Climbing the Matterhorn
The adventures on one of the most impressive mountain of the world
About the Matterhorn
The Matterhorn is one of the most difficult classic climbs in the Alps. It must be firmly stated that climbing the Matterhorn has to be taken very seriously. The ascent and descent are on rock and ice only, and require excellent physical condition, as well as experience in rock climbing with and without crampons. Inexperienced climbers are advised not to attempt such a difficult mountain as the Matterhorn. Since the normal route via the Hörnliridge is very difficult to find, it is advised even for experienced mountaineers to book a mountain guide who is familiar with the Matterhorn. The first men who managed to climb to the top of this mountain was a group of seven mountaineers led by Edward Whymper from Great Britain on July 14, 1865. Four of the seven men died on the way back. It is unknown who named this mountain “Matterhorn” or where the name comes from, but there are many families in this valley named “Matter”.
Close Encounter with the Matterhorn
After decades of postponing this confrontation, it was finally time to pursue my dream destinations. I have to see, to touch, to conquer. But, as they say: “A mountain is not given anything for free”. Organizing mini expedition was a tough one. We arrive early morning in Tasch, after a wild night ride of eight hours. We take all the equipment, which was cut in on half later at Hornli Hut and the eco-friendly railway took us to Zermatt. My first impressions: Swiss-quality is cleanliness and accuracy. “Matterhorn besteigung? Dann müssen sie ein sack zement auf dem berg tragen, ha, ha”, were the first comments of the locals. The great tower is located in steep valley and hidden by the clouds. Finally, a huge, sharp and snow-covered tower shows itself. Far and wide around the highest, reaching mountains. With tears I’am experiencing the magnificent scene – the great tower of Matterhorn. The cable car takes us to Schwarzsee. Backpacks where heavy, but all must be carried up to Hornli Hut (3260m).There was a huge snow storm last night and insecurity appears, of what conditions awaits us, up at the Hörnli Ridge. My companions were way better prepared and my reality was a heavy backpack, palpitations and discomfort before the challenge.
Way up to Hornli Hut
The Matterhorn was still shyly hiding behind the clouds, but every effort will pay off. On the way to the cottage we were surprised by the icy rain storm and my rucksack was not waterproof anymore. Hornli Hut is directy on the ridge, under the mighty Matterhorn wall. The vibration of mountaineers from all around the world was a good motivation and after a short rest at Hornli Hut, we go to touch the wall for the first time. The mighty sounds of constantly falling rocks, the roar of water far below the glacier, the wind and breaking Seracs! All this fills me with awe. So brittle you are on this time of year, my Matterhorn(July). After consulting I further reduce the weight of my backpack to the minimum. The wall will require our explosive power for many hours, so the nutrients must be transformed immediately into energy and must not slowdown the digestion. Plenty of water is a necessity, but I make a big mistake, by underestimating the importance of fluid… Soon silence and sleep. The atmosphere of respecting the great wall is a ritual, everything is dedicated to tomorrow’s ascent. The sun was still shinning when we lie down to rest. But, increasingly loud heartbeat and unnecessary thinking was exhausting my brain and the result was another sleepless night.
Climbing the Matterhorn via the Hörnli Ridge
At 4 am: “Hey guys, some are already climbing, it is clear sky, lets go”. Outside the starry night scenery and flashing lights from dozens of lamps already in the wall, looks like guardian angels for me. We shake hands, check the equipment again and adventure begins. Entrance wall was the first morning exercise. The terrain soon demands less climbing, bet caution against falling racks and not to miss direction. The huge wall offers a lot of options for getting lost. At dawn, we where already high above the Hurnli Hut.More hours we have climb the Mosely Slab and vertical distance to Hurnli Hut was still so deceptively close. I realize now, how vast and high our wall is and it is a long way to go. Swiss guides prosecute their clients and even chase away anyone on its path. They claimed this mountain as their own. Climbing formations get lost in the huge wall and we were alone. Soon we are back to the Hornli Ridge. This direction will lead us to the Solvay Hut at 4003 m. Suddenly a burst, sounds like a scream, rocks are falling and then silence. The steep rise and climbing needs constant awareness. Soon below us a helicopter overflying the terrain for saving the injured climber. Uncomfortable feeling flashes through me of the severity of this climbing. Solvay Hütte is just over 4000 m. A dangerously comfort above the steep wall. I am still saving on water, even though my heart beats like crazy. Plenty of liquid prevents thickening of the blood at this altitude.
Solvay Hut, the Shoulder and the Summit Icefield
Immediately after Solvay Hut, the wall overhangs. Climbing requires more power and awareness, along with the snow and ice left on the rocks. Soon we have to put on crampons. Blinding light also requires glacier glasses. On the ridge it is very exposed and blowing of ice wind up the North Face isn’t pleasant for sweaty bodies. Fixed ropes installed are helpful here. The difficulty is even greater when we arrived at the bottom of famous Matterhorn Shoulder. Here you should fairly spit in your hands, to climb it. Over the shoulder it is the hardest part of the wall of Matterhorn. Around 100 meter of steep wall and athletic climbing. It is equipped with fixed ropes, without it, a climbing of IV. to V. grade would be required. Many of the climbing formations gave up here, due to exhaustion. At the top of this wall is the beginning of the summit Ice-fields. Here a pair of ice pick is necessary. The clouds are far below us now. We’re alone, it’s around noon and the statue of Saint Bernard already suspect that we will succeed our goal.
Reaching the summit of the Matterhorn
It is just dark blue sky above us, nothing else. My happiness is turning into euphoria. We reach the summit of Matterhorn. The sky is the limit. Tears of joy, lots of hugs and photos. We are resting in complete solitude. View of the valley far below the north wall is overwhelming. At the top it is icy snow and not much space, so much care should be taken not to fall down, literally. Our goal in which we invested so much effort is achieved. Great calmness, joy and reassurance is overwhelming me. Nothing else matters. Now there is only fate I’m left with. I understand now all those extreme mountaineers, when, after a strenuous effort and longing for their goal, they sacrificed everything. I have calmly accepted the fact of a difficult descent that has been waiting on us.
A challenging descent
We couldn’t imagine how huge the wall is and how long will it take us to descend.(approx. 1200 vertical meters) We started slowly and carefully by using single rope descending technique, but soon realized that we are too slow. Hours went by and concentration decreases due to my dehydration. I spent all my water supply hours ago and pain in my chest was increasing. It was pretty difficult and it looks, we shall never descent to Solvay and Hornly Hut was a still a small dot far below the clouds. I should have take more water, or at least asked a sip or two from others. I even paid rescue helicopter insurance option! A shameful thoughts, but later spending time with heart pain, I paid fairly for this lesson. Getting myself together, grit my teeth and descend further. Soon we catch up some climbers, who were lost in the wall and they partially save me with their RedBull, for wich I am still thankful. Any liquor will do. To be quicker we arrange shared rope descending. From the East wall we turn back to the Hornli Ridge, were the climb is more clearly visible. Dusk was appearing and we had to hurry up. Other climbers are increasingly left behind. At Hornli Hut far below, lights where turning on already. The night captured us at steep North wall, losing our self for a short while, but soon finding our way out. What followed next, was a descend in twilight without ropes, in order to be faster. It was a period of complete composure and instinct for survival. A period of not relying on anyone’s experience but yours! It was a time battle with oncoming night. Finally, we descend to the plane surface in one piece around 10 p.m; exhausting and in need for a good rest.
Epilogue of the story
Everything inside me is rejoicing, when I’m lying safe in a expensive overpaid bed, though with severe chest pain. Next day I wake up in the crystal morning, beneath the mighty tower of Matterhorn, on top of which I was. I was absorbing that reality in desire to keep it as long as possible.The mighty tower of the Matterhorn is there for everyone who wants to visit Zermatt and Hornli Hut. And it’ll be there when we’re all gone. I hope, that Matterhorn will show them too, how magnificent our world really is and how, in spite of everything, it is wonderful to be alive.
Info supplied by Alpine Center Zermatt
ZERMATT ALPIN CENTER
Bahnhofstrasse 58; Postfach 403; CH – 3920 Zermatt
T + 41 27 966 24 60