Zinal to Gruben, Walker’s Haute Route Stage 11

Stage 11 has all the elements of a typical day on the trail – valley and glacier capped peak views, hillside traverses, quaint chalet villages, cows, and steep climbs and descents.

Day 11 – Zinal to Gruben

Based on the Cicerone guidebook, “Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route” by Kev Reynolds

Distance : 14k

Elevation Gain: 1199m

Elevation Loss: 1052m

Time: 8.5 hours with frequent photo stops and a short lunch break at the pass.

Continuing the previous day’s sunny skies we have a second crystal clear day forecasted.

The day starts with a punishingly steep climb (400m) through the forest. At the top is a pleasant hillside trail that traverses above the valley for a couple of miles with glacier capped peak views behind us. In front the less spectacular Bernese Alps.

Around a corner we enter a grassy bowl with a steep climb up to a ridge followed by a traverse across a grassy alpine meadow to the final ascent to Forcletta (2874m). From the bottom it looks like a wall but the trail up winds around on switchbacks along a reasonably gentle incline, a blessing at this altitude.  

The view from the top is less remarkable than from some other viewpoints with the majesty of the Turtmanntal valley hidden from view.

The walk down is much more impressive than the barren landscape would suggest. Although steep at first the descent soon levels out. We soon reach a pleasant stream with yellow flowers in early September. 

Around a bend Weisshorn comes into view, most fully near a small farm. Later on the small lakes below the glacier also come into view.

The trail rolls along the green hillside until we hit a road. After a short distance on the road the trail down cuts to the right. While it reconnects with the road at times, generally the trail descends the valley through the forest on a moderate to gentle grade.

We can see Gruben in the distance, but once at the bottom of the valley we are still 1K or so outside of town. As the Cicerone guide suggested we followed an unmarked and often difficult to follow track on the left side of the river. Don’t cross the river until you’ve reach town. Nearing Gruben farmers were herding the cows back to town.

Sleeping in Dining in Gruben

Gruben is a charming village in the small Turtmanntal valley. Although the guidebook describes this valley as “little-known” these days it’s extremely popular with tour groups. The first such groups we have seen on the trail. As such the one hotel in town, Hotel Schwarzhorn, was fully booked. Even making reservations months in advance I could only get dorm beds.

The dorm rooms on the top floor of the hotel are wall to wall mattresses with little space for personal belongings. Bathrooms, including showers, are available on the same floor. Backpacks are stored in an open space outside the bathroom.

The hotel has a nice restaurant and terrace with space to accommodate the many guests. The dining room has a pleasant setting overlooking the town and down the valley.

The demi-pension dinner included  – vegetable soup, salad, a main course of chicken in a mushroom sauce over white rice and flan for dessert. All reasonably well prepared for this type of hotel serving a large group of guests. Service is efficient and friendly.

Overnight in the dorm room was quieter than I expected it to be, everyone respectful and quiet. Although there was the occasional soft snoring it was nothing ear plugs wouldn’t mask. Sleeping in the back corner it was difficult getting in and out of the room without disturbing anyone.

The breakfast buffet included a good selection of the usual offerings – cheese, cold cuts, bread, cereal muesli and yogurt. Carafes of coffee and hot milk are served individually. The hotel feeds a lot of guests so it gets a bit crowded at times but the staff does a good job of keeping it organized.

September 4, 2019

For links to all the posts in this series see the Chamonix to Zermatt page.