The Matterhorn is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy. It's a large, near-symmetrical pyramid-of-a-peak whose summit is 4,478 meters (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the tallest mountains in the Alps and Europe.
This climb was for myself, something that I've dreamed about for years, ever since I laid eyes on it. It's a difficult peak to reach if you're not from the area, so I decided to go for it.
MATTERHORN FIRST DAYS
July 12th-15th, 2017
MATTERHORN FIRST DAYS
July 12th-15th, 2017
Finally, after 7 years, I was back in the Alps babyyyyyy!!
Last time I came, my main objective was Mont Blanc (which I achieved), but on our summit push I remember seeing from a distance...the MATTERHORN! And I told myself in that moment that I would be back to climb it one day.
So here I was.
I arrived in Chamonix after a nice vacation with my wife in Italy the week prior. She flew home and I took a bus up from Milan. Coincidentally enough, a good friend of mine was in the area so we spent the first couple days just enjoying the town and doing a couple hikes up around the nearby mountains. Good way to acclimatize a little.
My initial plan was to climb with an old climbing partner, but she couldn't make it last minute so I had no choice but to hire a local guide. His name was Wolfgang and with a name like that, you'd expect him to be a badass (he was).
We spent the first day of climbing just brushing up on my rock climbing skills. We headed up to a small practice peak called L'aiguille de L'index. It was a one our climb, not too challenging, but a good test and a great way for me and Wolfgang to measure each others style.
The next day was more intense. We drove to the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif, and took the gondola up where we trekked up to Le Dent du Géant ("tooth of the giant," because it literally looks like a giant tooth!). The approach was just a long snow slog, and then a bit of rock scrambling. Then we arrived at "the tooth", which was where the serious rock climbing began. It started in the shade (a.k.a. freezing!) and then as the morning went on, warmed up quite significantly. I was nervous about this climb because I had never really done anything like it before, but once I got my groove going, I was really loving it and doing well. We climbed up at a quick bit and when we got to the top, Wolfgang even lauded me on my speed and strength!
Perfect weather at the top, and then a fun set of rappelling down the other side of the tooth back to the snow. Then a long slog back to the refuge, where we spent the night. The plan originally was to do another climb the next day but I opted for a rest day so I could be fresh and ready for the main objective on Saturday: the Matterhorn.
July 15th-16th, 2017
July 15th-16th, 2017
In short, here's the recap video of my trip. Read on for more details!
The Matterhorn had been a dream of mine since first getting into mountaineering. But, it's hard to reach, expensive, and actually not that great of a climb. It's the sheer beauty and history of this peak makes it incredibly attractive. And thus, my obsession.
Sadly, though, no summit.
We headed out to Zermatt on Saturday, just me and my guide Wolfgang, driving through the Alps from Chamonix into Switzerland. It was a beautiful 2-3 hour drive winding through the Swiss mountain valleys. Weather was absolutely perfect.
We arrived in the town just outside of Zermatt (there are no cars allowed in Zermatt actually, so you have to head to Täsch, park your car and take a shuttle or train in), met up with the other team of climbers and then shuttled into town. Our plan was to grab a quick bite to eat strolling through town and then head up straight to the Hornli Hut. We took a couple of gondola rides up and then hiked for an hour or so until we reached the hut.
For some reason, it's really hard to find information on this approach on the internet. I had seen videos and climbing trip recaps, but all seemed to leave very little details about how one actually gets to the hut. Why, though? To me, this was one of the best parts of the whole trip! You get to ogle at the majestic-ness of the mountain while making the approach and you really get to experience and appreciate the massiveness of the base of the mountain. From most photos you typically see, it looks like the peak just pops from out of nowhere. But au contraire! It's a sprawling hikers playground. Incredible!
After hiking about an hour and change, we finally got to the Hornli Hut (3260 meters). Wolfgang and the other guides were absolute speed-demons getting up there. I tried to keep up with them (almost at a full jog) but couldn't keep their pace. Not that I was out of shape, but these dudes were just something else. Insane.
The hut was beautiful; in pristine condition (although expensive to lodge there). We got shown our 4-person room, hung out a little, prepared our gear for the next day, stood outside to gaze with mouth-agape at the steep mountain terrain above, eventually had dinner at around 7pm, and then went to bed for a 3am start.
The interesting thing about the Matterhorn is the mountain etiquette (or maybe lack thereof). We were told that everyone had to leave for the summit at the same time (3am) and that local Swiss guides get to lead the charge - no one can start ahead of them. Kind of strict, but I guess also very unsurprisingly Swiss... So when we woke up at 2ish, getting ready for a 3am start, it was seriously no joke. My guide was so antsy just to get in position by the front door of the hut (he reprimanded me a few times because I needed to do some last minute things); there literally was a line and your place in line was how you were going to start up the mountain.
At 3am on the dot, the doors flew open and everyone seemingly began to ran. For what, I had no clue at the time, since it was pitch black merely lit by a trail of headlamps. It turned out that there was a pretty easy hiking trail for about 5 minutes before you reached a head-wall with some fixed ropes. This is what everyone was running to, just to get in line and truly where the climb began. Each each climber had to take their turn climbing up the ropes and negotiating the rock face, so whatever order you were in when reaching this point was pretty much where you were gonna be for the next couple hours, regardless of whether you were faster or slower than the people ahead of and behind you. Kind of annoying, but the law of the land in these parts, and because of the steep terrain, it's really difficult to pass higher up.
It took us about 2 hours to get to the Solvay Hut (4003 meters), which is an emergency hut about a third of the way up. We made good time up to here, and even cleverly overpassed a few slower teams. The climb in my opinion to this point was pretty easy, all what I would call a pretty good scramble. Easy footholds to grab and place your feet on, not too exposed, and decent enough rock that stayed in place. The hardest part was just that we had to keep pushing without a break. Mainly because we didn't want others to overpass us, just so we wouldn't face bottlenecks descending after the summit. Most of the climb to this point was in the dark, but when we reached the Solvay, light was starting to creep in. Beautiful. The wind was almost zero and it was relatively warm too, so I was super comfortable and feeling great.
The next hour and a bit was very similar to the pre-Solvay hut stuff, only difference being that some snow was starting to show up on the route. We were still climbing without crampons at this point but contemplating putting them on soon. As we approached a section called "the Shoulder" (about 230m from the summit), it occurred to me that the reason there was no wind was because we had been climbing on the back of the Hornli ridge the whole time, shielded from it. Once we got to the shoulder, the route started wavering back and forth from one side to the next, and man...when we crossed over to the other side...BLAMMM, so much wind. From basically no wind to 80 kilometers per hour.
I thought uh-oh, but we carried on. I added an extra jacket and down pant so I was feeling warm regardless. But as we got more and more onto the shoulder, the more we stayed on that windy side and all the guides started to reconsider. By this point, we were near the front of the pack, with maybe just 3 or 4 paired teams up higher (not visible due to the cloud cover that had just swooped in). The guides got together and decided that was it...not safe...need to go back down. I guess the thinking was based on what lied ahead: more snow and no safety anchors. So add some wind to that and you add a lot of risk. I'm all for risk, and I wish we had continued on, but I guess being cautious is how I've stayed accident free in my mountaineering career up till now.
So we turned around.
Story of my life, that turning around business. But it is what it is. It's just a shame that it was such a process to get to the mountain and I miffed my chance at it. UGH.
Anyways, the descent was mostly a blur as it was one of the most monotonous and tedious down-climbs I had ever done. And slowwwww, mostly descending by sitting down on my ass and scrambling down with my back to the mountainside. It was super awkward at first, but I got faster at it as we went on. As we got to the bottom we could start to see the Hornli hut, but for some reason, this was the point that it just never seemed to get any closer. It was always just right there, taunting us. We scrambled through what seemed like a maze of rock towers, sometimes backtracking to properly find the correct route. While going up was something I definitely could have done with an experienced climber friend, coming down would have taken hours solely just because finding the route was not obvious at all near the bottom. Damn.
Eventually we got back to the hut, had a quick drink of water and a snack, pined at the summit we missed, then continued on down to hike out the rest of the mountain back to Zermatt. The hike out felt way longer this time and my legs and knees were so sore, but the mountain views were stunning and helped me ignore the pain.
A few hours later I was back in Chamonix, drinking a beer, and already planning the next climb. Overall, the whole trip was an awesome climbing experience. Taught me a few new skills and gave me some fresh experiences. I'll definitely be back to finish her, but for now, I've got my mind set on the next one...Everest 2018!