The Europaweghütte – 11.00 miles / Ascent = 314m / Descent = 308m
The Europaweg is a reasonably well-known path, at least by name, but googling it provides few definitive details. One of the main reasons for this seems to be that it has been subsumed into the last stages of the Walkers’ Haute Route (Chamonix to Zermatt) and makes up part of both the Tour de Monte Rosa and Tour of the Matterhorn circuits.
It also suffers from being one of the most collapsible paths in the Alps, having been built and re-built any number of times, re-routed again and again, and had several thousand Swiss Francs worth of bridge “land-slipped” into the valley embarrassingly soon after completion.
Anyway, as far as I can make out the “official” route is a two-day walk along the east side of the Mattertal between Grächen and Zermatt, with much of it bimbling along around the 2,250m contour (give or take), and the section we undertook seems perfectly OK underfoot at the moment.
Despite the relative ease of the route, the views are reckoned to be exceptional, especially – I should imagine – if heading south. However the quality of views was immaterial this morning, with dense, low cloud and solid rain restricting visibility to little more than a few feet.
Arriving at Sunnegga, we donned full waterproof regalia and stepped outside into the downpour. We started by following a level track towards the hamlet of Tufteren, about a mile away. One of the plus-sides of walking in wet and/or foggy conditions is that you are naturally encouraged to focus more intently on what is happening close by. In this case, information boards detailing the variety of plant life in the area provided alternative interest, as did the occasional Black Squirrel or Black Redstart.
Beyond Tufteren we left the track for a hillside path rising gently towards the 2,350m contour before levelling out again. We pottered along (ignoring any side paths), and apart from a couple of short, rockier sections, there was little to disturb the regular rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other.
About half an hour before reaching Ottavan, the path swung east into a deep ravine cut by the Täschbach. The cloud began to clear a fraction, and we could hear the rain bolstered torrent roaring through the gully down below us. As I was fiddling about trying to take a photograph, Missy G went on in front – accidentally disturbing a Chamois on the path up ahead. I arrived in time to see it bounding up the steep hillside as easily as if it were covering flat ground.
Nearing Ottavan, we crossed the bridge over the stream, and crossed our fingers that the Europaweghütte would be open. Being near the end of the season, we reckoned it best not to take such things for granted. But there was no need to worry, and soon we were ensconced in a cosy fug with our wet clothes drying out before the warm stove.
It is often said that drastic situations required drastic remedies. That being the case it wasn’t long before two large plates of potato Rösti, each topped with a perfect fried egg, adorned the table in front of us. It is also said that calories consumed at altitude don’t count: of course that may be a bit of a fib, but we chose to believe it anyway. In case you’re not sure what a Rösti is and are worried you might not recognise this plateful of fried carbohydrate should you encounter one, this is what it should look like (on the left). NB: in the interests of healthy eating I don't know what the green stuff is, but you could probably get it without if you ask nicely.
Back outside there were signs the weather was improving, with the rain having abated to little more than a light drizzle. All we had to do was retrace our steps along the Europaweg. Part way back, the cloud thinned enough for us to see into the valley, and we were rewarded by the sight of a dozen or more Chamois bounding down the hillside. A little later, two small deer were glimpsed between the trees: Missy G was having a good day on the animal-spotting front.
As we neared Tufteren again, we could see new accumulations of snow at higher levels, which could make things interesting for tomorrow. All in all, though, we were happy with the use we made of a wet day, although I got a bit of stick over the promised easy day and lunch out. I mean, which bit (apart from the easy day) didn’t I deliver on?
In the evening, we went to see a talk/slideshow/film presentation we’d seen advertised about a recent climbing trip to Patagonia. Introduced by Rolando Garibotti, the evening centred on an attempted winter ascent of Cerro Torre by two young climbing friends, Zermatt-based Michael (Michi) Lerjen and Argentinian Jorge Ackerman.
They may not be household names, but these guys are serious alpinists. Rolando is probably the pre-eminent authority on climbing in Patagonia, Jorge has tackled some of the most demanding routes on Cerro Torre and Mt Fitz Roy, whilst Michi first climbed the Matterhorn aged 11, and summitted an 8,000m peak (Nanga Parbat) without supplementary oxygen aged 18. If ever you get the chance to see them, go: it was a very enjoyable evening.