Tour of Monte Rosa day 1

02/09/2015 
This is the first in a series of blog posts live from the Tour of Monte Rosa, a 100-mile backpacking route in the Alps.

The Tour of Monte Rosa trail blog series
Day 1: Zermatt to Täschalp
Day 2: Europaweg stage 1
Day 3: Europaweg stage 2 and the Grächenwald
Day 4: the Balfrin Höhenweg
Day 5: the Monte Moro pass and the Vallee Quarazza
Day 6: Colle del Turlo and Alagna Valsesia
Day 7: the Alencoll and a night above 3,000m
Day 8: the ascent of Testa Grigia
Day 9: the Theodul Glacier and return to Zermatt

Location: Täschalp, 2,247m

Mileage: 6

My first day on the trail was, very deliberately, a short and easy one. It had rained overnight and I woke in the Zermatt camping ground to find damp ground, humid air, foggy skies, and no views of the mountains whatsoever. Other campers were starting to stir and I heard curses from some of the other tents as hapless alpinists took one look at the weather, exclaimed ‘Es ist schlecht’, and dived back into their sleeping bags.

Fortunately my objective isn’t as reliant on good weather as the Matterhorn or the Lyskamm. I struck camp and headed in to Zermatt. It’s been seven years since my last visit and I wanted to see what had changed.

I spent a few hours wandering around the town. Most of the shops were the the same as they had been in 2008; a few were different. Notably, the outdoor gear shops appear to have gone ’boutique’ and few of them actually sell useful items for the climber or wilderness traveller any more. But it’s still Zermatt, the spiritual home of alpinism, and when I found myself standing before the graves of Croz, Hadow and the others who perished on the Matterhorn in 1865, I knew for certain I was back.

The original plan had been to spend most of the day in the town then get the Sunnegga railway up the hill late in the afternoon before walking the first four miles of the trail. However, the weather rapidly improved with the morning and I found myself ready to hike. I grabbed some food in the supermarket and set off up the hill, deciding to walk to Sunnegga instead of taking the train.

The views steadily got better and better as I climbed. At first, the Matterhorn hid behind a pall of cloud; then I saw a glimpse of the shoulder, higher in the sky than I had expected, and gradually more of the fearsome north face was revealed, draped with ice and old snow. By the time I reached Sunnegga and sat on the terrace sipping an overpriced beer, the Matterhorn was at last fully revealed. It’s even bigger than I remember.

Sunnegga is the true start of my version of the TMR. The weather was sunny and fine as I took my first step along this wonderful trail.


The first section, linking Sunnegga with the town of Grächen, is known as the Europaweg. This trail has been plagued by rockfall and landslides, leading to criticisms from some quarters – it has been said that no trail should have been built along such precipitous and crumbling terrain. As I continued through the forest from Sunnegga I came across several signs with dire warnings such as ‘DER WEG IST GESCHLOSSEN!’ and ‘VERBOTEN!’ – but I’d received advance intelligence that every section of the Weg, apart from the most difficult part above Randa, is passable. So on I walked.

The trail takes a traversing line through ancient larch and stone pine forests, filled with more wildlife than I’m accustomed to seeing in British woods. The undergrowth is made up of dozens of different kinds of plants. Flowers carpet the clearings. Birds of all kinds chatter from the treetops, and I saw several goshawks hunting the smaller birds from tree to tree. Red squirrels watched me curiously from branches above the path as I walked underneath. Marmots snuffled and burrowed in the loam. Once, a majestic eagle swooped far overheard, letting out a piercing cry before diving a thousand metres down into the bottom of the Mattertal.

This forest is a paradise, even if it isn’t true wilderness – but it’s a slightly bitter reminder of what we have lost in the UK.

I walked along dry trails, the scent of pine and fresh mountain air invigorating me. What could be better?

Despite the signs warning of rockfall, the path was absolutely fine and no worse than any number of perfectly safe footpaths in the British hills. Aware I only had a short distance to walk, I took my time, frequently stopping to sit and look at the views, or to take photographs.

I finally reached Täschalp at about 7.00 p.m. This is a tributary valley of the Mattertal, rather like the Lost Valley in Glen Coe. It once held a hanging glacier, but the ice has retreated miles back and can now be seen, ugly and covered in moraine, at the head of a steep bank of stones beneath the Rimpfischhorn. I wanted to camp here because the rest of the Europaweg is far steeper, and it’s unlikely I’ll be able to find anywhere else to camp closer to Grächan (which is my next halt).

Clouds have rolled back in and it has rained a little since I pitched my tent. A few rolls of thunder are booming around the peaks. I hope the weather improves tomorrow – I have about sixteen miles to walk, and more up and down than you might expect for a traversing path.

It’s great to be back on the trail.

The Tour of Monte Rosa trail blog series
Day 1: Zermatt to Täschalp
Day 2: Europaweg stage 1
Day 3: Europaweg stage 2 and the Grächenwald
Day 4: the Balfrin Höhenweg
Day 5: the Monte Moro pass and the Vallee Quarazza
Day 6: Colle del Turlo and Alagna Valsesia
Day 7: the Alencoll and a night above 3,000m
Day 8: the ascent of Testa Grigia
Day 9: the Theodul Glacier and return to Zermatt

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