After spending the better part of a half day exploring Zermatt, the gateway to the Matterhorn, we were ready to leave the bustle of town to start hiking. The loop hike we wanted to reach was the 5-Seenweg, a rather short and easy hike past five lakes in the mountains above Zermatt. Like so many of the hikes in Switzerland, this trail was accessible via lift, this one the Zermatt to Sunnegga lift. Since we’d missed the last tram to Sunnegga for the evening, we opted to hike up instead. Most folks vacate the slopes and trails with the last lift of the day, so our decision would end up giving us the opportunity to enjoy the trail with very few hikers.
Not entirely sure how to find our new trailhead on the outskirts of Zermatt, we followed Christine as she expertly wound her way through narrow, unnamed streets, only occasionally referring to her map for guidance. Walking with us as far as the trailhead in Zermatt, we parted ways, thanking her for a most enjoyable afternoon exploring town.
Within minutes, we’d hiked above the thin mist of rain, passing small groups of smartly dressed partygoers who were returning to Zermatt from a wedding in the mountains. Many of the women were walking barefoot, high heeled shows slung loosely in hand, kids in tow. I didn’t envy any of them, hiking in the heat of the evening in painfully uncomfortable attire, but they were friendly and jovial, stopping to say hi to Touille and smiling at us in greeting. We delighted at their British accents, grinning at each other after they’d passed and firing back and forth bad impersonations of our favorite British lines from movies. ‘Ello, Poppet. ‘Ello, Gov’nuh!
We’d been hiking for less than an hour when we came upon an empty bench, perfectly placed just off the trail with superb views of the Matterhorn. Famished, we needed no further encouragement to take a break, savoring generous chunks of marinated pork and veggies we’d packed from home. Somehow, leftovers always taste better when we’re adventuring.
Clearing the treeline, we hiked through the tiny alpine community of Findeln. Blackened timbers from village chalets that had endured countless winters gave little indication of their true age.
I suddenly felt like we were back in the States when we passed a row of tri-color cowhide chairs that resembled Texas Longhorns more than the docile Brown Swiss we typically see in Switzerland.
Just above Findeln, we were excited to see our first glimpse of Valais Blackneck goats, a breed native to Switzerland, making their way along the steep grassy slopes. With their distinctive half black, half white markings, Travis dubbed them “happy halfsies”. It’s no surprise that they’re quite popular with tourists and during the summer months, a small herd of them is paraded twice daily through the streets of Zermatt. Though ours were too far away to attempt a decent photo, we were thrilled to see them in the peaceful solitude of the mountains and just stood and watched them until they disappeared over the ridge.
We angled down to cross Findel Creek, then zigzagged our way up the adjacent slope until it met a gravel road. Rather confused at the lack of signage and abrupt disappearance of our trail, we turned right and followed the road for a ways until it reappeared on the left, almost immediately taking us past Grünsee. Though the tip of the Matterhorn had reappeared in the distance, we were disappointed with the lake’s diminutive size and proximity to Berghaus Grünsee, a restaurant and mountain lodge that would likely be swarming with tourists in the morning.
Crossing our fingers, we decided to press on even further to the third lake, Grindjisee, knowing we’d have no choice but to hike in the dark. When our trail once again turned into a decent sized gravel road, plainly visible in the darkness, we continued at a decent clip to the lake. Only the dark outline of the Matterhorn was visible in the distance, but we knew we’d found our camping destination for the evening.
Finding a grassy spot large enough for our small tent turned out to be a challenge – the only flat areas were sogged with water from the stream flowing to the lake, and the steep hillsides tumbling directly into the lake were rife with boulders. Finally breaking out our headlamps, we scoured the area until we found probably the only circle of grass in the entire valley that would accommodate our tent. Grateful as always for our REI tent, we assembled our castle for the evening mostly by feel within a few minutes, tossed in our bedding, and were asleep in seconds.
As soon as the first morning rays hit our tent, I was awake, curious to see our surroundings in the light of day. Ringed with snow-capped peaks even at the end of June, our little lake was fed by a sparkling waterfall further up the valley.
Turning my gaze to the southwest, the Matterhorn rested without her usual nebulous entourage like a queen taken to bed without her crown. Perfectly reflected in the opposite end of the lake, the mountain lay suspended between a heavenly blue sky and the otherworldly depths of the lake, which still lay in shadow.
Leaving Travis to sleep, I sat for some time in the stillness above the lake and watched the sun climb higher, golden rays creeping ever closer to our tent.
Boiling some water for coffee and a breakfast of chicken and rice, Trav joined me, and we climbed up a giant boulder to enjoy the views while we dined.
Since I typically am too lazy to backpack with my full-sized tri-pod and always forget our GorillaPod, we propped our camera on the rock for a quick selfie before returning to our tent.
While breaking down our campsite at around 8 am, we were both rather surprised to see a hiker step out from behind our breakfast boulder. The lack of visitors all morning had leant us an erroneous sense of privacy. With his hands already moving to unzip his fly, it was clear that the poor hiker was even more startled to see us and hastily moved on after an embarrassed wave. Several hikers followed him as we finished packing our bags, and as we returned to the trail to continue on the 5-Seenweg, we could see a trickle of folks on the trail high above us. It was clear that the lifts had started running, depositing their first batch of hikers for the day.
Just above the waterfall, we stopped to have a snack and enjoy the view for a few more minutes.
Some time back, Trav’s mom had sent us a gift package with goodies, and we silently thanked her as we munched on cheese-dipped pretzels she’d included.
At the falls, we decided to detour off the main trail, which was still a gravel road and wasn’t very pleasant for hiking, and instead opted to take “the road less traveled”, a side trail that cut across the slope with few hikers.
Since we had Touille with us, this trail was also a nice option for her. Happy to be off leash, she ran ahead, snuffling every inch in her never-ending quest to find the elusive Swiss squirrel or the much more common marmot, which always disappear in a hole long before she reaches them.
We saw few enough people on the trail that we were actually grateful to run into a couple of gals hiking together. Asking if they’d take a quick photo of us, we returned the favor and took one of them, then continued the last few kilometers of our hike.
Arriving at the Sunnegga lift, we were a bit stumped as to where we could buy tickets for the underground train back to Zermatt. After thoroughly searching around the entire building, we finally just got on the next train, paying for our one-way ride at the bottom before exiting the station.
Back in Zermatt, we wandered past the Mountaineer’s Cemetery before wearily dropping our packs under a shady tree in an adjacent park. We gratefully pulled off our sweaty hiking boots, and I burrowed my feet in the soft, cool grass with a sigh before throwing together a quick cold lunch from our packs.
We were both so tired at that point that we debated about whether to head home or even camp in town, but I still really wanted to hike at least part of the way up to Hörnlihütte, the last alpine hut below the Matterhorn that was accessible without technical climbing gear. Though I don’t think Travis gave a whit at that point about the hike, he knew how much I wanted to do it, so he sucked it up for me. Shouldering our packs, we set off across Zermatt in search of the lift that would take us up to Schwarzsee. From there, we would begin our hike to Hörnlihütte, which would end up being the most stunning and memorable hike (and night of camping) of our entire year in Switzerland.
Know Before You Go:
- Our total hiking distance: 13.7 km (8.5 miles)
- Actual hiking distance for 5-Seenweg when taking the lift from Zermatt to Sunnegga: 9.3 km
- Cost: 8 chf per one-way adult ticket to take the Sunnegga lift to Zermatt with the annual Swiss 1/2 Fare Card. With no discounts, expect to pay 16 chf.
- Official Zermatt tourism site
- Note: We did not stay at an official campground, and we did not have amenities where we camped. It should go without saying but if you opt to dry camp, please remember if you pack it in, pack it out. Leave no trace you were there, and if you can, pack out what others have left behind.