What's the Matter, horn?


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mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 7, 2012 - 02:33pm PT
Tremendous mountain.

Tremendous writing.

Real armchair stuff for winter afficianados.

The FWA of the Hornli Ridge was way back on Jan. 31, 1911 by Meade, Lochmatter, and Pollinger.

The climb done by Gervasutti was done solo over Christmas, 1936, and an entire chapter in Gervasutti's Climbs is devoted to this ascent.

Eight: 1936

Christmas:  solo ascent of the Matterhorn from the Italian side

Two months of forced immobility were enough to make me forget the rough time the Ailefroide [FA of NW Wall with Lucien Devies, described in the previous chapter] had given us; so much so that at the end of September I had begun to climb again on the rocks of our Turin training-ground. All that remained of our great adventure in the Daupine was a memory tinged with regret, but with return to my usual form came the renewed urge to tackle some major enterprise. It looked as if the coming winter might be particularly favourable for big ascents. But I knew both from my own experience and that of others, that the best moment for these winter trips is generally in Frbruary, and I made no definite plans for the immediate future. Meanhile I devoted my Sundays to expeditions on skis.

On the morning of December 20, with my friends P. Ceresa, Fiorio and Poma, I went by car up to Breuil. Our objective was the Breithorn, a four-thousander well known to skiers from Urine, which the new Plan Maison cable-railway made it possible to do comfortably in the day. While we were climbing up the glacier above the Col du Theodule my gaze frequently strayed to the Matterhorn. In the pure cold atmosphere of a December day, this "noblest death-trap in Europe" was like a sleeping giant crouched on the edge of the vast snowy wastes of the Breuil amphitheatre. Fom time to time avalanches thundered down from the hanging glaciers; a long period of fine weather, with a series of violent gales, had cleared the snow from the steep rocks. Only on the Pic Tyndall, a faint whie line betrayed the presence of a cornice.

During a halt I exchanged a few remarks with my friends: "It looks to me as if one might get up..." But I said nothing of the plan that was slowly taking shape in my mind. I had not then climbed the Matterhorn from the Italian side and I felt myself powerfully impelled towards adventure into the unknown. And this desire was accompanied by that peculiar state of mind which precedes action, when every nerve and every muscle vibrates in unison, when, urged on by some imperious necessity, one's whole being longs for battle, for the exhilarating breath of danger, and for difficulties to tackle and to overcome.

I returned to Urine in the evening anxiously turning over my idea and longing to be already up there on the heights. Next afternoon, after I had prepared my rucksack, I went out into the streets of the town to let my excitement cool off a bit in the open air. Almost automatically I walked up to the viewpoint on the Monti dei Cappuccini. I heard the call of the distant wind which had cleared the air at sunset, and tinged the horizon with green.  Two little clouds above the Gran Paradiso caught the last rays of the sun, while the first lights appeared in the town below. The thought of approaching action aroused strange and contradictory sensations in me.
I felt an immense pity for all the little men who toiled on in the prison which society has succeded in building against the open sky;
who knew nothing and felt nothing of what I knew and felt at that moment. Yesteray I was like them, and in another few days I would be like them again. But today I was a prisoner set free; and tomorrow I would be a lord and master, a mommander of life and of death, of the stars and of the elements.

Back in the town again I wandered aimlessly through the streets, packed with cheerful crowds getting ready to celebrate Christmas.  Mothers and children went by with their arms full of parcels, and a girl brushed against me and smiled. Faint now was the call, drowned in the city's hum and noise, and a strange nostalgia rose up from the depths of my heart, and redoubled the joy I felt at my approaching farewell to this world.

At Breuil, on Tuesday the 22nd, I looked for a porter to save me the effort of carrying my sack during the first part of the ascent on skis, and found Marco Pession of Valtournanche. I told Graziano Bich, manager of the hotel of that name, of my plans and at 8.15 on the morning of the 23rd the porter and I took the Plan Maison teleferique which gave us a start of 2.000 feet. We reached the Carrel cross at 10.20; Pession came on for another half-hour and then I took my sach and continued alone.

At the foot of the Matterhorn glacier I left my skis, which were no longer any help, and continued on foot, sinking wearily into the snow at each step. By 12.30 I had reached the bergschrund at the foot of the couloir coming from the Col du Lion, and here I put on my crampons. This was the decisive moment, and I could not help feeling apprehensive. Formidable before me rose the Matterhorn, with all its legends, all its tragedies. Marco Pession was already far away, gliding down on his skis towards the new winter resort of Cervinia. Above me were snow and ice, rock and solitude;
I felt very near to wishing for a companion, but then I reflected how far finer a struggle it would be alone.
After a last look at my crampon straps, I tackled the bergschrund. Very, very slowly, I moved up, looking for the spot where the bridge seemed strongest; I prodded it with my axe--it was soft and not very thick. I climbed up, established myself on a block of ice and stuck my axe into the opposite lip of the schrund as high up as possible. Then I jumped, and hauled mself up; I was across. In the couloir the snow was soft and I climbed up without stopping, making deep tracks--a very exhausting business.

I reached the Col du Lion at 1.45, stopped for something to eat and moved off again at 2.30. The rocks up to the Luigi Amedeo hut were dry, with only here and there a few patches of ice where I had to cut steps, and at 3.40 I arrived at the airy shelter, an eagle's nest perched under a tower, over 12,600 feet up on the formidable south-weat ridge of the Matterhorn.

I spent the evening getting ready for the next day. I felt absolutely calm and confident; I was splendidly fit, and not in the least overtired by the exertions of the first part of the ascent. At 7.30 I settled down in the blankets; when I got up twelve hours later, on the morning of the 24th, my pocket thermometer registered 16 degrees F inside the hut. The cold, therefore, was not too intense. At 8 o'clock I went outside, but the sun was not yet up, so I waited another half-hour before starting.

On the 100 feet of fixed rope which one has to climb my hands grew numb at once, although I kept on my gloves. From time to time I slapped them against my thighs to get some feeling back into them and continued climbing as far as the Linceul, a patch of neve, which one has to cross diagonally. It was here that my friend Cretier and two others had fallen, when returning from making a new route on the Pic Tyndall in treacherous snow conditions--a memory which certainly did nothing to encourage me. I tried the snow; it was very bad--soft, with ice underneath. I preferred to try higher up on the rocks--even if they should prove more difficult--by a slightly ascending traaverse. In this way I avoided the first part of the snow slope, but it was not possible to get round the upper half in the same way. Standing in a rather awkward position, I put on my crampons, got down on to the snow and traversed slowly across, carefully pressing my foot down each time until the points of my crampons bit into the ice underneath. Then I took to the rocks again, and after climbing up two fixed ropes got back on to the ridge. I followed it, keeping a bit on the west side which was in shadow and consequently still icy, climbed up steep rock walls, cut steps on patches of ice and in frozen gullies, and so arrived under the Pic Tyndall. Here the ridge evens out into s sort of hog's back, without any steep steps. I thought the snow up there might hold, and I put my crampons on again. It was a highly dangerous place; the ridge narrowed down to a thin crest, and the snow was powdery with a light wind-crust. I knew from the first step that it was most unsafe, and neither with crampons nor ice-axe could I get any purchase.  I progressed in the manner of a tight-rope walker, balancing along between two precipices of more than 3.000 feet with absolutely no security. When the angle lessened and the crest became almost horizontal, I forgot all about style and dignity and straddled the ridge, helping myself along with my feet acting as paddles, in the same way that children bestride sea-monsters in a swimming pool! The powder-smow flew up into the air and, just to make things pleasant, the wind blew it back into my face and down my neck.

At the shoulder the snow improved and I was able to resume a normal position. But I was by now nearly an hour behind schedule, and with the days being so short I realised that I should have my work cut out to get back in daylight. Every minute counted and for a moment I felt disheartened. I looked over towards the Col Felicite: the first steep step and the Enjambee were in execrable condition, all plastered with snow.  I should lose more time there...perhaps I'd be wise to return to the hut and try again next day with the tracks already made.

So I turned back. But after a dozen steps I was brought up short by the sight of the crest which I had straddled, and the cornices of the shoulder. It would mean crossing these places three times more, multiplying the risks. One might just as well tackle the last part of the descent by moonlight. So again I turned about, crossed the Col Felicite and attacked the slope beneath the Tete du Cervin. Up above I could see the Jordan rope-ladder, and this normally easy bit was covered with ice. As I was obliged to move continually from rock to ice I took off my crampons and used my axe. It was a case of trying first one way, then another, and I made some slight variations in the route, and also lost time, so I forced the pace a bit, although I was beginning to tire.  When I came to the ropes beneath the ladder, I was in luck, for they were dry:  I climbed up the ladder, but at the top I had a nasty surprise.  The slab above was covered with snow, and both the fixed rope and the stanchion to which it was attached were completely buried. Now, as I stood on the topmost rung, hanging right out in space, began some really interesting work. I took my axe out of my rucksack and began to hack away at the ice round the fixed rope; finally, foot by foot, I succedded in freeing it altogether.When I had finished, my hands were frozen and I stopped a moment to restore the circulation. Then practically running along the now easier ridge, I reached the summit in a few minutes, at 2.10. [Climbing time of 5.40, hut to summit.] My eyes circled the horizon. A whole world lay beneath me: mountain upon mountain, from Monte Rosa to the Bernese Oberland, from the nearby Taschhorn, Weisshorn and Dent Blanche to the giant Mont Blanc and it massif, and then, further away, to the Dauphine and Monte Viso, gradually fading to distant shades of blue. The plain was hidden in mist. a note in the box beneath the triangulation point, swallowed a few lumps of sugar and some prunes and ten at 2.20 started down. I had little more than three hours of daylight left, and I sped down the ropes and the ladder, managed, not without difficulty, to negotiate the slabs again below the Tete du Cervin, crossed the Enjablee and so found myself back on the Pic Tyndall. There the tracks of my ascent helped me a bit--and anyway I had no time for any doubts. On the ridge below, I was able to avoid two of the ice pitches by roping down. I came to the Linceul just as the sun was disappearing. In the uncertain twilight I could not go down the way I had come up, and with infinite care I descended the whole length of the exposed slope.

Night had fallen, but the moon was nearly full and gave light enough to see by. Gusts of icy wind blew round me as I traversed beneath the Great Tower, and from a ledge I caught sight of a gleam a few hundred feet below: the roof of the hut. As I was going down the last of the fixed ropes I knocked the point of my axe, which I had stuck under the straps of my sack, wiolently against the rock. It slipped out from the straps and shot down into the black depths of the west face, sending out a shower of sparks where it first struck the rocks. However I couldn't stop then to think about this piece of bad luck; there would be time for that tomorrow. A few more yoards and I was at the hut, at 6.15, with the lights of Breuil twinkling in the valley below.

I had eaten nothing all day, and as soon as I was inside I heated up some food on a providential spirit-stove;
as it was Christmas Eve I crowned the feast by swallowing some hot water in which I had boiled a dozen prunes.
then I went outside for a moment. A strong cold wind had got up, and in the moonlight the montains all around looked so unreal, so illusory, that I felt I was living in a dream-world, an actor in some marvellous children's story. A wave of melancholy swept over me; but the rumble of a serac falling from the north face of the Dent d'Herens brought me down to earth, and I went back into the hut and crawled under the blankets.

All night long the gale blew, and it was still going strong in the morning. I went out at about 9 o'clock, but the icy wind sent me scurrying back to wait until the sun had gained some strength. Meanwhile I searched for something to take the place of my lost ice-axe, but all I cold find was the handle of the broom which, sharpened to a point, could be used as a staff. It wouldn't be much use, but in the couloir I should need some sort of support.

At 10.30 I began the descent. The gale, which was still blowing, had covered all the slabs with a coating of frozen sleet which made everything very dangerous. I went down with great care, roping down wherever possible. When I came to the tracks leading up to the Col du Lion I used crampons, and the snow was so soft that my broomstick was the greatest help. Crossing the bergschrund was easier going down, and on the glacier I followed my old tracks back to my skis. Slowly--for I was in no hurry--I let myself be carried valleywards. Above Plan Torrette I saw two skiers coming up towards me, and I immediately pointed my skis in their direction. The dream was over.

It's my pleasure to deliver this episode, one of Gervasutti's finest climbs, to the Taco. I looked up a couple of words that I wondered about. "Linceul" is French for shroud, cuz yer gonna die, and Tete du Cervin means head of the deer.

The mountain derives its name from the German words matte, meaning meadow, and horn, which means peak. The migration of the name "meadow" to the upper part of the mountain is a common usage in the Alps. The Italian and French names, Cervino and Cervin, comes from Mons Silvius or Sylvius from the latin word for "forest" (again with the upwards migration!). The changing of the first letter "s" to "c" is attributed to Horace Benedict de Saussure, who thought that the word was related to a deer (Fr: cerf , and It: cervo).

It's nowhere near Twin Lakes, Ron, but you tried!

Here's a terrific summit panorama.

Forgive my typos...

Sport climber
Oct 1, 2012 - 01:46pm PT
Il Monte Cervino
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 1, 2012 - 02:09pm PT
Chicken Skinner,
I wondered if you used that Matterhorn copy for the museum/library, or did you place it in the raffle prizes for Facelift? Nnot that it matters, simply curious since I didn't make the raffles much.

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Oct 1, 2012 - 02:21pm PT
Welcome back, Mouse!
I hope you had a GREAT time at Facelift.It's a BUMMER I couldn't make it.
It would have been Cool to meet you!

I hope you took some pics there to share with the ones who couldn't make it.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Oct 1, 2012 - 03:38pm PT
Aesthetic beauty, location and history make the Matterhorn one of three or four most famous mountains on the planet.......the climbing itself- mediocre.

Ice climber
chingadero de chula vista
Oct 1, 2012 - 03:42pm PT
Back in 1972. somebody said it doesn't matter


Paul Horn

Mumtez Mahal


Sport climber
Oct 1, 2012 - 04:00pm PT

The climbing may be mediocre.

Bonatti's 1965 first solo winter ascent of the north face was not.

Now the Bonatti has been done in 7 hours 14 minutes. Times are changing.

"The North Face of the Matterhorn witnessed a great, fast ascent yesterday at the hands of 23-year-old Patrick Aufdenblatten and 26-year-old Michi Lerjen-Demjen, who climbed the face in 7 hours and 14 minutes via the route established by Walter Bonatti alone and in winter during his extraordinary and historical ordeal from 18 to 22 February 1965.

The two Swiss alpinists form a formidable team and have climbed together from Yosemite to last year's repeat up the Z'Mutt Nose via the line established by Alessandro Gogna and Leo Cerutti in 1969 right up the Matterhorn North Face. Aufdenblatten and Lerjen-Demjen reached the start of the route last Saturday but conditions were not ideal and so they opted to wait for better conditions which came just a few days later. On Monday they ascended to the Hörnlihütte and at 03:35am they set off for the Bonatti route which, an important detail, they had never climbed previously.

One hour and 5 minutes later they reached the Bergschrund, from where the first section up steep mixed terrain begins, directly beneath the Zmutt Nose. They then climbed past the Traverse of the Angels, seven diagonal pitches which thanks to ideal conditions they dispatched with easily. Three and a half hours after having left the hut they had already climbed past this section of the route and they then entered the upper half of the North Face. At this point the terrain is difficult and requires utter concentration, especially when simul-climbing as Aufdenblatten and Lerjen-Demje were. Four hours later, a mere 7 hours and 14 minutes after setting off, the Swiss reached the summit, while 10 hours after the start they were comfortably back in the Hörnli hut.

After the ascent the duo told us "Even if we're achieved a top performance, in alpinism you simply cannot compare single ascents with one another. What made us very happy though was to receive congratulations from Üeli Steck, this recognition meant a lot to us! It's clear though that we didn't have neither the same conditions, nor the same style of ascent as Ueli. It's a development of what others have done before us. Our performance will be followed by others. Not necessarily to break records, but to improve personally!"

The 1200m of the Bonatti Direttissima are graded ED+ and were repeated for the first time by Polish climbers R. Berbeka, J. Strycznski, R. Sfafirski and A. Zyzak from 12 - 13 August 1966. Although the route hasn't been abandoned altogether, it is rarely repeated. In 1994 French climber Catherine Destivelle repeated the route alone over four days, while in March 2006 Swissman Ueli Steck climbed the line in 25 hours. Last but not least, this April the Marco Farina, Arnaud Clavel and Mauro Rossetto carried out what is believed to be the first Italian repeat."

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Oct 1, 2012 - 04:09pm PT
Dusan Jagersky told me the N Face was much easier than the Willis Wall.
The approach and descent are also cake in comparison.
But there ain't no comparison of gemütlichkeit.

Social climber
Oct 1, 2012 - 05:37pm PT
hey there say, mousefrommerced...

say, i LOVE seeing and learning about the matterhorn...

you JUST reminded me that i MISS having the ol' webcam of it, on my desktop... the link...
i will have to do that again... i love seeing the sunrise and sunsets, there...

and somedays, it would near gone, due to cloudcover, :)

thanks, all for sharing, and also,
(forgot the name, as i was reading too fast)
MARLOW, got it now, marlow:
thanks for sharing that picture/painting/drawing? of the matterhorn...

very nice and old fashioned looking, :)

Sport climber
Oct 12, 2012 - 03:25pm PT
Zermatt mit Matterhorn

Sport climber
Oct 12, 2012 - 03:41pm PT
Cool Ron.

Matterhorn 3D

A tourist's view

mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 12, 2012 - 04:04pm PT
Just sitting here listening to the delightful flute. Staring out the window at the Sierra Nevada, recalling the first time I saw The Obelisk. And it recalls in turn-about le Cervin. Sorta.
Credit: Jason Schmidt

mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 12, 2012 - 04:19pm PT
I guess it's peak lust. I had tree lust. I had fish lust. I had golf lust. I had drink lust. I had weed lust. I had good old lust.

But peak lust is the only one that is legal (you pay for "it" in some form or other, booty's never free), healthy (every day you work firewood's a half-day off your life), free (no license fee, no greens fee). but it's not satisfying, is it?

Jason Schmidt, folks. I don't feel so homesick. This is for all the California nay-sayers, haters, and nose-picking babies who are at base envious.


Panorama de luxe. Free guide service. Echoes of Facelift. I say it's not OT. Just enhancement.

Sport climber
Oct 12, 2012 - 04:45pm PT

Nice OT Calif video and cool music on your Matter,horn thread. Are you reframing the thread?
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