22 Summits Stories

The blue glow from Stockhorn

When the Hohtälli-Stockhorn aerial tramway was built in 1958, workers noticed an unusual bluish glow in the rock. Word of the enigmatically beautiful find quickly spread and spotters came on the scene - as crystal and mineral collectors are known in Switzerland, who have so much geological knowledge that they are empowered to find rock treasures in the mountains.

The Stockhorn, the 3532 high mountain situated between the Triftji and Gorner glaciers, contained a high alpine locality for bluestone called lazulite. The site was soon developed and thoroughly exploited. The workers, however, had not been the first to notice the lazulite from the Stockhorn. Already in the 19th century (1866) the geologist Gustav Adolf Kenngott from Breslau had described the rock and its occurrence in Zermatt. However, this was only noted within natural science circles. Subsequently, it was Alexander Taugwalder (1897-1952), who not only excelled as a mountain guide, but was also a nature photographer and had a special sense for the beauty of creation. It was he who discovered the blue-glowing stones for the second time.

After him, the brothers Alfred and German Kronig made their mark on the lazulite. The exhibit, which is displayed in the mineral store "Serafina" in Zermatt, belongs to Alfred Kronig, the former professional cross-country skier and Olympian of 1952 (Oslo) - and radiator.

Lazulite was a popular gemstone in the 60s and 70s. There was a real boom, and even today gemstone cutters are happy to receive blanks from the Stockhorn. Lazulite is sky-blue shining, geologically speaking: a magnesium-iron-aluminium phosphate, which was discovered in Switzerland only in Zermatt and in Soglio in Bregaglia. Worldwide, there are only a few places where it has been found. Especially in Austria and in the USA lazulite is found. Thanks to its hardness, structure and colour it is very suitable for jewellery making. At Stockhorn it was found in nodules, often embedded in quartz and separated from the adjacent rock (a muscovite mica schist) by a yellow-green mica skin. Interlocked and intergrown with lazulite is mostly yellowish apatite.

There are still isolated spotlights in the region. The story of the blue glow on the Stockhorn was told to us by Sancho Biner from St. Niklaus, an employee of Zermatt Bergbahnen. His father took him and his younger brother along when they were still children and instructed them in the secrets of spotlighting. "Certainly, it takes a portion of luck to find minerals," says Sancho Biner, "but without geological knowledge, an understanding of the interrelationships in nature and a lot of experience to work found crevices professionally, it will be nothing. Combined with the search and adventure, the rays remain unique." Nowadays, Biner says, despite massive glacial retreats, a greater effort is needed to find minerals. "Fissured zones are usually systematically searched." In any case, the Stockhorn, that much is certain, is far more than a freeride area. It is a place that is not only reminiscent of the lazulite fever at the end of the 50s, but of mountains that are mystery.

Read more

Peter Bearth: Geological Guide to Zermatt. Ed.: Alpine Association Zermatt 1977

Hermann Fietz: Alexander Taugwalder, in: The Alps (special supplement), 1954

Gerhard Gnehm: Mineral Search between Zermatt and Saas Fee.

Mineral Encyclopaedia of Switzerland, Wepf Verlag, Zurich 1998

Robert L. Parker: The Minerals of the Swiss Alps, 1954/1973

Continue to marvel

Mineral museum with sales shop, art and crystal by Sancho Biner in St. Niklaus, By appointment: Tel. 079 - 366 43 90 or

Serafina, Hofmattstrasse 11
Tel. 079 501 03 57

Kristallgeheimnis am Kirchplatz
Tel. 079 290 29 30