Matterhorn – the Kingdom of Ice and Snow

Last time I wrote that we have no snow in Zurich, and now we finally found out where is all that snow that is meant for us =)

To learn that, we had to travel 4 hours by train from Zurich to the very border of Italy, to an area containing a large number of 4000-meter high Alpine peaks. Our goal was Matterhorn – this perfect Swiss mountain. If you have ever had Toblerone – this is exactly the peak printed on the pack! It has also inspired Toblerone’s triangle shape. Check out the similarity:

A tourist seeking the same goal is the most likely to start their way in Zermatt – a small village in a valley next to Matterhorn. Tourism is the main source of money for the city: in winter the slopes of all surrounding mountains are used for skiing, and in summer the city is the base for many hiking trails. Despite a huge inflow of tourists all year long, Zermatt managed to preserve the authentic Swiss style of buildings of black wood, which only makes it more attractive to adventure-seekers. The newly built restaurants and hotels maintain this style as well, which brings harmony into the city’s looks.

Cars are disallowed in Zermatt with an exception for official e-taxis and e-buses. The ban started more than 80 years ago, and since then there have been two attempts to cancel it, but the locals always voted to keep it. Even e-taxis were initially met with fierce resistance, although with expansion of tourism this issue had to be eventually given up. As a result, if you have no desire to walk the entire city by feet, you have no other choice but to use such a tiny box on wheels:

If you are more of a show-off kind of person, you also have an option of hiring a carriage =)

Sometimes it feels like you are in the Tower city from HOMM3:

Exiting the city on your way to cable cars, you get the first peek at Matterhorn:

There are many possibilities to view this and other Alpine peaks, but the three most typical ones are Rothorn (~3100m), Gornergrat (~3100m), and Small Matterhorn (~3900m). It is kind of obvious that for us a visit to Small Matterhorn was not optional. Apart from that we managed to see the peak from another angle from Gornergrat. Such a route is very popular, and a special combined ticket is offered in Zermatt which gives you access to all necessary cable cars and trains.

Small Matterhorn was our first destination that day – the cable cars stop going there earlier than to Gornergrat. The climb of the gondola was almost vertical:

Approximately halfway to the top we mad the first stop called Schwarzsee. It is hard to see the lake under all this ice and snow, but in the summer the water is going to be surrounded by green Alpine meadows:

There are many more potential stops on the way, and each of them is a start for many skiing tracks and an opportunity to watch Matterhorn from a slightly different angle:

Some of the stops have restaurants, where a tired traveler can have rest and restore energy after walking in the frosty air or descending  down these steep slopes (if you do not mind paying 30 Swiss franks for a pizza, of course). A breathtaking view is included in the pizza price (note the town in the valley – that is Zermatt!):

Finally at the final station “Matterhorn glacier paradise”. It is located at 3883 meters above the sea level and is the highest cable car station in Europe or something:


The crane spoils the view a bit – apparently it is too hard to keep the station running without it. Does not matter after all. On this pic you can see Mont Blanc – the tallest Alpine peak. It is seen on the left side of the picture – a massive round mountain in the background. And the closest peak, the rightmost in the picture – is Matterhorn, of course.

Just cross this ridge – and you are in Italy!

Looks like the snow is almost falling! The top of the mountain is covered with normal snow, but look below, where the slope is not as steep – and you will see glacier – the eternal ice that never melts. It is fascinating that under these conditions there is still life: a tiny insect called glacier flea lives there. Its body can produce anti-freezing liquid which helps it to survive constant temperatures down to -15 degrees Celsius. If it is ever above +12 though they die.

The most important item in these mountains are sunglasses: the beauty of these snowy peaks can literally blind you.

Like every decent capital of an ice kingdom, the Small Matterhorn has its own Glacier Palace:

And, of course, every Glacier Palace must have a queen 🙂

The sun had already started its decline when we set out for the second part of our little adventure – the peak of Gornergrat. Compared to the Small Matterhorn, Gornergrat’s slope is not as steep which allowed to make way for a real railroad and not a cable car track. This place lets you view different panoramas than the Small Matterhorn, including a different angle on the big Matterhorn. Here is a view from one of the intermediate stations of the train (Toblerone view!):

And here is the view from the top!

An ordinary train is not enough to get here. The road is equipped with an additional “rail” of gears which the train uses to climb up these slopes:

Here you go – here is all snow missing in Zurich!

On the very top of Gornergrat a small observatory is located: far distance from all the cities and high altitude make this place quite suitable to watch the stars:

Of course they did not forget about the tourists: there is a cafe in the observatory building, where it is quite nice to sip warm “glowing wine” or a berry punch, watching Matterhorn in the glow of setting sun after a walk in this cold air.

After the sunset it is still bright for a while: the snow reflects the last sunlight creating a soft glow in the air. But in the end this glow also dies out: this is the sign to say goodbye to these peaks for today. The dark and massive Matterhorn raises above all other mountains in front of the twilight sky, before fully falling into the darkness:

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