Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Saturday, 8 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 45 - Zermatt - A Visit to Täschhütte and Weingartensee

Saturday 8 September 2018

The sun returned today. All day. There were just a few wisps of afternoon cloud skirmishing with some of the higher peaks.

We took the Sunnegga train/lift at about 9 am. It was frosty in the shade up at 2200 metres. Sue tried to get some artistic images.

As usual we left the crowds to huddle around the vicinity of an easy journey back to Zermatt. There was hardly anybody on the lovely belvedere path that hugs the 2200 to 2350 metre contours all the way to Täschalp, some 8 km from Sunnegga. Just a couple of walkers, a mountain biker and a runner. 

We eschewed the attractions of Tufteren soon after starting out, but after those 8 km of superb paths we couldn't resist pausing for coffees (in mugs!) and apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce at the Europaweg Hütte in Täschalp. En route we enjoyed magnificent views back to the Matterhorn, and we passed an area where rockfall is clearly a problem. There were lots of warning signs, and three small bunkers in which to hide. I wonder whether the protection on the path (which is the 'Walker's Haute Route' trail) further north has improved since I was last there in about 2006.

A few other people were enjoying a break at the Europaweg Hütte. I have a feeling it's on the Tour of Monte Rosa route as well as the Haute Route.

We left them to luxuriate in the sunshine and headed on up to Täschhütte, a 500 metre climb past edelweiss and grasshoppers. Lunch was on a bench near the hut, after we'd taken some 'Project 1949' photos. The hut has been extended since then.

The weather was so good that we decided to continue by way of Weingartensee, a lake at 3058 metres. The signpost for this pointed directly up an apparently pathless hill, but before heading off at 90° to the sign we thought we'd better check with the guardian.

"Oh, there was a big party here last night and they licked all the salt of the signpost and it's now pointing in the wrong direction. I must see to that" she said. 

A partying herd of Valais blackneck two tone goats was responsible. The punishment, if the culprits are ever found, will be severe. Also in this area are herds of Valais black nose sheep. They are rather cute and very tame. Apparently they are a delicacy. Whilst we were out today, a big celebration was taking place in Zermatt, where one such juicy specimen has been crowned 'Miss Zermatt 2018'. We were sorry to miss the party.

The path beyond Täschhütte was great, after an initial section that was uncomfortably vertiginous. We climbed a further 500 metres past the yellow flowers of Grey Alpine Groundsel to around 3200 metres. Here the path signs changed from yellow to blue. We soon decided that 'blue' means more difficult. Our pace slowed dramatically as we slowly made our way across a field of huge boulders. After some time the route - marked by small cairns and by painted waymarks, there was no path in the normal sense of the word - avoided an obvious but very bouldery descent route and headed up to another minor col. From here we could see the attractively named Weingartensee lake. It was nearly empty and looked more like a giant farmyard full of slurry. Sue thought it looked as if someone had stolen the plug. There would be no magical reflections of the Matterhorn or any other mountain in that today.

By way of compensation, our views to the nearby mountains were stunning, with the snow draped summits sitting below a deep vermillion backdrop. Täschhorn (4491 metres) was dominant. It looked very inaccessible.

Täschalp could be seen far below. It was a steep 900 metre descent to get there. We lost the marked route (path it was not) at one point and had to backtrack. Soon after that the route evolved into a discernable path that descended steeply via the top of a glacial moraine wall.

We made it back down to Täschalp by 5.15 and then, after a final tea and biscuits break, took a lovely scenic path directly to Täsch. A train at 6.30 returned us to base in a carriage full of stony faced tourists who were wrapped in winter coats and looked as if they would rather be anywhere but here. We must have looked out of place in our t-shirts and shorts and wide grins after a classic day out in perfect weather.

Stats:
We walked just over 22 km, with 1200 metres ascent and 1800 metres descent.

Today's pictures:
The Matterhorn from Sunnegga
Looking back on the path to Täschalp
Approaching Täschalp
Täschhütte
Weingartensee

Friday, 7 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 44 - Zermatt - Lunch at Zum See

Friday 7 September 2018

The day started badly with the news of the sudden death yesterday of Mike Collier, a UMIST contemporary of mine with whom many happy times were enjoyed. Very sad news indeed, and we send our condolences to Linda and the rest of the family. This has played on our minds all day.

A rainy morning encouraged us to rest indoors. My current book, Raymond Chandler's 'The Long Good-bye' continues to enthrall with its wonderful prose and gripping plot.

By 12.30 the sun had returned, so we strolled up to Zum See for lunch, as prescribed by Richard, who knows Zermatt quite well. John had also eaten there the other day and had extolled its virtues.

On the way we passed the Old Presbytery, which apparently dates from 1742. It's part of 'Project 1949' and today's top two pictures illustrate the 'Then and Now' nature of the project. This is one location that (with Josef's help) we got right. Others have been more difficult.

Whilst the mountains held onto their clouds all day, it was a warm and sunny day in the valley once the rain had stopped. A pleasant 3 km stroll up to the restaurant at Zum See. We enjoyed an excellent lunch that obviated the need for a large evening meal. Sadly the house Petit Arvene wine recommended by Richard wasn't on the list and a brief scrutiny of that list resulted in an order for a thirst quenching beer.

The other customers included ancient and well heeled visitors who arrived on foot, and three workmen who arrived by helicopter.

Richard had suggested that we book the restaurant, but there was no need. Whilst it was busy, there was no question of anyone being turned away. Richard's visits have been in winter, when we are told that the takings in the town for a day are equivalent to a month's taking in the summer.

After our meal we continued up the south side of the valley to around 2100 metres, before descending and crossing the torrent to reach the pretty hamlet of Zmutt, with its Walliser style buildings. Beyond that we took a lovely 'middle path' back to Zermatt. There were hardly any people around. So few in fact that I nearly trod on a 70 cm adder that was sunning itself in the middle of the path. Then I nearly trod on a red squirrel as it ambled across the path just where I happened to be passing at the time. There were lots of birds about, from warblers to finches, nuthatches and thrushes, not to mention the ubiquitous nutcrackers.

Back at the apartment, we had time for a game of Boggle before settling down with a beer and a snack and a good book.

Stats:
We strolled about 10 km with 500 metres ascent.

Today's pictures:
The Old Presbytery (2)
Lunch at Zum See
A helicopter drops in for lunch
Old buildings in the Walliser style in Zmutt

Thursday, 6 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 43 - Zermatt - A Visit to Fluhalp, 2620 metres

Thursday 6 September 2018

Stats:
Yesterday we walked about 18 km, with 800 metres ascent.
Today we covered around 16 km, with 500 metres ascent.

Another sunny start, but it soon clouded over and the views lacked the contrast and clarity of the previous two days. Today we got back to the apartment at 4.15, a few minutes after which it was pouring with rain.

The Sunnegga train provided our means of ascent today, whisking us up from 1620 metres after a five minute walk from our apartment, to 2288 metres at Sunnegga. The journey took place entirely in a tunnel, and lasted five minutes. More a sort of 600 metre goods lift than a train journey.

We were soon alone on the hillside, with the vast majority of customers taking the onward gondola to Blauherd (2571 metres).

Some black and white goats shunned Sue's attempt to befriend them, en route to Stellisee, a small lake surrounded by persons of an oriental nature. (Not a problem as whilst there are many such folk at the flesh pots,  they are a rare sight more than a few metres from a point of transport.)

We tried our best to get a good 'reflection of the Matterhorn' picture, but the conditions weren't so good today. Fish were continuously breaking the reflective surface of Stellisee, despite the efforts of a fly fisherman to reduce the population.

Not many folk were continuing to Fluhalp, where Project 1949 had an assignment. Coffees and apfelstrudel were duly consumed, and every effort was made, with limited success, to replicate the old photos.

We continued up the Tallinen valley for a while, but failed to locate the exact place where one of the 1949 photos had been taken. Marmots shrieked in derision.

After walking along the crest of the moraine for a while, we descended to Grindjisee, where the views were not really worth recording. Then it was on to Grünsee, where we spent ages trying to find the exact location for a project picture. It's a shame that clouds obscured much of the mountain view.

A long woodland descent down virtually deserted paths crossed the Gornergrat railway above Findelbach Station. Our waves generated a generous response from the passengers on a long train, though the squirrels didn't sound too pleased with our presence.

Housing in the pretty suberb of Winkelmatten seemed to be competing for the best floral display, mostly in a deep shade of purple.

An excellent walk, and as noted earlier, we got home before it started to rain. Another roast chicken dinner was concocted, preceded by avocado salad, with baked peaches and ice cream for dessert. The Swiss 'Dôle du Valais' Grand Pierraz wine provided by our guest for the evening, John Burt, went down very well.

Today's pictures:
Apartment Dolomit, our home for the week
Reflections in Stellisee
The mountain hut at Fluhalp
On the moraine near Fluhalp
John and Sue before dinner

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 42 - Zermatt - A Visit to Hörnlihütte, 3260 metres

Another lovely sunny day and a fine walk.

These days we aren't averse to using whatever means there may be in order to gain a bit of early height. Nick impressed us yesterday with his tale of staying overnight at the top of the Gornergrat railway so that he and Daniella could watch the sunrise from over 3000 metres. Today we simply caught the 'Matterhorn Express', a gondola ride, from Zermatt to Schwarzee, via Furi.

Then an easy climb of 700 metres past some cute sheep took us to the sunny terrace outside Hörnlihütte. We enjoyed coffee and cake with a German couple from near Nuremberg whilst studying the route taken by climbers up the Matterhorn. There were plenty of people on it in today's superb conditions.

After a sharp initial descent, we left the throngs to return to Schwarzee and their easy trip back to Zermatt. Having accomplished today's 'Project 1949' tasks, we took a path to the left (north) that led eventually to Stafel and an easy valley path back to Zermatt via a dam crossing and the hamlet of Zmutt.

It was great to be able to enjoy lunch in a deserted meadow with fine views to the summit of the Matterhorn and to numerous other peaks that litter the horizon in all directions hereabouts. There was just a handful of other walkers about, some of whom we later discovered had come this way from Schwarzee by mistake, and a few mountain bikers.

After stopping for a while to finish our tea and biscuits just above Zmutt, we continued our amble back to Zermatt, past fields full of Autumn Crocuses, and past a bench on which the unmistakable form of John Burt was perched. John is a stalwart of the TGO Challenge, having completed that backpack across Scotland some 18 times. I first met him on the 2007 Challenge (my first) in a restaurant in Drumnadrochit. He was covered in tick bites. Today he was covered in smiles. It was good to know that his tiresome feet had recovered from May's backpacking stresses. We spent a good half hour with John, and will see him again tomorrow.

We had just about enough time to cook and consume our dinner, master the intricacies of the house's laundry facilities, and catch up with admin, before adjourning to the basement cinema for the weekly showing of Josef's amateur film of the local wildlife over the period of a year, featuring eagles, ibex, chamois, black grouse lecking, foxes, ptarmigan, snow finches, a plethora of flora, and much more. All set to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was lovely, despite being narrated in German. Well done Josef.

Today's pictures:
Were taken on the ascent to Hörnlihütte, at Hörnlihütte, and finally above Zmutt, from our tea and cake break. You can see the Breithorn, 4159 metres, on that bottom picture. I've been up it!

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 41 - Zermatt - A Walk from Gornergrat

Cloud free skies encouraged us to get a reasonably early start, before the Matterhorn inevitably attracted some cloud.

Sue nipped out for croissants etc and we had our day sacks packed in time to arrive at the bookshop just as it opened at 9 am. My maps of the area date from 1968, so the acquisition of a more up to date version seemed appropriate. We settled for a 1: 33,333 scale offering on waterproof paper, dating from 2013.

Then we scooted across to the Gornergrat railway station and hopped on a train that whisked us and many others up to Gornergrat, which at 3090 metres is nearly twice the height of Zermatt. We were here to try to replicate some photos.

'Project 1949' involves a photograph album of a holiday in Zermatt taken in 1949. The album was created by Frank and Doris Sale, who I understand were keen Peak District walkers. Doris ran a chip shop in Droylsden. They had no children, and the album passed into the hands of Doris's niece, Christine. She and her husband Rodney were encountered on our 2008 trip to New Zealand, following which I was given the album after doing a favour for Rodney. There are 36 black and white photographs, sized 8" x 6", plus 16 postcards.

Our plan is to try to identify some of the places where the 1949 pictures were taken and take pictures of the same views. Our host here, Josef, was helpful yesterday in identifying some incorrect annotations in the album. That could really have confused us!

So today we spent a while snapping at Gornergrat before slowly making our way back down to Zermatt via Riffelsee, Gagenhaupt and Gletschergarten. The lower section of this splendid walk that faces the Matterhorn was adorned with information boards about the massive Gorner Glacier. There are photographs of settlements that were destroyed by the advancing ice. The glacier only started to recede around 1864, and since then it has receded by more than 3 kilometres.

My 1968 map shows the tip of the glacier, named Boden Glacier, reaching much closer to Zermatt than on our new map, on which all reference to the Boden Glacier has disappeared.

We returned via the supermarket, after walking about 13 km with maybe 100 metres of ascent.

A roast chicken dinner in our apartment satisfactorily rounded off the day.

Today's pictures:
Looking across the Gorner Glacier to a variety of summits
The Matterhorn, with Riffelsee (2)
A Matterhorn view
Zermatt from above Furi

Wildlife report:
I finally got to see some red squirrels - playing chicken with the train.
Lots of nutcracker birds on the descent.
Many flowers, including Fringed Gentian and German Gentian,  as well as swathes of Autumn Crocuses - list to follow.

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 40 - Scuol to Zermatt

The top picture, taken from our apartment in Scuol, shows the extent of the improvement in the weather after we finished our ride. Sod's Law!

A leisurely breakfast and departure saw the end of our sojourn with Richard, who went off to the station for a scenic train ride to Zurich and a flight home. Thanks for your company Richard, we hope you enjoyed the trip despite the weather.

Meanwhile, Sue and I pottered gently along the Swiss roads for nearly 200 miles, skilfully avoiding motorways as we have no vignette for Switzerland. It's quite pricey as you have to buy a pass for a whole year even if, like us, you only need one for two days.

Three high mountain passes were negotiated before an easy run down to Brig and Visp got us on to the road to Tasch, where car borne visitors to Zermatt are obliged to abandon their steeds and complete the last five miles of their journey by train. We had booked the car park and train in advance. It all worked very smoothly.

En route, we travelled via Davos after crossing the Flüelapass. I have a vivid memory of completing this traverse with Markus in the other direction some years ago on my first TransAlp mountain bike ride. It was pouring with rain but the descent from the pass was brilliant. Today we continued over the Oberalppass, where there's a rather out of place lighthouse, and a railway station, before picking up some lunch from a supermarket in Andermatt and soon afterwards stopping at a pull in place with a bench.

This was the road to the Furkapass, and a sign in the pull in place said 'James Bond Str.' Another sign told us that the dramatic car chase scenes in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, (including the famous scene in which 007's Aston Martin shreds the tyres of Tilly Masterson's Ford Mustang) were filmed on the roads which you see below you from this pull in (fourth picture).

We enjoyed some sunshine today, as well as passing through some showers and encountering cloud below some of the passes.

At one point we were descending a pass next to a tourist (there were open carriages) train. Everyone on the train returned Sue's waves, including the driver.

The train journey to Zermatt from Tasch only takes a few minutes, and the walk to our apartment was mercifully short. Just as well, as we were quite heavily laden. We are in an Airbnb property - Apartment Dolomit Zermatt number 23. Josef welcomed us to his house and helped us with 'Project 1949', then we popped to the supermarket and sourced ingredients for a rather simpler meal than last night's.

A wander around town at dusk was pleasantly warm, with views of a nearly out of cloud Matterhorn, and crowds of tourists littering the streets.

Today's pictures:
Morning view from Scuol
Coffee at a pizzeria near Cazis
An old Skoda on Oberalppass
The view from 'James Bond Str.'
Dusk in Zermatt

Where are we now?

After days of cloud, the sun is now beaming down on us again.

Monday, 3 September 2018

'Summer in the Alps' - Day 39 - Baita Luleta to Scuol

Yesterday: was Day 38, not Day 37 (that was Friday)
The missing statistics - Sta Maria to Luleta: 39 km, 1300 metres ascent, 7 hours including stops

Today's statistics, in case I forget later:
63 km, 1300 metres ascent, 7.7 hours including stops

We had a lie in today as Luleta doesn't serve breakfast until 8.30. It wasn't raining!

However, having set off in dry weather at 9.45, it was something of a disappointment when the rain arrived at 10 o'clock. Frustrating after having received a message from Markus suggesting it would be sunny. The drizzle lasted until about 2 pm.

Luleta, for all its quirkyness (for example our breakfast coffees were served in a Moka pot clearly designed for one person's expresso), was on the 444 cycle route out of Livigno. As we set off, a large group made its way past us. We caught up with six of them at lunchtime. They turned out to be the now fragmented group of 21 sanitary ware company employees on their annual bonding trip. I can understand why they split into several groups - had there been more people in our own group Richard would have been in the fast set and I would have been at the back. As there were just the two of us, Richard was obliged to wait for me at regular intervals. To his credit, he never complained despite getting a bit cold.

After a couple of easy kilometres past curious marmots we reached the start of the 700 metre ascent to Pass Chaschauna (2694 metres), the high point of route 444. The climb is achieved in the space of about three kilometres. Very few mountain bikers can ride up that gradient. We walked. It's quite hard work pushing a mountain bike up such a steep path. The cloud didn't help. It engulfed us in wetness from about 2100 to 2500 metres, at which point we emerged from that cloud below the ugly concrete of Rifugio di Cassana, which we knew from previous signs would be shut. It looked as if it had been boarded up for some time. A grey place on a grey day. Having exited one cloud we were still subjected to drizzle from the next one up. Above 2600 metres there was a thin covering of snow, but not enough to affect our progress.

A final push to the col revealed more greyness, but as it was our high point we managed a few pictures before Richard's cold hands forced us down to Margun. Neither of us was confident of controlling our bike on the steep slithery surface, so we walked down most of the first 300 metres of descent.

After that it was relatively easy despite some thick cloying claymud and a herd of cattle that refused to budge even after I crashed into the back end of one of them. It just gave me a blank stare and stood its ground. My bike is still covered in mud from this section of the ride.

We soon reached Alp Chaschauna, from where a dirt road led towards S-Chanf. Shortly before reaching a turn to the east of S-Chanf, which can be easily by-passed, a small trackside café served us drinks and goulash soup with fries for lunch. We had come 15 km and had covered less than a quarter of the day's route in about three hours. Richard was worried. He might not get to the bike shop in time for them to be open when he returns his bike...

We sped on down the valley. The track to Zernez was interspersed with small uphill sections and was scenic despite the low cloud. And it had finally stopped raining!

A few other cyclists and walkers were encountered as we made our way around Zernez and along the cycle route through Susch and Lavin, before a long 250 metre ascent to Guarda. This was a lovely ride at a good pace. Richard saw red squirrels and I saw more goldfinches.

The final section to Scuol is completed high above the Inn valley, culminating in an exciting descent from Ftan-. Here I missed a Route 444 sign and inadvertently finished the trip with a 6 km road descent. Richard was ahead of me and saw the sign. My 6 km took ten minutes or so. Exciting around the hairpin bends. I was back at the apartment at 5.15. Richard made it to the bike shop by 5.29, one minute before they closed. They were impressed by his itinerary - apparently most of the bikes they hire are e-bikes.

Sue had returned from her Tuoi adventures in mid afternoon. We celebrated with beers and enjoyed winding down (hot bath was great) before adjourning for a fine meal at Uje Traube restaurant. Thanks for the wine, Richard.

Despite the unfortunate weather this was a trip I found most enjoyable. Richard was an ideal (if a bit quick) companion and everything turned out successfully. Credit also goes to Richard's Trek hire bike, which now needs a service, and my old Specialised Stumpjumper that was serviced by Luke at BikeShak in Altrincham in preparation for the 140 km trip with around 4000 metres of ascent. 

Today's pictures:
Leaving Luleta
At Pass Chaschauna
Zernez
A tractor for Alan
Top team

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Swiss National Park - Mountain Bike Route 444

Richard and I completed this 140 km route in two and a half days, finishing back in Scuol this afternoon. An excellent trip.

I'm pictured outside our apartment before consigning a rather muddy Stumpy back to the boot of the car. Sue had returned from Tuoi hut to take the photo, and Richard was busy returning his bike to the hire shop.

That's all for now - I'll report on today in more detail tomorrow, but now we are off for a sociable evening.