Alps pt4 - Summit of the Oberrothorn

My favorite view of the Matterhorn - from Sunnegga

It was our second full day in Zermatt. It started like every other day on a hiking trip to the Alps. No matter what the forecast is, as soon as you open your eyes and notice that it is light out you jump out of bed, run to the window and check the weather. Bright blue sky! It looked like another beautiful day for hiking. It was going to be hard to follow our exceptional hike the day before to the Hornli Hut. But if we could do it anywhere we could do it in Zermatt.

For our next hike we were going to do a partial repeat of a hike that we had done last year. Back then we had hiked from Sunnegga up to the summit of the Unterrothorn (Lower Red Peak), a route which features my favorite Matterhorn views. The Matterhorn is a complex mountain and has a vastly different appearance from every angle. It almost looks like a different mountain from all the various viewpoints around the Zermatt valley. But I think it presents its most classic appearance from Sunnegga, Stellisee and Flualp. We also had fantastic views of other 4000 meter peaks, like the Weisshorn, Rimpfischhorn and Strahlhorn. We had eaten lunch at the Flualp Hotel, a mountain hotel that has a lot of memories for me from my climbing days in the 1980's. My climbing partner and I had used it as a base for climbing the Rimpfischhorn via the west-southwest ridge. It is one of the hardest and most memorable climbs that I have ever done.

The Breithorn from our starting point on the Unterrothorn

But let's be honest. The most important reason for us to do this hike was that we had unfinished business. Last year we had done a very long hike by the time we reached the saddle between the upper and lower Rothorn peaks. We opted to go up the lower one which is a thousand feet less of elevation gain and has a much shorter way down. This time we were going to start higher and go all the way to the top of the Oberrothorn (Upper Red Peak). At 11,100 feet it is the highest point you can reach by trail around Zermatt.

Just getting to the begining of the hike is interesting. We started with the ride from Zermatt (1620 meters) up to Sunnegga (2288 meters). You have to walk several hundred meters into the mountain down a long tunnel. Then there is what looks like a train, except that the tracks are at about sixty degrees. You ride up through a dark tunnel. On this ride we shared our car with a Brit who was very talkative. He ran a fly fishing business. When he asked where we were from he surprised us by knowing a lot about Idaho. He said that he had a lot of clients from Idaho and Utah. Then I surprised him when he told us where he was from in the UK because I had lived there and knew the area.

Sandy climbs the last few steps to the summit of the Oberrothorn

We came off the lift/train at Sunnegga. There is a restaraunt there with a terrace (of course) and the view of the Matterhorn there just might be my favorite. We had to take pictures even though we had a bunch from last year. They were just too good to pass up. Then we went up the next stage, a cable car to Blauherd at 2571 meters. There we switched to a gondola for the ride up to the Unterrothorn at about 10,000 feet. The view was fantastic and we took some pictures. But we didn't take too long as it was cold this high up. It was probably only about forty degrees and there was a chill wind blowing. We wanted to start hiking to keep warm.

Unfortunately we started by descending about 500 feet to the saddle between the Unter and Ober Rothorn. Then we had to start uphill to regain all that elevation that we had just given up. We had an early start again and had taken the first gondola up so we had the trail to ourselves. We saw two or three other parties but pretty much it was just us against the mountain. It was a long slog but around 10:30 we reached the top of the Oberrothorn at 11,100 feet.

On the summit - Taeschhorn and Alphubel behind

Although the south side that the trail follows is steep uphill, the north side drops off in a huge cliff face. The views from the summit were amazing. It was perfectly clear and the sky was a deep blue. We were six thousand feet above the valley floor and the village of Zermatt. But the big mountains still towered several thousand feet above us. It was the optimum viewpoint. We could see the giant snow mountains of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Pollux, Castor and the Breithorn. They looked more like they belong in the Himalayas than the Alps. The Mischabel chain to the east had six 4000 meter peaks. They are favorites of mine because I climbed four of them back in the 1980's. The south face of the Taeschhorn was incredibly steep. To the west were more 4000 meter peaks: the Dent Blanche, the Obergabelhorn, the Zinal Rothorn and the Weisshorn. Any one by itself could be the centerpiece of a national park.

Sandy hurries off the summit - Lyskamm and Breithorn behind

And of course the eye was always drawn back to the Matterhorn, the world's most famous mountain. The summit of the Oberrothorn was truely a spectacular place. The climb up to the top was well worth it. Spectacular as it was though we didn't stay long. It was even higher and colder and windier on the summit than at the start of the hike. We took pictures, had a quick drink and snack, enjoyed the view - trying to burn it into our memories. Then we started back down.

Once we were off the summit the wind wasn't blowing as consistently as it had been on top. It still blew hard in some places while in others it was quite calm. The downhill was easy and in only forty five minutes we were back to the saddle between the Oberrothorn and Unterrothorn. The lower we got the warmer it got. The sun felt good. Pretty soon our jackets came off and we were hiking in tshirts.

Rimpfishhorn and Strahlhorn form the backdrop

Rather than hike back up to the cable car station we hiked down toward Zermatt, which was a very long way below. It took us about an hour to reach the Flualp Hotel, a high mountain hotel that is the only place that I know that can compete with Sunnegga for the best view of the Matterhorn. There is also a beautiful view of two of the Mishcabel chain peaks, the Rimpfishhorn and Stralhorn. Much lower and out of the wind, it was very pleasant on the terrace. We stopped and had a leisurely lunch with what might be the world's best view right in front of us. I had spaghetti and Sandy had her favorite Swiss dish, roesti. We definitely felt that life was good.

We were in no hurry to go. We took our time and enjoyed the view while we were lounging in the warm sun. But eventually we decided to start down. That was the only bad moment of the whole day - when the bill came. Lunch for the two of us was Swiss francs 57.50. Not just the view was impressive!

Enjoying a victory latte at the Flualp Hotel

With our strength restored by a long rest and a good lunch we hiked down to Stellisee. This is a small lake that has a fantastic view of the Matterhorn. It is featured in many calendars. Last year I had taken one of my favorite mountain photographs there. We were there on a perfect day early in the morning before other hikers got there. This time we went by the lake again but couldn't duplicate the other photo. A few clouds. Too many people. But still it was a fantastic place so we took photos to record our visit.

We kept walking downhill past the Blauherd cable car station to Sunnegga. It was a pleasant hike on a warm summer day with spectacular views all around. At Sunnegga we stopped for a Coke on the patio with the Matterhorn right in front of us. Then we hopped on the lift to ride the last bit down to Zermatt. After we cleaned up we went down to Grampi's Pub. We sat at a table out front and had a couple of beers to celebrate bagging the Oberrothorn summit while we watched all the people walking along the main street in Zermatt. It's as good a place for people watching as Orchard Road in Singapore. Smaller but almost as crowded.

Additional pictures

Sandy at Sunnegga on our way up