Switzerland's highest trekking peak
I awoke to the sound of the river right outside the open window of my hotel room. I'd arrived in Zermatt the previous evening after a flight from Liverpool and a train journey up the Rhone valley from Geneva. The first thing I'd noticed about Zermatt was that you can't actually see the Matterhorn from the centre of town, I'd always thought that you could, but a short walk up to the far end of the main street had revealed the particular big grey clouds that hid the national symbol of Switzerland! This morning however had dawned fine and sunny so the views should be good.
The plan today was to climb the Oberrothorn which rises to the East of Zermatt and at 3415m or 11204 feet, is apparently Switzerland's highest peak with a marked path to it. The path known as the Weg zur Freiheit leaves the top station of the Rothorn cableway and climbs to the higher peak of the Oberrothorn. Having arrived the previous day and not yet being used to the altitude, I opted to do the route from there. This would save me the hike up from Blauherd or Sunnegga which would have made a better full day outing though I did intend to walk down to one of these stations from the top. Incidently, if your name's Clarke and you work for "The Daily Planet" then the ascent can be made from Zermatt using neither train nor cablecar but I wasn't up for a climb of over 1800m today!
Leaving the hotel I made my way along the road following the river down to the Rothorn/Sunegga station. The Japanese were out in force though not too many other tourists this early in the season. The weather had cleared up quite well and the digital indicator showed that it was 17c in the valley.
The Sunnegga underground funicular was rather like being on a London Tube Train going steeply uphill. It seemed fast compared to other funiculars I'd been on before and in a few minutes brought me to the Sunnegga station at 2288m. Leaving the underground station I was hit firstly by the light and secondly by the amazing view which greeted me on walking out into the sunlit Alpine pastures. The Matterhorn towered on the opposite side of the valley, its true size now apparent from this high vantage point while further to the right, the Ober Gabelhorn and Zinal Rothorn rose in sharp outline amongst the drifting clouds. South across the immediate valley was the Gornergrat with the line of the railway visibleon its side.
Lingering to take a few photos I then made my way up to the cableway. This section took me to the next station at Blauherd at just over 2500m. From the high pastures of Blauherd, a second, larger cablecar whisked me in a few minutes up to the Unter Rothorn. Up here at over 10000 feet the air was chilly (+3c on the station thermometer) and thinner too. Having come up so quickly, the altitude was pretty noticeable but I didn't feel ill or have a headache so I decided to rest here for half an hour before continuing. If I felt worse then I could walk down from the col to one of the lower stations and still have a good walk.
The view from here was more extensive than from Sunnegga. Zermatt appeared far below in its valley. It figured that I'd be able to see my hotel from here but couldn't make it out for sure. Around the viewing area were pictures and descriptions of all the 4000m peaks which are visible from here. We were now level with the Gornergrat, the silver dome visible on its top and could also see over the ridge to the massive, ice clad peaks of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and the Breithorn.
After a look at the map I set off. The trail was fairly obvious, heading in a roughly Easterly direction towards the bulky peak of the Ober Rotorn a mile or so distant. The trail led down towards the col separating the 2 peaks, at first over rough stony terrain and then down an easy angled snowfield bringing me to the col at just over 2900m.
"500m to climb - about 1600 feet - should be OK" I thought. The track turned right and led on down in the direction of Blauherd. My route led off up to the left of the main track over a large drift of snow. This narrower path was easily visible leading across the mountainside above climbing steadily.
The summit was up to the left above a line of cliffs and the path seemed to be heading around the peak to avoid these cliffs and go up around the far side of the mountain. There was no difficulty at all so far but as the trail steepened, I began to notice the altitude again. Passing one of the eye shaped monuments, on the route (these describe plant, animal, human and spiritual life as one progresses higher) the route turned around more to the North East towards the icy Strahlhorn and spikey rocks of the Rimpfischhorn and now zig-zagged up to become level with the cliffs on the left. The path turned above these on the ridgeline in front.
Here was the steepest section - easy today but in ice or snow, care would be needed at this point. I was soon however on the ridge, my map showing me to be at 3270m. Below was the ice of the Findelgletcher with a hut by its side, the Berghutte Fluhalp I think.
The route now headed round this easterly side of the peak before doubling back roughly westwards and still going up. I tried working out the height of the mountain in feet from the metres shown on my map but only managed to figure that it was over 11000 which probably accounted for not being able to add up properly! Don't do this route on your first day here!
When it seemed that the air would run out before I made the top, I was suddenly greeted with the view of my starting point, the Unter Rothorn, well below and in front of me, the Matterhorn rising beyond across the valley. Over to the South I was above the Gornergrat almost level with the snowy Stockhorn. Behind, a pinaccled rock ridge ran across and up towards the Rimpfischhorn.
In front the ground fell away leaving the only way up obvious to the right. I turned and walked up the snowfield for maybe 5 minutes where I was faced with a sheer drop off to the North and East and a view to the previously hidden Mischabel Range and the final monument marking the summit of Switzerland's highest trekking peak.
Pete Buckley June 2006 Zermatt
Some photos of the Oberrothorn are available here