Here is a summary of the insights we gained that are interspersed in our trip summary – in no particular order….
If you end up using buses or trains to move around, look into a 3-day pass for the Valais region, it can save you a decent sum.
The demi-pension tends to be a good deal – you will usually get a full 3-4 course meal for the price of an entree at most other restaurants.
The Cicerone book does not talk about when lifts run and when they stop for the season – don’t take anything for granted.
Corollary to previous: take advantage of the Office of Tourism – they can alert you to the current lift schedule and help you find a place to stay if you haven’t made reservations.
Corollary to previous: there are a lot of crazy people who actually pay to RUN on the trails you will be hiking – be informed of races during your travel dates so that you can make appropriate reservations ahead of time (or avoid the madness altogether).
As in many other countries, the Swiss take a “siesta” between noon and 2-3 pm. Restaurants are open but no other businesses will be available during this time (except in larger towns like Chamonix and Zermatt, based on our experience).
There are some great lifts at both Chamonix and Zermatt that will offer you great views and proximity to the mountains. They are not cheap, but we thought they were worth it (if you have the means). There is a multi-day pass in Chamonix that will also cover the lift at Le Tour (if you are planning to use it). In any case, examine what you want to do; we were not really prepared and ended up spending more than we should have on tickets for individual lifts.
“Kev time” is not a reality for many of us lesser hikers – however, we (elderly 😉 50 year olds) were able to easily accomplish each leg with time to relax in the evening, so don’t get too hung up on your speed. You are there to enjoy the moment, not just to endure the day.
If you buy maps, get the ones with a “T” on the end, otherwise you won’t have all the hiking trails marked.
If you stay in a hotel in the Chamonix valley, you will get a free pass to use public transportation during your stay – including buses and trains.
Trail difficulty is marked by colors: yellow/black is easy, red/white is more difficult, blue (we never encountered it) is the most challenging.
Take advantage of other traveler’s knowledge and whatever else you can pick up from people along the way – the trail is definitely subject to change from avalanches or other natural phenomena. You can save yourself time or at least be mentally prepared for an altered route.
BE PREPARED FOR BLISTERS! They are benign injuries, but will significantly impact your enjoyment of the trip and even your ability to stay on schedule. We both brought different sock combinations and had various ointments and tapes – but blisters still created a distraction and could have delayed our trip more significantly.
Take advantage of hostels, cabanes and other group resting spots to meet fellow travelers. These interactions are what will make your experience much richer and more memorable.