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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Zermatt and the Matterhorn

When you grow up just a few miles from Disneyland the line between real and imaginary is quite thin.  So for instance, for a long time, I never really knew that the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland was actually based on a real mountain in Switzerland.  Sure the workers wore lederhosen, and employees scaled the imposing mountain face of the plastic mountain that could be seen for miles in the Southern California area but I guess I just thought this was all part of Walt Disney's imagineering genius.  So for me to get to go to the real Matterhorn and experience the incredible majesty of this great mountain, well, was awesome.
It's not so easy to get to Zermatt, the base town on the Swiss side from which the Matterhorn can be viewed.  We drove our car to Täsch where huge parking garages await all as you cannot drive to Zermatt.  From there we boarded the shuttle train that would take us to the magical place where I could see the actual Matterhorn. We arrived in Zermatt after a quick 15 minute ride through tunnels and insanely beautiful scenery.  Zermatt is a cool little mountain town.  There was a big event going on this weekend so it was swarming with people.  And the day was picture perfect.  Hot, sunny, a smattering of white puffy clouds...perfect alpine weather.  Of course, once you get into town you start to get a bit antsy about seeing The Mountain.  You begin to wonder if you will be able to spot it, or if it will be clear enough to get a good view.  Those who grew up in So. Cal. also wonder if it will look at all like the one in Anaheim.
You can't actually go onto the Matterhorn.  It is really not accessible unless you are a serious mountain climber but the surrounding peaks provide great views and hikes.  Unfortunately, Doug's knee injury made it impossible for us to consider any hiking so we decided on which area to ascend to by lifts and started on our way.  As we were walking to the lifts I kept wondering when I would get my first glimpse.  As we strolled alongside of the river that runs through town, I decided to turn around.  Oh, there it is!  It was such a cool first glimpse of the real, live Matterhorn!  (Doesn't really look so much like the one I grew up riding bobsleds through!  Or should that be the other way around?) 
We boarded our cog train and began a steep ascent through a tunnel.  Initially we were disappointed that the ascent was inside a tunnel, having hoped to be swinging free in a gondola for the ride up.  But when we arrived at the first stop, we realized that we hadn't quite made it yet and the gondola awaited us for the next phase.  The gondola ride was wonderful with views of the rising peaks all around.  The valley dropped below us rapidly and we continued up, up, up.  We weren't even done after that as a large cable car awaited us to take us to our final destination, The Rothorn Paradise. 
The third "vehicle" that got us to the top.
The air is thin.  The sun is bright.  The mountains rise up all around you.  So much fun to be at such a high elevation...3180 meters.  There were other lifts that took you higher but again, we weren't overly prepared for rigorous hiking and had to be careful about what Doug could and couldn't do.  He was very disappointed that he couldn't hike down as it would've been amazing to take the twists and turns of the mountain trail back down, but we'll have to save that for another day.
Clouds dot the landscape most days and a few folks mentioned to us how lucky we were with the weather as often you get on top and can't really see a thing because of the clouds and fog.  We played a sort of cat and mouse game with the mountain, waiting to see if the clouds would give us a clearer view of the mountain.  We enjoyed a great picnic with a fabulous view and at one point as I turned to peek at the peak, I realized it was clear.  Grab the camera and start shooting away!  We took so many pictures hoping for a few winners.  I think we did all right!
After a bit, we took the cable cars and on the second level discovered a small lake where people were swimming and sunning.  It was roasting hot in the afternoon and the water was refreshing on our feet even though we hadn't really done any rigorous hiking.  Doug waded in far enough to get his knee in the chilly water hoping for a bit of relief.  From there we did take a short hike but I was concerned that he was pushing it too much.  Coming down created much more strain than going up so we had to be careful about where we traversed.
Finally we felt satisfied that our stay on the mountain had been enough.  We took the cog train back to the town and wandered around the quaint alpine village.  We walked to the church and saw the cemetery where people who died trying to climb the Matterhorn were buried.  Moving and sad.  Most were quite young.  It reminded us that while the mountains are a beautiful and fun place to play, they are also hazardous when the conditions get harsh.
The last look of the mighty Matterhorn before we returned to our car.
We jumped on the shuttle train once again and we whisked away from this magical place in the Alps called Zermatt, where the mighty Matterhorn rises up for all to see and enjoy.