves to be a Pro and Con situation.
Pro – Peace and Quiet. Solitude. Privacy.
Con – If anything happens to me, I am stuck by myself until the next day when new hikers arrive.
Let’s just say I had no idea what I signed up for. Luckily I didn’t get hurt or got too lost. However, my knees were swollen and my feet were super sore. I stopped a few times to rest and give myself Reiki on the spot. A few times I questioned myself if I should have stopped short and taken the train down at Riffelalp. The steep decent was insane.
I don’t know how many more kilometers was before me but when I finally got to the river valley and soaked my aching feet into the freezing river. It was intense and shocking but it felt great at the same time!
This was really an insane hike for me. I was incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing this decent. I was beaming with joy when I arrived at the river valley but then I remembered I still have to get to the Zermatt train station. When I got onto the trail to walk to Zermatt, I realized I still had to pass through the village of Furi first. I must go on.
At this point it was 7pm, I called my friend and they said last train to get me back to their home around midnight leaves Zermatt at 9:15pm. However, there is one at 8:15pm, perhaps I can catch that one. I have no idea where I found the strength or the energy. Maybe it was purely fear of sleeping on the streets of Zermatt or this mountain side. I had only one single thought left in my mind – my WARM BED!!!
I walked. I trotted. If I could roll up into a ball and hurtle myself down the hill, I seriously would!
I had to ask for directions. How is Zermatt such a large place!?! I had no idea where the station is exactly, I just knew the general direction.
Unbelievably I arrived at the station at 8:20pm. Just missed the train.
The empty 9:15 train was already at the station – waiting. I felt relief. I climbed onto it with my tired body. A real toilet. A real sink. A lightly padded chair. Finished the last of my snacks. I curled up and slept.
In hindsight, this can be viewed as a very stupid act. However, if I had stopped short at Riffelalp I would not have found out what I am capable of enduring. Some times I have to push myself past my envelop of comfort to break new grounds, to make discoveries. To learn more about myself. The quiet walk alone on this big mountain was incredible. Just the wind by my side and natural beauty all around. This was definitely a memorable adventure!!
I am just glad the sunset after 9pm that day!!