Nothing is free
We need a half hour to get to the base of the via ferrata. The hiking trail from the Zermatt train station is not difficult but we still have to overcome 150 m in altitude. The path goes through a larch forest and past large, steel avalanche barriers. We study the information board at the starting point. We decide to try all three routes, A, B and C, pull on our helmets and harnesses and hook on to the safety rope with our carabiners.
The first part of the via ferrata, route A, is completely relaxed. Some easy scrambling at times on all fours. We are able to get really used to the safety technique: hook the carabiner on to the fixed steel cable, climb higher, and transfer to the next section by rehooking. No hectic, but moving right along. Slowly, the route changes into the vertical cliffs. With U-irons fixed into the rocks. The village appears far below us.
Edelweiss: Time and again, edelweiss
While we are climbing, we are surprised to see clumps of edelweiss crop up before our noses. Zermatt is directly below us and increasingly small; the climbing, however, is increasingly difficult. In order to get to a good grip or place to step, we tell ourselves again and again: set your foot, stretch your arm, hook the carabiner once again.
We continue and in just over one hour we reach the Beresina Hut, originally built in the 19th century. We rest and eat our dinner. Wonderful, this view: far below, the village of Zermatt; as if affixed to the cliffs, the Restaurant Edelweiss. Unfortunately, our colleague Sven has to leave after just the A route. He takes the marked trail back to the valley.
Water, we want water!
Our water bottles are already nearly empty. But there is another difficulty level in the via ferrata: after a long traverse, we reach wooden beams, which are not permanently fixed just to keep the adrenalin level high. And onward with iron ladders, iron footholds, iron pins, which have been placed into the rock face. A really nice via ferrata. The steel cables are our safety lines. A hundred times we rehook on to them – the motion becomes automatic. If we were to fall, we would “land” in our climbing harness and still be hanging on the wall.
This is really something only for those, who are not afraid of heights. Time flies, and it is a nice challenge to maintain our concentration on the cliff face. Climbing is very much about staying in the here and now and not letting your thoughts drift off. We take a short break on a small meadow. But we are short of water. Our dumb realisation: We should have taken more water along! And then we pass a water spigot. A real spigot stuck into the rocks. But, no water flows. Some smarty-pants even put up a sign: No drinking water.
Finally, after four hours, we reach the end of the via ferrata. We are at Schweifinen at over 2,100 m. We have climbed 560 m. We are really kaput and plagued by thirst. But we are happy. We have done it! The bottle of Fendant Dani brought along really hits the spot!
We toast each other with plastic cups and look around us: in the background is a glowing Matterhorn enjoying the last sunrays of the day. It is already 9:30 pm. Fortunately, nothing slowed us down. No one ran out of energy.
But ouch! We still have a one-hour descent. Fortunately, we brought along headlamps. Although worn out, we take the steep route down from Schweifinen to the Zermatt train station. Then, after 884 m of steep descent, the effect of the adrenalin is over. The first sore muscles report for duty. Finally at the bottom, we drag ourselves to the bar of the Hotel Alex. We have earned a beer.
Tips for the Mammut via ferrata in Zermatt
- Before setting out: Check the weather carefully. Is there a chance of rain or thunderstorms?
- Take enough water. For route A, at least a half litre; for routes A-C, at least three times that.
- Take some food for the break and additional calories (dried fruit, nuts, energy bars).
- Timing: divide it up well and don’t start too late.
Besides the normal gear for rock climbing, take a headlamp along even if you do not start late. You never know where you might run into a delay.