Hiking the Matterhorn – Photo Essay

The following post is a photo essay of my trip to Zermatt and hike of the Matterhorn. This is an edited (and somewhat lengthened) version of what I posted to Instagram. I’ve also included a short itinerary and list of recommendations at the end if you’re interested. Let’s begin:

Almost exactly a month ago I took the 6:00 train from Zurich to Zermatt, taking the cable car way up the mountain. The plan was to get to the top around 11:00 and then hike down—something like 6 hours—back into town. Surrounded by thick fog on all sides, there were a few minutes on the way up where I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

As the temperature dropped to near freezing, the fog continued to roll in, revealing little except this chapel hidden on the slopes.

Upon reaching the top, the sun was trying its hardest to pierce through the thick fog. As the clouds started to part, the temperature began to climb and otherworldly views were revealed. I was breathless, not because of the altitude, but because of the scenic expanse stretching out in front of me.

As the fog lifted, it was like I had stepped into another world, where the water ran grey instead of blue and the earth lay strewn with rocks the color of sunset. I’d hiked up mountains before but never had I experienced anything like this.

Consider me slightly surprised when the “trail” I had set out to follow was more of a series of waypoints. If it wasn’t before, it became a true adventure now.

Nearly halfway through my hike, the fog began to roll back in, allowing this bench at the top of a small hill to stand out. I took a quick photo, but I didn’t rest. I had to keep going if I wanted to make it back down the mountain with same daylight left.

For the first half of my hike down the Matterhorn it felt like I was scrambling up more rocks than anything. But eventually, as the vegetation began to reappear and the green of moss could be seen clinging to rocks, I realized that I had made it out of the high alpine terrain into something a little more forgiving.

But this last bit before the halfway mark wasn’t that much more forgiving. There were steep drop-offs on the sides that made you think twice. I ended up climbing down a few slopes rather than fall trying to walk down. But it was worth it.

Maybe it was getting up at 4 in the morning, or maybe just the thin air, but this place looked like a fairytale, or so I’d imagine.

After clambering down the last bit of trail, I reached my halfway point at Schwarzsee where I had some of the best food yet in Switzerland: Rösti, with just about every breakfast ingredient piled into one pan. It was the perfect lunch with a view. Hands down.

For most of my hike the peak of the Matterhorn lay covered in clouds, but, just as I was passing through the rolling hills covered in wildflowers, the sun came out and burned all the clouds away.

After the morning’s fog I wouldn’t have thought it possible that I would be seeing one of the most famous peaks with my own eyes. But the view of the mountain wasn’t even the most magnificent sight to behold. It was the rolling fields in front of me, stretching out across the valley.

I spotted this creek in the distance, maybe 10 or 20 meters from the trail. It was here where I took a short break, enjoying the new sun shining down and listening to the music of the water cascading down the slope. It was peaceful and pristine.

As I made my way further down the mountain, I followed that trickling stream through meadows and groves of trees, passing through the tiniest of villages and into the forest beyond.

Passing through the forest, the creek became a river, and, as it gained even more power raging down the final slopes through the valley, I began to wear out. I had less than an hour left, the sun was shining bright overhead, but all I could think about was walking back into town, finding a bed, and dreaming about the magnificent hike I had just accomplished.

And so my journey ends. As I sat back in Zermatt the next morning waiting for my train, I took one last walk around that beautiful small mountain town. It looked just as it had the morning before, lying empty as the crowds slept in with fog engulfing the mountain. That’s where I spent 7 hours hiking, covering nearly 26 km (16 miles) and descending 1,320 m (4,330 ft) across unforgiving, yet unforgettable, terrain. I left no marks on that peak, but it sure did leave some on me.

My Itinerary:

In case you’re interested in following the same adventure that I went on here are the details:

  • Take the gondola from the station in Zermatt up to Trockener Steg, where you will find the trailhead for the Matterhorn Glacier Trail.
  • From there, it is roughly a 2 hour hike down to Schwarzsee, where you will find a small mountain restaurant with some amazing food (and fantastic views, of course).
  • From Schwarzsee continue down the mountain on the Matterhorn Trail, roughly a 3 hour hike till your arrival back in Zermatt.

If you’re looking for an easy hike, this is definitely not one of them. You’ll need to be prepared for cold weather and bright sunshine and a good pair of hiking boots is a must. Many people were using hiking poles, so if you’re not that sure-footed you might want to bring some along. You’ll feel it the day after, but if you’re relatively fit, you shouldn’t have a problem. The second half of the hike is definitely easier than the first half and the gondola stops at Schwarzsee as well, if you only want to hike the half of it.

Zermatt can be a little expensive, but I’d recommend the Brown Cow Pub if you’re looking for a good burger and a pint. And the Youthhostel Zermatt offers a good night’s sleep and a free breakfast, so what’s not to like?

Peace and love,


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