The Dolomites might have been the first mountain range after “the Alps” and the North Cascades that entered my vocabulary, but for one reason or another I really haven’t been able to bring myself there. I visited Vinschgau in 2015, and it turns out the western flank of the Dolomites ends more or less at the valley the eastern edge of Vischgau runs into. This time, instead of finding myself facing the Ortler group, I was instead looking at the Geisler group. Figuring out the nomenclature and geography of this area might have been the most confusing exercise in map-poring ever: my hotel was in the Aferertal, or Valle die Eores in Italian, which runs parallel to the Villnößtal, or Val di Funes. Both valleys are part of the broader Eisacktal, or Valle Isarco, which joins with the Etschtal (Val d’Adige) as the primary separation between the South Tyrolean Alps and their Vinschgau region to the west and the Dolomites to the east. Small world, multiple languages… endless Alps.
Last year, a friend from Seattle and I met up in Zermatt for some hiking fairly early in the alpine summer season, so I made an effort to get some hiking in both after work and on weekends. This year, neither my work schedule nor the weather has been particularly cooperative, so in addition to being rarer, ascents if the sun has even peeked around some clouds have been… moodier.
Sleep had come naturally, though in fits, while I was aboard the M.S. Trollfjord. When I awoke, it was clear it had rained overnight.
Throughout my three days in Tromsø, it hadn’t rained while I was outside. It had sprinkled a little on my last day (the museum day), but not like this; most of the mountains on either side of the boat remained shrouded in fog and clouds during the rest of the trip.
Until this weekend, the highest elevation I’ve ever hiked to was Camp Muir, one of two high camps on Mt. Rainier. At 10,080 feet, it’s the highest you can go on the mountain (permissibly) without ropes and a helmet. It’s also 615 feet short of the Hörnlihütte, a similar high camp on the Matterhorn. Sorry, dear, but I’ve moved on. Or have I?
I first read about the Matterhorn in the form of a mountain called “the Citadel,” or “Rudisburg.” This mountain was located in a town called “Kurtal,” both of which were dreamed up by the author James Ramsey Ullman in his book, “Banner in the Sky.” Maybe this is where I got my love of all things mountainous from; I’m not sure. But either way, the Citadel is for all literary purposes the Matterhorn; Kurtal is Zermatt, Switzerland; and Edward Winter of the novel is really Edward Whymper. I loved the book as a child, and it was… emotional — I can’t really put my finger on the right word — to see the city and mountain after imagining it for fourteen years. The trip was planned kind of on a whim. I decided to hold a hotel reservation and wait to see how the weather forecast would turn out. It started off (a week in advance) decent, then changed to cloudy, then the last day I could still cancel my reservation, it cleared up again. I meant to deliberate (i.e. flip a coin) whether it was worth the gamble — Switzerland isn’t exactly cheap — but forgot about the 6 PM deadline and realized only when I walked in my apartment at 7 PM that maybe I had just made an expensive mistake. Too late to change plans, I forged ahead and left Stuttgart at 4:50 PM on Friday, one hour and twenty minutes behind schedule.
I got to Zermatt around midnight, and it was already pretty neat. The town itself allows no internal combustion engines; nearly all vehicles are electric. They’re not silent, as the Wikipedia Zermatt entry states, but their sound isn’t that of a gasoline or diesel engine, either. Going to Zermatt means parking in Täsch, only a few kilometers up the Mattertal, and then taking a navette (French for shuttle) into Zermatt’s train station. After unpacking I slept for about four hours and then woke up to see just what the weather would be like — and whether my gamble would pay off for a sunrise shot of the Matterhorn. First, though, let me make something absolutely clear: I don’t think my photos here do the area justice. I didn’t capture (pun not intended, either) the mood of Zermatt or the incredible expanse of the Swiss / Italian Alps; I also had probably the lowest keeper rate of any place I’ve been to. I’ll try to do my best in explaining what it was that I saw, but bear with me here…
I roamed around my hotel, looking for a place to get a clear shot of the Matterhorn while still keeping an eye to the south and west to see if the sky would light up at all. By 6:15, the sun had clearly risen a bit and there really wasn’t much color, so I figured I’d just sit around and see what the Matterhorn would look like in the morning sun. I turned around to see how things were looking away from the mountain and saw some incredible colors starting to pop. So it was that my first “moody” sunrise shot wasn’t even of the Matterhorn, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. I don’t like the crop on this, but there were roofs at the bottom of the frame… so I’ll have to live with this one. ;-)