Tour of Monte Rosa day 4

05/09/2015 
This is part of 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: The forest below the Mattmarksee at 1,900m. Trail mile 39.

Mileage: 14

The Balfrin Höhenweg, which wends its way south from Grächen to Saas Fee along the steep eastern flank of the Mischabel range, proved to be an amazing trail. Every step along that path is an absolute delight. In contrast to the Europaweg, which was frequently scary and intimidating, the Höhenweg sticks to a lower contour – it doesn’t really get above 2,300m, and being four hundred metres lower make all the difference. It dips in and out of the forests of the Saastal, taking you through glades of incredibly ancient and gnarled pines, hanging with mosses; ibex and chamois bound down the slopes and climb expertly across the crags; and everywhere there is a wonderful profusion of plant life, just starting to show autumn’s colours here and there. Colourful mushrooms and toadstools dot the woodland floor. This forest has, to my knowledge, never been managed or cultivated by man – it’s true wilderness, and in a very real and tangible way it felt like home.

There’s still a lot of hill fog about, but when I could see the views they were stupendous. Overnight rain had dumped snow down to about 2,900m and the peaks on the other side of the Saastal sported a sharp new snowline that receded as the day wore on and bursts of sunshine started to melt off the new snow. At one point, the trail dipped down to a major torrent, the Schweibbach, choked with moraine and log dams, which plunges down from the pinnacled heights. Far above, the crumpled, icy mass of the Balfringletscher gleamed like a new tooth.

I saw no other hikers on the trail until I’d nearly got to Saas Fee. I bumped into two thru-hikers doing the TMR in an anticlockwise direction, and were dismayed when I told them about the inconvenient diversion on the Europaweg. It’s a pleasant surprise to find that so many others are on this trail too (although so far I have only met two people doing it clockwise, like me).


I didn’t really want to leave the forest and enter Saas Fee, but that’s where the trail took me so that’s where I had to go. As I descended, I left the wild woods and entered the managed lower forests, characterised by neat stacks of logs, sawn stumps, and an astonishing lack of biodiversity compared to the upper alpine woods. I walked in eerie silence, missing the company of the animals and birds I’d become accustomed to sharing the trail with.

Saas Fee itself was a culture shock after two days in the wilderness. There was some kind of celebration in progress and I got caught up in a parade marching down the main street. The town reminded me of Zermatt, but without Zermatt’s charm – I didn’t like it much, and after stocking up on provisions I made haste back into the woods.


Once again my schedule has been dictated by geography. The next big obstacle on my way round the TMR is the Monte Moro Pass – a 2,853m col which marks the boundary between Switzerland and Italy. Since the Balfrin Höhenweg and the Monte Moro Pass combined would make an incredibly long and tiring day, I found a pleasant glade in the forest just before the Mattmarksee to camp in.

The weather is chilly and a little windy, but the forecast is actually pretty good for the next couple of days. I’m looking forward to beginning the Italian section of the Tour of Monte Rosa – and, weather permitting, actually seeing Monte Rosa itself for the first time on the trail. I’ll see you on the other side of the pass!

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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