Höhbalmen & Trift – 12.75 miles / Ascent = 1,040m / Descent = 1,911m
Our last full day in the area was marked by a slight change in the weather: nothing too awful, mind, just a gradual thickening of the cloud as the day went on, and a hint of rain in the air that never properly materialised.
We wanted to finish our holiday on a high note, or at least with a memorable day out that would leave us pining for more, so we planned a route from the Schwarzsee via Höhbalmen and Trift back to Zermatt. I’d been looking to work Trift into a suitable route for some while, but had been struggling until the revelation of using the Schwarzsee as a starting point for this side of the valley a couple of days ago had provided the key to unlock this particular mystery as well.
This time there was no breakfast party to hinder our progress up the mountain, and we stepped off the gondola at a much more promising 9.15am. Our aim was to walk the high level contour path over the Höhbalmen below the peaks of the Gabelhorn (a line roughly following the base of the scree fans in the picture below).
The first part of our route was as before: down the hill to Stafelalp, across the valley past the Hydro scheme, and up beside the waterfall to Arbenbach. This morning, though, we had time for coffee at Stafelalp: no cake, mind, as we were “too early” – a disappointment we were later to get over big style.
From Arbenbach, a steep path zig-zags up the hillside for around 400m before the gradient eases to eventually gain the 2,700m contour. Behind us, views opened up towards the Schönbielhütte and the glaciers at the end of the valley. As the path levelled out, we stopped for lunch – not a bad viewpoint, it has to be said ……
Having reached the level path the going was much easier, the next hour’s walking being quite straightforward. Not that we could afford to lose concentration, though: the yawning chasm to our right providing ample reminder to watch our footing, and we always checked the stability of the stony gullies before swiftly crossing.
As there are no lifts servicing this side of the valley it is generally much quieter, and we saw few other walkers on this stretch. Those we did see were coming from the direction of Trift – a good omen, we thought, for the restaurant being open this late in the season.
Besides the actual walk itself, there are three good reasons to endorse this route. One is the fact that it overlooks almost all of the other areas you may have walked: you can see all the big summits you have gazed at in awe over the past few days, and trace the routes you have taken up the mountains and across the hillsides. The second is one of scale: looking at the enormous drop into the valley somehow allows your mind to calibrate the size of the geography more easily than when you are standing on it. From the small building in the bottom left of the photograph below (actually Stafelalp) to the summit of the Matterhorn is a vertical elevation gain of some 2,300m – that’s 7,500ft in old money.
Eventually the path begins to swing north (passing the junction with a steep path down to Alterhaupt) to enter the huge, glaciated cirque of Trift. And here we find the third good reason to do this walk: the Hotel du Trift.
It took a good half hour to reach the Berghaus after it first came into view, the descent of 300m gradually becoming steeper until a slippery zig-zag path deposited us on level ground once more. We ordered beers and huge wedges of apple cake, and sat on the terrace to admire the view as we consumed them.
We got talking to Hugo and Fabienne who run the Berghaus. As there are no lifts servicing this side of the valley, it is run as a summer-only concern, from early July to late September, accommodating walkers and climbers who want to explore the cirque and it’s surrounding peaks. In a couple of day’s time they would shut up shop and move on to other lives for nine months, until next summer when, in late June, they would make the climb out of Zermatt, dust everything down, and welcome visitors to the quiet side of the valley once again. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
All that remained for us to do was follow the steep path down beside the Triftbach gorge, passing through the area known locally as Edelweiss, to reach Zermatt some 90 minutes later. Bar a bit of pottering about in the morning, we had finished our walking for the holiday. And, despite the low-key nature of today's walk – given the all-star billing of the area in general – we were happy to have ended it this way, experiencing the quieter side. Somehow we felt we had got a deeper understanding of the area as a result.
There was just time for a final bit of shopping: lunch for tomorrow, souvenirs, Toblerone* for the troops back home: that sort of thing. Then it was back to the apartment to begin packing. We’d had a fantastic time, and managed to cover a fair bit of ground over the course of the ten days: without doubt, these few pages in our “Lebensbuch” would be well written.
Which I guess is a good sign.
(*Other Matterhorn-shaped, chocolaty comestibles are also available. Er … possibly.)