A walk from Santa Maria Maggiori to Zermatt (Tell Us Your Story)
In August this year we walked from St Maria Maggiore to the Matterhorn, 9 days passing through Val Grande, Valsesia and the southern section of the Cicerone Tour of Monte Rosa from Alagne to Zermatt.
In August this year we walked from St Maria Maggiore to the Matterhorn, 9 days passing through Val Grande, Valsesia and the southern section of the Cicerone Tour of Monte Rosa from Alagne to Zermatt. St Maria is on the northern edge of Val Grande National Park in the far north of Italy, reached by an exciting little narrow gauge train from Domodossola.
The park is a gem, an uninhabited range of wooded hills, a place that calls me back frequently but is little frequented. It took 3 wild days to cross, with occasional views of Monte Rosa’s glaciers glittering 30 miles to the east: our goal. Nights were spent in unmanned but excellent huts and then finally the long decent to the Domodossola valley for supplies and a wash.
The next stage saw us bus it up the Anza Valley to Ponte Grand, our starting point for 4 days of Valsesian valley hopping along the Sentier Walser to Alagna. This long distance path from Austria to Switzerland connects many of the old Walser villages, intensely practical but beautiful settlements of wood and stone. After days of stiff ascents, descents, wild camps and snatched views of Monte Rosa we reached Alagna in time for the annual Walser festival; all tyrolean hats, handlebar moustaches and umpa umpa bands.
The final 4 day stage from Alagna to Zermatt was to follow the Cicerone TMR route, with the first night in the Refugio Guglielmina for a night of high altitude luxury and fine dining. Regrettably, after a long but beautiful ascent to the Col d’Olen, we discovered the refuge had burned to the ground and the alternative refuge nearby was closed. We made a rapid decent in search of food and a soft bed and managed to catch the last cable car to the Lys valley, followed by a priceless hitch to Grassoney. By 7 we were enjoying the luxury we had hoped for.
Next day in superb mountain weather we got a lift in a jeep up to 2500 meters with some alpinists who were heading to Refugio Sella at 5385m. On a hunch we followed them up; a superb assent with views of Lyksam and much of the Monte Rosa massif, Mont Blanc to the west and Gran Paradiso to the south, plus a nice little aided scamble for the last 30 minutes to the hut.
One of the refugio team was from the UK and knew his mountains and so I unburdened my main worry about our route – crossing the Theodulglacier. He was quite adamant – don’t do it unless you’re equipped for glacier travel – just as the Cicerone guidebook says. So the next day after watching the sun rise over much of the alps we descended to the road 2000 meters below and made our way to Aosta and then Zermatt by bus and train to complete our route, and celebrate with a glass in the shadow of the Matterhorn.