Walkers’ Haute Route (part 2)

August 6-13 

Day 7:

We were up at 5:45AM and hiking by 6:30AM; the weather was calling for thunder storms by 11AM and our first pass required 4,100 feet of elevation gain. So, we put our heads down and started hiking up, watching a cloud layer form in the valley as we tried not to think about the wonderful views we would not be getting that day. The clouds and fog kept engulfing us and then receding below us which was very pretty. Three hours later we were at the top of the col and then started our descendent down to a dam where we stopped for lunch. The reservoir had an amazing blue color and peaked through the clouds a few times for us to see. No thunderstorms formed so we were happy about that but there was a fog/cloud layer that was killing the visibility. We debated taking the bus from the dam, but eventually decided to hike over the next col in case the weather cleared and we got views. Towards the top we got a few brief views back at the reservoir and to some of the closer mountains. We made it over this col and got down to a gondola that took us down to Zinal. In Zinal, we resupplied our lunches and replenished some of the lost calories of the day with treats from the grocery store while we waited for the bus. We took the bus to St. Luc where we then had another 30 min hike to our accommodations. We were staying at the dorms for the place but it turned out to be just us that night in a building that could have slept 50 or so. We had gotten used to half-board everywhere we stayed and were expecting that but they didn’t offer it. Instead they had a small restaurant where we had the most expensive pizza (not the best) that we had ever had.

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Day 8:

After 10 hours of sleep we slowly got moving and walked back into town to find some pastries and coffee. We didn’t get on the trail in earnest until almost 9AM. After a two-hour uphill, we arrived at Hotel Weisshorn, where we had blueberry tart and coffee for a break with great views. While the day before had been bad for visibility, today was a bluebird day. We continued on from our break towards the Medipass, on the dividing line of French and German speaking Switzerland. The hike up was fairly mellow and we passed Uranus (there is a scale model of the solar system in the area). When we got to the top we were treated with views all the way back to Mont Blanc and a great view of the Weisshorn, and took a very leisurely lunch to enjoy it. We were also both feeling a bit tired from the day before so we welcomed the chance to relax. Eventually we made our way down to the small village of Gruben. Gruben is ridiculously picturesque and is only inhabited for part of the year. There is one option for accommodations and the place was packed with hikers so it was a fun atmosphere. We enjoyed the backyard with a beer and a view for the afternoon. Luckily our dorm only had 6 of 11 spaces filled so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

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Day 9:

Due to expected weather, our whole room was up by 6AM. We made it about 100m from the hotel when we decided that we needed to be in full rain gear for the day and proceeded towards Augstbordpass in the wet. The trail up was not very challenging with the biggest obstacle being cows, one of which befriended Theo. The pass was socked-in when we got there and the temperatures were probably in the high 30s F so we kept on moving. We got a bit of an updraft and some hail on the start of our way down so really picked up the pace, wanting to be lower if some bigger weather moved in. After a short break in the weather we had about an hour over boulders with no visibility and then another hour of trails down to Jungen. We had decided to take the gondola from here if it was running as our friend Matt had warned us that the descent to St. Niklus was pretty terrible. When we arrived at the gondola (there was only one car and it could hold 4 people) there was no one there. We walked over to the gondola and it was unlocked, we looked inside but that wasn’t helpful. After a phone call and lots of German that we didn’t understand, we were no closer to knowing what to do but did know it was supposed to run in 10 minutes. We also knew we didn’t want to miss that one and spend another hour sitting out in the rain. Five minutes out an alarm went off and we decided to let ourselves into the gondola in a rather hurried manner (turns out this was what you were supposed to do). Once in the thing started moving into a big grey abyss. It turns out the guy at the bottom had a video feed of the top station so got to watch us confusedly trying to figure out the whole thing for the past 45 minutes. From St. Niklaus we took the bus to Grachen where we were staying for the night. While the place we were staying didn’t usually do dinner, we got lucky and a large group had ordered one in for the night with plenty to share. The group was made up of a random assortment of friends who had all met each other at some point in college or post grad and they were great fun to hang out with.

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The view from the gondola

Day 10:

This was our first day on the Europaweg, a very exposed trail high up on the valley that leads to Zermatt. We started hiking around 9AM and wandered through Grachen and onto Gasenred before connecting with the trail. The trail starts off with a big uphill and about half way up the weather started to clear. We got lucky on the weather for the rest of our hiking day, but no views of the Matterhorn as it stayed hidden in clouds all day. The trail was often very narrow with a good amount of exposure and some fixed lines for protection. However, the most challenging areas where a few active rockfall zones where there isn’t really a trail as much as a loose marking system over unstable rocks. Luckily these were relatively short compared to the day. We got to the hut around 4PM and were able to enjoy a beer overlooking the valley as we watched some weather start to roll through. This hut was by far the most social we had stayed in with everyone conversing for a few hours after dinner. We chatted with some women who had met each other when they had decided to quit their respective jobs and travel (sound familiar??) and decided to meet up for some hiking in Switzerland; and we met a very nice German man who invited us to come stay with him and his family at their home, but I think we kind of offended him when we politely declined because we didn’t have time…

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Day 11:

We woke up to grey, rainy weather and the forecast didn’t look like it was going to improve. We didn’t start hiking until 9AM as we sat around with everyone at the hut pondering what to do and checking the forecast every five minutes. One of the first things we got to was a new 400-plus meter suspension bridge. For the past few years, and up until a week before we started hiking when the construction was finished, the trail was closed at this point due to rockfall. We crossed it in the clouds which was a very strange experience. There were really no visual cues other than the bridge itself. With the rain, lack of visibility, and audible rock fall, we decided that we would make our way towards the valley instead of staying on the high exposed trail. As we made our way through the forest we had a staring contest with a Chamoix. After slipping a few times on the muddy trial (me, Theo stayed upright), we ended up in Wildi where we picked up the valley trail to Tasch. With the weather getting worse, we decided to skip the final hour and a half of hiking from Tasch to Zermatt and pick up the train. We arrived in Zermatt and stocked up on groceries, found our apartment and settled into a few days of R&R. Starting off with a roast chicken and a few bottles of Swiss wine.

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View of the bridge from the hut the evening before

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(Check out lots more photos of our Alpine trekking here!)

Zermatt and back to Chamonix:

I had my mind set on hiking to a hut on the side of the Matterhorn, but the weather was not cooperating. The snow line was just above the valley floor and Zermatt was socked in for the time we were there. We did wander the town a little bit including a walk past the Mountaineering cemetery which is quite sobering (the headstones all have carvings or statues of the person’s preferred sport). I did get out for one short hike up to a small hut that overlooks the town but this was mostly because I was going stir crazy staying indoors after 11 days of hiking. On my way back into town, I came across a group of three men playing Alphorns but didn’t manage to get a picture. One thing we were able to do in Zermatt was cook, eat well, and generally recover from the trip. We found a Raclette maker in our Airbnb and decided that would be a great dinner option. However, after we got home with all of our ingredients we found out that it wasn’t working. Being an engineer with ample time on my hands, I took the whole thing apart and figured out that the power switch was bad. I was about to bypass the switch when Theo convinced me that was a bad idea and that we could make do with the stove top, and avoid playing with the 240V electrical… On our last morning there, we woke up to clear skies and I immediately ran outside to see if the Matterhorn was out…and to get pastries. It was! and pictures don’t do justice of how this mountain towers over Zermatt.

(More photos from Zermatt here!)

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After our morning viewing of the Matterhorn, we had a series of four trains to get back to Chamonix to collect our bags and pick up the bus to the airport the next day. It was another reminder of how great public transit can be, with beautiful views, helpful staff, and precisely on-time service.

We decided to head up the Aiguille du Midi since we had most of a day to kill in Chamonix before our bus to the airport. We go there fairly early in the morning to find out that it would be 3hrs before we could head up. But we waited it out and made it up just before clouds came so we were able to take in the views. Getting whisked to 3800 meters definitely had us both feeling the altitude so I can’t imagine doing that on day one of arriving in Chamonix from sea level.

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(Check out more photos from our return to Chamonix, including the Aiguille du Midi.)

We made it back down, both passed out on the bus to the airport, grabbed a quick dinner in the airport, and then two hours later we were in Croatia!

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