Last day of the Haute Route. Unbelievable.
Stage 13: St. Niklaus – ZERMATT
Time: 4.5 hrs
The path is a straightforward valley walk, never straying too far from the river, or the railway. I have trouble following the guidebooks’ narrow street path out of the city, so I just start walking south to zermatt, it’s all the same.
I walk along the railline. A bright red train, the emblem of the Swiss Railway, slides toward me. I raise my poles and nod at the driver. Through the window, of the lead car, moving so fast, nonetheless, I can see, the fingers wrapped around the controls, uncurl slightly into a wave, his head nodding back. It is a look we shared. I glance at the passenger cars, four window topped cabins, filled with bald- and silver-topped heads, faces beaming upwards for a glance of the Alps. I nod again, knowingly of his cargo and of his burden. It was a look we shared. Selfish crab, friend to the swiss railway.
I start reviewing the stages of the trek in my head. I wonder if I have been adequately relaying what I’m seeing on this entire trek experience. It’s like this: imagine leaving your house and going for a stroll. Along the way, you happen upon one of the most beautiful natural sights you’ve ever seen. The magnitudes humble you; you feel ephemeral and irrelevant. You stop moving, because you don’t really matter anymore. You raise your camera to your eye, wanting to capture this vision that fills your senses. You will lower it, disappointed. It may be indescribable like a labyrynth; do you mention every gripping turn of ice, every sharp face of rock, every jagged shadow? You move, turn, shift, noticing how the mountain shifts in relation to you. There’s a flat rock nearby, and you sit on it. You unfold a parcel of food; fresh bread from the local bakery, a wedge of local cheese and salami, cut by the grocer, a banana. You fill your canteen from a stream. The wind whispers, sheep bleat, and a distant cowbell rings. This is lunch. You pack up, move along, and, what’s this, you see yet another one of the most beautiful natural scenes you have ever seen– this time a panorama of valley, rock, and glacier. Tomorrow, you will go walking, and it happens again. And again. And again. For two weeks. You are numb with bliss. Welcome to the Alps.
I pass a massive rockfall near Randa. In 1991 it severred the railway thru the valley, and now it’s terrifying me. Fragility is not a quality you want in massive stone walls. Lunch: you guessed it: cheese, bread, sliced meats, and fruit. Picnic in view of weisshorn and its companion glacier.
On the trail, ahead of me, walks a couple of climbers. I stare at their packs, watching their gear swing.
A helmet: the smoke of dangerous acts. A rope: to bind cowboys. An axe: an axe! What creatures greet them on their ascent that they require full battle axes? I am just a walker, and these are true mountain warriors.
Walk slowly along the last kilometer or two; don’t want the peaceful solitude to end. But it does. The number of hikers coming the other way increases steadily. Elderly hobbling along. Teenagers, running, in jeans, blasting music from their mobiles. The entrance into town from the north, as the book warns, is indeed an anticlimactic. construction site.
Zermatt. Hordes of people. Trains pull up every quarter hour, belching out more people. Young, elderly, families, climbers, bushels of them all. The town has famously banned automobiles (they’re all dumped in a car park downvalley in Täsch), but in their place, are infruriating electric van-karts, owned by hotels, putt’ing around to pick up passengers. They zoom around like tuktuks. The street shops range from souvenirs stalls to rolex watches boutiques. Restaurants, branded, gilded, fancy, are a plenty. This is one of the great alpine towns in Switzerland and I’m already itching to get of here. I can’t even see the Matterhorn; it’s raining.
Post office, where I pick up all my gear, mailed on day 4. Funny, doesn’t feel as heavy now. Decide to camp, to save on francs, since I’m going to be in town til Sunday. The campsite (guidebook: “functional, no frills, but well used by climbers and walkers alike”) is north of the rail station. Campground is indeed “functional”, but it’s clear that “no frills” means a “shithole, with highway-reststop level hygiene in the bathrooms”. Also, half the grounds is now a busy construction yard, with jackhammers, and moving cranes, and all. Home sweet home.
I set up camp, and it rains. Hard. Harder. Pouring. I stay in my tent, finish off my trail food for dinner, and go to bed. Funny, this wasn’t how i pictured the conclusion to my trek. Where was the grand entrance,? The (Swiss) red carpet? The large celebration, complete with adoring fans holding “marry me!!!” signs? Christ, I forgot to even have a nice scotch tonight. Ah, well, you made it, anyway. You’ve demonstrated courage, endurance, and flexibility. Congrulations, self.