There are three categories of hiking routes in Switzerland:
- yellow – the shortest and easiest, with little to no altitude difference; suitable for even small children; often asphalted or go along a forest road;
- red – “mountain trails”, usually imply noticeable elevation, but generally not dangerous; you can just walk them and do not need to climb;
- blue – “alpine trails”; to do those, you will need decent physical shape and a certain degree of craziness: steep cliffs, absence of an actual trail, glacier crossings are usual on such routes.
This post is about my first “blue” hike with an overnight in a mountain cabin.
It all started when I learned about Europaweg – a 2-day hiking trail along the Mattertal valley. On the way you have a chance to cross the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Europe (you did not seriously think that Switzerland does not have everything of the most?) as well as gorgeous views on Matterhorn and other 4K summits.
Without doubt, I was thrilled with this opportunity, and so the planning began. The hike takes two days, and even though it is in theory doable in one day, you should only try that if you are an extremely experienced hiker who does not mind walking for 15 hours straight with a total elevation of 2060 meters and a descent of 1403 meters. We do not consider ourself that fit so we had to figure out the sleep question.
There is an alpine cabin called Europahütte right in the middle of the trail. Perfect, we thought. And that is where the fun part started.
The hike is quite popular, and the hype is only growing after the opening of that very bridge. Two weeks before the planned date the hut did not have any spots left anymore despite a relative off-seasonness (in the end of August it is already quite cold and humid in the mountains).
Since it is not allowed to camp in Switzerland below a certain altitude, we had two choices: reduce the hike and start instead of Grächen from Randa which is located right under the bridge; or push our own limits and stay in a different mountain hut. If you paid attention to this blog, you probably noticed a great example of a cognitive illusion. One could think there is a choice, but there is actually only one reasonable option!
That is how our hike along the vallley turned into “a hike along the valley plus some extra ascent and descent of 700 meters”, because there were no available huts other than Domhütte at 2940 meters above sea.
I speak again to people like us who are not very experienced at this. Don’t do that. You are going to kill yourself – if not literally then physically and morally for sure. The only thing that saved us was a rock fall on the evening before the hike which caused the first half of the trail to be closed. This turned our plan for the first day into “just an ascent” from Randa to Domhütte.
In the morning the picture did not look promising. Climbing the cliffs amidst fog and rain did not sound appealing, but it was too late to go back.
You mountains could be here:
The first part of the route from Randa to Europahütte is a regular red trail, and even despite the elevation of 800 meters we reached the hut at a leisurely pace in 2-3 hours.
The clouds were quite low on that day, and at certain height the forest started looking quite Silent-Hill-ish:
Finally at the long-awaited bridge…
The destination, Domhütte, is not observable from here – it is somewhere on top of these cliffs.
Before climbing, it is essential to refuel with some warm food and spicy mulled wine at Europahütte. In good weather this would also include nice mountain panoramas 🙁
After the hut the path becomes more serious – the “blue” part starts here. It is so nice that the weather is clear and not wet at all, right?
The animals here are not so scared of people, and if you pay attention, you can often spot an ibex:
Such weather also has some bright side – for example, you will not see where you fall if misstepped.
Finally at the hut, I have tasted the best meal in my life – the I-am-still-alive-soup and the cancel-my-grave-reservation-bolognese. In the hut, everyone sleeps in the same big room with some mattresses on the floor. There is no heating so you will have to rely on your own clothes, blankets available at the hut, and breath heat. But after this descent, even a spoiled city child like myself was able to sleep through the night despite the cold and the noise.
Domhütte is a base for ascents to multiple highest mountains in Switzerland and the Alps including the summit of Dom (from which the hut borrowed its name). The crazy people wake up at 3 a.m. for such endevours, because you have to manage to go up and down all in one day.
We, in contrast, were so exhausted and sore after the first day, that we decided to reduce the second one too to a descent to Randa and set aside the plan of hiking to Zermatt for later. We are weak 🙁
The morning weather was so much better than the previous day. We woke up to this view:
Matterhorn is very well observable from the hut. If you look closely, you will see a town in the end of the valley – that is Zermatt.
Without the rain, it was not as scary anymore, and I was able to take some pictures of the blue trail without fear for my life:
Finally the bridge revealed itself again from under the clouds, and Europahütte looked like a building and not just a gray dot:
The full length is now visible:
To be honest, I expected more thrill from the bridge. The whole construct feels very stable, and lack of objects beneath masks its height (86 meters). From the top the rocks below look like just some texture.
From here it is very little way to Randa, and we went straight back to Zurich after arrival to the train station. It is hard to believe that we managed to scale this huge thing.
So it turned out that the result was literally orthogonal to our original plan of going along Europaweg (except the bridge). We are definitely going to make another attempt at Europaweg with some better planning, but we are still very happy with the experience we got instead: it had the thrill, it had pushing the limits, it had a glimpse on mountain hut life. It was an unforgettable journey, and I am now dying to try some other blue routes.
For those curious about the bridge, Europaweg, or the ascent to Domhütte, I learned those few things from my experience:
- the end of August is a bit late for such hikes, because the weather in Alps is already considerable worse; July or early August is your choice;
- planning is quite hard because of unpredictable weather and popularity of alpine cabins; for Europahütte you shold book about a month in advance so you cannot really plan for the weather in that case;
- the blue part is only for experienced tourists who are willing to climb rocks and chains, without harnesses or safety nets, for 3-4 hours (and do not mind feeling ashamed from looking at people who literally jog up this mountain without holding on to anything…);
- Europaweg + Domhütte is not feasible for most people; do not overestimate your capability because it might be fatal in these conditions;
- if you are just up for the bridge there is no need for such exhausting hikes, it is doable in just half a day: 2-3 hour relaxed hike from Randa – and you are there; to diversify the path, you can even descent on the other side of the bridge; 4-5 hours should be enough for the full round.