Wow!!! What an incredible day! We watched a nice sunrise from the hut before heading down into some thick valley fog. After a quick downhill section we put on the skins and started heading up to the first col, the Col d'Eveque. It felt like a relatively gentle climb but we couldn't see through the pea soup to know what was coming up. Occasionally we caught glimpses of peaks as the fog rolled in and out and we could also see that there was a long, long line of people in front of us. We were on a glacier and at one point all of the groups ahead of us stopped and roped together. James decided we'd be OK without, we were far enough back that any issues would be discovered before we got to them. As we climbed, the fog gradually cleared and by the time we got to the top of the pass, it was a glorious day with blue sky, sunshine, no clouds and no wind.
We took off the skins and had a nice downhill ski before putting the skins back on and heading up to col number 2, the Col du Mont Brule. The ski to the base of the col was an easy walk through a valley but the col itself was quite steep. Definitely a job for the boot crampons! We strapped on the skis and headed up after letting some of the people ahead of us get over the col. We were not roped and didn't have a hand line on this one so one person slipping could have taken out a lot of people! We made it to the top and had a short break before heading back downhill for a short section. At this point we'd actually crossed over to Italy and had a very long, hot uphill climb over the Col de Valpelline to get back to Switzerland. It wasn't so steep that we couldn't do it with skins but it was definitely a long way up! But what a reward as we came over the top.
At first you could just see the tip of a mountain peaking from behind the edge of the col. It got larger until you could easily tell that it was the Matterhorn! We came over the col and onto a huge plateau beside the Matterhorn with a vast array of peaks in every direction. We could also see back over the cols we'd climbed. It was a perfect day to be there, no wind, blue sky and great views. We enjoyed some time there, taking photos and having a snack before getting ready for the last part of the trip. We still had 13 km to go, all downhill along the shoulder of the Matterhorn and the Dent de Herens. It was later in the afternoon and James was getting worried about the conditions so we couldn't take too much time to ogle on the way down. Unfortunately Pam was struggling a bit with the downhill sections. Her pack was throwing her around (too much peanut butter left!) and she was having difficulty skiing in the breakable crust. Lots of tumbles today! James J also had a particularly nasty fall in some hard, crusty snow. When he stood up and brushed himself off there was blood streaming down his face from the cuts on his nose. His only comment was "can someone please tell me which part of my body I'm bleeding from?! One of Pam's falls took place directly in front of Bob C and caused him to turn sharply which caused his ski to fly off down the mountain in a different direction from where we were going. So much for ski brakes! Dale mounted a ski rescue while the rest of us caught up with James B to let him know what was happening. It wasn't ideal timing as the avalanche conditions were definitely getting worse but for those of us who were waiting for the rescuer and rescuee, we had a nice break in the perfect spot to ponder the Matterhorn while sitting on our packs! From that point on the skiing was much easier, more of a downhill glide. We eventually came to a road which we walked up for about 15 minutes carrying our skis before we arrived at one of the outdoor patios on the Zermatt ski hill. We plunked ourselves down and ordered beer (size Gros as we were now in the German speaking part of Switzerland). That was mighty fine tasting beer, drunk while sitting in a great spot below the Matterhorn! Had we realized that we still had a bit more skiing to do to get to the top of the tram we may have ordered smaller beers (or maybe not). Pam was definitely a bit wobbly on her skis after a litre of beer!
We took the Matterhorn Express gondola down to Zermatt and walked to the Alpenblick Hotel. It was a great hotel and Zermatt is a wonderful little town! After getting cleaned up (the others needed it a lot more than we did) and rinsing some clothes out so that we had something slightly less smelly to put on in the morning, we headed out for a celebratory dinner. Apparently the restaurant owners couldn't tell we'd cleaned up, they put us in the back corner! We started with bubbly (Prosecco), then moved to beer, then moved to wine. Had a terrific meal complete with Coup Denmark for desert and re-lived an unforgettable day. James had told us that the last time he was in Zermatt he'd gone to a bar where an "androgynous dwarf" was singing. On the way back to the hotel we passed by a bar and sure enough, there he was. Playing the piano and trumpet, singing and generally hamming it up. Couldn't help but stop and watch the show for a while!
James' original itinerary had us hanging out in Zermatt for part of the day before catching a bus or shuttle back to Chamonix. But he's got a different plan in mind for tomorrow so we're going to get a bonus day of skiing in!