Monday, July 23, 2012

Haute Route journal (part 4)

Here's an intro to my Haute Route hike.

Day 6.

Stage 13: Gasenreid - Europa Hut

The last two stages of the Haute Route are also the entirety of the "Europaweg," a trail finished in 1997.  I was excited to see the route, and especially the Matterhorn.  Pretty quickly I was up to the statue of St. Bernard pointing the way:

But more importantly, I saw this:

The Matterhorn!  What a trip - on day one I got to see Mont Blanc, and on day six I got to see the Matterhorn.

The Europaweg has a little exposure:

And, maybe more importantly, some issues with landslides:

(sure, I can agree to cross the danger area quickly).

It was all very interesting, and the dedication/fortitude of the trail crews is impressive.  The original trail is a work of art, especially considering the builders started from scratch (as opposed to a historical route).  Unlike trails on high-angle slopes back home, I didn't see any blasting - the trail had been draped into the natural folds of the landscape.  Now, that very steep landscape is changing, and the builders are having to move the trail around.  I have read some online discussion critical of the Europaweg, calling it dangerous and a waste of money.  On the specific Tuesday I hiked the high section from Gasenreid to Europa Hut, there was no rockfall, and I found the trail stable and solid.  However, the trail is indeed suffering (see below).

At another landslide (!), the trail includes a wildly-rickety suspension bridge:

I had no problem with "Not swing!" as I minced over this thing.

This was my first day of hiking without having to go over a pass (there were eleven, not that I was counting), and I made good time to the Europa Hut:

Stage 14: Europa Hut - Zermatt
Alternate Stage 13: St. Niklaus - Zermatt

After the Europa Hut, I saw a much larger suspension bridge I couldn't wait to cross (?):

Unfortunately, I hadn't researched the Europaweg's current conditions, and found this sign posted:

Here's an online description of the re-route.  Basically, the proposition was to descend towards the town of Randa, and then either climb back towards the Kinheutte on some new trail, or traverse south towards the town of Tasch, and then climb back up.  My response to all this extra climbing was this.  I had already hit the high point of the Europaweg, taken a bunch of photos of the Matterhorn, and descended maybe 1,500 American feet to where it was warm and the trained cows were grazing.  Randa was calling:

I hiked the rest of the way to Zermatt on the old Haute Route stage from St. Niklaus to Zermatt.  It was a pretty hike on the undeveloped east side of the valley.  It turned out to be for the best, because if I had stayed on the Europaweg I would have missed CAMPING ALPHUBEL:

First, there was the biggest tent I had ever seen:

Only to be trumped by the even more humongous tent next door:

(does that fit into a car when folded?)

Soon to be followed by the armored personnel carrier camping caravan area:

(this thing is called a Brembach)

Only to be trumped by this epic vehicle:

(it can cross a raging river, and I have a feeling the tires are bulletproof, but the views from inside aren't so good).

In Tasch, it was more of the "version of utopia" Swiss thing.  Tasch is the place where you park your car and take a train to Zermatt (no cars in Zermatt, mind you, or at least that's what I thought).  But the big parking garages are vine-covered, green-roofed, low-profile concrete structures next to a rushing glacier river.  On my side of the river, I hiked along next to a park, where families were grilling hot dogs and enjoying the wildflowers.    

Soon, I could see the Matterhorn again, and all was right with the world:

Until I got to the Zermatt madness:

(the Zermatt campsite)

(the world's tallest/most elaborate trail sign)


Zermatt was jumping, and it was surprisingly touristy, especially given the towns I had seen so far.  Although the streets are nominally closed to cars, there are dozens of silent and speedy electric vehicles that sneak up behind you (apparently horns aren't allowed, either).  I got my train ticket back to Lugano, and did my best to enjoy town for the afternoon.

(I would have no problem staying at the Zermatterhof, in case you're wondering).

But soon enough, I was back on the FART train, heading for Locarno:

And soon after that, I was back "home" in Lugano, where the past few weeks' haze had blown off, and everything was clearer than before:

Or maybe that's just backpacking for you.

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