Switzerland's Matterhorn dominates the village of Zermatt


The Matterhorn catches the evening sun over Zermatt

Switzerland's Rhone valley, scoured deep and broad by glacial action thousands of years ago, penetrates deeply into the central alpine region and forms the southern border of the Bernese alp region. The valley features vineyards, towns and cities of various sizes, and, especially in summer, a fierce wind howling in from the west, especially late in the afternoon. Since it delves into the alps do deeply, the uninitiated may think the Rhone is surrounded by might peaks north and south.

This is not the case, however...the scenery, the views, the mighty peaks of Mt. Blanc, Dent Blanche, Mt. Rosa and here, the Matterhorn, can only be seen by riding the long climbs deep into the smaller valleys that branch off the Rhone on its southern side. (The north side has only two..the Lotschental is featured in another picture). The climb to Zermatt is a long one with a few short nasty portions. When the road splits at Visp, take the right branch. Automobiles are allowed only as far as Taasch; from there the road is very narrow and only special buses and local traffic is allowed; or you can take the train. You can cycle all the way to Zermatt, however.

Now, in some ways Zermatt is an ultimate tourist trap. But the town really has done a good job retaining its charm, and it remains resolutely a climbers paradise; everywhere there are ragged and burly climbers, male and female, eyes still darkened with bootblack against snow blindness, sipping coffee and spreading tales about climbs on icy ridges and summits. The matterhorn, first climbed by the doomed Whymper party over a century ago, has a wedge shape which is most unique and appealing. It also appears deceptively close and easy to climb, impressions corrected if you visit the small cemetery in Zermatt where many climbers--both by choice and not-- have found themselves interred.

If you like glaciers, take the road to Saas Fee where the road splits at Taasch, and the icefields that tumble from Mt. Rosa will amaze you. As is so often the case, few tourists take this other route, and the scenery is quite attractive.

Back down in the Rhone, if you have been working your way east from Lac Leman, this is your last major climb out of the Rhone valley itself. Further upstream the main valley ends at Simplon; one must either climb over the Simplon pass into Italy (not recommended) or ascend the now narrower valley of the Goms, following the Rhone to its very source at the Rhonegletscher, near the town of the same name.


The Matterhorn from the Italian village of Cervinia

By the way the Matterhorn can also be seen from the south, the Italian side, from the village of Breueil/Cervinia. The southern aspect is not as dramatic and snow clad, but worth a side trip if you are in the valleys which lead into the Mt. Blanc tunnel. Breueil appears to me, however, to be less accomodating to travelers the year round than Zermatt. The mountain does not stand on its side, however. 1