Tag Archives: Alps

Zermatt and Zürich

Ahh, my computer is finally functioning well enough to sort photos again (a long frustrating saga). Here’s my last entry for the trip I took to the Alps last summer. Eventually I’ll catch up on my other travels.

Last summer after hiking part of the Haute Route through the Alps, Lynne, Hennie, and I headed to Zermatt where we enjoyed a series of gorgeous day hikes without the burden of  heavy backpacks. Sibylle and Carmen joined us for a couple days and when Hennie headed home, Lynne and I joined our Swiss friends in Zürich.

2017, 31 July – Zermatt

We started our day with breakfast at our hotel in Sion – chocolate croissants, smoked salmon, and cheese, yum. It was a short walk to the train station where we caught the first of two trains to Zermatt, arriving before noon. Our hotel, Alphubel, was perfectly located near the center of town. We had lunch overlooking the main street, Bahnhofstrasse – carrot ginger soup and a half sandwich, then explored the town. The goats came through at 3:30 and the Lindt store had many more flavors than I’ve seen at home. Tables were being set up everywhere in preparation for Swiss National Day, lots of food and drink. We opted to buy food at the co-op grocery store and corner sausage stand, and ate dinner in our room, where we watched a thunderstorm and heard an accordion playing for hours.

1 August – Gornergrat

Our hotel breakfast included cook-your-own hard-boiled eggs in a contraption we hadn’t seen before, ours were underdone. By 8:00 we are on the Gornergrat train. It took about a half-hour to get the top, where we were rewarded with awesome views of the glacier and surrounding peaks before they became covered with clouds. It was windier with less snow and more haze than when I was last here, in September 2014. We hiked down to Riffleberg, ate lunch on the deck with great views, then continued down to Riffelalp, steeper and less scenic than the earlier portion. The Matterhorn tried on variety of different cloud caps before hiding entirely.

It was still mostly sunny when we reached town around 2:00. We stopped at the market and took a brief rest in our rooms (I shared one with Lynne, and Hennie had her own), then toured the Matterhorn Museum. There was an interesting new exhibit about the first ascent of this famous peak, in 1865, on which four climbers died, and a very beautiful movie. I picked up a mediocre crepe along the way. With our balcony door open, we heard more fireworks than the previous night, and the accordion again in between thunderstorms. We stayed up later there than usual, until about 10:30, to watch the main fireworks out our window.

2 August – Klein Matterhorn (a.k.a. Matterhorn Glacier Paradise)

It was Hennie’s turn to be sick today, so Lynne and I took the cable car up to Klein Matterhorn, the Little Matterhorn. I’m sure early climbers would be shocked to see a major cable car station up this high. It was windy and cold with lots of snow. People were skiing and suiting up with crampons to climb nearby peaks. We toured the ice cave then took the cable back down to Trockener and from there hiked to Schwarzee. The retreating glacier provided a lunar landscape; sadly I fear the Swiss glaciers will be gone in my lifetime. Clouds played with the shadows on the surrounding mountains. We found the perfect lunch spot, a red bench above Schwarzee, wow what a view! We enjoyed a beer at the restaurant, then caught the cable car back to town. After a shower and brief rest, we did a bit of souvenir shopping and picked up food for dinner. Hennie was well enough to join us on our small balcony.

3 August – Connected with Sibylle & Carmen

We puttered around town, then met Sibylle and Carmen arriving on the 11:13 train. Lynne and Hennie headed to the Schwarzee cable car for a hike up in the hills, while I went to lunch with my Swiss friends. Our destination turned out to be a couple miles uphill in Findeln, a lovely spot for a tasty meal. We took a longer, scenic route down, nice except for one steep rocky portion. I barely had time to get to my hotel and shower, before it was time to meet for dinner. My lamb ravioli with veggies was delicious, one of the best meals on this trip. (Carmen knows all the best spots to dine).

4 August – Five Lakes Hike to Fluhalp

Lynne joined Sibylle and Carmen on a longer ridge hike to Fluhalp, our destination hut, while Hennie and I took a somewhat easier route past five lakes. There were lots of ups and downs; it was hot when we were in the direct sun. The first two lakes, both manmade, were not as scenic as the others. We saw lots of marmots along the way. We ate lunch on the shore of Stellisee, our final lake, then Hennie headed down to the cable car to begin her trip home, while I headed up to Fluhalp where I enjoyed an Aperol Spritz while waiting for the other three to finish their beers up at Rothorn and join me.

5 August – Suspension Bridge

After breakfast, we headed off in two directions, with Sibylle and Carmen taking a longer route (of course). Lynne and I hiked down to Blauherd, stopping at Stellisee to admire the reflections in the lake. It was our clearest and hottest day yet. We took the cable car and funicular down to town, stopped at tourist information to buy train tickets, then picked up Sibylle and Carmen’s bags from their hotel. I was craving another sausage, but the vendor wasn’t open yet. We caught the train to Randa where we tried to open the wrong door and missed our stop. We hopped off at the next station and returned. We couldn’t find any luggage lockers, so we talked a proprietor of a hotel and café into holding them for us. Before setting off on our hike, I ordered a “chicken sandwich” which turned out to be a piece of processed ham on a slice of bread.

Our goal was to meet Carmen and Sibylle at the newly opened suspension bridge. It was a relentless hour and a half uphill, with many switchbacks. We walked back and forth across the bridge a couple times, but missed them. The hike down is a bit quicker. We regained cell reception back at the hotel/café and let them know where we were. They arrived just as we were finishing our draft beers.

The train ride to Zürich via Visp took about three hours. I ordered a salad on the train for dinner. We arrived about 8:00 pm, bought a 24-hour bus pass, and then went to pick up the key to “our” apartment. Sibylle’s friend, Anya, was staying at her friend’s house while recovering from hip surgery (where she could use an elevator rather than stairs), so she was kind enough to let us stay at her apartment while we were in Zürich. Thank you Anya!

I recognized the route from my prior visit as we walked back beneath an elevated roadway and crossed the river to our apartment, not far from where Sibylle lives. I was sweaty, wiped out, completely wilted by the time I showered and crashed into bed.

6 August – Spa Day

We enjoyed a nice slow morning, repacking our stuff, then walked over to Carmen and Sibylle’s for an outstanding brunch: eggs, rolls, yogurt, fruit, cheese. Then Lynne and I found our way to Thermalbad; next time I’ll know that it’s near Google. When I first told Lynne that I wanted to spend a half day at the spa, she almost chose not to join my, but she was hesitant to leave after three hours of steaming, scrubbing, soaking, and enjoying the rooftop view. I felt renewed!

We rejoined our friends and walked back to the spacious apartment where Anya is staying, in an industrial area that’s becoming residential. There we enjoyed a most memorable evening. Anya introduced me to watermelon and feta, with a light dressing and bit of mint, a delicious combination that I have since prepared at home. We ate, drank, talked, and laughed for hours. It was the most fun dinner of our trip.

7 August – Zürich

Sibylle took us by train up to an overlook above Zürich and were surprised to meet Carmen; she rode up on her bicycle. The Alps were hazy in the distance. Back in Zürich, Carmen’s sister Simon joined us for lunch. We did a bit of shopping and walked all over town, climbing up the steps in the church tower, touring the campus where Sibylle went to school. Carmen rejoined us for dinner, delicious wok dishes, up on a hill above their apartment. It was a beautiful way to spent our last evening together, watching the moon rise over the city.

8 August – Back to London

Lynne and I took our dirty sheets and towels up to their apartment, said goodbye to Carmen, then took a tram with Sibylle to the train station. She headed off to work and we headed to the airport, catching an EasyJet to London. The rest of our trip has already been covered in an earlier post. Thank you both for a wonderful time. I hope to see you again soon.

The Alps

Sorry for the long delay in finishing the posts from my summer trip. Since I didn’t have my laptop with me, I wasn’t able to download, keyword, or sort until I got home and then “regular” life and a couple other trips distracted me.

The walkers Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, covering about 187 km (over 100 miles), is typically covered in about two weeks, in 14 stages. Before we started, we planned to combine a few stages and skip a couple, shortening this hut-to-hut or village-to-village hike to eleven days. Though we hiked about as many days as planned, we ended up abandoning the route, partially because of weather and partially because it was more difficult than expected, especially carrying 20 pound backpacks.

24 July – Forclaz (Stage 1-2) – Rain

It rained heavily during the night and when we saw the forecast for more of the same, we had a pow-wow and considered skipping the route entirely and heading to Italy for a week. Instead we took the train further than planned, to Le Châtelard just across the Swiss border, and then caught a bus to Trient. From there it was an hour hike uphill in the rain to Col de la Forclaz. We arrived before lunch and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon drinking tea, sharing apricot and raspberry tarts, napping, showering, strolling during breaks in the rain, drinking beer, and chatting. Though postcards implied that we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks, we say none of them.

25 July – Lac du Champex (Stage 3) – More Rain

Anne and I decided not to join Hennie and Lynne on the Bovine Route, due to predicted rain and mud. Instead we spent almost four hours in transit (bus–train–train–train–bus) at a cost of over $50, including a snafu with our train ticket purchase (a lot of time and money to avoid walking in the rain). When we got to Champex, a small town along a lovely lake, we had lunch at one of the only open restaurants. I picked the cheapest thing on the menu, a small pizza and a simple green salad. My meal came to about $30; this is an expensive place.

As we headed back to our lodging, we encountered Hennie and Lynne returning from their wet, muddy hike. We checked into Hôtel du Col de la Forclaz and were assigned to a seven-bed dorm room; we were later joined by three young American men.

After placing my bags down, I walked uphill a few minutes to the Jardin Flore-Alpe where I spent a pleasant hour photographing alpine flowers. It drizzled on and off. Afterwards, I had a nice gluten-free dinner, rice with a small but yummy piece of chicken, and once again we talked about replanning to reduce rain and avoid thunderstorms.

26 July – Mont Fort (Stage 4-5) – Fog

Based on Hennie’s past experience, we combined two stages of the route, hiking in the fog through pastureland to Sembrancher, then catching a train to La Châble, bypassing a stretch along the road. We got a few peeks of the nearby peaks along the way in between the clouds.

In La Châble, we were fortunate to find the supermarket right before it’s midday closing. We quickly purchase food for three lunches – cheese, olives, nuts, hard-boiled eggs (dyed red), and energy bars. From there we took two cable cars up to Les Ruinettes, where we had a picnic lunch. By then, the fog had once again surrounded us. The hike up to Cabane de Mont Fort was pleasant, along a stream much of the time. We arrived with plenty of time to shower, relax and take pictures when the sun peeked out. The recent snow provided a beautiful dusting, like powdered sugar, on the craggy mountains. We had our own four-person dorm room. Dinner was delicious, including minestrone-like soup and a rare salad with lots of veggies. The main course was spaghetti, but since I requested a gluten-free meal, I was served a delicious raclette, a Swiss dish similar to scalloped potatoes, and in this case, crispy bacon. We all liked this hut with its friendly staff.

27 July – Prafleuri (Stage 6) – Boulder Fields

After such a delicious dinner, I was surprised to see no protein was served at breakfast, so I ate one of my hardboiled eggs.

I wasn’t worried when I read the hike description, after all I had recently completed a hike in Colorado that was longer, steeper, and at higher elevation, however, this was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever completed – more boulder field than trail. It took us 11 hours to reach Cabene de Prafleuri, almost twice as long as the book estimated. I was exhausted, and there was some grumpiness in the group, but my injured body parts held up well and the views were amazing.

We reread the hike description in our guidebook (Chamonix to Zermatt, the classic Walker’s Haute Route by Kev Reynolds), but there is no mention of rocks or boulders! An easy-to-miss comment does state that the estimated times do not include breaks. We took two, one for a snack and one for lunch; I finally consumed the can of tuna I’d been carrying for days.

We arrived just in time for dinner, served community style at long tables. It’s nice meeting up with the same people each night and comparing notes. This was our least favorite hut — no Wi-Fi, we had to either sterilize or purchase water, and there were only two toilets for the whole place. There were ten futons laid side-by-side on either side of our dorm room. The bedding clearly wasn’t changed nightly, so I used my sleep sack. I lay awake for hours with aching legs, finally falling asleep around 1:00 a.m. After the chatting people beneath us in the kitchen went to bed, it was surprisingly quiet.

28 July – Arolla (Stage 7) – Shortcut

Anne and I opted to take the easy way out, hiking for only two hours. We started straight up through a boulder field, taking about a half hour to reach the ridge with nice, if somewhat cloudy, views.  From there it was a pleasant half hour down to Lac de Dix, where we bid goodbye to Hennie and Lynne. They turned right to continue with the next stage of the Haute Route, while we turned left and hiked along the lake. It took about an hour to reach the dam, the tallest gravity dam in the world (taller than the Eiffel Tower from it’s base).  Our trail took us through multiple tunnels. After barely finding our way in the dark, we found a light switch for the next one. From the dam we caught a cable car down to Le Chargeur where we enjoyed tea/coffee and reconnecting with Wi-Fi while waited for the bus to Vex. Though less than 6 miles away, it took us almost 4 hours to reach Arolla from the dam.

We checked into Hotel de Glacier, a tremendous improvement over last night, where we showered, washed our clothes, and enjoyed the view from our flower-lined balcony, the sound of cowbells drifting across the valley. It was luxurious to have room to move about and repack our bags.

Lynne and Hennie arrived around 3:30, tired from their hike. It sounded like a good one, except for a steep uphill gravel stretch before a set of ladders.

Though this was my favorite hotel, and I enjoyed a very nice beer on the patio, dinner was disappointing. The salad was good, though with too much dressing, but the raclette was a great disappointment after my previous one. It was a do-it-yourself version with a pool of melted cheese on a plate, plain boiled baby potatoes, pickles, and various unappealing dried meats.

29 July – La Sage (Stage 8) – A Pleasant Hilly Hike

Anne decided to return home early, the injuries she incurred before our trip didn’t allow her enough time to get in shape, so she departed this morning, catching a bus and train to Zurich, then flying to London. Lynne woke up feeling ill, so she caught the first bus with Anne, while Hennie and I hiked.

We were on the trail by 8:00 and we saw no one for several hours, hearing only the sound of a stream and birds. It took us four hours to get to Les Hauderes, an hour longer than estimated (no surprise). We opted for the higher, more scenic route with lots of ups and downs. The section near Lac Bleu was especially pretty with nice views looking back at Mont Collon. There we met many day hikers heading out for a Saturday outing.

We crossed the road and continued downhill through trees and meadows to Les Hauderes. From there, we took a bus to La Sage, bypassing the last uphill portion of this stage. My legs were again aching, obviously needing more rest to recover from our arduous boulder field hike.

Lynne was napping when we arrived around 1:00. She slept for hours and felt much better afterwards. Our rooms aren’t as nice as last night’s (smaller with no view), but the lounge is huge with windows on three sides. After a shower and a nap, we spent the whole afternoon lounging there, watching storms move across the distant mountains. Our dinner was delicious: a salad with a small quiche, chicken breast with rice and herbs, fresh fruit, and a surprise bottle of champagne from a friend of Lynne’s.

30 July – Sion

With rain and thunderstorms in the forecast, we decided to skip the rest of the Haute Route and head early to Zermatt (see next post), stopping for one night in Sion on the way.

After breakfast at Hotel de la Sage, which included delicious fresh, warm croissants with homemade jam, we strolled through town watching vendors setting up for a festival. We decided to walk down to the next stop rather than take a chance the bus wouldn’t make it to our stop with booths lining the narrow street. In less than an hour, I was back at the bus stop in Les Hauderes for the third day in a row. This time I took a short walk through town before relaxing on the lawn behind the bus station.

It took us about 45 minutes to reach Sion, a huge town by comparison to where we been (34,000). It’s the capital of Valais, the canton in which we’ve been hiking for the last week. Our hotel was only ten minutes from the train station at the edge old town. It felt hot, after the cool mountains, in the mid-80s (about 30°C). After checking in, we had a yummy lunch on an outdoor plaza (tuna with rice and veggies for me). It was the only place serving food midday on a Sunday. Afterwards we walked up to the ruins of a castle, Château de Tourbillon, and the Sion Cathedral, both provided nice views of town and the incoming storm. We got down before it arrived and rested in our triple room – showering, napping, and listening to thunder. Again, most the restaurants were closed, but we found an open one and enjoyed a pleasant dinner at an outdoor café. Accordions were playing as we walked around town, and vendors were setting up for Swiss National Day.

Chamonix

Anne, Lynne, Hennie and I came to Switzerland primarily to do the Haute Route, a hut-to-hut hike from Chamonix to Zermatt. While we did lots of hiking in beautiful places, we did not complete our trip as planned. This is the first of a few belated posts.

22 July – In Transit (from London)

We arrived at the Geneva airport around noon, got Swiss francs from the ATM, and caught a van ride to Chamonix, a beautiful city in the French Alps. We didn’t have reservations and were lucky get seats on two different vans. After checking into our hotel, we explored the town and had dinner at an outside table. Had we had weather ESP, we would’ve written the cable car to the top when we arrived. Rain and thunder started just as we finished our meal.

23 July – Chamonix

We had hoped to take the car able car all the way up to Aiguille du Midi and from there ride the Mont Blanc cable car across the glacier to Italy, but the winds were too high and the top shrouded in clouds, so we got off at the halfway point, Plan du Midi, and hiked to Mer du Glace, stopping at a small alpine lake on the way. Posted for 2.75 hours, it took us about 3.5. It was more cloudy than sunny, but the peaks showed their faces now and then. We had lunch overlooking the glacier, enjoyed a beer near the Montenvers train station, and took the cog train back down to town. We decided not to go in the ice cave, which in hindsight would have been worthwhile.

The cable car to the top was running when we go back down to town, so we paid for an upgrade and hopped aboard. By the time we got up, fog had totally encompassed the peak, and it was cold, so Anne and Hennie headed right back down. Lynne and I were rewarded for our short, chilly wait with brief, but awesome views of Mount Blanc and surrounding peaks. It then took us 1.5 hours to get back to the bottom since it was late afternoon and lots of people were lining up for the last cars down.

We picked up food for breakfast and lunch (our rooms have mini-refrigerators) and had a long, outdoor dinner which we cooked on a grill. We got to bed late that night and fell asleep worried about rain (justifiably).