Struggling to hold my resilient eyelids open, I awoke to silence, disrupted only by the infrequent sounds of bed sheets brushing frantically against the mattress as our fellow hostel room-mate’s re-adjusted their positions. Thankfully Alex’s snoring had been much improved, yet this failed to even marginally contribute to a better quality of sleep for myself. Surrounding our bunk bed were tightly packed mostly empty beds. The room was cold and the itchy mud coloured blanket that I huddled under hardly covered me. I mumbled “Alex, you awake yet?” peering down to the bunk below whilst clutching dearly to the grey blanket in an attempt not to lose any of the little heat which I had struggled so dearly to collect around me.
We were in Zermatt! The famous skiing resort flocked to by the rich and famous during the winter season. We clearly weren’t here to ski though as there was hardly any evidence of snow around us. Instead we were here to adore the many different angles and viewpoints of Switzerland’s unrivalled king of the mountains the ‘Matterhorn’. Despite being one of the tallest peaks in the Alps the mountain is special for more than just one reason. In the 1920’s the Matterhorn was selected to be placed on the packaging of the globally renowned chocolate the ‘Toblerone,’ this solidified it as a geological iconic, and rightly so.
Our backpacks returned their weight on our shoulders and our legs were ushered into action slowly beginning to accustom themselves. Zermatt’s most distinguishable feature is its plentiful supply of agreeable oversized chalets constructed from darkly varnished wood, most complete with balconies brimming with flowers in vibrant shades of white and pink. Underneath these alluring structures lie shops catering for two very obvious markets, either keen sports enthusiasts or the very luxurious clientèle looking for that perfect Swiss watch.
We boarded the Gornergrat railway which has roots all the way back to 1898 and began our ascent. The characterful red carriages overflowed with rustic charm and entertainment came in the form of the Japanese tourists beside us echoing each others oohs and aahs whilst gazing at the evolving scenery behind the glass panels as we ascended the mountain. I was very tempted to join them but as I felt slightly woozy whilst I adjusted to the altering oxygen levels I felt the better decision would be to stare outside quietly. I waited wide-eyed with anticipation to catch a glimpse of the frosted tips of the famous Swiss Alps that I’d admired for so long, usually on the endless boxes of Muesli I had previously consumed.
As we neared the summit, the impressive silhouette of the ‘Gornergrat Telescope’ came into view. The summit was a very peaceful area, the thinned air due to the height of the mountain seemed to drown out the voices of the other visitors that stood around us. The chilled air felt clean. It was uncomplicated allowing yourself to be absorbed into the scenery thanks to the numerous ridges, all positioned like works of art displayed around a room, each wall offering something different to see.
Alex outlined which ones the glaciers were and described her memories of how they had changed since she was small. We had some people approach me talking in Swiss German asking for help or a photograph, their surprised faces were always a treat when Alex would be the one to address their questions. Having spent a decent amount of time soaking in the surroundings we began our hike in the direction of the Matterhorn, our ‘descent back to Zermatt’.
Thrill-seeking mountain bikers spring bolted past us, chipping the rock beneath them with each turn of their wheels. Smiles illuminated their faces which were homogenised by to their uniform UV sports glasses. The nearby scenery that introduced us to our trek was rather barren to begin with. The ground here must only see the sun for a very short period of time each year making it difficult for it to harbour life. However an interesting shade of maroon lichens inconsistently blanketed the dark rock. The biologist in me came out here as I tried to recall a thing or two I remembered about succession to Alex.
We discovered some piles of stone, which now lay as relics to the old mountain houses that once stood there, taking advantage of these for a photo opportunity. Every so often we’d be greeted by waving newcomers passing us by on the railway, considering the time of the day these were probably the lazier folk who had the privilege of a warm bed and breakfast, giving them reason to delay their start to the day. (Only joking)
Stopping for lunch we unpacked our sandwich baguettes that we had purchased earlier that morning and kicked back on some boulders facing a lake reflecting the tip of the Matterhorn. The lake was cleverly placed, almost as if it had been done on purpose. The terrain really did flourish as we got closer to the valley. First lush grasses appeared hiding the fumbling Alpine Marmots as they played and scurried between their burrows. Later came vivid forests almost growing out of the nearby streams which spilled down towards the valley. The ground was now harbouring interesting mushrooms of varying sizes and colours and among these beetles and butterflies appeared to be making themselves at home.
Reaching our last stop I was sad that our hike was over. What started as a cold winter’s day had ended in me now complaining I was too warm as I sat with red cheeks in my T-shirt waiting for the next train to arrive. I felt very spoiled having got to experience this famous Swiss region and the trail had never failed to intrigue me with its changing landscapes. It’s visible through the foliage how drastically the place must change with the seasons; I guess I’ll have to make a return to find out and perhaps even learn to ski when I come back in the Winter!