If you are thinking of doing one of the long distance hiking trails in the Alps next summer, then there is a little known route that can be done in just over a week of a holiday while still visiting some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Europe.
The walking route linking two of Switzerland’s best known mountains, the Eiger and the Matterhorn is not yet an official long distance trail, but when I hiked the route myself, I found good, well marked paths for most of the way and fewer people than one would encounter on the established trails such as the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt or the Tour du Mont Blanc.
The route from the Eiger to the Matterhorn does, I assure you, not involve the ascent of either of these two peaks – neither of which are renowned for ease of ascent – but instead begins and ends with the walking trails associated with each mountain – the Eiger Trail above Grindelwald and the Matterhorn Trail linking Zermatt with the tarn of Schwarzsee at the foot of the Matterhorn. Though not a family walk, the route is suitable for walkers of moderate abilities – there being no difficult ground or glacier crossings – and yet it passes through some little visited areas of Switzerland and crosses high passes reaching a maximum altitude of almost 10 000 feet.
In short the route is suitable both as an alternative to some of the longer Alpine treks where time may be limited, or as a good introduction to multi day hiking in the Alps.
My own alpine adventure began in Switzerland’s idyllic Jungfrau Region on the path directly beneath the North Face of the Eiger. The Eiger Trail footpath, high above the village of Grindelwald is as good a start to a walk I can think of anywhere in Switzerland.
The next couple of days saw me passing through the villages of Wengen and Murren – better known to skiing enthusiasts for their winter activities – and leaving the snowy peaks of the Jungfrau Region by a high pass through the much remoter country to the west of Murren. My route was following a section of the Alpine Pass Route which travels along the length of the Bernese Oberland to Gsteig in the west, but on reaching Kandersteg, I left this long distance trail to head South over the crest of the Alps at the ancient crossing of the Gemmi Pass.
Down to the vineyards of the Rhone Valley in the canton of Valais – Switzerland is divided into cantons or regions – and back in time as my way led up through the Turtmanntal which is one of Switzerland’s least populated and most unspoiled regions. From the idyllic upper reaches of this remote valley the route joins another of the established long distance hiking trails – the Haute Route – which also goes to Zermatt but from Chamonix at the foot of Mont Blanc in France.
Climbing high above the Turtmanntal and up over the Augstbordpass, which at 2871 metres is the highest point of the Eiger to Matterhorn route, the return to civilisation is made at St Niklaus in the valley of the Mattertal. From now on our path remains with the Mattertal following the valley up to the south towards the snow and ice of the Pennine Alps – the highest mountains in Switzerland.
With the 4000 metre Breithorn to guide me forwards I followed the the valley paths through sleepy villages and cool woodlands beside the rushing river of the Mattervispa. After an easy day, the climbing begins again as the route leaves the valley to ascend through the forest to where the first views of the Matterhorn are seen through the trees, journey’s end in sight.
The Europaweg is a spectacular 2 day high level route from the lower Mattertal to Zermatt and is arguably the best route into Zermatt. The final section of our route joins this path just after its mid point and follows it all the way to the high Alp hamlet of Findeln before the last stretch back down through the forest into Zermatt.
The main part of the route is really done once you’ve reached Zermatt but seeing as I began with the Eiger Trail from Grindelwald, the Matterhorn Trail seemed a fitting end to the walk. The Matterhorn Trail is signposted from Schwarzsee – accessible by cable car from Zermatt and is an easy downhill walk back into town with wonderful views all the way.
So – if you’re heading for Switzerland this summer with your hiking boots, here is a possible alternative to some of the more well known Alpine treks – especially if time is short. You won’t be missing out on anything the Alps have to offer either – well only the crowds!