Matterhorn (06.08.2015)

Written by hmsv1 (Hannah Vickers)

Start point Hörnli hut
Characteristic Alpine trip
Duration 8h 30min
Map
Ascents Matterhorn (4,478m) 06.08.2015

Having come down from the Eiger we now needed a new objective since the updated weather forecast seemed to be pretty promising for the next couple of days. Rocio had mentioned she had thought about doing a traverse of the Matterhorn, starting in Italy and finishing on the Swiss side but as a result of the hot temperatures this summer the Italian side of the mountain was recently closed because of rockfall risk. Fortunately the Hörnli ridge on the Swiss side was not. I have to admit that despite knowing about this famous Toblerone mountain since before I was even a teenager it has never been on my to-do list. I’ve heard a lot about how popular the ascent of the mountain is from the Hörnli ridge so anyone wanting to climb it must be able to move more or less continuously from start to finish and that even some people who go with guides may be forced to turn back if they are going too slowly. Sounded rather stressful to me so I’ve never been much interested in trying it myself. However, now with the possibility of attempting the climb with Rocio and with this year being the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, I found myself thinking 'why not?'. I was suddenly much more interested. We drove from Grindelwald to Täsch on the tuesday and parked at the train station there. Zermatt is a vehicle-free zone so if you want to get there it is either by train or by foot. We took the train into Zermatt and walked up the main street to Hotel Tannenhof where we were going to be staying for the night (highly recommend this as a place to stay in Zermatt). We’d thought about doing some of the via ferrata above Zermatt in the afternoon but since it was now raining lightly we kind of lost interest and took the hint to use the remainder of the afternoon for resting instead.

The walk -in to the Hörnli hut
The walk -in to the Hörnli hut

The next morning was sunny and we got our first views of the Matterhorn. Pretty cool to see the mountain rise so steeply above the town. Apart from some snow on the north face of the mountain the east face and Hörnli ridge was completely snow-free, so now was quite an ideal time to be ascending the mountain. After a substantial breakfast we headed up to the via ferrata for some morning exercise, although it was already sweltering hot then so it was a relief to come back down and hide from the midday sun inside the hotel. The weather forecast we’d seen was forecasting some pretty warm weather for the next few days with freezing levels well above the summit of the Matterhorn so we decided to try and do the ascent as lightweight as possible in terms of clothes. I had a pair of lightweight softshell trousers, a thin synthetic long sleeved top, a thin windshirt and a light primaloft jacket. Plus a pair of thin softshell gloves (as things turned out I didn’t use either of the jackets). Rocio had called the Hörnli hut a few days before to book us in there for the night and we were both quite excited about checking out the new and improved hut which was rumoured to be something of a luxurious hotel in comparison to the majority of alpine huts. And to be quite honest I wasn’t expecting anything less given that the cost of staying there per night is 150 swiss francs! So I had more than just high expectations of the hut. To get there we made use of the lift from Zermatt to Am Schwarzsee at just under 2600m. We left Zermatt just after lunch and by now it was already 27 degrees in town. Good to be leaving the heat behind and gaining some height!

Sunset at the Hörnli hut
Sunset at the Hörnli hut
The Matterhorn and Hörnli ridge seen from the Hörnli hut
The Matterhorn and Hörnli ridge seen from the Hörnli hut

It was an easy and relaxed walk in the sunshine from Am Schwarzsee to the Hörnli hut at just under 3300m. There is a decent path to follow and there were quite a lot of people hiking in both directions when we were on the way up. Nice views in all directions with a whole series of 4000m peaks surrounding the valley, only a handful of the peaks I’d been on once before. It took just less than 2 hours to walk in a very gentle pace up so we arrived in late afternoon. On entering the reception/bar area the modern feel of the hut was immediately noticeable. And there was a large, modern dining room with big windows right next to it. So far it looked like we were going to have a very comfortable stay. Men/womens toilets were installed on all floors of the hut as well – fully flushing, normal toilets! Nice. We were assigned room/bed numbers when we registered ourselves and parted with a relatively large amount of swiss francs and informed that boots were allowed to be taken up to the rooms. This was also different to the majority of alpine huts I’ve been to when you have to leave boots in the entrance in exchange for hut slippers. Both Rocio and I thought this was a better system, especially since there is usually chaos first thing in the morning when its easy to pick up the wrong pair of boots in the dark. On going up the stairs we went past a library/sitting area to the dorm which had 6 beds in it, so it was at least not so big. I was almost looking forward to sleeping in a hut tonight ;) We had some time to kill before dinner was to be served at 7pm. Rocio went out to do a short reconaissance of the route while I went to the sitting area to make myself comfortable with some reading material. Here I ended up bumping into a Swedish guide Mike who’d actually worked as an aspirant guide for ISM when I’d joined a trip with them back in 2002. It was both surprising and amusing to meet him again here.

Amongst some of the more amusing hut rules I've come across.....
Amongst some of the more amusing hut rules I've come across.....

Anyway, finally it was dinnertime and we were served the standard starter of soup and bread, with a main course of chicken, rice and some vegetables. Second helpings were not available, though we did get table service which is not so normal at alpine huts. I headed off to bed at around 9 after filling up my water bottle.

Summit day
Alarms started to ring at 3.30am in our dormitory but Rocio and I waited another 15 minutes or so before making an effort to get up. It had been quite a pleasant night with little if any snoring, the room temperature had been pleasantly cool and I was a bit reluctant to have to get out of bed. It doesn’t happen often that I get a great night’s sleep at a hut! We ate some slices of bread, meat and cheese for breakfast at 4am and people started making some movement towards the hut doors as the time approached 4.20am. Everyone (except possibly the local Zermatt guides) had been instructed NOT to leave before this time – and there is even a reminder notice on the dining room wall. Apparently they have this policy to reduce stress for both guides and clients….. Once the majority of climbers had already rushed out the doors, Rocio and I got our harnesses and helmets on and got roped up outside before starting the approach walk up to the first set of fixed ropes only a few minutes walk from the hut. Already there was a queue so it wasn’t like we’d wasted much time leaving a bit later than everyone else. It was surprisingly quiet while everyone waited for their turn to ascend the ropes. Seemed very orderly and civilized. No stress yet. We must have been standing for at least 15-20 minutes but since the air was relatively warm it wasn’t as if we were freezing to death from waiting :)

Queueing already just 5 minutes from the hut.
Queueing already just 5 minutes from the hut.
Dawn breaks
Dawn breaks
Scrambling
Scrambling
Sunrise colours
Sunrise colours
And finally the sun!
And finally the sun!

Once Rocio and I had got ourselves over this short section (15m-ish high?) we moved more or less together continuously for a while. Rocio had done a good recce of the ridge the afternoon before and found something of a shortcut which allowed us to overtake the slow pair of climbers who’d been in front of us on the fixed ropes. Once past them we didn’t really meet so many groups until almost dawn, about an hour after leaving the hut. The terrain up until this point has been a mix of mostly walking with some straightforward scrambling in places, but not really much proper climbing involved yet. At around dawn we passed Mike and the guy he was guiding, but he was not feeling 100% because of a cold so they were going to head back down the mountain. We carried on upwards, soon meeting more groups who’d taken a break. We weren’t a huge way from the Solvay hut now so we pushed on. The ’route’ went mostly to the left of the crest of the ridge and involved some scrambling, some traversing, more scrambling and lastly some easy climbing just before coming up to the Solvay hut. Bolts were placed here and there so parts of the route could be protected quite efficiently, it was just a problem to share the bolts when several groups were starting to crowd around the same part of the mountain. Then there were other pairs of climbers who didn’t bother using the bolts and trying to overtake others in front. It became a bit jammed in places and a little bit annoying. On the other hand it was quite atmospheric around here since a bit of cloud had started to rise upwards in just as the sun was rising, so it created some really cool colours! We took a 5-minute stop at the Solvay hut (ca. 4000m) which we’d arrived at in just over 2 hours. Not a super speedy time, but given that we’d had to wait several times along the way I thought it was quite reasonable.

Approaching the Solvay hut
Approaching the Solvay hut
Some ropes and a random guy before the Solvay hut
Some ropes and a random guy before the Solvay hut
Bit of waiting time
Bit of waiting time
Fixed ropes after the Solvay hut
Fixed ropes after the Solvay hut
Rocio climbing the fixed ropes just after the Solvay hut
Rocio climbing the fixed ropes just after the Solvay hut

From there a short pitch of easy climbing followed with further scrambling leading up to the next fixed ropes, one of which went straight up and another which was more of a traverse. From there it was more of the same sort of scrambling/easy climbing which we did short pitches on. Eventually we came out onto a ridge which narrowed as it led upwards towards the upper section of the mountain. Slightly airy in places, but nothing horrific. Good views over the north side of the mountain though. From here there began to be more snow cover on the rocks so pretty soon after arriving at the next series of fixed ropes we put crampons on since there was a bit of waiting time again anyway. Some folk were on their way back down from the summit now, so this upper section of the mountain was getting particularly busy and crowded. Now the stressful part of the ascent was taking place. Stanchions were becoming quite frequently placed now with all the fixed ropes and with several groups of people using them to secure partners climbing up and down, it wasn’t long before ropes were getting tangled and mixed up, I realised at one point that I couldn’t move because another guide had hooked his rope round the stanchion over ours….. in the end the solution was to use a cows tail to secure myself at the stanchions rather than using the rope since it would be much quicker and easier to free myself from the system instead of having to wait for other people to shift their ropes first. We climbed past a good number of stanchions before finally reaching the end of the fixed ropes altogether. It still felt a bit tiresome to pull up on the ropes even though I should have been a bit better acclimatised here than on the Eiger so it was a relief to finally reach the top of the last fixed ropes.

View towards the final part of the climb up from the ridge. We put the crampons on here.
View towards the final part of the climb up from the ridge. We put the crampons on here.
Always sunny above the clouds!
Always sunny above the clouds!
Ascending the fixed ropes
Ascending the fixed ropes
Other folk coming up the ridge
Other folk coming up the ridge
View across the north side of the ridge
View across the north side of the ridge
View back down the ridge from the fixed ropes
View back down the ridge from the fixed ropes

From there we weren’t far from the summit. Maybe 100m in height or even less. It was slightly less steep ground and we could move together on a short rope over the slightly mixed terrain of snow and rock. Generally the trail in the snow was well trodden and there wasn’t too much loose new snow on rock, so it was OK to walk on and the crampons bit into the snow quite well. Views behind us were fantastic, but the only times we stopped were mainly so I could take a breather rather than for admiring the views. Several groups were on their way down and we passed Boris and Ed who we’ met also on the Eiger. Soon there was a statue visible in the distance which led us to believe that the summit wasn’t far behind that – and it wasn’t. One final pause and we were striding out along the summit ridge to the top of the Matterhorn! There was a cross at the Italian end of the summit ridge but we didn’t bother wandering over to that. The elegant crest of snow seemed good enough for us on this occasion. There was a few other people on the summit plus us, but it was overall not as crowded as I’d envisaged. Soon even they disappeared and began the journey down as well so Rocio and I had a decent 10-15 minutes on the summit without a single other person in sight. Took ourselves a longish break for photos, food, drink and a Power gel. I still couldn’t get over the fact that it had been warm enough to spend the entire 4.5 hours of the ascent in only a thin base layer top and thin softshell trousers without getting cold at any time. There wasn’t even a breath of wind on the summit either so I didn’t need to take any extra clothes over the top while we were enjoying the surprisingly quiet summit experience :)

Still more fixed ropes to climb
Still more fixed ropes to climb
Some people descending at the same time we were going up
Some people descending at the same time we were going up
Happy ladies
Happy ladies
Obligatory summit pose
Obligatory summit pose
View towards the Italian side of the mountain
View towards the Italian side of the mountain

Once we were ready to make our way back down again it was around 9.30am. About 10 minutes after starting the descent we met a few other teams who were close to reaching the summit, one pair had for some reason or another decided to walk with a long distance of rope between them which was not the smartest idea with all the loose rocks around, plus the fact it was icy and steep….. The descent down the fixed ropes went relatively efficiently and smoothly since there weren’t too many other teams ascending them from the other direction now – and those who were still climbing seemed patient enough to let us come down before they continued to climb up. If only this was how everyone operated on the mountain there might not have been so much chaos as we’d experience on the way up. We soon caught up with the spanish guide who was also guiding a British guy and pretty much ended up descending the rest of the mountain with them. It wasn’t long before we could get the crampons off and enjoy moving over dry and warm rock again. More fixed ropes followed before we reached the Solvay hut and we descended by a mixture of scrambling down or Rocio lowering me from some of the stanchions. I prefer abseiling and controlling the rope myself or downclimbing, but being lowered is definitely not one of my favourite activities even though it is perhaps more efficient than downclimbing in some instances ;) The mix of walking/ scrambling/ downclimbing/ lowering continued from the Solvay hut, following more or less the line we’d climbed up. I think we ended up descending a little closer to the crest of the ridge than further in towards the looser east face of the mountain but in the end it didn’t matter since we managed to locate the route we’d walked/scrambled up earlier on during the morning while it was still dark. Having not seen this part of the mountain in daylight I didn’t recognize much of the last part of the route at all. Somehow it looked different to how it had seemed under headtorch-light.

Lets remind ourselves which mountain we're on? Colour-coordinated Toblerones and helmets were not pre-planned :)
Lets remind ourselves which mountain we're on? Colour-coordinated Toblerones and helmets were not pre-planned :)
Looking towards the Swiss end of the summit
Looking towards the Swiss end of the summit
Panorama #1
Panorama #1
Panorama #2
Panorama #2
Folk coming up when we have begun the descent
Folk coming up when we have begun the descent
On the ridge again
On the ridge again
Final fixed ropes before the hut.
Final fixed ropes before the hut.

Anyway, soon we were back on a sort of path again and it was pretty straightforward with one final descent down fixed ropes before reaching the hut. We were both really thirsty by this time and had been dreaming of drinking litres upon litres of something sweet and fizzy. Not long before we could get our hands on that now since we were so close to the Hörnli hut. And we arrived back at 1.30pm so it had been around 4 hours down. Almost as long as we’d taken to get up the mountain! Lots of people were sat on the benches outside the hut enjoying the sun, probably a mix of new people and those who’d also recently descended from the top of the mountain. Soon we were enjoying the sweet fizzy drinks we’d been craving. I also got to try some rösti, a traditional Swiss dish of fried potatoes with various toppings. Hadn’t really been in the mood for hot food bu tafter the trying a forkful of the stuff which Rocio was eating I suddenly found it out that a plate of rösti can be dangerously addictive after several hours of mountain activity ;)

Back on flat ground again
Back on flat ground again

We relaxed in the sunshine for about an hour before packing up the rucksacks again and making our way back down towards Am Schwarzsee, which was a nice little walk to finish the day. Instead of taking the lift straight back down into Zermatt we took a break at the hotel and listened to a bit of live music there while enjoying another cold drink. Zermatt was a little too warm when we came back but it was at least a luxury to have a shower!

User comments

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    Missing title

    Written by JPV100 23.08.2015 11:26

    Fantastiske bilder fra et fantastisk flott fjell! Du er heldig som har fått denne i boks, og med såå bra vær også da! :)

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      Re:

      Written by hmsv1 23.08.2015 17:18

      Takk! Ja det var heldig å havne på denne toppen i flott vær, jeg møtte en del folk som hadde trent lenge og reist til Zermatt bare for å bestige den mens jeg dukket opp i alpene med en relativt åpen plan og ingen fast turmål :) Men jeg vil heller dra på fjellturer som er litt mindre populære fra nå av!

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    Matterhorn;

    Written by Uncas 21.08.2015 20:17

    just WOW!!!

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    Missing title

    Written by Þróndeimr 21.08.2015 19:47

    Those panoramas you take are awesome, the view looks spectacular! :D

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      Re:

      Written by hmsv1 21.08.2015 20:42

      thanks, yeah the view wasn't too bad :)

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