Monday, April 28, 2008

Day 79 – Zermatt

At the wee hours of the morning I headed to the train station, to realize one of the dreams of my youth: to be able to hike in the Alps. The train ride is spectacular, particularly when one changes to the Matterhorn-Gothard train, which climbs up the Alps to the small village of Zermatt. Zermatt (1,620 meters above sea level) is a very quaint tourist center at the foot of the Matterhorn (4,478 m), and after making arrangements in a small hotel I was ready to go as high as I could. The easiest way was to take the funicular net to Furi (1,864 m), Trockener Steg (2,939 m), and finally Klein Matterhorn (3,883 m). The funicular itself is an incredible piece of engineering, climbing over “bottomless” glacial valleys, but by the time we got up to Klein Matterhorn the wind was buffeting the cabin so much that it took us several minutes to dock. It was incredibly windy, cold, and snow was very deep, so after braving the elements for a while I decided to go down to more welcoming elevations. Trockener Steg was more pleasant, but still covered with deep snow and unsuitable for a solo hiker, so I ended going back to Furi. From there I walked up the valley of the Zmutt glacier, which forms the eastern flank of the Matterhorn. It was all I could have expected!

Half way up the valley I found a small arch dam, which is part of the extensive system of hydroelectric power generation of Switzerland. This made me reflect on two things: First, the Swiss are very “green” minded, and are big into minimizing their dependence on foreign oil. They are particularly vociferous about reducing use of fossil fuels or using nuclear power, but that is because they have so much hydroelectricity that they don’t feel the energy pinch. Second, the country is beautiful beyond description, but everywhere you see the marks of industrial development. There is hardly a river that is not harnessed for power generation, and there are power transmission lines everywhere (if you look carefully at the photo you will see a transmission tower center-left). The valleys have plenty of green pastures and Swiss cows, but they have to share this paradise with industrial parks and towns, as an unavoidable trade between aesthetic values and development. Here is a photo of the Matterhorn for your viewing pleasure :)

1 comment:

MJC Rocks said...

I am jealous! The Alps are beautiful, but I must echo your observation about developments and powerlines...in my brief foray into the Swiss Alps last summer, I found it difficult to snap photos that didn't include powerlines.

I am enjoying your posts! Glad you weren't eaten by lions earlier on.