Tour of Monte Rosa day 9

10/09/2015 
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: Zermatt, trail mile 100 – the end

Mileage: 15

My final day on the trail was a memorable one. Wary of ice on the Theodul Glacier, I deliberately woke late and took my time getting over the col and into the Cervinia ski complex. I haven’t got winter gear with me and wanted to give the sun a chance to melt the surface layer of ice on the glacier.

The western side of the Theodulpass is a weird landscape that looks a bit like a partially terraformed Lunar crater. The terrain is all bare jagged rock and gravel, carved up by access roads and strung with pylons and chairlifts. Every so often as I hiked through this silent wasteland I’d come across dystopian architecture: a windowless concrete tower of unknown utility, or a stark, metal-and-glass cable car terminus. It didn’t feel like I was in the mountains and I hurried through this ghostly place with my head down. There was no wildlife to be seen.
When I reached the col at almost 3,300m, I got my first view down into Switzerland. The glacier extended below me, cold and crevassed and (surprise, surprise) bedecked with ski infrastructure. Above and to the right, the peaks of Klein Matterhorn and Breithorn towered, plumes of spindrift arcing over their summits. A bitter wind cut through my layers of clothing.

I bumped into some hikers who were returning from having done the Tour of the Matterhorn. Together we found the best way down onto the ice, and crossed the initial 50m icefield together for security. The ice was still absolutely frozen and did not yield to step-kicking attempts as I had hoped it would. A few steps already existed here and there, but to be honest this is the sort of terrain where I would normally get my ice axe out and put crampons on – but of course I didn’t have these items, so had to make the best of it.


My trail shoes clawed at the ablated surface of the ice, which was covered in a mess of grit and fresh snow here and there. Sometimes it was bare and glassy, at just a shallow enough angle to make it possible to cross with careful use of trekking poles. I’m actually pretty impressed with how my shoes performed in these difficult conditions.

None of us slipped, and when I got onto the ski piste it was easy going from there onwards. I simply followed the piste down to Trockener Steg.

As I walked, I watched the weather – and as soon as I got Swiss phone signal again I checked the forecast. Grim clouds were massing over the Matterhorn, and the forecast for the next day was pretty poor. My original plan for the TMR involved an extra day over the Höhbalmenweg, a short but scenic route on the other size of the Zmuttgletscher. As I watched the clouds gather and snow showers sweep the mountain faces of the Obergabelhorn and Zinalrothorn, I decided at once that my TMR would end with a direct descent to Zermatt. Despite my complaints about cold weather and hill fog, I’ve been remarkably lucky with the weather on this hike – and I didn’t want to push my luck.


Besides, it’s always nice to leave something to do next time.

So I began the long, steep descent to Zermatt. There isn’t much to tell about this walk down – it seemed to go on and on, taking rough trails beneath cable cars and then winding lanes through hamlets of old timber buildings. Within a few hours I was walking through the streets of Zermatt and checked in at the campsite.

My Tour of Monte Rosa is complete. By my reckoning, including the various path detours and other small changes to my original route, I’ve walked almost exactly 100 miles. It’s taken me nine days, and in that time I’ve climbed something like 15,000m – a staggering figure when you think about it, but very few days have involved less than 1,700m of ascent, and a couple have involved more than that. Given the blissfully dry trails, my feet have held up just fine (although my shoes have a few new holes in them). My knees are aching but with a few days of rest they’ll be back to normal.

It has been the most amazing adventure and I’d like to thank my readers for following it on here with me. This is, of course, only a glimpse of the experience. The photos on these pages are merely iPhone snapshots – hundreds of much better photos captured with my camera await processing, and there is so much more about this trail I haven’t even mentioned on my blog. Outdoor writing is a growing part of my job now and I have articles about the TMR in the pipeline. I hope you understand that, as both a blogger and a freelance writer, I have to keep the majority of the material back for published features.

But I’ve done my best to bring the TMR to life, and if I’ve whetted your appetite for this trail then I’ll say this: just hike it. It’s amazing, and you’ll love every mile.

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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