Winter Hiking Experience Report

Early January 2014

A storybook winter’s day awaits us: gorgeous sunshine and masses of snow. We decide to take a winter hike at Gornergrat. It is already after 2 pm. We are not in a rush. And we don’t know that the mountain has its own way of welcoming winter hikers.

No stress. It has to be relaxing. So we first ride all the way to Gornergrat to view the 29 four thousand-metres mountains from the viewing platform. The panorama is breath-taking. A few clouds majestically crown the Matterhorn. However, there are already long shadows in the valley far below us. As lowlanders, we do not know what that really means. The mountain will teach us.

Start in Rotenboden

The return trip from Gornergrat to Rotenboden is short. At first, we cannot find the signs for the hiking trail. But another tourist gives us a tip: we have to go left at the little train station. Now we see the signs. At first, our winter hiking trail goes down steep where the piste groomer has smoothed out the piste. We slide on the snow and laugh like little children. We come to a sign, which is buried deep in the snow. The sign is not even waist high. Funny to see how such sign posts work when the snow almost covers the signs. We descend slowly and enjoy the panorama. Once in a while we stop to take pictures.

The Shadows are Home to Bitter Cold

We come to an area, which is in the shadow of the Riffelhorn – and the shadows are becoming longer and longer. It casts the hiking trail in dark blue. The landscape is suddenly far less inviting; in fact, it is a bit overwhelming. Just a few minutes ago, we looked at the sun and fooled around. Now we zip up our jackets, our hands are clammy, and we are glad to have our scarves and hats. We start to walk faster in order to get around the now inhospitable mountain. It now blocks part of the panorama. The cold stings our unprotected cheeks. Talking is less easy than before, because the cold has penetrated our jaw muscles. The mountain teaches us that areas in the shadow at almost 3,000 m are ice-cold in January even if the sun is otherwise so friendly and warming. We learn that where the sun cannot shine, artic conditions soon prevail. We wrap up ourselves even more. Fortunately, we can soon leave the deep shadows.

We see the Matterhorn before us, time and again. It stands mighty with snow covering the east wall. However, because the shadows grow ever longer, this mountain also seems very different. Aloof, cold, self-contained. A couple of clouds crown this impressive peak. They seem painted into the sky.

A Calming Glance at Civilisation

The trail continues to snake downwards. The snow really is very deep and it has been drifted by the wind in many places: Everywhere mighty snowdrifts seem to want to creep over the trail. But fortunately they don’t. The piste groomers have made sure of that. Someone has carved his initials into the snow. Soon we see the Kappelle and the Riffelberg station further below. We are glad to see real signs of civilisation in front of us. The hike is beautiful and not all too long. But we have not forgotten the shadowy cold of the Riffelhorn.

The day is gradually coming to an end. The dark blue shadow in the valley is increasingly dark and crawling up the mountain towards us. On the return trip to Zermatt, we are of one mind: The next time, we will start earlier in order to always have the shining sun as our hiking companion. And we think about trying the sledge trail the next time. That would be great! Sledging starts at Rotenboden. What is most certain: This is not the last time we will be here!

Monika and Dominic, Zurich