Just another day 3,000m up in the Pennine Alps…
Evening blog fans – welcome to another day of glorious sunshine and incredible Swiss mountain scenery! I almost feel like we should be apologising for how many ridiculously epic photos we’ve been posting since we arrived in Switzerland…, almost. The past 10 days here have been fantastic; the weather has been amazing and we’ve been to so many awesome places. But please, don’t be jealous, be INSPIRED! We certainly were today when we hiked up Mt Rothorn and discovered this…
Mt Rothorn is one of the smaller mountains that overlooks Zermatt; at 3,103m it’s dwarfed by the dozen or so 4,000m+ giants around it. It may not be the biggest, but we chose Mt Rothorn because we determined, after much research and discussions with other hikers*, it would be the best mountain for us to climb. The best in terms of views and comfort. You see, Mt Rothorn sits almost in the middle of all the much larger mountains around it, and from the peak you get 270° views of the Pennine Alps. Also, the mountain is accessible via funicular train then cable car, which means we could hike up and then just cruise back down. There are also numerous restaurants on the way up the mountain – great for “recovery breaks” (i.e. cafe latte breaks) and civilised toilet breaks. At just over 3,000m high we also figured the peak wouldn’t be too cold which meant less gear to carry.
*Note: I would just like to say that it is very important, when seeking advice from other people about where to go hiking, to determine exactly what their definition of “easy” and “difficult” are. For example, when asking a couple of young French guys decked out in snow gear and carrying mountain climbing stuff (e.g. crampons, ropes) about hiking, be very cautious when they say a particular hike is “tres facile”. I wanted to find a couple of 70+ retirees and ask them for THEIR opinion on what hike we should do, but Shane was sure the young MOUNTAINEERS wouldn’t lead us astray. Ha! The good news is we made it, but let me tell you there were a couple of times there I was cursing those young mountain climbing dudes something fierce for their cheerful advice.
We had been told that the first part of the hike from Zermatt (1,620m) to Sunnegga (2,288m) wasn’t that interesting and that the best part of the hike is from Sunnegga to the top of Mt Rothorn (3,103m). So we got up early; packed our water and supplies; bought our all all-day Rothorn Mountain Pass* for 65CHF ($75AUD) each; and caught the first train up to Sunnegga (see map below).
*The Rothorn Mountain Pass allows you to go up and down the funicular train from Zermatt to Sunnegga and to use the cable cars on the mountain as much as you want; we figured this would give us the freedom to tailor the day’s adventure to our mood.
The plan from there was to hike up* the mountain all the way up to the top, then just catch the cable car back down. Easy! Well, the first part of it was anyway. The view of the iconic Matterhorn from Sunnegga was great! The 4 faces of the Matterhorn, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are incredibly steep.
*One might be tempted to think that the smarter thing to do would be to cable car up the mountain then hike down. Having done a few mountain hikes over the past 97 days I urge you dear reader to dispel this falsely held belief. When the going is as steep as it was today, up may be hard on the muscles, but down is a bitch when it comes to keeping your footing and not ruining your knees. We have worked out, through trial and error, that for us up is actually WAY better than down. Plus if you hike up the mountain you get to the top feeling like you’ve earned yourself a good lunch and an easy trip back!
The mid-point for the hike in terms of vertical distance up was Blauherd. Here we stopped for a wee break (get the double entendre there?), a quick look around and then just continued on.
One of the highlights of the day was when we reached Stellisee (translation = Lake Stelli). This small alpine lake was incredibly blue and alive with fish, and the views all around us were stunning. We felt compelled to sit on a rock sunning ourselves by the side of the lake for a few minutes, just soaking up the atmosphere and breathing in that fresh mountain air.
From Stellisee to the very top of Mt Rothorn was the most challenging part of the climb – steep, lots of loose rocks and by this stage we were about 3 hours into the hike and getting a little fatigued. This was when the swearing started and when I started questioning the intelligence of asking young, mountain-goat type people for advice on hiking. It took us almost 2 hours to ascend the last 500m in altitude and I can tell you I was never so happy to see the Swiss flag as when we crested the last hill and saw this…
Needless to say, once we reached the top of the mountain, it was stunning. Mountains all around us; glaciers and snow glinting in the sunlight; and a restaurant that served schnitzel and beer!
Switzerland is amazing, not just because of its incredible mountains and scenery, but also because they set things up so well for people like us – people that like a bit of comfort and civilisation along with our glorious views and summer hiking. We had the BEST lunch at the top of Mt Rothorn (even if it wasn’t “the best” it damned well tasted “the best” coz by that stage we were pretty hungry, I can tell you), and lingered up there over coffee and apfelstrudel for a while, enjoying our well-earned break.
The trip back down was VERY easy by comparison: big cable car from Mt Rothorn to Blauherd, change to small cable car from Blauherd to Sunnegga, then back on the funicular train for Zermatt. Half an hour and we were back down in the village (as opposed to 5 hours to get UP), sunburnt and exhausted, but blissfully happy. Just another glorious day in Switzerland…