It's strange how big lumps of rock and ice can generate such strong emotions within us. The Matterhorn is a world icon, a mountain that inspires, dominates and entices us despite its threatening scale and presence towering over Zermatt and the Hornli Hut. It's a real mountain but still just a lump of rock and ice. Climbing it will no longer mark you down in history but the personal journey that takes you there is an emotional roller coaster, full of highs and lows of equal scale to the mountain. This is exactly how it was for Marc and I am delighted to have been able to help him achieve one of his big ambitions.
Marc and his wife Helen climbed Mont Blanc many years ago with me. We had pretty tough weather on the day and they both did a great job of reaching the summit. Marc has been to many adventurous parts of the world and is an experienced trekker. Climbing the Matterhron was a step up from what he normally takes on though and we needed to do some training and acclimatisation before the big climb.
Our first day out of Zermatt was up to the Kleine Matterhorn. We walked across the south side of the Breithorn to the foot of the SW Ridge of Pollux. We were both feeling great, despite the sudden exposure to the altitude of 3800m. Often this is really quite a big impact on people but we were both getting on fine so we decided to climb Pollux. The scrambling on the SW Ridge is really nice and there is a short section with fixed chains to get round a steep tower. A narrow snow crest leads up to the summit, a snowy top surounded by the giant Zermatt peaks. With one 4000m peak done on the first day we were very happy when we got down to the wonderful Guides d'Ayas Hut for the night.
For our second day we went for Castor, a slightly higher peak, this time climbed all on snow and ice with a beautiful narrow crest at the top. An early start got us to the top before the sun got round to our side to soften the snow. There was an icy section on the way up that was quite delicate on the way back down and we were grateful to be past this before the snow got soggy in the afternoon heat. It has been a very warm summer in the Alps and the glaciers and faces are showing little snow cover left now at the end of the summer season. Walking around the glaciers, even at this high altitude, was nerve wracking going over narrow and thin snow bridges over enormous crevasses.
The icy conditions heled us to decide to take on the full Breithorn Traverse for our last day of training. It is possible to start the traverse half way along but it looked easier to get on to the end of the ridge at Roccia Nera. Doing the first half of the traverse adds another 2 hours to the day but we'd had a nice early start and the weather was perfect. Narrow snow crests are interspersed with interesting rocky peaks with steep abseils along the ridge. Once we got to the more popular half traverse it was all on rock for a long way with beautiful scrambling on great rock in a super spectacular place. We got to the top of the Breithorn feeling great and feeling ready for The Matterhorn.
It's important to build in rest days to your Alpine programme. Marc and I went down to Zermatt for lots of food and a very good night's sleep at the Youth Hostel. If you want to find clean and simple accommodation with all the facilities you need and a very good breakfast, plus an amazing view of The Matterhorn, the Youth Hostel is hard to beat. After a night here and a gentle amble up to the Hornli Hut we were in the right place at the right time for our climb.
The hut was only half full so it was not too busy at the start of the climb. There was also a staggered start so the Zermatt Guides could get ahead and the rest of us were not left standing at the first steep section waiting for 10 or 15 minutes. Even so, Marc and I felt the pressure and headed off a bit too fast in the first hour. It's so easy to get caught up in the rush and push too hard. We settled to a nice pace for us and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise just before we got to the Solvay Hut for a rest and a bite to eat.
We put on our crampons at the foot of the fixed ropes and managed to get past all the racing snakes already on their way down without too much fuss. The snow cover was just right and the weather was perfect with no wind at all and a little warm sunshine through the high level cloud to keep us warm but not too hot. We got to the summit and shared the moment with a group of French guides and climbers who were just as delighted to be there as we were. Sometimes everything does come together very nicely and this is how it was for Marc and me this time. The weather, climbing conditions, training and acclimatisation all came together at the same time to give us a brilliant climb and a very important summit for us. Well done Marc, great climbing.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.