Monday, 1 October 2012

Walking Matters: Zermatt 8th – 19th Sept 2012 – Day 5

The Matterhorn Glacier Trail – 6.50 miles / Ascent = 174m / Descent = 494m

Like yesterday’s predicted rain, today’s predicted cold snap arrived bang on schedule. And how: after basking in summery mid-twenties temperatures only a couple of days ago, we got off the gondola at the Trockener Steg to be greeted by minus 9°C. That’s right, over 30°C colder! It was like we had experienced some kind of reverse hibernation – sleeping through the warmth to emerge, blinking into a crisp midwinter.

We guessed this might happen, and made plans accordingly. We’d take the three-stage gondola from Zermatt all the way up to the Klein Matterhorn, have a look round, assess conditions and decide again from there. Unfortunately, the final stage gondola proved to be out of action – today of all days! – but conditions at the Trockener Steg seemed reasonably good for walking if a bit on the chilly side. However, we’d donned plenty of cold weather layers and packed more in our rucksacks, so we thought we’d give the Matterhorn Glacier Trail a try and see how we got on.

This trail – another themed walk – runs between the Trockener Steg and Schwarzsee along the edge of the Theodul and Furgg glaciers, and proved to be the “new” path we’d spotted a couple of days before on the way up to the Hörnlihütte. It’s not shown on our copy of the map, but is on newer editions.

We set off well wrapped up against the bitter cold on an undulating path across rocky moraine that wound it’s way between small ponds and the foot of the glaciers. Yesterday’s dusting of snow had frozen hard, cementing the loose stones together and covering the trail.

But painted markers helped guide us through the maze of bumps and troughs, as did the occasional information board outlining the geology and wildlife of this inhospitable-looking landscape.

As we climbed higher, the skies cleared a little and the views steadily improved. We pottered along enjoying the cold and the stark terrain, whilst ahead of us the Matterhorn and the Hörnli ridge dominated the skyline.

The type of ground shown in the forground of the picture below is a common sight in glaciated areas. Although it looks more like the workings of a gravel pit or quarry, it is actually ice. Obviously not the nice, clean shiny ice and snow favoured by photographers and seen in the hanging glacier near the top of the picture, but ice comtaminated by millions of tons of rock flour, gravel, stones and boulders scoured out of the earth by the relentless pressure and unimaginable forces generated when glacier meets mountain - and mountain loses.

As we got closer, the path dropped down a rocky slope to reach the outflow of the glacier nestled tight below the Hörnli ridge. A functional metal bridge crossed the stream – the infant Furggbach – before a steady climb brought us out above the Schwarzsee.

We headed towards the gondola station, parking ourselves on a bench overlooking the lake where we huddled together against the cold to eat our lunch. It was a short, interesting walk, but we were happy to call it a day.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering round town, poking around the shops in search of gear and souvenirs, hoping (and failing) to find an elusive bargain. When the gear on display in the shops comes from manufacturers like Arc’teryx, Haglöfs, Mammut, Mountain Hardwear and Schöffel, and you are shopping in one of the most expensive towns in one of the most expensive countries in Europe, bargains are at a premium. Still, it’s nice to indulge in a bit of aspirational window shopping

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