Haute Route Day 13 – Grat to not yet Täschalp – Above the Clouds Camp to Matterhorn is Real Camp
Kilometers hiked: 20.5-ish
Total Kilometers: 315
Haute Kilometers: 173.5
Trail markers: 7,000,000
Suspension bridges: 2
Trailside eruptions: 1
The plan was solid. Hike early to take advantage of the clear morning to walk perhaps the most exciting and scenic section of the entire Haute Route. We’d be chilling in camp before afternoon clouds could threaten. Thank you, nature, for showing us how silly our little plans are.
The 6am alarm went off. The group groaned to life. I poked my head from the open wall of the tarp, saw cloud and felt rain. We were back in the cloud soup. Alamo? Was alive and back in his tent. No point in hiking in this, precisely the scenario we were trying to avoid. We decided to push snooze to await rescue from the sun. Snooze. An hour and a half later, we tried again. No rain, at least temporarily, which was green light enough for us to at least eat breakfast. One thing led to another and we found ourselves back on the trail, hiking up at 8:45am.
The world was peaceful and calm. It was just us, two other hazy hikers, and a few grazing goats, existing in a cloud. Wind was light and visibility about 100 yards. Quiet and cool, but not cold. I was still hiking in my usual shorts and shirt, not troubled by a little discomfort. I am warm blooded after all. Grassy humps soon gave way to broken rock, damp with mist, as the trail lifted off to begin the high traverse of the Europaweg. We moved deliberately, in a close pack, checking our footing more carefully than usual on the slick stone. Endless fields of talus extended to the limits of our vision. There was no top or bottom, beginning or end. Only here, present. The trail was generally well-made and exceptionally well-marked with hilariously dense concentrations of painted badges. ‘Magic’ was a word that kept popping into my mind. This is magic hiking. What a cool and interesting place to move through, to experience, to be a part of. We sang some truly trashy songs just to bring us back to reality a little bit.
A sign warned us to scurry our way across a slope particularly prone to rockfall. Rock n roll. A sketchy bridge of 4x4s clung to a short cliff. Sections of trail carved into the mountain, with rope handrails, guided us safely around the steep ridges between gullies of scree. None of this was too dangerous, at least not in these conditions. With a little snow or ice, the rope would be handy, but the trail was wide so it remained a distraction. We took a break on a rocky point as some definition returned to the cloud. While we munched on bread and candy, discrete layers became visible, flowing into one another as they drifted on the wind. We drifted on shortly as well. I was discovering that the gooey centers of clouds can be quite cold. Keep moving. The thermometer hanging from my armpit was reading low 50s. Not hanging around weather.
The cloud brightened, then lifted a little. A wild peak poked into our bubble across the valley, a dark fin cutting through the foamy sea. In a sudden explosion of clarity, our local cloud vanished to reveal a wicked scene of broken rock. It was the same stuff we were seeing at our feet, but expansive. I felt very small, slow, and young. Awesome. We tickled, then finally broke through into a sunny spot soon after. This magic cloud hiking was cool and all, but to be warm again felt pretty cool too. Perfectly placed benches gave us an excuse to finish off a dark chocolate Toblerone and bag of chips as if we were birds. Our side of the ridge was quite clear now, but the valley floor and all but the highest jigs across the valley were obscured. I was totally digging it. Leading up to this moment, every decision was right, every bit of extra effort was worth it, because here we were. Sure, we couldn’t see the Matterhorn or other incredible views right now, but how could I feel anything but fortunate to be right where I was. Keeping it baby, with friends in a place so interesting that it barely felt real.
The trail turned into a nice, level track from there. Clouds remained away, which was unfortunate, for Alamo could have used the cover for a few, dire minutes. After crossing one of the jankiest suspension bridges I’ve ever seen, Spice and Alamo cruised out of sight while Gryllz and I took our time, catching up and spotting ibex. We stole a brief view down to the valley floor, which was a shocking distance below and boosted my sense of being ‘out there’ a twinkle or two. Not long after, we stumble over the last few boulders to the Europa Hut, representing the end of this tough portion of Europaweg.
It was almost sunny as we ate Alamo’s hut coffee cake on the balcony. A helicopter came and went, bringing supplies and/or jabronis from the land far below. Cloud opened and closed, sun and shade, peaks and no peaks. Too cold to hang out comfortably, we readied ourselves to move on. Too hungry to move on without a proper lunch, we spread out on the random wooden platform next to the hut for a few rounds of Harambe and a few bites of bread. And cheese, and peanut butter, and chocolate, and fruit chews, and peanuts, and nutella, and cookies. The sun became very warm and we played just long enough to hate each other again. Time to hike.
Rattlin Bog got a little out of hand as we dropped steeply down the warm slope, back in the world of green things and tourists. We soon reached what apparently is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. It was pretty long, I guess. I even got a chance to walk it twice, retrieving the guidebook after it got squeezed out of my pocket by a squeezy individual traveling in the opposite direction. Not a bridge for wide loads. A short climb through bright pine forest brought us to another roped section along steep red rock. A tunnel followed, then we stripped down for a hobo bath at a steep cascade across the trail. Rejuvenating. Clothes washed, grime scrubbed from my skin. I was both pleased and disgusted to confirm the authenticity of my leg tan. Cool water, hot sun, cleanish clothes. This is what the last few days had been missing. Warm relaxation. I realized I had been too focused on future worries these last few days. Be here now.
Our bootleg shower did the job because some day hikers from Colorado thought that we were day hikers fresh from Zermatt (ha!). More good walking took us around, down, then up and over until, there it was. The Matterhorn. Real. Spectacular. Pointy. Classico. Awesome. A quick check of the Toblerone box confirmed authenticity. Though the sky was almost completely clear now, a wisp or two of cloud hung around the peak, perpetually blowing off yet remaining attached. The afternoon light silhouetted out the details in a dark fuzz. I was impressed by how impressed I was. Sure, yeah, whatever, it’s the Matterhorn, dude. Everyone knows the Matterhorn. True, but context enhances its already ridiculously recognizable form. Context that is lost in pictures. Most mountains connect to other mountains. Mont Blanc, big mountain that lumps above other mountains. Mt. Everest, really big mountain that is surrounded by other almost-really big mountains. The Matterhorn stands alone. It’s cool. Check it out in person next time you’re in the area.
The time was right for camping. The view was right for camping. The place was even alright for camping. But the time, view, and place were also great for hiking. We pushed on down the trail, across a kilometer wide shooting range of tumbling rocks. Fortunately, the industrious Swiss had built overhanging concrete barriers and tunnels to protect the average folk on this long traverse. Alamo and Spice once again sprinted off on the gradually descending trail while Gryllz and I birddogged. The mountain did its thing. The cloud cleared completely. We caught up where they waited at the next uphill. Time to camp.
Not wanting to sweat too much in my clean clothes, I was mindful of extending the moment, moving deliberately through trees and golden light. A steep grassy ridge had just enough flatness for us to balance camp spread along its crest. A ridiculous panorama was in view as we caught the last light before the sun dipped below the high ridge across the valley. As the others unpacked and set up for dinner, I took a moment alone above camp to take it all in. Lucky to be here. So lucky. We cooked up a feast for our final supper. Even Alamo’s over exuberance with the stove couldn’t kill our appetite as we devoured hors d’oeuvres and a big pot of couscous. Everything had to go. Everything did go. After a rousing round of Mexican Horse Race, we settled in for the night under clear skies. Amazing, considering how the day started. Full. Happy. Warm. Bright stars.
Rad day. So baby.