Our one-day ascent of the Matterhorn was for me distilled in the final three hundred metres of climbing. Up until that point we had followed obvious runnels, with spaced but acceptable protection and straight forward ice climbing. We had passed a party who were now on there third day on the face - and we found out later that one of them was killed descending the next day. But such thoughts were not in our minds when we swung our axes into the first ice slopes. Above us were the head torches of another British team, who made good progress on the wall, and we passed them and chatted. We were all moving about the same speed and indeed we shared the Solvay bivouac hut with them that night. But for the final stretch of climbing, they were way to our left, out of sight, and very much out of mind. We were alone. We were probably off route, but by the angle and the terrain meant that we could climb anywhere, albeit with the degree of trepidation. I was tired. I wouldn't say exhausted, as I know, through experience, just how far into exhaustion it is possible to push. Still, the going was slow. My stomach churned with nausea and my head boomed with the altitude. We'd not slept the night prior, and id come straight from sea level. I felt weak.
The rope snaked out ahead. We were moving together with the rope between us, as protection was so scares it came only every hundred metres or so, and even then it was poor. For much of the time there was nothing but our tools holding us to the face: there was no gear at all. Brittle, paper-thin ice was splashed over the rotten gneiss. Crampons ripped and axes shifted behind loose rubble. The climbing was easy, perhaps Scottish III, but we were tired, 1000 sunless metres behind us testament to that. We stopped briefly to take stock, still unsure how far there was left to go. Succinctly we voiced our concerns to one another, our words zipping down the rope like telegrams; If one of us fell, we'd most likely both die. We needed to push on to try and reach the descent by nightfall. And so we continued. unknown to us, a party had fallen from the route we were on just the day before. Seven hundred metres they fell. One died, the other sustained horrendous injuries. We didn't know. We carried on climbing. Up ahead, Rob had discarded his axe and was climbing bare handed, he'd decided that although his hands were freezing, it was less tenuous than climbing with tools. The thought never crossed my mind, and I continued mixed climbing up the rotten rock. I lifted my axe and, suddenly, both my feet ripped down. I slid, just a short way, maybe four inches. the low angle of the wall meant my single axe was enough to keep me in balance. I kicked my feet, and carried on. Fuck.
With only a couple of rope lengths to the summit ridge, the easiest way to retreat would be to ascend. We carried on climbing, We wanted to, but also, we had to. I hoped Rob wouldn't fall. He, I'm sure, tried is best not to. I thought about why I was there. I noticed my feet were a little cold, but not to bad I felt a bit sick. My mind wandered, until it concluded, that this was, in fact, a very dangerous place. I remembered that my face still hurt. Lower down the route I'd been hit by a bricked sized piece of ice. dislodged by a climber above. It hit square in the face, bursting my cheek and splashing blood on the ice, like red wine on a beige carpet. I was nearly knocked out. rob said it looked okay. The bleeding stopped after another pitch. Jesus. Why was I here? What exactly was I getting out of this? Nothing. I was tired and it was cold. We'd been out of the wind all day, but now, as we approached the ridge, it picked up. At least its chill numbed my aching face. I thought about a women I might be in love with. And the children we might have one day. I thought I might tell here. I knew I wouldn't though, of course. The rope tugged, and I kept climbing. A couple of days later, Jon Griffith asked us how the route was. "Fine" we said. " a bit loose, but pretty easy".
Jack Geldard - August 2013
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