Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Breithorn (4164 meters)
September 2nd, 2006

September 2nd, 2006
Zermatt to Geneva, Switzerland
Shawn and Vonessa Martin 5th wedding anniversary

We woke up early and went down to the breakfast of hiker champions. They had everything. Croissants, eggs, granola cereal, cheese, coffee, hot chocolate. We wanted to eat it all, we felt so deprived of choices. We tried, we really did.

Off to the town. The hotel generously agreed to keep our bags while we were exploring. Our mission: to find a gondola to get as close to the Matterhorn as we could (like we had to Mont Blanc). We have two choices. We can take a gondola up to 3883 meters, the next highest point (The Matterhorn being 4478 meters) OR we could take a gondola up to 2786 meters and hike to 3260 at the foot of the Matterhorn. Higher equals more adventure we decide. To my surprise our Swiss Passes get us half off the price ($68 instead of $136).

We take a gondola with a dozen skiers and snowboarders. Actually I think the Olympic Austrian ski team was on our gondola. We take one gondola to what they call Schwarzsee paradise (2583 meters) then another one to Gletschen Palast (3883 meters). Both areas our major ski centers but Gletschen Palast has the MATTERHORN GLACIER PARADISE!

We spend some time taking a lot of pictures at the top. Pictures of the Matterhorn from an entirely different perspective then from the valley. The panorama is epic. We can see Mont Blanc far away. Looking north to Zermatt there is an excellent wooden carving of Jesus Christ on the cross. Underneath it says (in French, German, Italian, and English): BE MORE HUMAN.

To the east of us is the Breithorn mountain at 4165 meters. It actually looks like a lot like Mont Blanc. You can see people slowly climbing the snow to the summit but they are too small to show up in any of our pictures. When Shawn has finally exhausted his scenic photo options we head down the metal stairs (why cold icy metal?) to the ice tunnel. Viva Matterhorn Glacier Paradise! Carved into a glacier is a large room about 200 feet under ground. A novelity to be sure. In this room they have displays of ice carvings (that presumably never melt because it IS arctic in there). They have chamois, Buddha, a carriage, etc. MGP wins one point against the awe inspiring Aiguille du Midi.

It is getting pretty crowded so we descend. We are forced to share with 3 Swiss Germans skiers our gondola to the midway down point. They are having a boisterous conversation when all of a sudden one of the guys breaks into song. The White Stripes' I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself. For our benefit? If so, good American singing accent.

Now we are just tourists and no longer hikers. We have no back packs to show our status and now our mission is to buy presents for our family and friends. Our train leaves at 4pm and we have 2 hours to achieve our goal. Chocolate is a must. I can't say enough about how great Swiss chocolate is. We stop to eat. I purchase my last Swiss bakery sandwich and Shawn has "the best brat ever" from a man who cooks outside on the street. Then we board the train and sadly make our way to Geneva where we hope our gamble paid off on the hotel we randomly found two weeks ago. Wow, two weeks.

Total score. Our hotel is just as nice as the hotels on the trail. Hooray! Those Swiss teases. Tomorrow we fly home. The best trip ever.

The Matterhorn
Zermatt, Switzerland
photo by Shawn Martin

September 1st, 2006 continued Jungen to Zermatt
After our lovely picnic we mosey on down the hill and (after one itsy bitsy wrong trail detour) we are in the itsy bitsy village of Jungen. Previously we had planned to take the gondola (our love hasn't faded) to St. Niklaus and then a train to Zermatt. If we walked all the way to Zermatt from there it would take us 7 more hours. Not necessary.

The trail from our lunch to Jungen was somewhat leg jarring so we were relieved to see the fenced in cow pasture of the first homestead of Jungen. Ahh, civilization? The farmer let us walk thru his yard and into the square village (all gesture communication, I assure you). Steps further we managed to run into English speaking people who told us the gondola wouldn't go down until 3pm. It was 2. Shawn recommended we forego the gondola and hike to St. Niklaus and I-not wanting to sit around another hour-agreed. Mistake. Our legs would be jarred like they never were jarred before...and I don't use the term 'jar' lightly (or accurately). We journeyed down the side of the mountain on the only California trail of the Alps. Pounding sun, dry as dessert trails, no cooling wind, and the same view for the whole set of switchbacks we traveled on. Not all trails in California are like this but we never expected to find this in Switzerland.

On a side note the one thing you would never find in the States is at every quarter of a mile there was a little stone prayer monument. Stations of the Christ. The Swiss acknowledging that prayer was needed for this trail in particular?

When we arrived at a bridge that crossed a raging waterfall/river we were ecstatic. Although we had a ways to go we were so happy to see and feel water (see picture).

Then the adventure begins. We hike for a little bit and Shawn discovers what he sincerely believes is a short cut. It turns out to not even be a trail. Half scrambling, half sliding down with the occasional apology from Shawn, we arrive at someone's driveway. It was interesting actually because these mysterious Swiss people had what looked like a mine carved into the mountain. When we stood next to the gate we felt cold air coming out of it. We couldn't see where it ended.

We continue our off-trailing. When we get to train tracks we jaywalk across (scenes from Stand by Me flashing through my brain). We know we are in St. Niklaus but have no idea how far we are from the train station. It has to be on the tracks, right? We walk on a semi-parallel road marveling at all the signs in German. Although we have looked up the word for train station (Bahnhof) we see no sign. Our original trail was suppose to come out steps away from the station. How far did our 'short cut' take us out of the way? We ask a couple of people. Nope, no English. We know it is probably south of us so we continue that way. Looking back we probably looked like we knew where we were going because we managed to go the exact way the station was but at the time it was frustrating. We spy a town clock. We ask one more person but this time more of a point and 'Bahnhof'? Yah.

At the station the teller tells me our Swiss Passes are good for the train to Zermatt and it will be there shortly. Sigh. The hike is over.

The train takes an hour to get to Zermatt and it's a complete joy to see the countryside. I have my first sighting of 1/2 black 1/2 white mountain sheep. (sorry, no picture). I couldn't see the Matterhorn from St. Niklaus but somewhere on the ride it's there and I wonder how it could NOT have been seen. Although not as tall as Mont Blanc I think it's more interesting to look at.

Zermatt is a big town. There are no cars but these half gold cart half van things and horses pulling carts. Pretty neat. Next to the train station there is a tourist office that has a map of Zermatt on the wall. All you had to do is find your hotel on an alphabetical list, press a button, and your hotel would light up on the map. Snazy. I do a quick look and return to Shawn outside. Of course two blocks later as we look around at all the different stores, horses, and people I completely forget where the hotel is. I quickly jog back to the tourist office - at least I didn't forget where THAT was--and read the map again. Oops.

Bill Russell did us right with the hotel. 5 star and upscale. Perfect place to stay for the trip finale. Our concierge informs us in her perfect English that included with our demi pension is a special annual event. The Hotel Mirabeau is celebrating the Valais region with the meats and cheeses for which its known. She escorts us to our room that has a great view of the Matterhorn from the balcony. Oh la-la! We shower the trail off our weary bodies, nap, and head down to dinner. We are the most casually dressed but oh well. It is our anniversary tomorrow but we had always planned on celebrating it tonight in Zermatt. Our server recommends this lovely white wine (we end up buying a bottle to take back to the States). We are seated near the raclette table so we get to see the chef and assistants in all their traditional Swiss clothing and raclette making glory. The chef would spin one end of the cheese wheel on a flat grill, it would melt, he would spin it back, and then slice the semi melted cheese off. The assistants would put this cheese (Raclette du Valais) on a plate with red potatoes, round onions, bruchetto and pickles. Sooooooo good. We ordered dinner as well (I had fish and Shawn had a pork chop) but the raclette was the most memorable. We were, dare I say it, wowed.

After dinner, bed. Enough said.