Hiking Through the Historic Depths of Geology

The Gorner Gorge is certainly Zermatt’s least understood attraction. Hidden, in dark depth, without a view of the famous four thousand-metre peaks. Anyone daring to go into the historic depths of our geologic history shall experience an exciting past.

No one comes to Zermatt to see a gorge. The Matterhorn is the undisputed star, the diva. Therefore, the Gorner Gorge is the insider’s tip – and still after 130 years as well. But one thing at a time.

It is one of those lazy but pleasantly comfortable Sunday mornings. Breakfast lasted a long time. We pack a small backpack with seat matts, drinks, wallet, fleece jacket, camera and sunglasses. Off we go towards the edge of the village. The signs clearly show where we have to go – there are signs for the “Gornerschlucht” and “Gorner Gorge” everywhere. At the end of the village after the football – soccer – field, the path goes upwards. The gondolas of the Matterhorn Express rattle past over our heads. The shadowy woods smell of larch needles, moist ground and fragrant Alpine-spiced air. An information shed at the beginning of the Gorner Gorge appears. We check our watch: From the Kirchplatz to here took 20 minutes.

It is a place as in a fairy tale. Miniature house, a couple of little flowers, which sprout in the dappling light on the forest floor. The brochure tells about the history of the Gorner Gorge. The price of admission is CHF 5.

Marvelling About the Waters

One heads down into the depths on steep steps. A quiet roar and rumble comes from below. The further one advances into the deep, the more dramatic the acoustics become. The roaring, bubbling and rumbling becomes stronger. Wetness everywhere. A gorge, where the cliff face overhangs the waters in many places. Wooden walkways, wooden bridges with wooden railings and wooden steps strengthened with steel elements lead through the underworld, take one into Mother Earth to craggy Father Rock. Cliff faces polished smooth over thousands of years by the rushing sand-filled waters. Hanging moss and ferns cling to the walls. Heavy drops of water dance on the green in the watery mist rising from below. Every once in a while, the corpse of a tree hangs from the walls as a naked branch or is stuck between the walls in the water. Overhead, the steel-blue sky is visible through a narrow slit. Be careful while walking: it is very wet. The chilling scenery provokes shivering.

The Gorner Gorge was built during thousands of years. The huge Ice Age glaciers always had an outflow, which carved its way through the layers of stone and still does. Much of the rock is green serpentinite and many of the cliff faces just grey. Gurgling down below, water basins, flowing water courses. Somehow, the earth trembles from the stomping water.

The Surprise in Turquoise

It is already 4 pm. We continue along the walkway and go around a cliff corner. Then there is the great wonder: A water basin illuminated in the brightest turquoise by the sunrays shining upon it. This dramatic spectacle can only be viewed in early autumn, because the light must have the correct angle of incidence in order to light the water in exactly this way. Camera ready and catch the scenery.

The Taugwalder family already discovered the potential of the gorge in 1886. They attempted to persuade to local Burgergemeinde (civic community) to allow the use of the site for tourism. The meeting of the Burgergemeinde decided to approve this suggestion. But there was a condition: The entire population of Zermatt had to be invited in for an aperitif. At that time, there were about 450 people in the Matterhorn village. We have no way of knowing how much wine had to be “turned over.”

We work our way out of the gorge over walkways, stairs and ultimately a hiking trail. If the Matterhorn is the diva of Zermatt, the Gorner Gorge is its hidden beauty which must watch over the secretive precious turquoise jewels and which therefore has been banished into subterranean Earth by the Alpine ghosts.


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