SWITZERLAND 2016 Zermatt, Matterhorn

Zermatt and its Matterhorn: A place of magic and enchantment, despite the throngs of tourists on the main drag. Just go two hundred metres from the shops and you’ll have lost 99% of these people. Sometimes, in fact, I was “too alone”: I would have liked it if someone else was climbing some of the icy, slippery, clouded-in mountains I chose to ascend. I felt unnerved up there lest anything go wrong, and was pleased to descend unscathed. I am not as brave as might appear to be the case. Our world is so beautiful I don’t want a forced early exit. The scenes from the tops of the mountains I climbed were so murky they are not for public viewing.

The shots I will share with you are taken by the lovely Stellisee, which put on a varied and beautiful display for me. I hadn’t meant to stay there two days, but had accidentally let my battery run down, so had to spend a morning descending to Zermatt (on foot) to recharge it and then climb back up for lunch. After that, I couldn’t be bothered moving, so just did more exploring in the local area. Note, I didn’t say “waste” half a day. I regard a silliness like that, and the need to drop and gain 1300 ms in a morning, not as an inconvenience, but rather as an alternative workout. “OK. I’ll recharge my battery and have my workout that way rather than some other way”, is the way I see it. I want to do something waiting for the next lot of light, so it might as well be that.

Below are some shots of my reluctant, final descent. My whole holiday was drawing too rapidly to a close. My yearly dose of peace and mountains was almost at an end, but in scenery like this, it’s hard to have a heavy heart. Besides, I wasn’t quite finished yet!

As I dropped down the narrow path, passing endless stanchions in the process, I thought about how tourist bureaus and other such bureaucrats and edacious money-makers seem to destroy the very object that they want to use to make their guilders, and yet never quite understand what it is they’re doing. At our own Cradle Mountain, they are wanting to build some kind of cable car thing to take the tourists into the area, not understanding for one moment that in seeking to give them a “wilderness experience” they would be doing something that redefines the area to be non-wilderness in any true sense of the word. Those who actually want wilderness will be compelled to look elsewhere.

FRANCE-SWITZ Haute route 2012

FRANCE-SWITZ Haute route: Chamonix to Zermatt 2012 July
The Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt is such a classic and famous high-level walk, you would think it would leave an indelible mark on my psyche, would fill me with waves of nostalgia for its beauty as many of the other paths I’ve done have the capacity to do, and yet, there is a certain something that is lacking in my emotional response to this route. It was filled with beauty, indeed, and we met some great people, but I guess the problem is that, unlike on almost every other trail we’ve done, we did not meet anybody at all who was doing our particular version of this route, and the friends that we made were only with us for two to three days at most before our paths diverged – a byproduct of the many options on the haute route. There was no air of shared excitement or pilgrimage; everyone doing it was pretty matter-of-fact about the task. It was just another route. Also, several people had guides, and it seems to be the case that people with guides form their own, closed circle and don’t readily mix with others. I have learned that beautiful scenery is only one of many components of a great walk.

Once we crossed into Switzerland, everything changed. Here is the first hut after the hotels at Champez du lac – Cabane Mont Fort. We felt it looked like something out of a fairytale, perched high there on that hill, and yet it felt strange. Not one person spoke to us. We wondered who was doing our route, as there had been walkers going in every direction from Champez, although nearly all of them were doing the Tour du Mont Blanc. Now our route had its own funnel. The hut was crowded, but we were alone.

Sunrise from the next hut, Cabane Pflafleuri. We still hadn’t made any friends, or met anyone who was doing the haute route.

Friends or no friends, the sunrise was beautiful. but the lack of friends made me realise that, much as we think beauty sustains us, we are, au fond, social animals, and beauty combined with meaningful human contact and fellowship is the best recipe for an enjoyable experience. Normally I make heaps of friends in the mountains, so this was a new experience.

After Cabane Pflafleuri we climbed up and over the Col des Roux, to emerge at a window revealing this beautiful valley, at the end of which  was our next cabane, Cabane des Dix. On the way, we made our first friend, a Parisian, Fabrice. At last there was someone else to share the joy of the journey with, to laugh with and to get to know.

Nearing the cabane des Dix

Rugged beauty, but nothing too challenging for a man with Parkinson’s Disease.

And there on a rock was the Cabane des Dix.

The beauty thus struck me as a lonely beauty, even though my husband was there with me. On other trails, the beauty remembered as the years go by is one that sits within the context of the camaraderie of the other friends we made doing our route. In addition, we have never found Swiss huts to be as friendly as their French or Italian counterparts, where ad hoc rough and tumble are more the order of the day. We didn’t enjoy the strict regimentation that came with the world of Swiss mountaineering, being told exactly which bed to sleep in, which table to eat at, and being rationed out one pat of butter, one tiny packet of jam and two slices of stale bread to furnish us for a hefty day’s hiking. The bread is always stale in mountain huts, but at least in most places it is plentiful

Sunset that night was a treat.

At breakfast, Fabrice ran into trouble with the gardien. He didn’t want one sachet of instant coffee for breakfast; neither did he want one tea bag. He requested hot chocolate instead (like I had somehow received, also refusing the other two items). He was told chocolate is only for children (me?) and that he had to imbibe an adult’s drink. He was not amused. We chewed our stale bread in discontent.

After the Cabane des Dix, you have a choice of two passes, both of which contain elements of risk and danger. One has loose stones with a big drop off. The other has monstrous ladders reaching into the sky. I wanted to take the latter, but had decided to take my husband down to the valley first, as neither pass was suitable for him. British climbers overheard this, and came up to me and offered to rope Bruce up, if I could get him over the glacier and the ice bridge with mini-chasm below it first. We set out ahead of them to enable this, and there was Fabrice, who also wanted to come with us. We appreciated his company as much as he did ours. This is a pass that is better negotiated in company than solo!! We were there waiting for the Brits (I think that surprised them), who roped Bruce up. He bounced up the ladders like an adept monkey: all he needed was the confidence to know that if he fell, he wouldn’t die, and, knowing that, of course he didn’t fall.

Approaching lac bleu with Fabrice
Fabrice wanted to visit lac bleu, reputedly very beautiful. I had been unsure, as it is on a chemin difficile. However, we were enjoying his company, so put lac bleu on the list, and brought our accommodation forward a bit so as to spend the time in his company (we never make bookings). Our paths would diverge next day, when we went back up to high ground, and Fabrice stayed low. It was sad parting. We’d had fun. I can still hear him at times telling me not to tread on the beautiful flowers in the field (when there was nowhere else to tread). I love a man who cares that much about flowers.

Bruce swimming in the freezing lake.
The next day we climbed back up into the snowy stuff again. The hut we had chosen was higher than on the official route, but we wanted to be there as the views were said to be good. It was truly amazing. Below is Bruce in the early stage of the climb.

And below again, he is sitting looking out at the most amazing view I have ever seen from a hut. This hut sold nice cakes, and we had a tasty dinner, even if we were told exactly where we had to sit and with whom we were permitted to talk.

Cabane de Moiry 

Sunset was pretty spiffy

Early next morning, I was up, as usual, to photograph whatever there was to see. Lots of climbers were setting off already.
Leaving this hut next morning, I had one of my less happy experiences of the trip. We had to cross a  band of ice about 20 cms wide, with a big drop into frozen realms below. I got Bruce to wear our one pair of crampons, so I was in shoes with little grip, and carrying his pack which is way too big and which threw me off balance a little as my back is very small, so it came down and bashed my legs. I didn’t have it done up in case I fell into the lake below and needed to rid myself of it, so it swayed around and the ice was slippery. I was shaking when I’d finished this bit.

View from the cabane Bella Tola, two nights later
Down we went to a dam where the lady didn’t want to serve us. There we met our second friend on this trail, who was also denied service. I can’t remember why. Perhaps we were not there in regulation hours. Somewhat hungry, the three of us set out up the steep pass, each at our own speed. I like to treat a mountain pass as a decent workout. It can be cold waiting in the wind at the top, but I just can’t resist a nice fast climb. When Bruce joined me, our new friend was a speck in the distance, and I was frozen, so we didn’t wait, and plummeted down to the valley (Zinal) where we were staying the night. I think that’s another reason why this route doesn’t thrill me as much as many others. Too many nights were spent in hotels (very nice ones) in valleys rather than in huts high in the mountains, which is where I want to be. Mostly, we were high in the middle of the day, and down low for the part of the day that matters. I’d prefer it in reverse, but it wasn’t possible, as the huts weren’t there.

Climbing toward Meidpass
The towns at the bottom are quite small by town standard, but big enough to lose friends in. We didn’t see the friend we’d made until the next day, after he’d finished and was hiking without his pack just to finish things off. It seemed a rare thing to be doing the whole route.

Bruce near the Weisshorn on our descent to Gruben for another valley sleep. The weather was changing. I didn’t take any photos at all in the final stages of the trip, as clouds closed in, and there was no point taking photos of Zermatt in anything other than ideal conditions. I used to live and train there each year during racing season. I have myriad photos of the town dressed for the ball.

Senecio doronicum

Flowers in the fields near Cabane Bella Tola. The flowers between Zinal and Zermatt were numerous and glorious.  By then, the route had dropped out of the rock and snow and was primarily in the high pastures.
It was fun for me to walk part of the Sierre-Zinal race that I used to compete in – run in a daze reading my body and the bodies of my competitors, concentrating hard, monitoring breathing and energy. Now I could just relax and sniff the flowers and enjoy things at a more leisurely pace.
Alas, Zermatt and Taeschtal were anticlimaxes for me, as I knew them so well, and they were drab in that grey outfit they chose for our arrival. No matter. The point for us hadn’t been the arrival at the end, it had been the journey, and we had seen many wonderful mountain sights.

ITALY-SWITZ Tour de Monte Rosa 2014

The Tour de Monte Rosa

The Breithorn from the glacier

Heading for Theodul Pass – the mist hadn’t descended at this stage
Twice I made plans to do the Tour de Monte Rosa. Twice I tossed them. Many more times I looked at my Cicerone book about the tour and kind of shrugged and dismissed the idea of doing it. Why? First, it made the crossing of the Theodul glacier into such a big deal I didn’t think I could get my husband across it without either a guide or harness and ropes that I didn’t want to lug for the rest of the trip (or both). Second, it made the whole thing sound rather unattractive, so that even if one overcame the glacier, one was not, so it seemed, rewarded with beauty as a result. However, I’d bought the book as the idea of circling Europe’s second highest mountain had appeal, and I’d done TMB four times, and the haute route and more. I wanted something new. The book sat on my shelf as a kind of challenge. I was sick of having it there and decided that this year was its last chance. We would set out and go as far as we would go. If we failed we’d give up forever. If we succeeded, then … what? We’d see what lay the other side of this terrifying glacier.

Arriving at Rifugio Theodulo. Hoorah.

Our route for the next day is to follow those ski lines.

The mist lifts, but the sky still looks menacing
We were not the only scared ones. If you surf the web, you’ll find questions by other intimidated people, and every traveller I met doing the route who didn’t have a guide wanted to know how it was: was it as bad as it sounded, did they really need a guide or a harness and rope, etc? Others opted to start just after the glacier and finish in Zermatt, just before it, so as to avoid it. I decided that we would begin in Zermatt and do it first so that it wasn’t hanging over us the whole trip. If we failed, there were other walks we could do. And with that philosophy, we tentatively set out, happy to be underway with a real pack at last, but apprehensive about what lay ahead, especially as the weather was not looking good, and it worsened as we climbed.
By the time we reached our lunch spot at Gandegghütte, which normally has a brilliant vista of the Breithorn – but today had a good view of our feet – rain was starting to fall. We got in just in time. The rain had until we’d eaten our Penne Arrabiata and drunk our warming hot chocolate to clear. It didn’t, but it switched to snow, which I’d prefer any day.

The view after dinner

Wildflowers in the valley next day
Now, one of the things the guidebook insisted on was that if one is so foolhardy as to go on the glacier without a guide, one should at least never go in cloudy conditions when dangerous crevices would be hidden. The people at the information centre down below, however, had told me not to worry, so I didn’t let the fact that we couldn’t see faze me, although I grew less comfortable when visibility was so reduced that I couldn’t see which way was up. The ground was totally invisible to me, and I found it rather eerie – but that was only the very last, steep part. For most of the route where we were on the glacier, we could see enough to follow the tracks made by skiers, and the clouds even parted now and then in the first section.

Descending after Colle di Bettaforca to a different view of the Monte Rosa

Campanulas in the grassy valley down lower 

Marmot near Rifugio Gabiet
After we left the security of the hut, I could tell by Bruce’s facial expression he was worried, but I was confident about what I was doing – namely, taking him on the route for as long as I was comfortable about our safety, and turning back and returning to the Gandegghütte the minute I felt threatened by the conditions. We hit a section that was steep enough to have Bruce a bit uncomfortable, but not enough to make him want to back out. I could hear him panting, but we were at 3300 metres asl by this time, so that was hardly surprising. I went on to kick him some more steps in the snow. (He has Parkinson’s disease, in case you’re wondering about this guy that lets me do everything. He can’t help it.)

 Still below the snow line, climbing towards Col d’Olen

Ibex above Col D’Olen

Me, having fun running down the ski slope
Suddenly, and completely out of the white, my feet touched flattened ground. If I took two more steps, I would be descending over the other side.
“Bruce,” I screamed with delight, “I must be on the pass. The ground here is flat.” He was thrilled. Grimace changed to thankful smile as he fought the altitude to join me.
“The hut is supposedly two minutes in that direction,” I continued, waving my hand off to the right where the theoretical hut was to be situated. It was not manifest. Off we set in faith, and sure enough, in 1 min 50 a door appeared about two metres in front of me. We had arrived. We felt as if we’d attained the impossible, and were totally elated. I didn’t care if we couldn’t do another step on the TMR. Just to have achieved this seemed like victory enough at this stage. It wasn’t that it had been hard: on the contrary, it had been dead easy. It was just that our expectations of success were so very low that it had felt like mission unreachable. Anything more was a bonus.

En route to Rifugio Pastore, day 4

Dawn on day 5, from Rifugio Pastore
Gradually the hut gained more people, and we got to chat to three Spaniards and two Belgians who had done the route clockwise (as opposed to our anti-), and who were able to tell us a bit about what lay ahead. Again, our guidebook was quite pessimistic, too often (so it seemed to me) complaining about the scenery not being pretty enough. These people, however, told me it was wonderful, and that was without getting views of the Monte Rosa, as it had been raining for them all week. A Belgian wanted to show me his photos to prove it. It was nice to meet with some enthusiasm for the route. Because of my guidebook, however, I only half believed them. Que sera, sera. The future would become ours to see.

 “False route”, day 5 – but utterly worth it for the views

The path after the pass (Passo del Turlo), day 5
During dinner, our little cluster debated the whereabouts of the Matterhorn, most of us reckoning that it lay roughly in the direction of the bar, whilst one Spaniard insisted it was out the window. Lo and behold, it decided it had had enough of our uninformed debate and the clouds parted to reveal it leering in at us. Resounding victory to the Spaniard. I couldn’t believe how huge and close it was. Dessert was ignored. Out our group dashed to photograph this wonder. Bruce and I climbed higher and stayed out until our fingers were numb and the light had all but faded. At 3340 metres a.s.l. it gets pretty cold. The Spanish-Tassie-Belgian cadre then sat and gazed at beauty for another half hour in the warmth of the hut, our seats pushed against the glass. “This is the best TV show in the world,” I said in awe, and they agreed. Ironically, we later found the Danish group of 11 sitting around, gazing at the real, techno variety, watching soccer. I guess they differed.

Final sunrise, from Rifugio Oberto Gaspari
Next morning was clear as we headed out, hungry after a “breakfast” that had been as bad and as meagre (not even any bread) as dinner had been delicious and plentiful the previous evening, following ski tracks down in a big arc with a snowy Monte Rosa off to our left, the Matterhorn to our right as we descended several hundred metres before rising again (with a huge descent and then rise to follow that), ultimately dropping from 3320 to 1860. As on every day, we alternated snowy vistas with green fields abundant in swathes of colourful and delicate wildflowers as we ascended over passes and descended to the valleys in between. In almost every hut, dinner was a celebration of delicious food, offered in multiple courses with seconds always available, and breakfast was often a pretty dismal affair. If you scored a bit of cereal it was pretty amazing. Juice even more so. For lunch, we mostly waited until we’d arrived at our destination, which we did by lunchtime on most days, and ordered delicious soup and sometimes a tart. That gave us the afternoon to explore the area surrounding the hut (and do a hand wash if climbing had extracted a nasty smell-toll on our clothes).

Early morning, Rifugio Oberto Gaspari
On one day (day 5) shortly after beginning, two people moving at a good pace came to an intersection in the path at almost the same time I did. We met and chatted and, as our paces were similar, kept together, talking and laughing as we went. I was aware that the distance between me and Bruce was widening, but I also knew the Danish group was moving near him, and that he was about the median speed of that group, so continued talking and laughing and climbing with my new friends. It was fun to have some company. There was a Norwegian up ahead who knew what she was doing, so we had no reason to check our location. After about 40 minutes or so, the Norwegian stopped for a sit-down, but we didn’t want to, so on we went. My new friends did stop for a bit, but I was still full of the joy of climbing, so decided to go on without them for a while, having seen from above that they were now following on.

Back into the mist; last morning.
The long and short of this story is that ultimately I had climbed an extra 500 metres to a different and wonderful high point that gave stupendous views over three of the Monte Rosa glaciers. I realised I had erred but hoped the Americans I had been chatting to would soon join me, so ate a peach and drank a bit (water plus scenery) whilst waiting for them. When they didn’t appear, I went back down and after about 100 ms descent, found them. We were relieved and delighted to see each other. I went back up to the top with them, and then we began the long descent back to a fork in the track that had been so covered by a stream that it had not been visible. The Danes, with the benefit of a guide who had done the walk a week before and who knew it well, didn’t have the same problem. The wrong track had actually been far more obvious than the right one, and there was no sign to indicate a fork. Now we were chasing Bruce. Rick was mildly upset, as his guide sheets said this was the longest day, and we’d just made it two hours longer. Anyway, we worked together, they providing me with nuts, raisins and tuna, and me kicking steps for them and encouraging them through snow that tested their comfort zone. We made a good team, and caught Bruce and the Danes just as they were stopping for afternoon tea.

Our penultimate day was our last day in Italy. We had adored the whole thing and I was sad to be nearing the border with Switzerland and the end of our trek. The map for this day showed contours so close together they almost presented a pure brown front. Bruce was feeling tired from the previous day just described, which had, indeed, been very long even without an extensive detour, so he decided to miss the contours and take a téléphérique that happened to go to a spot near our hut. I was happy. Now I had a solo hike done at my own pace up a nice steep slope, time to dream and enjoy the scenery, to take in the smell of the forest and the sight of that day’s face of the Monte Rosa, to enjoy the clear streams and to see how many marmots and ibex I could spot and nothing else to worry about.

The mist clears to give us a glorious view of the golden madonna in Passo Motto Moro
I cut the advertised time in half, so when I saw a building ahead, I assumed it was actually the middle station for the cable, and was so convinced I had another two hours to go that I had to read the name of the hut three times to confirm for myself that I had, indeed arrived. Rifugio Oberto Gaspari. Last hut. It was bitter sweet arriving. That afternoon we explored the area of the pass, and I took Bruce over the start of the descent that worried him from above. The practise made him feel much better. Parkinson’s is a huge hindrance to confidence when it comes to descents on slippery snow on paths that don’t actually exist. (His “path” is often merely the steps I kick for him. A person without Parkinson’s mightn’t even think about the danger of falling, but falling is always a possibility if you have this disease, so thinking of the consequences is not amusing).

Just below Passo Motto Moro

On the final morning, after an exceptionally good hut breakfast, we set out nice and early – we had to reach Zurich via Zermatt this day. However, the ice was absolutely solid and as frictionless as a metal slippery dip. In addition, despite a glorious sunrise providing memorable photos, the clouds that had sat below the mountains for my paparazzi efforts had now risen to meet us, and once more we were in a whiteout. I couldn’t find the via ferrata that had been so handy the previous day, and we lost time while I fumbled around trying to get us on the exact route we needed. It was all so simple when you could see. Anyway, at last we found the ferrata and used the steel ropes to prevent falling backwards as we climbed. Passo Motto Moro, that we were heading for, has a beautiful and huge golden Madonna holding her hands out in a peaceful and welcoming gesture towards Italy, her back, perhaps symbolically, turned on Switzerland, a land that strikes one as being more interested in economic than spiritual matters.

We lingered a long time in this pass, playing, taking photos, fooling around. We didn’t want to descend, as descent marked the end of Italy, the end of our walk and the end of our whole trip. Besides, we needed to give the snow a bit of time to soften enough for me to kick some steps. Neither of us fancied a slide of several hundred metres for a record breaking time with crash at the end. I think Bruce found this route testing to the edge of his scare-limits.
I will be back, as I adored it, but I fear it will have to be solo next time. I’m so glad I gave the route one last chance before giving up on it, and that Bruce got to experience its unique beauty before his Parkinson’s made something that challenging an impossibility.

SWITZERLAND 1976 Bernese Oberland+ Zermatt

For this blog, I have selected photos from a time very long ago, when we were just beginning a life together of climbing mountains. We walked a huge circle in the Bernese Oberland that began and ended in Interlaken, and took us through, inter alia, Lauterbrunnen, Mürren, Wengen, kleine and grosse Scheidegg, Grindelwald, Gimmelwald and First.

There are also shots of the Zermatt area, a special place for me.
I am rereading my blogs now (2018) to place them in categories so I can put in a navigation bar. This is the first blog that has made me weep – to read of the start of a whole shared lifetime of climbing mountains that has now ended with Bruce’s death. I find it so hard to comprehend that it has finished.

Bernese Oberland
Bruce: Bernese Oberland


Bernese Oberland area

Climbing the Schilthorn

On the way up the Schilthorn
Bruce nearly on the summit of the Schilthorn, having climbed up from the valley in the snow.





Grindelwald area
A little climb before breakfast, near Grindelwald
Alpenglühe Bernese Oberland




Climbing up to the Hörnlihütte on the Matterhorn
From the Hörnlihütte on the Matterhorn. From the toilet, actually. Best toilet view in the world.

Hörnlihütte (more from the best toilet view in the world)

From the Hörnlihütte, on the descent
These photos have been scanned from slides, taken with an old SLR film camera. Stallards camera house in Launceston told me the slides were the equivalent of modern 22 megapixel shots (their clarity on a screen is superb; the texture almost bites you), and then charged me $100 to produce a series of 350 KB images. I’m afraid I haven’t forgiven them. But I still love the images for the Switzerland they reveal, and the memories they invoke.

SWITZERLAND 2014 Tour de Monte Rosa

SWITZERLAND Tour de Monte Rosa. I have the full report of this terrific route written up under the Italian heading, as most of the time was spent in Italy. The first and last days were, however, spent in Switzerland, and most people start there, so I am just posting a few photos here in case this is where you go searching, The main blog is under the link:

This is our glorious path. If you look carefully, you can see the hut tucked in under the Breithorn. That is where we ate lunch. We still had a way to go yet before our evening’s lodgings in the Theodul Pass.

I have always loved the Breithorn. Passing underneath it was wonderful.

Arriving in  fog so thick we couldn’t see our feet for half the time. We didn’t see the hut until we were on top of it.

The view out the window during dessert time. We all ignored our food and rushed outside.

Yes, that’s the Matterhorn, close enough to kiss. How I love her. And she’s mine. Not half proprietorial, am I.

Day 7, leaving Italy: a day of great sadness. The pass just behind me is the border. From then all it’s all downhill, literally and metaphorically. This remains a very sad day of my life, as I now know it marks the end of an era for Bruce. Bit by bit life’s pleasures became lost to him, and he had to keep scaling down what he could do. I am so, so glad he got to do this and that we shared this extreme beauty together before it was too late.