This gave me the utter chills watching this, so goddamn scary. The guy involved is lucky to be alive and is probably thanking his lucky stars that he was with such experienced skiers / guides.
I mentioned a couple of posts ago that we had been on a Webtogs jolly out to the Alps, where everyone thats the warehouse team, techies& gear freaks had a go at traversing the Valee Blanche. I’ve been slack at writing a post (it is coming, honest!) but one thing I did manage to get done yesterday was a quick edit and upload of some of the video we shot.
There is possibly no better known mountain in the world than the Matterhorn. Ask any child to draw a picture of a peak, and the resulting shape will no doubt bear a passing resemblance to this iconic emblem of the Swiss Alps. For mountain guides working on the Matterhorn it is like no other mountain, in fact I usually find the climbing often represents the least stressful part. Matching my clients expectations with the reality and appreciating the Matterhorn’s uniqueness always makes a Matterhorn outing interesting. Gerald’s (name changed to protect the guilty) ‘Big Matt” experience was no exception and fully lived up to its billing.
First off comes the weather and catching the mountain “in good nick”. The best scenario means making an attempt when it’s dry or clear of snow and ice. Unfortunately on average only about 30 days a year give optimum conditions and the isolation of the mountain often results in it forming its own weather, which can be very wild and change very rapidly. The mountain rises to over 4400 metres so it can snow at anytime of year, and much of the upper part of the mountain is has slabs of fresh unconsolidated snow which posses a real hazard. Worse, rainfall often leads to the widespread formation of water ice as temperatures plummet at night and during storms. Sadly that means that more often than not its not worth setting foot on the mountain, but that’s hard to come to terms with when you’ve built yourself up for ages, travelled a long way, and spent a not inconsiderable sum of money to climb the world’s best known mountain. Thus Gerald in common with countless before him was on his third Matterhorn ‘outing’. In other words despite poor forecasts we had twice ventured up to the Berg hotel on the off-chance the met-men were wrong only to spend a disrupted night listening to the intermittent chorus of rain and snoring before returning to the bright lights of Zermatt. Having exhausted that experience we weather watched from the safe distance of Chamonix until I felt confident enough to give Gerald the green light.
Secondly the Matterhorn’s iconic status means it is one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world and sadly this popularity is its biggest danger. Large numbers of climbers ascending and descending simultaneously guarantees that meeting and overtaking maneuvers will be required, this in turn increases the likelihood that rocks will be dislodged onto lower climbers. Now fortunately in order to help process the maximum numbers of aspiring climbers up and down the peak the local guides have placed fixed ropes on the more serious sections of the climb, probably sensible, but sadly many have evolved into a subspecies of guide whose sole function is to reduce the Matterhorn experience for their clients to a ‘dope on a rope’ race. Not being a local though is of course a plus as I endeavor to navigate my guests around the obstacles the Matterhorn presents in a manner which maximizes the enjoyment and achievement of their ascent.
Thirdly is understanding and preparing for the physical impact of getting up and down the Matterhorn. For the majority of climbers the ‘down’ is harder and takes longer than the ‘up’. In any rate it’s a long way, on average ten hours over steep and sometimes loose rock with lots of airy space beneath your feet. Couple all that with an unhealthy lack of oxygen and in anyone’s book the ascent of the Matterhorn is a tough day out. Now when you’ve got one new hip and another on its way out well it becomes a challenge. At least we aren’t going to be joining the racers.
Kitting oneself out for the Matterhorn has come along way since Wymper’s tweeded first ascent and I was climbing in my pro shell Temperance jacket, and Scarpa Charmoz boots whose lightness and dexterity make them ideal companions.Gerald is familiar with the clothing and kit requirements for the ascent and on meeting up I’m only reminded to discuss the quantity of fluid he should look to carry. During a previous outing on the Eiger he had run out of water early on, and as a consequence having donated the contents of my Camelbak to the cause, we both ended up seriously dehydrated. The drive over from Chamonix is just two hours and topped off with a Swiss efficient rail ride into the middle of the chocolate box city of Zermatt with the north face of the Matterhorn centre stage. Order of the day for lunch is ‘rosti’ number one for carbo loading in Switzerland. Mechanical advantage is maintained for a further 1000 metres to Schwarzee where on arrival we make a mental note that the last lift down is at 16:40 before shouldering our packs and assist our digestion with a steady stroll for a further 700 metres up to the aforementioned Berghotel more commonly known as the Hornli hut.
So far this approach is similar to that encountered on most alpine peaks, however at this point the Matterhorn experience takes over. It commences with a demand for the hut fees to be paid in advance and a warning that NO one is allowed to leave the hut ahead of the local guide. This order used to inflame me but now amuses me; they claim it is to prevent parties unfamiliar with the way from herding everyone off route and onto loose dangerous ground. Whilst this is likely it’s really so a non-local beating them doesn’t dent their pride. We settle in and commence the obligatory re-hydrating ritual whilst the hut gradually fills to bursting point and dusk falls.
Dinner follows; adequate but not gourmet. We are early to bed, 9pm, though fitful rest rather than deep sleep best describes our next 7 hours inactivity. Finally it’s time to get our boots and harness on, no more dreaming about the Matterhorn now its time to live it. Breakfast in the Hornli at 4 o’clock is a lively event, usually my least favorite time, today it makes me grin as the guides start to marshal their charges like greyhounds in the slips. Gerald and I finish our coffee in peace as the mass exodus empties the hut.
A few minutes down the track the mountain rears up abruptly and we flail our way up some fixed ropes in a manner reminiscent of PE lessons in the school gym. Fortunately this commando style approach is short lived as the mountain quickly lays back and route finding takes over as the primary challenge. The scale of the mountain becomes apparent, as the fifty climbers ahead of us are absorbed into its folds, for a few hours the odd flicker of a headtorch is the only reminder we are not alone as surely and steadily Gerald and I pick our way upwards. I’m also reminded of the importance of a decent headtorch as Gerald’s antique barely shows up his boots whilst my new Petzl Tikka plus illuminates all the options. Fortunately the sun is up by the time we embark up the lower Moseley slab the first of the two ‘real’ climbing sections. Sandwiched conveniently between these slabs and a perfect spot for our second breakfast is the Solvay hut. Two-thirds up at just over the magic 4000m this superbly perched hut was built in 1915 with room for a dozen. Today it is strictly to be used only in the event of an emergency but what a welcome sight it must be on occasions.
A little further on as we work our way up the shoulder as the leaders of the pack are propelling their way down at break neck speed We keep as wide a berth as possible, it’s not the winning but staying focused and having a good time that counts. Conditions are ideal and unusually crampons remain in our packs as we revert back to commando style tactics on the fixed ropes. The bonus for not racing is that we have the summit to ourselves and a little time to soak it all in. Sadly we’re acutely aware we are really only half way and no surprises our water supplies are dwindling. Gerald’s rugby injuries surface to remind him he shouldn’t have continued to play the gentleman’s game into his forties as the mountain fulfils its reputation for taking longer to descend than ascend.
I always find the route finding in descent a little tricky as a certain amount of variation is possible and when one gets off the main line a great deal of loose rock is encountered. There is enough traffic up and down that getting too far off route is not really an issue but frustratingly minor digressions happen especially on the lower part of the route where we make some fairly long traverses on to the east face. Twelve hours after leaving the hut we arrive back hungry and very thirsty. Of course the locals are basking in the sun watered and fed making us feel wholly inadequate and our plight is only worsened at the realization that we have missed the 16:40 last lift. As we drive back into Chamonix at midnight I reflect that today the Matterhorn has allowed Gerald and I to grace its summit and return safely but as usual it’s had the last say.
Berlin Trip – 04.08.09
Having been back in Luxembourg for the last couple of weeks, I decided to go on a short trip to visit a friend in Berlin, and take the opportunity to immerse myself in German culture for the first time. Along with the various sightseeing activities (the Berlin wall, the Reichstag etc…) and of course clubbing, the plan was to;
1.) Try a selection of different Wursts (yes, there is more than one type)
2.) Eat a Doner Kebab (the vast Turkish community in Berlin means that Kebabs are actually nice – nothing like the dog food you find in the UK)
3.) Purchase some lederhosen
4.) Drink copious amounts of German lager
5.) Go dance around to the brutal rhythm of “Die Oompah Band”.
We were unfortunately unable to carry out tasks 1. (this will be explained later), 3. (the band were not available to play) and 5. (Lederhosen are surprisingly expensive)
I travelled to Berlin with the train (8 hours from Luxembourg) and equipment-wise, I decided to opt for a 35L daypack by Haglofs, the LIM 35. The Haglofs LIM 35 Daypack is a super light, minimalistic backpack that, simply put, is incredible – words cannot express just how awesome it is. With more features than the average Samsung phone, it includes several compartments and spaces, a hydration pouch, a multitude of pockets, clips, zips, hooks and a state-of-the-art shoulder strap system which eliminates pressure points and provides excellent load distribution. Pretty much everything is adjustable, making this backpack extremely comfortable to carry for long periods of time (indeed, my bag ended up being quite heavy, partly due to the rather large quantities of Jagermeister I decided to bring back to enjoy at a later date).
Overall Berlin was a great place, one I would highly recommend visiting (sooner rather than later). The nightlife is fantastic, the food is awesome and the people are incredibly friendly, open-minded and easy to talk to. Everything is pretty cheap as well, especially in east Berlin and transport is quick, cheap and efficient – which in my opinion proves the benefits of having a state-owned transport system rather than the privatized nightmare that currently exists in the UK.
My only regret was that I was actually incapable of eating a single Wurst whilst over there, due to an unfortunate episode of food poisoning (I blame the Kebab, delicious as it was).
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