Those who would reach the very heart of the Alps and look upon a scene of unparalleled grandeur must go into the Valais to Zermatt.
The way up the valley is that which follows the River Visp. It is a delightful journey. The little stream is never still. It will scarcely keep con-fined to the banks or within the stone walls which in many places protect the shores. The river dances along as if seeking to be free. For the most part it is a torrent, sweeping swiftly past the solid masonry and descending the steep bed in a series of wild leaps or artificial waterfalls, with wonderful effects of sunlight seen in the showers of spray. Fed as it is by many mountain streams, the Visp is always full, and the more so, when in summer the melting ice adds to its volume.
Then it is a sight long remembered, as roaring, rollicking, rushing along it is a brawling mass of waters, often working havoc with banks, road, village, and pastures. If one never saw a mountain stream, the sight of the Visp would more than repay, but, as it is, one’s attention is taxed to the uttermost not to miss anything of this little rushing river and at the same time get the charming views of the Weisshorn, the Breithorn, and the other snow summits which appear over the mountain spurs surrounding the head of the valley.
The first impression on reaching the Zermatt is one of disappointment. Maps and pictures generally lead the traveler to think that from the village he will see the great semicircle of snow peaks which surround the valley, but upon arrival he finds that he must go further up to see them, for all of them are hidden from view except the Matterhorn.
This mountain, however, is seen in all its grandeur, fierce and frowning, and to an imaginative mind bending forward as if threatening and trying to shake off the little snow that appears here and there on its side. It dominates the whole scene and leaves an indelible impress on the mind, so that one can never picture Zermatt without the Matterhorn.
Zermatt as a place is a curious combination; a line of hotels in juxtaposition with a village of chalets, unsophisticated peasants shoulder to shoulder with people of fashion! There are funny little shops, here showing only such simple things as are needed by the dwellers in the Valais, there exhibiting really beautiful articles in dress and jewelry to attract the summer visitors, while at convenient spots are the inevitable tea-rooms, where “The, Cafe, Limonade, Confiserie” minister to the coming crowds of an afternoon.
Guides galore wait in front of all the large hotels; ice-axes, ropes, nailed boots, rucksacks, and all the paraphernalia of the mountains are seen on every side, and a walk along the one main thoroughfare introduces one into the life of a climbing center, interesting to a degree and often very amusing from the miscellaneous collection of people there.
Perhaps the first thing one cares to see at Zermatt is the village church, with the adjoining churchyard. The church, dedicated to Saint Mau-rice, a favorite saint in the Valais and Rhone district, is plain but interesting and in parts is quite old. Near it is a little mortuary chapel. In most parts of Switzerland, it is the custom, after the bodies of the dead have been buried a certain length of time, to remove the remains to the “charnel house,” allowing the graves to be used again and thus not encroaching upon the space reserved and consecrated in the churchyard, but we do not think this custom obtains at Zermatt.
In the churchyard is a monument to Michel Auguste Croz, the guide, and near by are the graves of the Reverend Charles Hudson and Mr. Hadow. These three, with Lord Francis Douglas were killed in Mr. Whymper’s first ascent of the Matterhorn.* The body of Lord Francis Douglas has never been found. It is probably deep in some crevasse or under the snows which surround the base of the Matterhorn.
For the more extended climbs or for excursions in the direction of the Schwarzsee, the Staffel Alp or the Trift, Zermatt is the starting point. The place abounds in walks, most of them being the first part of the routes to the high mountains, so that those who are fond of tramping but not of climbing can reach high elevations with a little hard work, but no great difficulty. Some of these “midway” places may be visited on muleback, and with the railway now up to the Gorner-Grat there are few persons who may not see this wonderful region of snow peaks.
The trip to the Schwarzsee is the first stage on the Matterhorn route. It leads through the village, past the Gorner Gorges (which one may visit by a slight detour) and then enters some very pretty woods, from which one issues on to the bare green meadows which clothe the upper part of the steep slope of the mountain. As one mounts this zigzag path, it sometimes seems as if it would never end, and for all the magnificent views which it affords, one is always glad that it is over, as it exactly fulfils the conditions of a “grind.”
From the Schwarzsee (8,495 feet, where there is an excellent hotel), there is a fine survey of the Matterhorn, and also a splendid panorama on three sides, one view up the glaciers toward the Monte Rosa, another over the valley to the Dent Blanche and other great peaks, and still another to the far distant Bernese Oberland. Near the hotel is a little lake and a tiny chapel, where mass is sometimes said. The reflection in the still waters of the lake is very lovely.
From the Schwarzsee, trips are made to the Hornli (another stage on the way to the Matter-horn), to the Gandegg Hut, across moraine and glacier and to the Staffel Alp, over the green meadows. The Hornli (9,490 feet high) is the ridge running out from the Matterhorn. It is reached by a stiff climb over rocks and a huge heap of fallen stones and debris. From it the view is similar to that from the Schwarzsee, but much finer, the Theodule Glacier being seen to great advantage. Above the Hornli towers the Matterhorn, huge, fierce, frowning, threatening. Every few moments comes a heavy, muffled sound, as new showers of falling stones come down. This is one of the main dangers in climbing the peak itself, for from base to summit, the Matterhorn is really a decaying mountain, the stones rolling away through the action of the storms, the frosts, and the sun.