Three local guys from Sunapee, New Hampshire, USA summited the Matterhorn via the Hornli Ridge. Although it’s been a few years since the team summitted, a story that happened on the ascent bears worth mentioning here. It’s about boundaries, keeping your cool, and international relations.
Scot Bergeron, Bob Boyce, and I decided to do the standard route from the Hornli Ridge Hut. Scot and I were playing music just over the hill in Saas Fee for the summer and took a few days off. I’d done the Haute Route once with a group of Austrian young guns from Strolz Ski Boots in Lech, and another time with a couple of clients, but hadn’t done any climbs in the area, and thought the Matterhorn would be a good place to start.
We were the first out of the hut in the early darkness. We soon found ourselves overtaken by few of the local guides and their clients, not because of our slowness in climbing but the rather slow going in keeping on route which none of us had climbed before. We’d see headlamps off to our south and figured they were a bit more on route than us, so we’d veer in their direction. As the sun was coming up we came to a roped section just below the Solvay Hut at 4000 m. I was belaying Scot, who was just about half-way up the pitch, when a Swiss mountain guide came up to our belay station and without ceremony, removed our belay line leading up to Scot from the pig-iron curlicue we were using for the belay, put a bit of his rope in, and then stacked ours on top. So in effect he took Scott off belay for a bit. Knowing that speed is of the essence, I look back on it now with a sense of humor, but at the time I was certainly shocked. Scot must have quieried the guide on his way up as to how we was being belayed when there was only one station available, for after Bob and I finished the pitch and coiled the rope we headed in the direction of the Solvay hut. The closer we got the more we heard what sounded like muffled but distinctly raised voices. To my surprise, when I rounded the the corner on the narrow balcony of the hut, I saw Scot, eyes wide with anger with his hands on the guide’s shoulders saying, “Don’t ever touch our rope again.” and the guide replying, “You might be so lucky that I touch your rope again.” Adding, “The day’s not over yet.” Implying that if we needed help he would be the one possibly there to rescue us. While I could appreciate his take on the situation, I stepped in, “Whoa you guys, Scot, mellow out. Being on this narrow ridge is not the best place for flaring tempers, keep it calm dude.” Bob and I tore the two apart and things quickly settled down, We “Ami’s” (Americans) hung out in the hut for a few minutes, till the storm had passed, and the mountain guide had set out toward the summit with his client.
In all fairness to the Swiss guide, I can empathize with his lack of patience with the foreigner’s taking up time and space on his mountain, but obviously don’t think I practice that sort of pocessiveness on any particular peak, save my home mountain, Mt. Kearsarge. I’ll never forget the image tearing Scot off the Swiss guide, who’s steely blue eyes, silvery grey hair, and faded red guide’s jacket are forever in my mind, mostly because of the steep setting and high emotions. It’s silly stuff really, but makes a good story.
This beautiful mountain has a good story behind its first ascent by Edward Whymper. One of the most impressionable mountain books I’ve read was Whymper’s Scrambles Amongst the Alps. It was also one of my first mountain books. I picked it up during my 7-year stint (with breaks to the US) living in the Alps. I often tell people the Alps (Austria in particular) is “where I learned not to kill myself in the mountains.” I had my copy of Freedom of the Hills under my arm as I tried various techniques outlined in the book. Attending an Austrian Mountain Club glacier ski touring course was valuable in its experiential aspects, but I didn’t understand too much of the German spoken in the course, so I only got 20% of the lectures.
On our way up, there was an easy snowfield and then a steep rock pitch of mid-fith class which led to the summit ridge. It was a beautiful cloudless day, and the three boys from Sunapee made it to the summit of the Matterhorn, probably a first and last in Sunapee history. The view down the north face and back to Zermatt as well was into Italy was stunning. I remember being so tired after the descent, I fell asleep in the bunk of the hutt with my harness on.
Click here for more information on the Matterhorn. But for now, here are some facts:
The Matterhorn , is a mountain in the Pennine Alps. With its 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high summit, lying on the border between Switzerland and Italy, it is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and its 1,200 metres (3,937 ft) north face is one of the Great north faces of the Alps. We didn’t do the North Face.
Tags: Alps, Austria, Climbing, Edward Whymper, Haute Route, Hornli Hutt, Hornli Ridge, Lech, Matterhorn, Mountain Spirit Institute, Randy Richards, Sass Fee, Scrambles Amongst the Alps, Solvay Hut, Strolz, Summitting, Switzerland, Zermatt