12,000 Feet In The Sky And Don’t Look Down!
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com Travel Blogger
One of the thrills of a visit to Zermatt, Switzerland, is going to visit its glacier, which is not the Matterhorn but the Little Matterhorn.
It’s not just that you can ski year-round here or that you can actually go inside the glacier and be treated to fantastic ice sculpting displays.
The real adventure is just getting there in the first place.
From the town of Zermatt, you first have to take a gondola, then not one but two aerial cable cars. It’s a long way to the top of the Alps, folks, even if they do call this the “Little Matterhorn” (also referred to as the Klein Matterhorn).
Scenic, But Scary (If You Look Down To The Ground)
The gondola portion of the trip is a very scenic ride, rising out of the valley with the cute village of Zermatt slowly disappearing from view, and up and over the ski runs (note, I was there in September, before the ski season, so the ski runs were hiking trails).
The aerial trams are scenic, as well, but they can also be a bit unnerving to the point you might find yourself holding your breath and digging your fingernails into the railing.
At least it was that way for me, because all it took was one look down to make me gasp. The Alps may not be as tall as the Rockies in Colorado, but they are sure are steep.
They go straight down, some 10,000 feet (actually, it’s 12,740 feet from top to bottom here and this is the world’s highest aerial cable car).
And there we were, suspended high in the sky hanging in a big metal box dangling from nothing but a cable.
Now this is not to say I did not trust the Swiss and their cable car engineering expertise. Just the opposite, in fact, for it was my faith in their engineers that kept me calm as they have been safely operating these devices for decades.
Still, one could not help but notice the precipitous drop below us and not at the very least take a very deep breath.
One thing is for sure, I did not look down once we began to move. I kept my eyes fixed straight ahead with laser beam focus. When the tram swayed back and forth like a child’s swing as we crossed over the support poles, my heart nearly jumped out through the top of my head.
When we finally came to a stop, I said to myself, “well that wasn’t so bad after all,” but then noticed we had to board a second tram that went even higher over the distant valley below.
As soon as I stepped inside I felt as if I were in the old Clint Eastwood World War II move, “Where Eagles Dare,” in which dramatic action takes place in similar trams and terrain (those scenes were filmed in Austria, by the way).
Of course, unlike in the movie, I was not being chased by machine gun-toting German soldiers and I most certainly was not going to climb up the ladder, open the hatch, get up on the roof and jump off the cable car just as it reached its destination.
Which in this case was a building which leads to year-round skiing, ice sculpture displays inside the glacier, an observation deck where you can peek out from a very cold and windy perch (at least it was cold and windy on this day) and a restaurant with lunch and cocktails.
Just inside the building is a room showing a film of people doing someting far more daring than riding in an aerial cable car; they were scaling the sides of mountains almost straight up, to the very top of the Alps. This activity is not for the faint of heart. When a helicopter shot showed people standing on a peak about the width of a hiking shoe and then pulled back to reveal the scale of it all, people in the room gasped with fright.
The film’s stated purpose is to provide instruction on how to safely climb the mountains but I daresay its real intention is to dissuade individuals who are anything but expert climbers from attempting to do it in the first place.
There’s nothing like someone else’s heart-pounding experiences to put your own activities in perspective, so I really enjoyed the ride back down the mountain. When we passed through the support poles and the cable car swayed back and forth I even gleefully joined the others in letting out a big “wheeeee!”
Soon we were back on solid ground, hiking down that very valley we once soared above while in the cable car.
Switzerland really does take your breath away, and in more ways than one.