Saturday, 31 October 2009

Matterhorn in a weekend hit

I had planned a day at Winspit with a couple of friends for a fun days climbing, I didn’t expect to have another alpine trip planned this year by the end of the day.
We were climbing on quarryman’s wall, at the time I think Phil had just cruised up “Ancient trail of the freemarblers” which I thought was pretty impressive has it’s a sustained 7a and he made easy work of it, I was chatting to kieron while belaying him, All of a sudden Kieron mentioned that him and Phil were planning a weekend hit on the Hornli ridge on the Matterhorn, Straight away I was like “ WOW I want to come” I didn’t really think has to what I was actually letting myself in for. The Matterhorn is a hard mountain to climb at the best of times but to try it in a weekend trip…with no acclimatising…is just ludicrous.
I knew that Phil and his dad had attempted to route earlier in the year when I was climbing in chamonix, we bumped into each other at the local crag “ Les Galliards” he had told me how they had to turn back due to severe weather. He had come to Chamonix to meet up with another guy to attempt the frendo spur, but that’s another story. Although Its good one.
Anyway we spent the rest of the day at winspit talking about how we were going to try and pull this off. I also had in the back of my mind on how I was going to explain to my beautiful wife at home that I was off on another one of my adventures.
Kieron planned to put some sort of plan together then send me all the info via email so we said our goodbyes and off we all set home.
Driving home I was actually feeling quite nervous and thinking of ways that I could make this trip sound really interesting to the wife so she would not mind me going, I am going anyway but will be better if she’s happy that I am.
Later that night me and Sarah were sorting things out in the dining room at home, I pulled her into me and said look at that picture up there? What do think…Beautiful isn’t it. Its just a mountain she said. Anyway I explained how I had wanted to climb the matterhorn since I was a little boy and I had first watched the Walt Disney film “The third man on the mountain” and also explained on how an opportunity had come up for me to attempt it, I told her that I would only be away for a weekend and some how managed to pull it off.
Over the next few months we had put a plan together and manage to find another climber crazy enough to take this challenge on with us. His name was matt, I knew him from my local climbing wall. we had never climbed together before but I knew he had done some amount of climbing in the alps before and he was pretty competent at moving on rock.
Our plan was to fly to Geneva on Thursday October 1st late afternoon, then drive to Tasch, then start our climb up to the Solvay Hut on the Friday and summit and back down Saturday, Fly home Sunday…..That was the plan anyway.
The Weeks passed and the time finally came. I arranged to pick Matt up in Guilford on the way to Gatwick, Phil and Kieron were getting the train from Portsmouth and we were meeting them there. We arrived at the Airport and all met up. For some reason I was getting picked on by the airport security and managed to get searched at every checkpoint. Other than this, having to re-arranged the bags as I was 20kg over weight and nearly missing the flight due to a BLT sandwich the flight went pretty well.
We arrived in Geneva and so did all of our equipment so things were good, we Picked up our hire car and started to make our way towards Tasch. We arrived there at around 00.30 Friday morning and pitched the tents, weather was good and it was a pretty warm night so we didn’t bother with the outer sheets.
We woke at 0600 and dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags, I had slept pretty well and felt really good and ready for our climb. Matt was pretty cold has he had only brought is lightweight bag. We packed our tents up and got all our kit ready and set off, We parked the car at the train station and got the train into Zermatt, I was quite excited has I had never seen the matterhorn before other than in pictures and from far away in chamonix. We came round a corner and there she was, She was beautiful, Not the highest mountain in the world or the hardest to climb but def the Prettiest.
We arrived in Zermatt and made our way to the supermarket. It was a big step in deciding what food to take and also on trying to get has much water in the pack has we could. Once all stocked up we made our way across town to cable car, I was trying not to think about altitude sickness but it kept creeping back into my mind, I am normally really good with it and it doesn’t normally take me to long to acclimatise but then again I don’t normally come straight from the UK and go to 4000metres all in one day.
We got in the cable car and made our way up to 2785metres, we sorted ourselves, had a quick toilet stop then started our way up to the Hornli hut, the path was well mapped out and was pretty easy, there were a few sections that were covered in ice and snow but they were protected with a safety cable in place to hold onto, it didn’t stop me ending up on my arse a few times. We made it to the hornli hut well within guide book time but it was bloody hard work and I was starting to realise I wasn’t actually has fit has I thought I was. We had a rest for about twenty minutes at the hornli hut taking a few photos and discussing the route ahead, during this time quite a few Hikers were arriving and also two other climbers and French guy and his girlfriend, we had a little chat and found out that they too were attempting the same route as us. We set off before them and made our way to the first rock band. This was fixed with a line, the climbing without this would have been no harder that severe but it was nice to have a rope in place to pull on.

The route finding itself was pretty hard and the rock was very loose, If you could imagine a top out at boulder ruckle then times it by ten you would start to get close to how loose this rock really is.
We steadily made our way up the route scrambling in sections then climbing in others, the route tends to keep zig zagging onto the east face then back out onto the ridge, Every now and again you would pop right up onto the ridge and get a glimpse of the 1000metre north face, It was amazing and so big, But by heck it was cold, I have so much respect for the guys that do the routes on that face, I was getting cold just standing on the ridge for a few minutes but can you imagine what these guys go through belaying and even worse bivying on that face, but this didn’t stop me thinking I was going do a route on this face one day.
After a long tiring climb up we eventually made it to the Solvay hut, I was very relieved has by this time I was feeling pretty tired, I was quite glad when the others said they were tired has well.
The salvoy hut was tiny and we were hoping that we were going to be able to find a bed in there, luckily the only other climbers in the hut were our French friends from earlier in the day, I didn’t mess around two much, I quickly grabbed some food, took a few photos then hopped up into bed. I think the time was around 17.00, so we had been way ahead of time all day.
The night ahead was probably the worst night I have ever spent on a mountain, I didn’t get any sleep and my head felt like someone was drilling nails into me, I was sharing with Matt and he didn’t seem to get much sleep either, I was busting for a pee most of the night but was worried on how I was going to get out of the bunk, It must have been at least a 6a+ to down climb from that thing. Eventually I could hold it any longer so decided to go for it, I didn’t bother climbing I just went straight in for the bed base jump, Weather was looking pretty clear outside and it was very cold, I didn’t spend long outside the hut, I climbed back into bed and finally managed to get a couple of hours sleep, We woke at 6 and got up, we got our gear ready, we planned on leaving a fair bit behind and only taking what we needed, we had to melt a little snow has we were all pretty low on water.

We set of for the summit attempt around 0700, We went straight into the climbing, there was no gradual walk in, the minute you step out of the hut you are at the base of the towering rock wall, Phil took the lead, we were making decisions on certain sections whether or not we would rope up or just solo it, Overall we pretty much soloed the whole route, this was dangerous but it did also save us a lot of time.

The route started to get a little more serious due to snow and ice so we decided to put our crampons on. At this point the two French climbers had caught us up, they too decided it was time to put there crampons on, they were moving pretty quick so we decided to let them go in front and lead the way.
The climbing started to get a lot steeper and harder, If there wasn’t any fixed lines in place then this would be very hard, It was very tough on the arms pulling yourself up the rock face. I was feeling pretty tired now and was hoping that the summit was near, Kieron was having trouble with his hands getting very cold.
We carried on up the rock face following on being Phil, he kept saying “we are nearly there” I thought to myself he’s bloody been saying that for ages, eventually we reached the summit slope and I could see the top, this wasn’t to steep but did require the use of your axe, I started to get the feeling of success now and you was feeling pretty cool with the tourist helicopter hovering around with people taking photos of you .
I had done it, I was on the summit of the Matterhorn, I wasn’t thinking that we still had to get down.

After taking a few photos and congratulating each other we started to descend back down the snow slope, by this time two more climber were coming up to the summit. We waited for them to get to the top before heading down has the snow was pretty soft and kept falling and rolling down the face. Down climbing this slope was very hard and dangerous, the snow was just braking away from under your feet causing me to slide, We made steady progress, half way down the slope I looked down and to my horror noticed my crampon was hanging off and only attached to me with the strap to my ankle. Shit how am I going to get out of this one, I punched my axe into the face and made sure it was secure, then manage (don’t ask how) to hold on with one hand and use the other to put my crampon back on, phew that was a close one. We carried on down to the rock sections where we used a number of abseils to make our way back down to the hut, when we got back to the hut I was pretty tired and I remember looking down the ridge to the cable car thinking Christ that’s a long way, it was 1300 now and the last lift down to Zermatt was at 1645, We had said that if we miss the lift we would be real heroes and make the extra 3hour walk down to Zermatt.
We collected our extra gear from the hut and pushed on down to the hornli hut, we down climb most of the route unroped and when it did get a little tricky we used abseils, quite a lot of the time you had to dodge and prey that you wasn’t hit by any of the falling rocks whilst climbing. The route finding on the way down was also much harder that on the way up, the climbing wasn’t to hard but it was just so loose, I remember thinking to myself that this mountain looks so pretty from far away but when you are on it all it is a big pile of rubble.
The time was around 1600 and we were still at least an hour away from the hornli hut, I was just hoping that it wouldn’t get dark before we got there, I knew the walk out from the hut was pretty straight forward so I didn’t mind doing that in the dark. By this time I had also used up the last of my water and was starting to become very dehydrated. We eventually made it down to the hornli hut at around 6ish, we had a rest and discussed what we were going to do for the night, we all decided that we wanted to push on and get down, especially knowing that we had to leave for the airport at ten the following morning. There were a few more climbers at the hut that were planning to do the route the following day, I asked them on the off chance that one of them might know if there was an outside tap anywhere, and there wasn’t.
We pushed on down towards the cable car all hoping that there was a toilet open or an outside tap so we could get some water, It was pitch black now and the descent had become a little harder the ice was frozen solid and the path was very slippery, I somehow managed to scrape my way back to the cable car station, Matt was with me, Phil and Kieran had fallen behind a bit, when they arrive Phil announced that they were going to bivi at the station for the night has keiron had twisted is ankle, I didn’t really think about this has I was pretty desperate for some water at this time, we searched everywhere, and there was nothing, then we walked over to the control room and to our amazement it was open and would you believe it “ a 1 litre bottle of water on the table” it felt like winning the lottery. Phil looks around and noticed a big container full of liquid under the counter, we wasn’t sure what it was so I left it down to Phil to have a taster, luckily it was water. We decided to sleep in the lift control room, it was like a 5 star hotel, it was so warm that I slept on top of my sleeping bag. We had to make sure we were up before the lift operator arrived in the morning to find us all asleep in his hut. I slept great that night and didn’t wake up once. We woke in the morning and cleared all our stuff, we made sure that the hut looked the same has it did before we went in there, we waited for around an hour and half for the first lift to come up. It was so nice to step onto that lift and make our way back down towards the valley. I’m pretty sure the lift operator knew we had kipped in his hut though, think it might have had something to do with the smell and all the condensation on the inside of the windows.
We arrive back down to the valley and had no time to waste so we jumped on the train and made our way back to Tacsh for a quick shower before setting off for the airport.
We made the flight in time and all congratulated each other on a great trip.

If anyone wants to attempt this mountain then I highly recommend that you do it when its not busy, I know for certain that I wouldn’t want to be on that route on a busy day.


Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are
naught without prudence, and that a momentary negliance may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; Look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end