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Hiking the Matterhorn Glacier Trail

21 March 2024

Have you ever heard of the Matterhorn Glacier Trail? This 6.6 km trail runs just below the iconic Matterhorn peak in Zermatt, Switzerland. With a starting altitude of almost 3.000 meters, it’s not for the unexperienced hikers. But those who are willing to make the 2 hour long descend are rewarded with an unearthly view of the Matterhorn peak and glacier landscape!

Last summer, I spent 2 weeks hiking in the Swiss Alps. It’s safe to say that the Matterhorn Glacier Trail was one of my favorites! Although on paper, 6 km and 2 hours don’t sound particularly challenging, in reality, the 515 meters descend and 174 meters ascend over rocky paths, and the high altitude make it a demanding route. Hence, a good preparation is absolutely necessary!

Preparing for a hike in the Swiss Alps

When preparing for a hike in the Swiss mountains, you should take into account a few important things. First of all, weather conditions can change quickly. I was lucky enough to be blessed with unusual sunny weather, but this is not always the case. Make sure to wear several layers, including an outer layer to block the strong mountain winds. I wore my yellow Cyclone Rescue Jacket which was perfect.

Second, take sunscreen! Yes, it might be very cold up there, but the sun sure burns as hell. If you don’t want to end up as a lobster afterwards, apply a royal layer of sunscreen before you start and take a pair of decent sunglasses.

A good preparation for hiking in the Swiss Alps ends with checking the timetables of the lifts that take you up and down the mountains. The Matterhorn Glacier Trail starts at Trockener Steg (2,939 m) and ends at Schwarzsee (2,583 m). If you’re planning to take the cable car down at Schwarzsee after you’ve completed the hike, then you better check the last descend of the lift. This is often earlier than you think! Probably around 4:30 p.m., which means you have to start your hike early enough. Otherwise, you’re forced to walk down the mountain, which takes hours and hours more…

Hiking the Matterhorn Glacier Trail

Starting at Trockener Steg, I was immediately rewarded with an iconic view of the Matterhorn peak reflected in the water of Theodulgletschersee. This lake is entirely formed by glacier water coming down from just a few meters higher. Several decades ago, this part of the mountain used to be covered in eternal ice, by the Furgg and Theodul glaciers. Today, these glaciers have retreated, and the trail is free to roam every summer. What is left behind is an impressive moonlike landscape full of rocks. Not a single living creature can be found here!

Knowing that I’ve stepped on the exact spot that was covered in ice some 50 years ago already left me speechless. Approaching the Matterhorn peak closer and closer during the hike was another jaw-dropping experience! Although for the most part of the hike you’ll descend, there are two moments where you’ll make a steep ascend. The first one is right after you’ve started, the second one is over midway the hike where you’ll climb a steep hill.

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At anytime, it’s difficult figuring out where to put your feet so you don’t fall. The loose rocks make this quite a challenge. But looking at your feet is also the only way to know where you’re going. The route is indicated with red-white stripes on the stones. This means that from afar, you have absolutely no clue where the trail is going!

"Looking at your feet is also the only way to know where you’re going. The route is indicated with red-white stripes on the stones."

As you keep on descending, you’ll pass by the point where two glaciers used to meet. The remains of this are a huge stripe of rocks. You’ll cross a bridge over a glacier river formed a few hundreds of meters earlier and slowly but surely you’ll see vegetation popping up as you descend below glacier heights. Along the way, panels give you more information about the vegetation, animals, glaciers and other natural phenomena you pass by. Not only was the hike a feast for my eyes, I also learned a lot.

When finishing at Schwarzsee, the first thing that caught my attention was the huge wooden Matterhorn sign. Of course, I stopped for an obligatory picture, and so should you! If you dare, you can also dip your toes into the lake or just relax with a drink at Hotel Schwarzsee.

Good to know

Do you want to hike the Matterhorn Glacier Trial just like I did? Then it’s good to know that you should plan your hike between June and September. These are the safe months to go hiking, all other months, the trail might be covered in snow and ice. Make sure to wear sturdy hiking boots and hiking poles if you prefer. I didn’t use hiking poles on the trial but it for sure helps!

What I loved most about this hike? I met people from all over the world, even coming from India and Australia to hike here in Zermatt. So even if you’re hiking alone like I did, you’ll for sure encounter another lonely hiker willing to share his or her stories with you. Oh, and of course, the unworldly views. For me, the Matterhorn Glacier Trail was undoubtedly one of my absolute highlights of visiting Switzerland!

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