Nestled at the foot of Switzerland’s tallest peaks is the small mountain village of Zermatt, famous as a starting point for the adventurers and mountain climbers on their way to the iconic Matterhorn. Its appeal to hikers and skiiers alike has granted it special notice on the blogosphere, and while most focus on the infamous alpine skiing, there are some that take a look at the village in summer. Follow their advice and catch a train in summer (cars are banned) and village opens up to beautiful scenery, excellent hiking, and the added bonus of much smaller crowds than the rest of Europe. Whichever time of year you go, though, Zermatt is the perfect place for unique and unforgettable experiences, not the least of which is a day hike through the southern Swiss Alps under the shadow of the Matterhorn.
In Zermatt, I dedicated an entire day to hiking the Gornergrat ridge. A handy cograil takes you to the top of the mountain, though if you are made of the same steely stuff as the Swiss, you’re welcome to hike (or jog) your way up instead. Either way, panoramic views and St. Bernard rescue dogs (which do not, unfortunately, fit easily into suitcases) wait for you at the top.
Once you’ve had your fill of the view (which is, admittedly, hard to do), it’s time to begin your descent. The cograil does offer a faster way down, but for the more adventurous traveler it’s hard to imagine a trip into Switzerland’s alps without any actual hiking involved.
Of course, there are a couple of things to consider: atop the peak of Gornergrat, over ten thousand feet in the air, keep in mind that there will be plenty of snow on the ground, even in the dog days of summer (we went in June, and the first part of our hike was through a good three feet of the stuff). Even more importantly, don’t forget your sunscreen unless you want to spend the rest of your trip roughly the same color as a lobster. Snow glare is an evil thing, and as much fun as peeling the underside of your chin sounds, it’s really not.
As you begin your descent and drop below the high altitudes, it’s also important to remember that while you are not actually in Rohan (as that is, in fact, located in New Zealand), it is still more than acceptable to pretend that you are on the pursuit of an evil party of rampaging Uruk-hai.
About halfway down the mountain, there’s a convenient rest stop if you need to rest your legs, check the map, or use the facilities. Don’t worry about getting lost; there are plenty of signs, marked paths, and other hikers, joggers, and tourists to help point you in the right direction. Just follow the narrow dirt road, pass under the treeline through a forest worthy of Thoreau’s Waldeinsamkeit, and Zermatt will open up before your feet before you know it.
All photos by Rachel Alvord