Our Very Own Mountaineering Man
Rail Europe’s own, Duncan, has been an avid mountaineer for a half a decade and takes a climbing journey at least 2-3 times a year. Not only has it provided Duncan with innumerable pleasure, it’s also become a family affair. He’s passed on this soaring love with his own children as the entire gang recently climbed Gorner Gorge in Switzerland.
Myself, my wife, two kids and my 70-year mother traveled to Zermatt for about 10 days. With Swiss Passes in hand, we were able to access high-speed trains, as well as private trains (chocolate, anyone?) plus boats and museums. We thoroughly enjoyed the Matterhorn Museum, which takes the form of a reconstituted mountain village.
The Swiss Pass is the best way to cover all of Switzerland, which has one of the world’s most extensive rail networks. Plus, with a Swiss Family Card my son traveled for free as he is under the age of 16 (my daughter, on the other hand – was not.) All of the trains were clean and punctual (after all, this is Switzerland.) The staff was helpful and spoke good English, and the conductor gave us good advice regarding which trains to take. Even the stations were luggage-friendly, with many ramps instead of stairs.
We flew into Geneva airport where we took the train straight to the city and spent a pleasant evening by the river listening to music. We needed to relax before our big journey ahead.
We woke the next morning and took a train to Brig, transferring on to Zermatt to begin our mountaineering adventure. Upon our arrival, the only method of transport we took were cog railways and ski lifts up the jagged mountains. While we were pressed for time, one cannot help but fall for Zermatt. Over a mile high in the sky at 5,315 feet, the city is the gateway to the Matter valley, including what may be the most recognizable peak in the world – the Matterhorn. The mountain is in your view nearly everywhere. In the next few years I’d love to go back for a longer visit – and definitely revisit the Schweitzerhof hotel for traditional fondue. Some of the best I’ve had.
And speaking of food, I can tell you that the Swiss love their pastries. There’s a bakery everywhere you turn, churning out deliciously flaky desserts filled with their famed Swiss chocolate. And if you have a finicky palate, you’ll find plenty to please. In addition to classic raclette and fondue, there are Italian, Indian and American style restaurants – including fast food.
But enough about eating. We came to climb. I think what surprised me most were the fascinating people I met along the way. There was a young guide we met on the top of Riffelhorn who had climbed the arduous North face of the Eiger several times.
The Eiger is the easternmost peak of a ridge-crest that extends across the Jungfrau. The Nordwand, German for “north wall” is the face of the mountain, towering nearly 6000 feet above the valley in the Bernese Oberland below. It’s a formidable challenge due to the crumbling rock and diminishing ice. Since 1935, 60 climbers have died attempting to scale the north face, earning it the German nickname “Mordwand” – or murder wall. So to meet someone so young who’d scaled – and survived the climb was quite extraordinary.
We weren’t about to attempt such a feat, sticking instead to the south face of Riffelhorn, which sits on the Gornergrat ridge high above the giant Gorner Glacier. This is a relatively small rock peak but home to many fun rock climbs. This is a big training area for guides teaching their guests efficient movement. Whether you’re here to train for bigger outings or just to looking for a fun afternoon with family, Riffelhorn is sure to please the beginner or expert mountaineer.
And while we came to climb, the true beauty of this journey was bonding with my kids. The highlight was watching them enjoy the Gorner Gorge. Formed by the Gornera River, the gorge is marked by bizarre rock formations and spectacular waterfalls.
Mountaineering isn’t for the faint of heart, but if looking to fill your soul with crisp air and adventure – I say to give it a go. It’s a sport you can do alone and share with your loved ones, too.