Tour of the Matterhorn
A trekking guide
By Hilary Sharp
A guide to the 145km Tour of the Matterhorn, described anti-clockwise from Zermatt and visits 6 valleys via Zinal, Arolla and Breuil, offering spectacular views of 25 peaks of over 4000m. The route also links up with the Chamonix to Zermatt walkers' Haute Route and the Tour of Monte Rosa. Includes two glacier crossings and takes 8 to 10 days.
SeasonsJuly/August recommended. Snow possible well into June. Huts open from late June / early July. Lifts open early July to early September.
CentresGruben, St Niklaus, Zermatt, Breuil-Cervina, Prarayer, Arolla, Zinal, Les Haudères
DifficultyFor experienced alpine walkers. Requires glacier-travel skills/equipment and a good level of fitness. Altitude above 3000m.
Must Seewildlife, views of Matterhorn and 4000m+ summits, Swiss and Italian traditions/culture, glacier traverses, Italian hut food
The classic peak of the Matterhorn has inspired adventurers for generations, and this 145km tour does not disappoint. It is considerably more demanding than the popular Alpine route, the Tour du Mont Blanc, but it forms a great progression for those who have already sampled some Alpine hiking of this type before and wish to expand their experience.
This guidebook divides the Tour of the Matterhorn into seven stages. They are logical stages rather than day stages, so normally describes routes from one valley to another. It can be walked perfectly in 10 days but it is not a tour that should be rushed, it would be a shame to miss sampling all the spectacular views, cultures and regions. If you are short of time however, there are suggestions for shorter variants included in this guidebook.
The 145km route coincides with two other long-distance treks. From Zermatt to Arolla it follows the Walker’s Haute Route Trail, and from Breuil-Cervinia to Grächen it takes the Tour of Monte Rosa. The total ascent is 9925m with a total descent of the same. The route stays mostly below 3000m so there should be no fear of effects of altitude sickness as this usually occurs above 3000m. The trails are quite rough and rocky in places, and occasionally the steeper sections have been equipped with metal rungs and/or cables. These sections are short and not difficult, although in rain or snow they would be slippery.
The Tour of the Matterhorn
How to Use this Guide
When to Go
How to Get There
Difficulty of the Trail
Footpaths and Waymarks
Lifts and Buses
Emergencies and Rescue
Flowers and Vegetation
Things to Do and See
Shorter Trekking Alternatives
Stage 1: Zermatt to St Niklaus
Alternative: Zermatt to St Niklaus valley route
Stage 2: St Niklaus to Gruben-Meiden
Stage 3: Gruben-Meiden to Zinal
Alternative: Gruben-Meiden to Zinal via the Forcletta
Stage 4: Zinal to Les Haudères
Stage 4A: Link route: Les Haudères to Arolla
Stage 5: Arolla to Prarayer
Stage 6: Prarayer to Breuil-Cervinia
Stage 7: Breuil-Cervinia to Zermatt
Appendix I Further Reading
Appendix II Accommodation
Appendix III Useful Contacts
Appendix IV Glossary and Useful Terms
Appendix V Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue Techniques
1:50,000: Carte Nationale de la Suisse 5006 Matterhorn Mischabel; Istituto Geografico Centrale 5 Cervino-Matterhorn e Monte Rosa.
1:25,000: Carte Nationale de la Suisse 1328 Randa; 1308 St Niklaus; 1307 Vissoie; 1327 Evolène; 1347 Matterhorn; 1348 Zermatt; Istituto Geografico Centrale 108 Cervino Matterhorn, Breuil-Cervinia, Champoluc.
1:30,000: Istituto Geografico Centrale 115 La Valpelline, Valle di Ollomont, Valle di St Barthelemy. Note Although this map is 1:30,000 I have used it as a 1:25,000 map as there is no alternative.
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The telephone number for the Rifugio Perrucca Vuillermoz has changed to 0166 646306
The mountain on page 21 is definitely the Pigne d"Arolla in the val D'Herens and not the Bishorn above the Turtmanntal as the caption says. Apologies from Cicerone and Hilary and thanks to Richard Hills for keeping an eye on us.
Update Summer 2013, revision to Stage 6
The descent from the Col Valcournera has changed. The author writes:
"The way as described in the guidebook is still an option and this might be the only option early in the season when there is still névé on this slope. However, there is a new path which is signed and takes off leftwards looking out from the col towards the Rifugio Perucca Vuillermoz. This path has just been made and is equipped with blue ropes the whole way. It's essentially a good thing and makes the descent more secure than the old way, so long as there is no snow. But it shouldn't be underestimated, it is considerably longer than the direct way, it goes uphill as well as downhill, and for the moment, as it is new, there is still a lot of loose debris which tends to get dislodged as you descend. The final apporach to the hut hasn't changed."
Update Summer 2008, revision to Stage 1, Zermatt to St Niklaus
From Tufteren, the author has revised the route description (from page 83) as follows, to reflect changes on the ground:
"(If taking the Sunnegga lift come out of the lift. There is a gondola lift which takes off from just below the lift station. Walk under this and look down to an obvious flat track with a signpost. Go down to this and Tufteren is signposted right. Go along this pleasant track which is flat and bordered by larch and spruce. It soon reaches the hamlet of Tufteren.)
The Europaweg is signposted at a junction just above the buildings of Tufteren. The path rises gently then flattens out, heading around the hillside. There are several junctions but the Europaweg or the Europahütte are generally indicated. On this early part of the walk the other landmark to look out for is Ottovan/Täschalp. Good views of Obergabelhorn and Rothorn.
The junction I had previously noted in the guidebook is now less obvious - it is on a bend but you would not go right because that way is little used. The path descends a little to then continue it's way around towards the hillside. Ahead a landslide can be seen down a slope - this is typical of what happens to the hillside on this walk - many slopes are raked by avalanche and the path gets wiped out. Landslides are also relatively common in heavy rain. This landslide is the other side of the deep valley which cuts into the hillside up to Ottovan/Täschalp and our path turns the corner and undulates along towards this hamlet.
Once there the trail hits the road for a short while before a signed path is taken off on the right - gives 3hr 20 to Europahütte. This briefly goes uphill before once again traversing around - good views of the Matterhorn on left. It is at times exposed and there are always cables on the exposed parts - there is a section of descent with ropes on both sides then long traverses protected where necessary. A river is crossed and it is clear that the path has to be re-made regularly - each time at a lower level. There are a series of tunnels on the trail interspersed with platforms to protect walkers from rockfall on the exposed slopes. One slope features 4 tunnels which must have been a huge amount of work to construct.
There is a bouldery section and at one point whilst ascending a trail through boulders in the woods be careful not to miss a right hand switchback - lots of people have missed it and initially the way on (which is wrong) looks quite worn. The switchbacks lead to a junction where there is a path down to Randa.
Eventually a deep ravine is crossed by a bridge, followed by a roped section before a tunnel with a light switch on the right-hand side. After this you can see the Europahütte and think you're nearly there. However, soon after there is a misleading signpost. The upper path is signed to Gruen Garten, the middle path to the Europaweg and the lower path to Randa. However, there is no lower path. It feels wrong to follow the lower of the two options as this descends but this is correct. I think the higher path previously led to the Europahütte but the continuation of this trail has been destroyed by erosion. Not far down the lower path there is a sign left to Randa and the Europahütte is signed right. Soon after there is another sign left to Randa. Our trail crosses the slope and the hut can be seen above. A few zigzags lead up to the original trail where there is a sign for the hut and also for the Domhütte path. This deviation probably adds on only about 100m of climbing but it feels hard at this stage of the walk, especially because the hut has been visible for some time.
After the hut there is a nice flat traverse which leads to a wobbly suspension bridge. I presume this is wobbly so as to survive avalanche activity - it certainly doesn't seem very stable. The old path and bridge can be seen some way above.
Another spur is turned and there is a sign to Grächen 4hr30. Ahead the path is all too obvious - big sweeping zigzags lead upwards to eventually cross a rocky slope and pick up the traverse line again. From now on there are a lot of rocky sections and there are lots of sections where the path will clearly have to be remade almost on a yearly basis. It is really well waymarked but this is a massive task.
A signed path descends to Herbriggen, after which the rocks go on and on. There are not many safe places to stop - any location for a rest or snack break should be chosen carefully - choose a grassy area and look up to see what is above before settling in. The Matterhorn, which had disappeared from view just before the Europahütte now reappears.
After much teetering from rock to rock (anyone who enjoys unstable boulder slopes will have a field day here) the path zigzags down and back up to a sign to Grächen 2hr40 and going the other way the Europahûtte 2hr20 and Zermatt 8hr30. After more rockiness a sign is reached going right to the Bordierhütte 2hr. The big grassy area can be seen when St Bernard is waiting for us. It is a pleasure for tired feet to reach this and enjoy the softness of grass rather than rocks. The view up the Gasenried Gorge is spectacular.
Go and pay your respects to St B before heading down to pick up the path at a signpost: 1hr 50 to Grächen, 2hr20 to St Niklaus; going the other way, 3hr30 to the Europahütte and 9hr40 to Zermatt. So it's still quite a hike to the end and the descent is a killer for tired knees. However, if it hurts going down imagine going up!! And the whole thing is helped if the abundant alpenrose is in flower.
Some way down the descent into the woods there is a sign to the Bordierhütte on the right. At a welcome flat track Grächen is signed right but if you're going on down to St. Niklaus you have to keep up the steep descent. The path is a bit vague at times but generally signed. It picks up some road near the bottom which is not very welcome but finally comes out at a covered bridge over the river and in to the village."
'The introduction contains a mass of information, not just practical, but also social and historical. The tour is in the high mountains, a circuit with views of all the Zermatt and Arolla peaks.
This is a wonderful route for the competent hillwalker.'
(Irish Mountain Log Magazine, Summer 2006)
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Hilary Sharp is British, a qualified Accompagnatrice en Montagne (International Mountain Leader), and is based permanently in France. After 23 years living in the Alps she now lives in northern Provence, within easy driving distance of the southern French Alps. She runs her own trekking business, Trekking in the Alps and Provence, guiding walks in winter, spring and summer (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.trekkinginthealps.com; www.trekkinginprovence.com). Her love of walking and climbing has taken her to many parts of Europe and further afield. Hilary occasionally contributes to British walking magazines and is author of Trekking and Climbing in the Western Alps (New Holland, 2002).View Articles and Books by Hilary Sharp