Zermatt is a tourist city, there is no denying that. The moment you step off the train you feel the “tourist vibe” humming around you. The people behind the desk at the tourism office have a rehearsed spiel, the streets are teaming with selfie sticks and each little shop has its own carousel of beautiful postcards.
Personally, I am not a fan of the “tourist vibe”, as hypocritical as that may be. The cities that have grown to accommodate tourists always feel stifling + staged…but they grew for a reason. The mountain trails + wilderness surrounding these kitschy tourist cities are stunning. And the true perk of these overgrown cities? Most tourists stay in the cities, or at least close to them, leaving the more remote + challenging trails empty for people like me!
I left the crowded Matterhorn Hostel early on Wednesday morning with a map in hand. The woman at the hostel’s reception had laughed as she put big X’s through all the areas she would avoid on her day off. I told her I wanted to go on a long, scenic hike on trails that would not take me far away from people. She directed me away from the cable cars and lakes, instead pointing me across the valley toward the Edelweiss Trail. And that is exactly where I was headed.
There were a few small groups at the beginning of the trail but after that…no one, for hours. Instead of being surrounded by people I had wide open valleys, rushing rivers and stunning mountain views all around me.
I hiked past the closed Alterhaup hut/cafe and followed the trail up a riverside toward the Hotel du Trift. When arrived at Trift I had been hiking alone for about 90 minutes had left every hint of civilization far behind me. Sure, I stood near a big, empty building used to feed + house tourists in the summer months but it was the off season, I was alone.
The trail led across the river and suddenly became much steeper as it zigged and zagged between hot sunshine and chilly shadows. The mountains around me weren’t particularly majestic – nothing stood out as mind blowing or jaw dropping – but something about them was perfect. Calm and quiet, yet alive and thriving. Looking at the photos now…something is missing. They are beautiful images, yes, but they lack the smell and sounds of life that I got to experience when I was there, sweating on the trail.
As I continued to hike up the steep trail I made plans to stop at the top for a quick lunch break. Of course, with every “finally, the top” thought the trail turned and kept going up. If the trail goes up…follow it, you’ll never know what you’ll find! I had nearly given up on the mountain even having a top when, suddenly, it all changed! With one step I was staring up at what I kept telling myself was just another false ridge…with the next step I was staring across a mountain meadow at a crystal clear view of the Matterhorn. Lunch break earned!
The next three hours were spent weaving along the mountain trail with the Matterhorn dominating the skyline. At first, I scoffed at how small it seemed — sure, it was a steep, rugged peak but it wasn’t that big. It was just another mountain, right?! I wasn’t disappointed, I was surrounded by beauty, so much beauty! As I continued the mountain changed, my perspective changed. I was no longer staring at just the Matterhorn’s peak, I saw the entire mountain from bottom to top. It was massive!
The Edelweiss Trail dropped down into another valley, this one carved much wider by a receding glacier. I was returning the civilization…I couldn’t see the city but I could hear the hum and rumble. I wasn’t quite ready for the masses of people, no matter how “slow” the city happened to be during this off season, so when the next post of trail signs had one yellow sign reading “Schonbielhutte 1hr 25m” with a tiny image of a house next to it I got an idea.
In the very little Google’ing I did in the hours between “I should go explore” and the act of hopping onto a train headed for Zermatt I had read about the Schonbielhutte. I knew it boasted of beautiful Matterhorn views and that it closed “at the end of September”. It was September 30th…maybe it was still open? And if it wasn’t, I’d get to avoid the populated world for another 3 hours…
Yea, I took the trail toward Schonbielhutte on a mission to escape Zermatt for as long as possible! Unfortunately the main hut was closed as the guardian had left for the season. Fortunately the winter room was open…meaning I got to escape Zermatt for another 18+ hours! But more on that later because there was an extra day trip involved and I’m not done
drooling over sorting through those photos!