The Matterhorn - 14,692ft - August 10, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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The matterhorn is easily the most recognizable mountain in the world and was one of my 3 primary objectives in the Alps this August. The other two are the Eiger and a particular route on Mont Blanc. The Matterhorn has claimed over 500 climbers since 1865 and still accounts for about 12 deaths annually. It is a mountain not to be underestimated.

On August 9th we are informed the matterhorn is finally in condition. Unless we attempt the Matterhorn now we may get skunked by the weather for the rest of the month as this mountain cannot have recent snow fall or it becomes too hazardous to climb. The weather forecast looks grim for the next week.

So with the final day of the high in the forecast we booked our room at the Hornlihut hut at 10,692ft at the base of the NE ridge and arrived there at 5:00pm after a full day of climbing on Mt. Breithorn plus this approach. It is a very nice hut - but with very little sleep everyone is awake at 4:00am and we want to be climbing by 4:20am sharp; so as not to be caught in the midst of the recreational climbers. At 4:20am a surge of 80 climbers with head lamps leave the hut simultaneously and start to jocky for position before the real climbing begins. The jockying continues for about 1.5 hours and then the groups spread out a little bit. We were attempting more aggressive lines to pass any bottle necks - this worked out very well at times and other times not so much. It is snowing this morning making the slabs very slippery and very dangerous and hence climbing very slow and somewhat sketchy. Falls on the Matterhorn are always serious and wet slabs make this even more challenging.

We ascend in just over 5.5 hours of continuous climbing during which we were going up as hard as hard as we could to get down before dark - this was one of the quicker ascents as the conditions were very poor. Time is important as there is no easy way up or down the Matterhorn. Often decending takes longer.

Once we reached the top of the NE Ridge to the Swiss summit we traversed the knife edge summit about 100meters to the Italian summit and began decending the SW ridge into Italy. Norm has also never done the Italian ridge so route finding was going to be a challenge. With the cloud, snow and technical issues we took 7.5 hours to decend this ridge. One near miss kept it interesting.

After reaching the base of the ridge totally parched and exhaused and already spitting blood from dry throats we then had another 10km walk down to the Italian town of Cervino 3000ft below - all told with 2 litres of water on this warm August day we climbed for 15 hours and 20 minutes. We are looking forward to traversing the Col. back to Zermatt tomorrow and substantially getting a much deserved day off.

Partial list of completed climbs -

*First ascent