Tour Zurch Zermatt

A Glacier Hospice

After a fun day climbing the Riffelhorn with Kelly, I went out for a long walk/run around Zermatt. I began by taking the trail up west of town. Here, I got passed by a Euro speed monster making moves! It was actually the first person that had passed me all trip, despite the reputation of speedy Euros. We eventually figured out that only fast Euros (read: professionals) are on Strava, so it creates a very distorted perspective of speed in Europe.

Anyways, I branched off and found a very quiet, beautiful trail climbing in the morning sun. My legs were pretty tired from the Emilius Traverse just three days ago, so I took it easy.

Meadows and the Monte Rosa group.

The trail leveled out around 8700ft and I got slammed in the face with a view of the Matterhorn. I had to take a little self-timer photo with the iconic peak.

Single track heaven.
How did I do?

The trail followed a bench around 9000 ft before descending down towards the Zmuttgletscher (Zmutt Glacier). The Zmutt has receded vastly in the last hundred years, leaving behind some glacial lakes that are managed by dams and an interesting post glacial biome where every larch tree is exactly the same height. It is impressive how fast the forest reclaims the moraines.

This entire valley used to be filled with ice not long ago.

After crossing the valley, I climbed up towards the Hotel Schwarzee, where I would meet Kelly, who was taking the lift up.

Lots of close up views of the big M.
More 4000m peaks on the horizon.
Nearing the Hotel Schwarzee.

I arrived exactly at noon, just as I promised Kelly. We started up the trail towards the higher lift station. We quickly entered recent post glacial terrain and the landscape became extremely barren and rocky. The water was as silty and brown as it gets. Honestly, it was some of the uglier post-glacial terrain I have ever been in.

Silty gravel wasteland.
What’s all the big fuss about this little peak?

Signs advertise the “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” but I joked that soon it will need to be called the “Matterhorn Glacier Cemetery”. Zermatt is in a relatively dry portion of the Alps and although the elevation of the peaks are high, the glaciers seem to be even more dire here than in the Mont Blanc region. I have a decent innate sense of the speed of glacial recession, which can be judged by the size and freshness of the post-glacial moraines. Kelly said that perhaps a more appropriate name would be the “Matterhorn Glacier Hospice”. It was pretty sad to see.

One of the nicer sights in this glacier hospice.

We headed inside at the upper lift terminal to get out of the heat and drink some water. Even here, there were ads for $10,000 Swiss watches.

I wanted to do this day human powered, so we both did the nearly 5,000 ft descent on foot. It was a rocky trail, followed by an improbably steep and falling apart road, finally punctuated by pounding steps in the heat of the valley. Mildly unpleasant, but perhaps I was becoming Euro-soft and needed a bit of a beating.

Long way down to Zermatt…

We arrived back in town and I felt pretty worked honestly. It was cool to see many angles of the Matterhorn, but this run confirmed a suspicion I had about Zermatt – that the trail running was a bit limited with pretty similar views from every angle and plenty of crowds. It is the kind of place that is great to visit once, but does not inspire a return trip, unless I was to actually climb the high peaks.

Notes:

  • My route was 20 miles and 6,900 ft gain. You could shave off the giant descent by taking the lift down if you wanted.
  • I thought the first half of the run was much more beautiful and quiet than the popular touristy section above Hotel Schwarzee.
My route.

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