A typical day on a
 

HIKING TRIP

A"typical" day on a hiking trip? There's no such thing. Not only is a day of hiking in Tuscany (left) quite different from one in the Alps, but even in the same region, on a well-planned trip, every day will feel quite different.

This site is sponsored by Alyson Adventures, which offers hiking trips and other active, outdoor vacations for gay men, lesbians, and friends. For hiking trips, we search out regions that offer several key characteristics:

  • Good hiking trails.
  • A variety of great scenery and terrain.
  • Opportunities for individual hikers to tailor each day to be longer or shorter, based on their own preferences.

But while there's no such thing as a typical day, the very first day of our popular Edelweiss hiking trip offers a good example of what you can expect.

We spend the week in the mountain village of Zermatt, high in the Swiss Alps near the Italian border. Zermatt is a car-free town, easily accessible by a cog railroad.

On some hiking trips, we change locations during the week. But there's no need to pack your bags this week: All seven nights are in Zermatt, in comfortable apartments.

Each apartment has a small kitchen. Wake when you're ready, step out on the balcony for an invigorating view of the Matterhorn, then enjoy a leisurely breakfast right in your apartment. You can hike independently as much as you want to this week, but generally, most of us will start off together. At 9:00 a.m., we meet in the center of town and allow fifteen minutes for those who have last-minute shopping needs: Camera batteries, film, sunscreen, or a hiking stick.

We walk up the main road in Zermatt for just a few minutes, then turn right on a narrow ribbon of asphalt. Five minutes later, the asphalt ends and we're on a hiking trail, looking down onto the chalets and church steeples of Zermatt.

This first section of trail is steep, and feels even steeper at 6,000 feet of altitude. The guide calls for a another break, and checks in with everyone. If you're not at all winded by now, you're superhuman. But if you're really having second thoughts about this whole business, there's an easier route you can take, along a more gently-rising dirt road, that also gets you to lunch.

The trail loops through a pasture filled with wildflowers, switches back into a small wooded copse, then comes out into the open, again with sweeping views of the valley below, and the Matterhorn above.

Here we take a fifteen-minute break. For those interested, the guide offers a brief lesson about using your map and compass. Some just want a rest. Others decide that this spot, with a sign marking the trails, and the Matterhorn glistening in the backdrop, makes an irresistible photo op.

The trail continues on, still upward, toward the ever-present Matterhorn. Forty-five minutes later, we reach a fork. Most of the group, along with the guide, will take the left fork, which offers a more direct path to Zmutt, where we can get lunch. Those feeling independent can take the right fork, for a slightly longer hike, which will also get them to Zmutt.

Gradually the hiking trail levels out, then descends slightly. We pass a flock of sheep, domesticated but allowed to run freely through the region. Owners keep an eye on where their herds are, and round them up twice a month to be counted and treated for any health problems.

Two and a half hours after we left Zermatt, we reach the tiny hamlet of Zmutt, which consists of only a few sturdy wooden structures, supported on thick wooden legs above the earth. Two of these structures are restaurants, serving day hikers up from Zermatt, and soon we're enjoying a hearty lunch of bratwurst, potatoes, and salad.

After lunch, the guide presents another option: Those who prefer a shorter day can take the dirt road back into Zermatt, less than an hour of easy, slightly downhill walking. A few choose to head back. Most of the group continues, reassured that there's yet another option not far ahead.

Soon out of Zmutt, we cross a deep river gorge, follow a steep but short uphill trail through the woods, and find ourselves on a rustic road that makes for easy walking through the woods.

Above us, and just below the Matterhorn, lies the small mountain lake of Schwarzsee. Matterhorn climbers traditionally start their ascent from here, and Schwarzsee offers great views of the famous peak. Schwarzsee is also a ski area in the winter. It's got a restaurant and tram service, both operating year-round. From here, everyone gets a 3-way option:

  • Hike to Schwarzsee, about a two-hour uphill journey. By now, everyone feels able to evaluate whether the additional hiking is right for them.
  • Walk down to Furi, just ten minutes along the road, where you can take the aerial tram up to Schwarzsee.
  • Walk down to Furi, from which you can walk, or take the tram, down to Zermatt.

The hiking to Schwarzee follows a forest ridge, then breaks above tree-line, with sweeping views of the Alpine peaks. The tram ride also provides great views. Hikers and tram-riders regroup at the restaurant terrace at Schwarzee for a beer of soft drink, and perhaps some freshly-baked apple strudel with cream sauce, as the Matterhorn looms above.

Once again, there's a choice of easier or more challenging ways to end the hiking day. The lift goes all the way back to Zermatt, with a stop along the way. You can hike all the way back down (about 2-1/2 to 3 hours), hike partway and then ride (about 2 hours of hiking, downhill but on sometimes steep trails) or ride partway, then hike (less than an hour, on easy trails.)

One way or another, everyone arrives back in Zermatt. The hiking is over, but the day is not. On our French and Italian trips, we include a wine-tasting. Here in German-speakng Switzerland, we've decided the local beers are more interesting, and more representaive. Before dinner, we've arranged a beer-tasting, with optional soft drinks, to compare the quite different brands available.

Several dinners are included in the trip this week, but tonight is a free night. The beer tasting allows everyone an opportunity to make plans with others, and soon, groups of four or six are heading off to an assortment of Zermatt's restaurants.

Those who still have energy after dinner have one more treat in store. A short walk from Zermatt, you can be in near-total darkness, and enjoy the spectacle of the Milky Way sweeping overhead.

 


More on this site:

On related sites:

  • List of hiking trips offered by Alyson Adventures.
  • Our hiking site offers useful background for less experienced hikers.

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