Surprise, surprise: since my last trip to a oft-visited and even more often photographed valley just before the Italian border, I’ve been itching to get back. This summer has been fortunately amenable to hiking, and with a long weekend in August it seemed only reasonable that the best way into Zermatt would be on my own two feet. But I’m jumping too far ahead too fast. First, I needed to revisit an old friend.
I have a bit of a confession: my motivation to visit Nice was perhaps not just based on practicing French. I could have gone somewhere remote and unfamiliar with the English language to force myself into one week of intense immersion. I am maybe just a bit amorous with another country that borders Germany, though, and it just so happened to work out that flights to Nice were cheapest from Zurich (parking, however, was not — shhh!). After touching down in Zurich, I popped in the arrivals lounge for a quick lunch and an espresso, and headed south. The next morning, I was once again alone at The Lake, watching dawn break to a blue-grey sky and a frozen lake against a backdrop I’ve come to know all too well.
Since November last year, I’ve been wanting to re-re-re-re-re-re-re-revisit Zermatt and get a panorama of that special lake. I print my photos periodically, and since discovering alu-dibond as a terrific material for displaying images (far better, in my opinion, than on photo paper) I’ve been craving a large format with this lake on it; I have a few walls where a nice 2 m wide print would fit beautifully. I was thwarted last year, so with a fair amount of stubbornness on making this photo myself I started the hike up after an extremely short sleep a few Fridays ago, arriving at the lake as the moonless night began to lighten into a blue wonder. It was my ninth visit to the touristic village.
I thought my 2016 travels would end with Vienna, but any remaining frugality gave way to a lingering hunger for the high mountains. It started with a landscape photographer‘s exhibition in nearby Isny; after seeing his photographs I wanted a panorama that I myself could print two meters wide and knew exactly which scene I wanted for that hanging. Or, perhaps, it started with my awoken mountain fascination in 2007 and was thereafter stoked with my discovering Zermatt in 2011. But so it was that I forwent Thanksgiving 2015 and borrowed a set of snowshoes to take that panorama of a lake I had photographed nearly a half-dozen times. The mountain pass was frozen and closed, so again I took the car train under the mountain and to my lost valley. Different year, different month, different car; same inexplicable thirst.
When I first started hiking, I knew only of names: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Si, Sauk Mountain, Mt. Pilchuck. I loved Mt. Rainier for its ruggedness and how it reminded me of my insignificance, but never once did I consider how these mountains were all connected or why the roads leading to their bounty were where they were. Then, in 2011, I visited Zermatt for the first time, where the Matterhorn lives.
A week after the comment that there were too many people in the Zermatt area, I ended up going again. That’s a third time in a month: of the five weekends in October, I went to Switzerland for three of them and worked the other two. I left work and headed west, catching the sunset from my favorite mountain pass along the way.
This time, even though the weather was arguably even better than on the prior two trips, the trails were just about deserted.
“… il y a simplement trop de monde,” a French hiker exclaimed as we walked by, referencing the increasing number of visitors into the city and its alpine hiking trails. And it’s true — Zermatt, or its well known mountain, anyhow, is a huge tourist draw. Its visitors office estimates roughly three million gawkers pass through each year, on average spending over 200 CHF per day. But even the prospect of needing to consistently assert that I wasn’t going to be a train-riding visitor but rather a gung-ho hiker wasn’t enough to keep me from coming back a second time this month, cheating on Rainier be damned.
After five weeks of not being in the mountains, I finally got a chance to drive into some valley and hike up some mountain again. This time, it was that valley. Deep in Switzerland to that iconic mountain, where all the tourists go.