By Nat Hab Expedition Leader Eddy Savage
During our Wild Switzerland expedition, we spend two nights in the mountain village of Zermatt, Switzerland. The village is well known as a mountaineer destination, as the famed Matterhorn, which stands at 14,692 feet tall, overlooks the entire valley. First summitted in 1865 by Edward Whymper after seven failed attempts, the Matterhorn has drawn awe from alpinists worldwide for over 150 years. Zermatt means “At the Meadow,” and Matterhorn means “The Peak in the Meadow.” Expansive views of alpine tundra are nearly guaranteed. The dramatic peak is one of the most recognizable mountains on Earth and is visible from most areas we hike, hence the focus of many scenic pictures in the region. We have a full day’s worth of hiking and exploring to see as much as possible. We start our morning as soon as the gondolas are open and can get us to a higher altitude to begin our walks. On this trip, we had beautiful sun in the morning followed by welcomed clouds that cooled down the slopes for our afternoon hike.
From the valley bottom to the upmost reaches, the Matterhorn’s rugged peak dominates the view. It is interesting to see the vertical change in ecozones, from sub-alpine forests to alpine tundra above the tree line, and finally glaciated high alpine.
Part of the trail is on a windy gravel access road. Once off the gravel road, the Swiss do an impeccable job of maintaining their hiking trails.
Photo-ops with the Matterhorn behind are commonplace. I do not think these folks were expecting me to be hiding around the corner to get their picture, but when the shot is there, I will be sure to get it! Nice souvenir.
Group members hike through the alpine tundra with the Matterhorn behind. The wild grasses are dotted with a variety of alpine wildflowers.
The trail we took on this expedition is called the Five Lakes Trail. Over the course of 6 miles, we meander down from a high ridge past five unique alpine lakes.
One of the most sought-after shots of the Matterhorn on the Five Lakes Trail is the reflection of the stunning peak in a pristine alpine lake. Fantastic opportunity for a group shot? I think so!
As we descend from the alpine tundra and into the valley below, within a mile, we walk into the sub-alpine forest. This scraggly forest is made up of primarily pine and larch. As glaciers retreated, they left a wide U-shaped. One ridge of the valley is visible here, with the raw gravel ridge in the middle of the photo. This is glacial moraine deposited over thousands of years of glacial erosion.
Aside from the Matterhorn, there are more than 38 mountains over 13,000 feet high accessible via trails from Zermatt. The Monte Rosa Massif has ten peaks over 13,000 feet and contains the highest peak in Switzerland, the Dufourspitze, at 15,203 feet. The scenery is impressive.
The valleys around Zermatt have a particularly interesting resident during the summer months. Zermatt Blacknose sheep can be found exploring the valleys at their leisure from May until September or October. The community has a GPS collar on some herds so guests can track and find them.
The dramatic mountain slopes and easy access via gondola or chairlift make the region a hotspot for paragliding. It is common to see paragliders swirling around in the skies near our hikes.
There is always the possibility of finding wildlife on the hillsides or spotting climbers ascending the Matterhorn. We spotted a group on the Matterhorn summit from the trail. Here is Expedition Leader Martin Renner gracefully lugging a tripod on one of our hikes. This trail is the same trail that Mark Twain wrote about in his satirical piece, “Climbing the Riffelberg.”
There are seasonal hamlets above the main community of Zermatt. These tiny communities have mostly vacation homes used in the summer and winter.
Walking along a rail line as we finish our hike for the day!
To cap off our day in Zermatt, we ascend to the Gornergrat Hotel, situated at nearly 10,000 feet and flanked by extraordinary panoramic views of the Gorner Glacier and the Matterhorn. The hotel has a functioning observatory that is used (though sparingly) today.
Sunset from the Gornergrat Hotel, looking toward the Matterhorn at the end of a spectacular day exploring the mountainsides around Zermatt, Switzerland.
All photos © Eddy Savage