Date: 31st of July, 2007
Distance, Elevation Gain/Loss: 16.4 km, 1,200/1,040 m
Maps Used: 1:50,000 Arolla, Montana and Visp hiking maps, 283T, 273T and 284T
Hotel Schwarzhorn Coordinates:620 018 /116 627
I reached Zinal mid-afternoon on the 30th, and after buying two days worth of trail food (I was not sure what I would find in Gruben for the second day) explored the area. Specifically I was looking for the start of next day's trail, as I had not noticed it on my visit in 2005. That done I had dinner and went to bed early; I had the two final, rather long, days ahead of me.
View Zinal to Gruben in a larger map
On the 31st I had an early breakfast and soon got started. As is so often the case the trail went straight up at the start, I was intentionally slow so as not to run out of energy too soon. Somewhere on that section I was passed by a group of three young British hikers, we exchanged pleasantries and they passed me. I was to see them again next day.
The gradient soon eased, and I started the long slightly ascending traverse to the Barneuza Alpage. After crossing a large stream (bridge) I took a much newer, and far less clear, trail up through the meadows. The tread was very faint, and there seemed to be water everywhere, but there were enough red-white-red waymarks on small rocks to enable me to reach the next landmark; a large barn. Here I had difficulty following the trail, given the many paths made by cows and cowherds. I managed to get through it to a delightful grassy bowl.
Beyond the bowl the trail steepened again for the final assault on the col. The descent was steep and rocky at first, but I soon got down to the meadows. I soon reached the farm shown on the map as Chalte Berg (blue placemark on map). Just above the farm I had met a French speaking couple, and they had suggested that, rather than attempt to follow the trail through the farm, I take the road, which was soon rejoined by the trail. I gladly followed their suggestion, as I have more than once had difficulty following a trail through a farm with its many beaten paths.
From here on the way was either on the road, close to it or taking a shortcut where the road made many hairpin turns. Shortly after the farm I came to a junction where a trail went south to the Turtmannhütte, which Banzhaf suggests as an alternate destination. The lake below the Turtmann glacier was clearly visible from here. While close to the road I saw a mountain biker, as well as two horse riders. Soon enough I reached the valley about a kilometer south of the village; an easy path led me there.
The Hotel Schwarzhorn is a strange hybrid of hotel and mountain hut. It has both regular hotel rooms and dormitories. The dormitory is very much like that of a hut, as are the prices for those staying there. On the other hand the dining room we were in (I believe there is another one for the room guests) was hotel-like, and each group had its own table (including single hikers). I stuck up a conversation with another solitary hiker at an adjacent table.
At dinner time I did not see the three young British hikers who had passed me early in the morning. Next day when we met I learned that they had spent the night at the Restaurant Waldesruh, a few minutes north of Gruben proper.