This blog post was originally published on Outdoor Trip Magazine – a travel agency that will help you turn your outdoor adventures into reality!
As soon as you set foot on Swiss soil, you’re bound to be in awe. To be honest after traveling to over thirty countries, that awe feeling isn’t as common as it used to be. But Switzerland is a different story. Despite only having a few days to explore this small nation, I decided to make the most of it by heading into Zermatt – the infamous ski town that lies at the foot of Matterhorn.
Since Matterhorn is known as the most photographed mountain in the world, I knew I had to see it! Bordering Switzerland and Italy, Matterhorn is one of the highest peaks (4,478 meters) in the Alps. This pyramid shaped mountain is extremely difficult to climb, yet around 3,000 people summit it yearly (no, I did not make the cut!). Instead I decided to head up to the summit of Gornergrat – a neighboring peak of 3,089 meters for a 360-degree panoramic view of Matterhorn.
There are two ways to reach the summit of Gornergrat: by hiking or taking the train. The round-trip hike covers about 24 kilometers of distance and requires close to 1500 meters of elevation change. We decided to leave the decision until the morning to see how we’re feeling. Luckily the start of the hike was right from the train station in Tasch (neighboring town before Zermatt), so we looked at the train prices before committing to this epic climb.
Back to being in awe…. I was in awe (or shock) when I saw the price of roundtrip tickets for this train! The roundtrip fare was 114 Swiss Franks and at this point, this 24km hike was starting to sound better and better. The group at the ticket machine next to us had a genius idea to take the train up to the top (one-way ticket was 57 Franks), enjoy the view and then hike down at their own pace and that is exactly we ended up doing!
Boarding the train, I realized that all of the ‘lazy’ tourists had the same idea. The train carriage was packed with elderly and selfie taking millennials. Despite the extremely overpriced fare, this was by far the most scenic 29-minute train ride I have ever taken. As the train began to climb elevation, the views got even more breathtaking. As I stepped off the train at the summit of Gornergrat, I was no longer bitter about the price or ridiculous tourists that I had to share the carriage with. All I saw was Matterhorn… and wow – I was speechless (another one of those in awe moments for sure)!
After taking countless photos and touring the overpriced gift shop, it was time to start the descent down. It was a rather simple trail to follow as it essentially links the various stations together. But don’t worry, you’re not hiking along the tracks, it branches inland for kilometers at a time. I didn’t realize that the altitude would get to me but at the start I was breathing much heavier than I would’ve expected. Let’s blame it on the few weeks I spent in Barcelona . Needless to say, the climb down was not as easy as I thought it would be but my frequent breaks allowed for many photo opportunities. As I continued down the mountain, it was neat to see the terrain and vegetation change. It’s amazing how diverse of flora you can see over only a few kilometers.
Over two hours into the descent and mid-afternoon, I was still seeing countless hikers making their way to the summit of Gornergrat. Heavily breathing and sweating profusely, they assured me that I made the right decision to take the train to the top. Even though descending a mountain is less physically demanding than climbing, I always find the descents to be more painful and this one was no different. By hour three my knees began to ache, and my toes started to hurt as I jammed them into the fronts of my sneakers. With every step I took, I tried to distract myself with the overwhelmingly beautiful vistas but in the back of my mind, I was thinking- how much longer?
Close to four hours after leaving the summit of Gornergrat, the descent was over, and I was back in Zermatt. Hungry, tired and barely walking (no joke), I felt very satisfied with the adventure despite ‘cheating’ to take the train to the top. Looking back at it, it would’ve been very difficult to hike up to the summit and back down on the same day. If you choose to take the train roundtrip or are feeling adventurous to hike both ways, seeing Matterhorn up close is an absolute must when visiting Switzerland!