A non-walking tour to Switzerland – Day 5, St Moritz to Zermatt (some reflections on the Matterhorn)

  • 170 km as the crow flies
  • walk-train-walk
  • 19 kph door to door
  • 165 eurocents/km
  • 10837 steps

On Saturday we set off for home, retracing our steps, putting me in mind of one of my favourite books, Sébastien Japrisot’s La Dame dans l’auto avec des lunettes et un fusil (The lady in the car with glasses and a gun).

There’s not much to add about the reverse journey on the Glacier Express. Just like on Thursday, it was a treat.


Here’s a picture of the round table tennis table at Thusis that I saw on the way out. We could not think of an explanation for it. (Ideas welcome.)

Matterhorn train Glacier Express St Moritz-Zermatt 518 2.JPG

We came up the valley into Zermatt at the end of the afternoon. Even more than last time, we felt the grip the Matterhorn has on this little town.

toblerone Matterhorn Zermatt 518.JPG

The mountain, for example, seems to have inspired both the design of Toblerone…

pillows like mountains continental hotel Zermatt 518.JPG

and the presentation of the pillows in our hotel room.

Matterhorn plaque Zermatt 518 3.JPG

Out on the street, we noticed a plaque referring to the first ascent of the mountain. We googled it in a dark café, eating raclette and rösti and drinking Fendant wine. It wasn’t hard. If you type First ascent of the, Mr Google offers you Matterhorn as the first choice.

I didn’t know the story – the seven men’s ascent – Edward Whymper and Michel Croz’s playful run to the top –  the stones they threw down to attract the attention of their outsmarted Italian rivals led by Jean-Antoine Carrel 200 metres below – the inexperienced Douglas Hadow’s slip on the way down, pulling with him Croz, Charles Hudson and Lord Francis Douglas – the horror as, in Whymper’s words, For two or three seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding downwards on their backs, and spreading out their hands endeavouring to save themselves; they then disappeared one by one and fell from precipice to precipice on to the Matterhorn glacier below, a distance of nearly 4,000 feet in height – the assertions, from some quarters, that Whymper and the other two survivors, Peter Taugwalder father and son, were to blame

– but I realised that Zermatt assumes that everybody knows this story, and has a view, too, on the rights and wrongs of it.

chemists with Matterhorn memorabilia Zermatt 518.JPG

To give some examples: this chemist’s’s window display gives an account of the Italian team’s own ascent three days later.

Matterhorn plaque Zermatt 518 4.JPG

This plaque, with a picture of the same mountain as the other plaques but referring to a different peak, doesn’t explain why the particular ascent it mentions is of importance.

Matterhorn plaque Zermatt 518 1.JPG

This plaque doesn’t explaining that the two “1865”s are the same.

And the publicity for the local museum doesn’t tell you why it highlights the fact that the rope they have on show is visibly frayed.

Monte Rosa hotel Zermatt 518.JPG

The Monte Rosa hotel, from which the party set off for the climb, was unfortunately closed until next month.

Matterhorn plaque Whymper Zermatt 518.JPG


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Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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