Hikes for loners

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Hôtel du Trift, Höhbalmen

Even in resorts completely surrounded by alpine subways, trains, ski lifts, and ski runs, it is possible to find peaceful places. The Trift Glacier is one of such places. And the Höhbalmen altitude path that runs along a ridge opposite the Matterhorn is simply one of a kind.

Hôtel du Trift and Obergabelhorn

1 - Hôtel du Trift and Obergabelhorn

After tackling the somewhat ugly Oberrothorn on the day before, this hike made me see Zermatt with slightly friendlier eyes again. The flowers that had deserted the Oberrothhorn region - and most likely other regions such as Schwarzsee and Gornergat - appeared to have taken refuge and multiplied here at Höhbalmenstafel. As another writer has put it, this is the only Zermatt valley that has been protected from ski lifts and ski runs.

At a square in the center of Zermatt ("Dorfplatz"), you'll find and follow a narrow alley marked "Trift". Concrete soon gives way to to a more natural surface. The path rises above traditional houses and reaches the edge of a forest. The hard hike up through this forest leads to a hotel with a restaurant that goes by the name of Edelweiss (1961m, 6463ft) - a 45-minute hike from Zermatt.


2 - Höhbalmen

Then it goes further into the Gorge du Triftbach, getting closer to the torrent with each step that you take. Once you're out of the forest, the slope gets less steep and the valley less deep. Crossing a bridge, you reach the other side of the Triftbach; Hôtel du Trift is an hour and 45 minutes further off.

Don't wonder whether you're hallucinating when you see a house whose walls are painted with pink! On the other hand, if you think you see pink elephants, I strongly suggest you hurry on back down to Zermatt. Though renovated, Hôtel du Trift looks as if it hasn't undergone any kind of change since the beginning of the 20th century, which includes its unusual color. And it gives you a splendid view of the lush glacier that two 4000-ers - the Obergabelhorn and the Zinalrothorn - keep close. Unfortunately, on this beautiful June day, the doors of the hotel were also closed.

From Trift, it's another one-hour hike upward to the mountain pastures of Höhbalmen to be able to see the Matterhorn from Höhbalmenstafel. That magnificence is visible on the left/south side of the hotel, where the route stretches across pastures and rocks. Other routes take you to the north, to Platthorn or Rothornhütte.

Cervin and Dent d'Hérens

3 - Cervin and Dent d'Hérens

Höhbalmen is a panoramic path that fully deserves its name. Almost flat, it meanders toward Schönbielhütte and the Zmutt Glacier. This part is luckily more like a walk than a hike because it isn't easy to take your eyes from the amazing north side of the Matterhorn and watch where you're going at the same time! And then, there's also the wild Dent d'Hérens that runs alongside the Matterhorn and all the other 4000-ers of the Massif du Mont Rose that appear on the other side of the valley.

After about an hour on this ridge, it's a steep descent into the Vallon d'Arben, near a waterfall. It takes only 20 minutes to go from 2700 to 2200 meters in altitude (that of the Zmutt Glacier) and find yourself on the path to Schönbielhütte. From there, it takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to get to Zermatt.

On your way down, you come upon Zmutt. The place is picturesque, made up of typical granaries and old houses, some of which have been turned into restaurants. The welcome was so cold and the coffee so undrinkable that I suggest not stopping. It was only too obvious that the good people of Zmutt felt that it was a pure waste of their precious time to serve the only two visitors present in the village on that day - an attitude that clashes in a mountain region, moreover in a canton that (usually) is known for its hospitality. We were in the German-speaking part of the canton. Did that have anything to do with how we were treated? Maybe Markus Jaton's remarks on the reception that he got at Schönbielhütte were not wrong (see Links)...

The distance between Zmutt and Zermatt is covered without further ado.

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