The Schönbielhütte – 16.50 miles / Ascent = 955m / Descent = 1,917m
In line with planning bigger walks for better days, we had a decent trip lined up for today. I’d been looking into the possibility of walking to the Schönbielhütte since the beginning of the holiday but had been unhappy about taking a simple there-and-back route for fear it might lack a bit of interest in one or two places.
Then an odd idea popped into my head: could we tackle it from the Schwarzsee? A quick look at the map seemed to confirm the prospect, and the rest fell neatly into place.
We set off nice and early to catch the gondola, but lost a lot of time getting mixed up with some breakfast event that had commandeered two out of every three gondolas. It was very busy, rather chaotic, and not very Swiss at all. A large queue had formed as a result, and in the end it was 10.45am before we reached the Schwarzsee, putting us some way behind schedule.
Clearing the gondola, we headed downhill towards Stafel on a wide track, soon leaving the crowds behind who were mostly aiming for the Hörnlihütte. Part way down we got chatting to a German chap who asked if we could spare any sunscreen. He was studying for a PhD in Neurobiology at the University of Geneva but had come to the area for the weekend and stayed at the Schönbielhütte overnight. He said today was to be their last day, and that they were closing for the end of the season.
With this information filed away we carried on downhill, leaving the track to pick up a pleasant path over undulating ground to Stafelalp. With its sunny terrace and good location below the north face of the Matterhorn, the restaurant looked a good place for a stop. But we had a long way to go and time to make up, so we passed on by and began to pick our way between the Hydro scheme workings across the valley bottom.
Our target was an obvious waterfall on the opposite side of the valley. A narrow path zig-zagged up the side of the falls before opening out at the top to run beside the bubbling stream of the Arbenbach.
We stopped for lunch amid a gaggle of path junctions. Around here, routes lead off in several directions, and we could see people heading to Zmutt, back to Stafel from where we had come, and high above the valley towards Trift. Our route led westwards, though, towards the Schönbielhütte.
Because of the earlier delays we were mindful of the time, especially as the walk back to Zermatt from the Schönbielhütte is around 4 hours. At this time of year it begins to go dark after about 7.30pm, and we wanted to be sure we could reach the hut and make it back to town with at least a modicum of margin for error.
Soon we could see our goal perched on a rocky promontory up ahead, and decided – having got this far – to give it a shot. The sting in the tail was the steep, zig-zagging 170m climb to get there, but we made good time were soon sitting on the terrace in the warm afternoon sunshine enjoying a Cardinal “blonde” moment.
There was an end of term feel to proceedings: the remaining food was divvied out between us and two other parties (we got the last pieces of apple cake!), all the hut slippers were being collected up, and there was much dusting and sweeping in progress.
It was a pleasant half-hour, though, and we thoroughly enjoyed our rest. Surrounded by glaciers and high peaks, the quiet broken only by the occasion crack and boom of an avalanche, it was a privilege to be here in this special place – if only for a while.
Sadly, we couldn’t linger. The route back was simple to navigate and easy going, but there were still some miles to cover before we could call it a day. At one point our intended path had been land-slipped away, but the diversion through re-colonised moraine was very enjoyable and we didn’t begrudge the extra half-mile.
On we went, past the (now closed) cabin at Chalbermatten and on towards Zmutt. By now there were few other people around; just us, the peace and quiet, and our own lengthening shadows. It felt like we had the whole valley to ourselves.
Beyond Zmutt there were a few more people about. We were in need of a brief rest, and found a bench on which to sit for a few minutes: we could afford the time now we were near town on known paths. A man and his dog came by. In response to our greeting the man said nothing, while the dog carefully lowered it’s hindquarters and unhurriedly deposited a long turd on the path in front of us before moving off. It was difficult to keep the smiles off our faces – especially when we encountered this sign a little later.
Dinner was simple: pasta with ham, broccoli and cheese sauce, quickly rustled up – and equally quickly dispatched. We’d had a long day, but enjoyed every minute of it, and were very glad to have pushed ourselves a bit in order to reach our goal, pleased that our fitness seemed to be up to the challenge.