Known as the little brother of the ever popular Matterhorn, Klein Matterhorn (Klein mean small in German) offers a breath taking view of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc on a clear day. With the ease of reaching to the top via a Gondola and being perched at a height of 12,740 ft (3,883 m) , it is the closest to experiencing higher altitude without breaking a sweat.
As as IAESTE trainee, I got to know about the weekend trip for theZermatt well in advance. Having registered early and this being my first trip to the alps, I was totally looking forward to it.
The journey started from Winterthur on a early morning 4:30 train to Visp. Its a little town in the midst of a river and surrounded by huge mountains. The town itself is perched in the middle of the valley and is part of the famous Glacier Express route.
The train from Visp starts slowly ascending and traverses through the deepest cleft valley in Switzerland, the Nikolai Valley. On one side of the track is the deep valley and on the other are the tall rocky peaks. Its here that one realizes the true engineering marvel, this train route is. With this route being build about a 100 years ago, one can only imagine the ingenuity with which this was constructed albeit the modern gadgets.
After about an hour journey and through few tunnels, we reached the village of Zermatt. The Hauptbahnhof is the starting point of the city center. It leads the road towards the hotels, hostels and the beginning of the Cable car. The streets are studded with shops selling luxury watches. Its just a eerie reminder of the class of people the city sees especially during winter season. With the famous skiing resorts and the Matterhorn being the star attraction, its the place of winter retreat for the billionaires from Russia to far East. Its also the starting point for Gornergrat railway, the 2nd highest mountain rail in the world at about 11,000 ft.
We dropped our bags at the International Youth Hostels and walked towards the base of the cable car. This cable car starts at the village of Zermatt which is at a height of about 5,300 ft and goes through the hamlet of Furi before reaching the summit of Klein Matterhorn. During the journey, we crossed the glacier and ascended about 5000 ft to reach the peak. With the glacier below and surrounded by Alps, the views offered during the journey is breathtaking.
The cable car boasts of being supported by one of the best helicopter rescue teams in the world. As the cable ascends the final 1000 ft, its heavily exposed to the winds. There has been couple of occasions during winter when the cable had developed technical snags and the passengers had to be air lifted the rescue team!
As we reached the peak, we could feel the breath becoming heavy. The air is thin and the temperature drops rapidly. With the wind, it feels even colder than what the thermometer reads. From the cable car platform, we take a lift by which we ascend about 100 ft inside the mountain to reach the steps of the observatory deck. Another few meters of steps and then we hit the summit deck. Its a 360° open air deck which on a clear day gives a spectacular view of the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Europe could also be seen from here. This is also the Italian border and the start of Italian alps.
From the deck, we could observe the Matterhorn glacier, the famous Ski area and many peaks which were above 3500 m. It is the highest observation deck in the world and once again is an engineering marvel. The summit also has a restaurant and is used as a starting point to reach the skiing area.
As in most of the mountainous regions, weather is quiet erratic. So we set our descent early. At the foot of the mountain there is a gorge made out limestone due to the streams flowing for hundreds of years. The scenes are straight out of “127 hours” movie.
Altogether the famous Zermatt and its mountains are a class apart, made possible by the intriguing technological breakthroughs by the Swiss in the locomotives and high altitude construction.