The ‘Five Lakes Walk’ in Zermatt is a day hike that not only introduces you to the mountain lakes of Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee, and Leisee, but also offers extraordinary views of the Matterhorn. By Mitrajit Bhattacharya
I was excited, to put it mildly. One, I was visiting Zermatt after ages, and two, I was participating in a mountain hike with Adrian Ballinger and Nicolas Hojac. These are no ordinary individuals; they represent the best in mountain climbing. Ballinger is a mountaineer, guide, and entrepreneur who recently climbed K2 without oxygen support. He has already summited Mt. Everest eight times, the last two instances without any supplementary assistance. Hojac, in his 20s, is already considered the fastest Alpinist today; he has broken many a climbing speed record. Besides their love for the mountains, they both happen to be brand ambassadors of the Swiss watch major Favre-Leuba.
I departed from Geneva on a train on a beautiful September morning and reached
Zermatt in less than four hours, the journey scenic all the way, particularly so after a train
change at Visp—where it starts to climb through the mountains. Through the journey, the mighty Matterhorn kept peeking at me through the lush greenery, around bends that melted into the Alps. I was received at the station in a battery-operated van typical to Zermatt town, which does not allow regular vehicles to ply to counter pollution.
I was booked in an apartment owned and managed by Heinz Julen’s Vernissage Backstage Hotel, probably the most prolific hospitality chain in town, and handed over a list of personal stuff to be carried for the next day’s trip: hiking shoes, backpack, walking stick, sunscreen, et al.
After a gorgeous breakfast at the apartment the next morning, the group set to do the hike convened at the main Vernissage Backstage Hotel, about a kilometre away—a walk that snaked through the main shopping street in town, lined with beautiful cafes, bars, watch boutiques, and shoe shops. Most people who spend a night at Zermatt favour adventure, so it’s hardly unusual to find shops selling or leasing out hiking gear.
We were a group of 20, including clients, employees, and associates of the watch brand that the two mountaineers endorse. Starting our Five Lakes Walk first required us to walk to the funicular station that would take us to Sunnegga at 2,288 metres and then take a cable car to Blauherd at 2,571 metres. The Five Lakes Walk is 9.3 kilometres long and features a variety of terrain, including wide and flat gravel paths, narrow dirt tracks with protruding rocks, and a few switchbacks.
It was foggy at the beginning of our endeavour, but we knew the weather would improve as we walked. Largely downhill from Blauhard, we were at the first lake, Stellisee (2,537 metres), in no time. The spot offered a panoramic view of the mountains nearby. As the fog started clearing out, the peaks glistening with leftover snow appeared from behind the curtain and the far end of the lake glistened with the reflection of the stunning Matterhorn.
There is no better way to witness its glory than in a mountain lake.
The next stop was the Lake Grindjisee (2,324 metres), its altitude much lower than the first one. Along the relatively easy descent to Grindjisee, there were fantastic views of the surrounding valley and distant glaciers, now almost dry. This lake was more sheltered than Stellisse, surrounded by trees, bushes, and long grass. The moorland flora here draws biologists and botanists besides the nature enthusiast. A quick search reveals that at the beginning of the 19th century, English botanists came to Zermatt only to study the Alpine flora around Grindjisee. The efficient mechanical altimeter in my Favre-Leuba Bivouac 9000 was a steady companion throughout the journey. A lifeline for mountaineers, the Bivouac performs flawlessly up to 9,000 metres and has summited both, Everest and K2, with Balinger recently.
The trail to Grünsee (2,300 metres), the third lake on our route, was downhill too, with more views of the Matterhorn and glacier-capped mountains to soak up as we walked. This lake, flanked by a rocky shore, draws geologists, and even though Grünsee didn’t host any mirror reflections of the Matterhorn, it offered fantastic views of other mountain slopes decked in fall colours. The 4,000-metre peaks of Weisshorn and Obergabelhorn, too, came into vision here. The lake is great for a swim if the mood hits you!
A quick coffee break at a mountain lodge later, the fourth lake, Moosjisee (2,140 metres) arrived soon. Though a bit underwhelming, the lake had its own aquamarine charm, surrounded by shrubs and trees. Its milky hue hinted at its origins—sediment-rich glacial meltwater is called ‘glacial milk’ for a reason!
After a brief stop for rest, we began our uphill climb to the fifth and final lake, Leisee (2,232 metres). This segment of the hike was undoubtedly the toughest, with steep climbs that forced me to stop often to catch my breath. But this was also the time when we enjoyed the most amazing unobstructed views of the Matterhorn.
I call Matterhorn the ‘cloud catcher’ due to the white clouds that always congregate around the peak. The Leisee area is effectively a beach for family picnics and the water of the lake is suitable, in depth and temperature, for children to play in.
You may choose to arrive at Leisee by an easier but longer way. As we walked towards the
funicular to return to our base, a sense of marvel engulfed us. It was as though we had completed a pilgrimage dedicated to the God of the Alps.