Climbing in Zermatt, Switzerland

25-28 Jul 2001 - by Arun Mahajan

The Breithorn, 4159m, 25th July 01.

It is a short walk, maybe twenty minutes, from the Zermatt train station to the start of the cable car that will take you to Klien Matterhorn. A three stage cable car ride, costing nearly 50$ RT drops you and about a million others there. The Briethorn looms to your left. It is a huge rock peak topped by a large mound of snow which looks as if it is a precariously placed dollop of vanilla glace on top of a mound of dark chocolate. In perfect conditions, which is what we had, this is a walk up. We were carrying all sorts of glacier travel gear and we did notice that many parties had roped up but we decided that everything looked stable and so we just did it as a snow climb. You start off straight out of the Klien Matterhorn station and then trace the path along the circumference of a semi circle to double back towards the Briethorn on fairly level snow ground and then you climb up the steep slopes to the airy summit. We did the climb in just under one and half hours, hardly stopping for breaks. Great views of peaks like Monte Rosa, Rimfischorn, Pollux and Castor (we got good at spotting these distinctive peaks) and offcourse the Matterhorn. Photos and summit dawdling at the summit for 30 mins and then the walk down to the station took the best part of the next couple of hours. This peak is good for a quick work out and to get above 4000 M for acclimatization.

The Klien Matterhorn, 3883m, 25th July 01.

As soon as we had done the Briethorn, we decided to do the few hundred feet on snow and rock to the top of this peak as well. The more aerobically inclined may choose the elevator to the top.

The Unterrothorn, 3103m, 26th July 01

This time, a ride on the Sunnega Express, an electric train that goes upwards but still inside a tunnel that has been bored into a hill got us to the top of the Sunnega station (2288m). From there, hiking on an evenly graded trail, we reached the Blauherd cable station (2517m). Another hour of hiking up on a steep trail got us to the top of the Unterrothorn and we made a loop return. Through out this hike, we had great views of the lush green country side contrasted with the glaciated peaks and huge glaciers that came down very low.

The Matterhorn, attempted, 27/28th July 01.

A two stage cable car ride dropped us off at the Schwarzee (2583m), stop from where we began our hike to the Hornli Hut enroute to climbing the Matterhorn by the Hornli Grat. Within two hours of slow walking we were at the Hornli Hut (3263m), a deluxe mountain dorm with a restaurant that caters to all sorts of day hikers as well. The Matterhorn looms in front and needless to say, is very intimidating.

It is about a 4000 ft gain to the summit from this point. There was a lot of snow on the peak, especially on the shoulder above the Solvay Hut, a high hut that is primarily meant to be used for emergencies and bivys, planned or otherwise, are not allowed. Ron and I passed the rest of the day lounging at the restaurant, sorting gear and chatting with climbers who had summitted and were coming down. The news was not very encouraging. The snow was icy in spots and these climbers had taken more time to descend than to ascend. The first people returning from the summit, a batch of strong Scottish climbers, had made the round trip in these non-dry rock conditions in about eleven hours. None of the Zermatt guides were taking clients on the Matterhorn. There were several parties still high up on the peak and some returned to Hornli as late as 8.30pm in the night. Ron and I woke up at 3.30am and by 4.15am, were rolling, the second party out the gate, just behind a two person party of an Austrian and his German friend. The first class-4 section had a fixed rope that we quickly ascended but then after

that there was a class-3/2 traverse on loose rock and there were some route finding with a lot of exposure and in the dark and with the low clouds looming overhead, it was slow going as Ron and I climbed with running belays. The protection offered was very poor but Ron made the best of what was available. The other parties passed us by, hardly setting up protection, which we thought was rather risky. After an hour or so, just as the faint sunlight appeared on the horizon, Ron and I mutually decided to call of the climb as we did not think that we would make the whole trip in about 12 hours to Hornli Hut giving us enough time to hike down as well to Schwarzee to take the last cable car out to Zermatt and then the train back down to Tasch and then start driving back to Zurich to catch the flight the next day. All the bad weather that we had encountered in the early part of our trip had pushed our Matterhorn climb to the second last day of our stay giving us only one shot at the peak without any buffer time for delays and we would have needed the best of conditions as well as a lot more speed. The clouds started to disappear as we hiked back down and the first rays of the sun bathed the peak in a red glow. We felt regret at having backed out but thought that it was prudent.

Back down to Schwarzee and then to Zermatt and then Matterhorn was lost from our view as the train turned a bend and headed to Tasch. We drove to Zurich via Grindelwald and got a short glimpse of the Eiger and it's fearsome north wall which has inspired so many climbers to test their prowess against. Even in the few moments that the clouds lifted over the famed Norwand, we saw an avalanche take off down it! Then it started to rain again as we drove from Grindelwald. Maybe it was a good thing that we were here than on the Matterhorn, afterall.

Thus ended our two week stay in the Alps, with some disappointments and some bad weather days but we choose to remember it by the experiences we gained while climbing the Alps and their grandeur and being in places with so much mountaineering history and the friendly people that we encountered all over in France and Switzerland.

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