Zermatt 2016

We’ve always tried to finish out Swiss adventures in Zermatt primarily because there is a fondue restaurant that has been a Birthday tradition. As this trip was focused on day hiking so that folks might want to join us this year, we’d allowed three days’ hiking in Zermatt. This gave us an opportunity to take trails that we’d never been on in the past.

Similiar to our tracks in Grindelwald, we basically found trails in the four quardents of the valley and were able to view Zermatt and the Matterhorn from various angles, heights and terrain. Not many folks on the trails like in the other regions, probably because Zermatt offers so many modes of uphill travel – trains, funiculars, gondolas, chairlifts and cabinas.

Zermatt, and viewing it’s Matterhorn, is on the world tourist’s bucket list. Most are here for selfies, DSLR classic photographs and checking off the list, so there isn’t as much interest in hiking per se. Which makes for virtually empty trails despite the tens of thousands visiting town daily.

It had snowed above 8,000′ the days before our arrival, and the first morning our hike was in dense fog and snow on the trails. For only the third time in 3 weeks did we don our raingear. We snapped a lot of Matterhorn photos ourselves, never knowing if this glimpse would be our last.

Zermatt’s heavy tourism makes for intriguing people watching.  As a private car-less community the narrow streets are all basically walking streets. The winning feature was this extremely quiet street vacuum.

It was very rewarding to look from the other side of the valley and see and identify our routes high across the opposite mountains.
We did visit our favorite restaurant for their other fondue speciality before we left.


Murren is one of those “supposedly” car-less villages high up from the valley above Lauterbrunen still in the Bernese Oberland. It’s quite popular for hiking but most famous for it’s gondola to the Schlithorn observation point perched atop Piz Gloria. It’s also directly across from Wengen, another cliff side community accessible only by cog railway.

Back in the 70’s before there were the ubiquitous Swiss trail signs there were only yellow and blue paint stripes on exposed rocks in the alp (remember an alp is the grassy meadow between the rocks, cliffs, peaks and palisades). Three of us were backpacking (frowned upon even then) up from Kandersteg toward Grindelwald, when in dense fog we lost track of our route only to come up on the backside of the massive Schlithorn gondola station and restaurant.  Not sure who was more shocked, us or the few tourist out on the observation deck seeing us appear one by one like apparitions out out the mist.

We hiked thru Murren when we hiked the Via Alpina two years ago and wanted to visit and hike some adjacent trails.  Weather has been outstanding for the first 14 days, but the mountains finally let in a low pressure system of fog and drizzle.  With our UL rain gear we had no problem enjoying a 9 mile hike and 2,800′ ascent. Best was trying out our new zPacks rain skirts, which turned out great: far easier to put on than rain pants and no problem climbing or descending rocky trails.

Forgot Locarno

How could we forget Locarno in the southern lake district of Switzerland. We only took one alpine hike in the area but we wanted to see what the Italian version of hiking was like & it was very rewarding. First I should say that the the train rides in and out of that area are spectacular. They are part of the Glacier Express, an exclusive panoramic rail tour from St Moritz to Zermatt. Although we didn’t travel on the actual Glacier Express cars, we traveled a regional train on the same rails in a different style without white table cloths and waiters, catered service and meals.

Locarno is a truly Italian town; although the Swiss people are educated with three languages there’s hardly any evidence of anything but Italian spoken in this region. It has a true Mediterranean feel, warmth and altitude. Definitely an urban environment, lots of people in high density, but it’s easy to get out of the city and quickly into the mountains which provided great hiking and wonderful views.

What was unique on this particular trip and hike was we got to hike through a number of stone villages and past farm houses. Many are no longer occupied and some are partially occupied with upgraded amenities but all of them are far away from roads with access by trails and aerial tramways in which to get supplies only up to these remote alpine locations.

Saturday night in the main plaza they had a Risotto Rice food festival at which all the hotel chefs created their fanciest risotto rice dishes.  We chose to try a quinoa burger instead.

Here’s our track in case you’re interested.

Lost Track

 I’ve lost track.  Fortunately GaiaGPS knows where we are and what we have done. Thirteenth day of travel and hiking and it’s getting hard to figure what to feature on the blog. Currently we’re in the Grindelwald valley, our fourth day here and we’ve done a number of hikes that we have never done before, several really notable hikes including one below the north face of Eiger and another panoramic view of the entire Grindelwald valley.

I’ve been coming to this valley since 1975 and I’ve never gotten up close and personal with the Eiger north wall like we did this time.  They just recently placed these maps showing the climbing routes, this one the original climb in 1938. Was really fun to look at the map and look at the wall and actually see where a climber may have actually gone and how they get to the top. The current record for climbing this wall is two hours and 20 minutes by a solo Swiss climber.

In many past times the peak of the Eiger was shrouded in clouds like any high peak in Switzerland. This trip we’ve been able to see the Eiger clearly in blue skies which are often called Swiss calendar days. On our third day here we took the panoramic hike high on the northeast side of the Grindelwald valley from Schynige Platte to Grosse Scheidegg. 

With little or no wind, the humidity and pollution from the valley comes up and leaves a little bit of “marine or atmospheric” layer clouding the view, but it is still outstanding. This trail is so popular because they have a funicular train that takes you to the beginning and you can take a gondola off the other end.

Three more days here and Murren and then we’re in Zermatt.

Vals Therme

The real reason we came to Vals was the check out the baths. Daniel learned of the Therme because it is an example of famous Swiss architecture; he has visited & told us that we should visit too.

These several photographs don’t begin to do it justice as we spent over two hours wandering through the various rooms and chambers experiencing a variety of water temperatures, chambers, chimes and scented water before I even thought to take photographs. It must be about a 20,000 square-foot building with more than half of that dedicated to water features.

One dark tiny stone room (with 20′ ceilings – which was the architectural standard) had a low padded bench where you accidentally discover a head rest at one end and you lie down to a bell and chime soundtrack. Anyone familiar with Shavasana could immediately assume the pose and fall into that resting trance some call the corpse pose.

Oh, and then we must have visited the 42* hot water chamber at least four times, between fragrant water pools, the steam rooms in three increasing degrees, or the waterfall massage spouts, to mention a few.

This experience could be the most relaxed I’ve ever been, or at least in 100 years. It was hard to leave one room and explore finding another as they are virtually unmarked and very subtly presented. The mineral waters are so clear and calming you move in slow motion in the waters as well as between the rooms. The entire structure is designed with Vals stone, quarried locally. It’s very hard not to want some of these water features in your own home or at least in your own town.


Here is the link to the Public GaiaGPS https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/d2c6b5406cfd473fc42128935deb336d/ where you can learn more about our track and see other tracks in the vicinity.

Only one hike in the Val’s region.  Posted above is the link to it on GaiaGPS’s website.  This is an experiment to see how this looks on blog.

Another experiment was taking a timer photo on my hiking pole.

You have to look close for the blue phone case on the pole.

The Engadine 

We came back to an area we really liked last year thinking the area needed more trail exploring.  The Engadine is in the southeastern corner of Switzerland, right along the Italian border.  Most of the western world knows several famous places in the Engadine, notably Davos and St Moritz, but we now know it for it’s countless hiking trails. 

The valleys are similar elevations to Durango but the trails lead straight out of a string of villages (some as large as St. Moritz) all interconnected by rail, road and bus. The villages with ski-able terrain above have gondolas, cable cars, funiculars or chair lifts leading up and down the mountains.  Hiking trails network around, down and thru the various mountains above the villages and provide excellent hiking and scenic opportunities.  

One benefit of the Engadine valley is that all the hotels provide a day pass for all the various modes of transport in the region.  So, with your hotel room you can start and stop anywhere in the region, and utilize any train, gondola, bus or chair lift to take you up, down or across the mountains.  The guilt is gone now using a gondola to take us 5,000′ up so that we can hike six or seven miles across and over the mountain, and if we’re tuckered (which hasn’t happened so far) we could exit the trail at a lift station,  bus stop or train station to find our way back to the hotel.  We’ve now spent over nine hiking days in this region and could easily find new places to hike next time.  The only analogy I could put forth would be to imagine free transport along all the valleys sourounding the San Juan Mountains with the added (hopefully never) aspect of gondolas and lifts up to those remote trailheads.

Almost every day on our all-day hikes we talk about how we wish we could share some of these exceptional experiences, which by the way would be more easily accessed than hiking with us in the San Juan’s. Colorado’s mountains are fantastic but this is really a unique experience seeing how this small country has intertwined exceptional recreation with a denser population, not to mention incredible natural resources.

Besides Colorado doesn’t have glaciers like Switzerland.

It’s not to late to join us, we’ll be here two more weeks.

In the Air

Stanna and Linda checking their iPhones and GaiaGPS stats on the last training hike before leaving for Switzerland.  Mountain View Crest at 12,555′ gives a great view of the 14’ers surrounding Chicago Basin.

Views of Ruby and Emerald Lakes are just over the ridge.

Once again we’re going lightweight and ultralight to Switzerland with 13 and 9 pounds in our day packs.  The only thing we check is our hiking poles.

Our Spot track link in the blog should show you where we’re hiking.  Click on the Satellite View for a better image.  Next up food porn from the Swiss tables