Gruben to St Niklaus, Walker’s Haute Route Stage 12

Stage 12 is supposed to have some of the best mountain views of the 2 week trek from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. Unfortunately, with the overcast skies we only got a hint of the majesty hiding behind the clouds.

Day 12 –  Gruben to St Niklaus

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

Distance : 16k

Elevation Gain: 1072m

Elevation Loss: 1767m

Time: 7 hours to Jungen with frequent photo stops and a short lunch break.  From Jungen we took the cable car down the final 828m to St Niklaus.

The morning started with clouds around and it was to get cloudier with a chance of afternoon showers. Not a great view day. The walk to Niklaus, however, was quite pleasant with the most reasonable 1000m ascent of the trip.

The climb out of Gruben starts on a well graded track through the forest and continues to gently climb exposed meadows to Augstbordpass (2894m). Although the trail becomes steeper along the final approach it was still not bad.

Behind us clouds were building in the mountains with no spectacular peaks in view. The temperature dropped quickly as we climbed, with everyone at the top seeking the few protected spots behind rocks. There were lots of trekkers today, the most we’ve seen on the trail so far.

Once over the pass we descend through a barren rocky valley with low clouds and a hint of mountain peaks in the distance. The descent again was generally gentler than on previous days. Nearing the floor of the hanging valley the trail bends to the right and gently climbs around a series of points, mostly along a boulder strewn track.

Around the last bend is the Twära viewpoint overlooking the valley. St Niklaus can be seen below but the majestic Naderhorn, Lenzpitze and Dom across the Matter Valley are hidden from view. Only the Ried glacier spills out below the clouds.

Soon after the viewpoint the trail descends another 500m along a fairly steep dirt track to Jungen where a cable car can whisk you down the last 828 meters to St Niklaus. After days of knee crushing descents we opted for the cable car. It only holds 4 at a time so there can be a wait.

From St Niklaus we then took the bus, 25 minutes, to Grächen where we spent the night.

Section of Europaweg Closed

Originally we were planning on doing the Europaweg, the 2 day track from Gasenried to Zermatt, but a large section of the first part of the route was closed for the 2019 season and may remain closed until they reroute the trail. The famous high balcony track with fabulous views has a history of frequent rock slides making it unsafe and impassible at times.

Our plan B was to take the bus back to St Niklaus the following morning, take the train to Randa and then hike up to Europa Hut from there.

Sleeping and Dining in Grächen

The charming Melanie gives the more modern style Gädi Hotel that little something special. The spacious rooms with balconies have large picture windows that overlook the quaint Swiss chalet style town and the hills beyond. The bathroom is typical Euro-small but with a larger shower than most and a good sized sink for rinsing out laundry. The room has the usual amenities including a safe.

Best Dinner of the Trip

The dining room blends contemporary design with an alpine vibe but it’s the food that really shines here. The chef, Melanie’s husband Martin, does an excellent job of marrying bold flavors, creating creative combinations and presentations. Be warned! Portions are huge!

The evening started with an amuse bouche, a rich pumpkin soup with candied pumpkin seeds. For starters we ordered the mixed salad – a hearty combination of raw vegetables and grilled eggplant – and the vegetable soup, a rich flavorful soup served piping hot in a tall mug accompanied by fried brie squares – crispy on the outside meltingly delicious on the inside. A super rich starter that doesn’t leave much appetite for the main dish.

For mains we had the venison ragout served with red cabbage and garnished with chestnuts and spaetzli – all delicious but again a generous serving. Don’s perch fillets were pan fried, garnished with an almond lemon topping something like a gremolata and served with a colorful medley of vegetables and homemade potato croquettes. Everything prepared to perfection.


The extensive breakfast buffet has the usual items but with a much greater variety while maintaining high quality – a dozen jams, half dozen types of bread, 8 cheeses, cold cuts, cereal, muesli, yogurt etc. Coffee is prepared individually and served to your table with hot milk.

September 5, 2019

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