To see the splendid array of snow peaks and glaciers which makes the sky line above Zermatt, one must leave the valley and walk or climb to a higher level. An ideal spot for this is the Hotel Riffel Alp. Both the situation and the Hotel outrival and surpass any similar places in the Alps. “Far from the madding crowd,” on a little plateau bounded by pines and pastures stands the Hotel, some two thousand feet above Zermatt and at an altitude of over 7,000 feet. The outlook is superb, the air splendid, the quiet most restful. Two little churches, the one for Roman Catholics, the other for members of the Church of England minister to the spiritual needs of the visitors and stamp religion upon a situation grand and sublime.
Those who come here are lovers of the mountains who enjoy the open life. It is a place not so much for “les grands excursions” as for long walks, easy climbs and the beginnings of mountaineering. Many persons spend the entire day out, preferring to eat their dejeuner “informally,” perched above some safe precipice, or on a glacier-bordered rock or in the shade of the cool woods, but there are always some who linger both morning and afternoon on the terrace with its far expanse of view, with the bright sunshine streaming down upon them.
One great charm of the Riffel Alp is the proximity to the snow. An hour will bring one either to the Gorner Glacier or to the Findelen Glacier, while a somewhat longer time will lead to other stretches of snow and ice, where the climber may sit and survey the seracs and crevasses or walk about on the great frozen rivers. This is said to be beneficial to the nervous system as many physicians maintain that the glaciers contain a large amount of radium.
Before essaying any of the longer or harder trips however, the traveler first of all generally goes to the Gorner-Grat, the rocky ridge that runs up from Zermatt to a point 10,290 feet high. Many people still walk up, but since the railroad was built, even those who feel it to be a matter of conscience to inveigh against any kind of progress which ministers to the pleasures of the masses, are found among those who prefer to ascend by electricity. The trip up is often made very amusing as among the crowds are always some, who knowing really nothing of the place, feel it incumbent upon themselves to point out all of the peaks, in a way quite discomposing to anybody familiar with the locality or versed in geography! Quite a luxurious little hotel now surmounts the top of the Gorner-Grat. In it, about it and above it, on the walled terrace assembles a motley crowd every clear day in summer, clad in every variety of costume, conventional and unconventional.
An ordinary scene would be ruined by such a crowd, but not so the Gorner-Grat. The very majesty and magnificence of the view make one forget the vaporings of mere man, and the Glory of God, so overpoweringly revealed in those regions of perpetual snow, drives other impressions away. And if one wishes to be alone, it is easily possible by walking a little further along the ridge where some rock will shut out all sight of man and the wind will drive away the sound of voices.
It is doubtful if there is any view comparable with that of the Gorner-Grat. There is what is called a “near view,” and there is also what is known as a “distant view,” for completely surrounded by snow peak and glacier, the eye passes from valley to summit, resting on that wonderful stretch of shining white which forms the sky-line. To say that one can count dozens of glaciers, that he can see fifty summits, that Monte Rosa, the Lyskamm, the Twins, the Breithorn, the Matter-horn, the Dent Blanche, the Weisshorn, with many other mountains of the Valais and Oberland form a complete circle of snow peaks, may establish the geography of the place but it does not convey any but the faintest picture of the sublime grandeur of the scene.
An exciting experience for novices is to go with a guide from the Gorner-Grat to the Hohtaligrat and thence down to the Findelen Glacier. It looks dangerous but it is not really so, if the climber is careful, for altho there is a sheer descent on either side of the arete or ridge which leads from the one point to the other, the way is never narrow and only over easy rocks and snow.
The Hohtaligrat is almost 11,000 feet in altitude and has a splendid survey of the sky line One looks up at snow, one looks down at snow, one looks around at snow ! From the beautiful summits of Monte Rosa, the eye passes in a complete circle, up and down, seeing in succession the white snow peaks, with their great glistening glaciers below, showing in strong contrast the occasional rock pyramids like the Matterhorn and the group around the Rothhorn.