The Matterhorn, one of the most impressive mountains of the alps with his 1100 m high northface, is certainly one of the mayor goals in an alpinist's life. Certainly it is a fact that the easier routes like the Hörnli ridge or the Lion ridge are often overcrowded and that can somehow leave a bad taste in the mouth. But hey, it's the Matterhorn...
I presumed that conditions should be good on the northface this autumn. To be honest after the last adventure in Chamonix I hoped that the weather wouldn't be perfect for a few weeks because I felt a bit tired and not super motivated.
But then I saw some pictures on facebook and heard about some people that climbed the route. So I contacted some friends of mine that were interested to climb the route and so we (Martin, Alex, Aaron, Thomas and I) started from Bolzano on monday.
Wind and welcome greetings: lovely Hörnli hut...
We directly drove to Täsch, from there to Zermatt by taxi and then up to the Schwarzsee by cablecar. As we knew that the Hörnlihut was closed due to renovations we brought our tents, sleepingbags and food. We knew that monday should be quite windy, according to the weather forecast up to about 60km/h and that tuesday it should be less windy.
As we got to the Hörnli hut the wind was very strong but we thought that it shouldn't be a problem if we just placed our tents close to the refuge where it was a bit sheltered. Otherwise we thought there probably should be some place inside where we could just spend the night. As we were almost at the hut we crossed two climbers that told us that they were going to bivouac a bit further downwards because it was to windy at the hut. To our surprise there were a few workers working in the building site. So we thought we just ask them if it possible to place our tent near the refuge. "No way! It is forbidden to camp here!". They showed us a place about 100 m away from the hut where we could place our tent.
There were already 3 other parties there, all of them busy with trying to build some stone shelters and placing their tents. We soon recognized that the wind was that strong that you would have needed a perfect shelter and an expedition tent to have a chance up there. First we tried to find a bit more sheltered place, but as we couldn't find any we decided to try to build a big stone shelter....in vain. Fortunately we didn't even try to place our tents as we had seen how the poles of one of the other tents had just been bent by the wind...The wind was that strong that we sometimes even couldn't stand upright; it just blew us down...it was incredibly strong, I guess about 90km/h...
So we decided to go to the toilets outside the refuge and stay there even though another climber had told us that it was impossible to stay there because of the smell. The stench was disgusting but we got used to it. At least it was a sheltered place where one can spend a night. Nonetheless after a worker came to "visit" the toilet we thought we should try to appeal to the refuge keeper's better nature.
Inside the refuge it was warm, the workers had finished working, there was plenty of space in the refuge. But as we spoke to the keeper and told him that we couldn't sleep outside because of the strong wind he didn't care at all and told us that he certainly wouldn't let us sleep inside and that furthermore it was strictly forbidden to sleep in the toilets! As I told him that this kind of behaviour was unrespectfull and that this was denial of assistance he just answered that if we were in such big trouble perhaps it would be better if we called the mountain rescue. Finally he suggested we'd better go down to Schwarzsee and spend the night there. (it was already dark and extremely windy)
Ok, now we had a problem. It seemed the omen's were not very good, but we knew that if we would go down the chances to climb the face the next day would be quite bad. So despite of what the keeper told us, we decided to cook something and spend the night in the toilets hoping for less wind the next morning. There was just little hope left and if it would just have been up to me, I think I would have gone back to the Schwarzsee.
So the next day we got up at 3.45. The wind had stopped blowing, the weather was perfect. We knew there were a few parties that wanted to climb the route that day and thought there would certainly be someone ahead. We were wrong. Some guys who had started at about three o'clock had turned back apparently because the snow conditions were bad...
Anyway we left the toilet at about 5. We traversed to the rock bastion were we had to climb diagonally up a snow covered ledge to reach the Matterhorn glacier. A perfect wakening call. We started to climb the icefield at about 6:10. As I feared there weren't any tracks that showed us the way but at the beginning the route finding isn't that hard. Packed snow sections alternated with more icy or mixed sections. In some places the ice was quite thin and required concentration. So the first part was almoust harder then I expected. It took us about 2 hours...
Then Alex and Aaron, Thomas and Martin tied in and I, as planned went on alone.
This time I was quite nervous probably because I was still a bit tired and because there weren't any tracks and I knew the route finding would not be easy. After the 400m icefield you have to climb a snow-ice ramp with some mixed sections up to perhaps M4. In this section the conditions were manly very good and so I got up quite quickly to the point where you have to leave the ramp and traverse to the right (at about 4000m). There I traversed first passing a short delicate mixed section and then continued on ice to a evident iceline. As I couldn't see any old tracks I wasn't 100% sure if it was the right way and so I decided not to risk to much and waited until the others came up. (Martin had a really good picture of the face). I started again in front of them.
The icefall-pitch, about WI4- is followed by a very delicate traverse. I probably climbed up too much instead of traversing lower down and so I had to do a very unpleasant traverse to the right, first on steep thin ice and than on snowcowered rock. After the traverse I climbed up a quite easy mixed section and then kept on climbing rightwards in direction of the Zmutt ridge. Like on the rest of the route there weren't almoust any tracks and so it still was quite tiring.
I climbed the last part to the summit on the Zmutt ridge and got to the summit at about 13:50. It took me way longer than I thought, 7h45, but anyway I was happy. Only 45 minutes later also Martin and Thomas reached the summit, and a bit later also Alex and Aaron who had climbed some direct variant (straight up instead of traversing after the ramp).
Then we together started the strenuous descent via the Hörnli ridge. With almoust any tracks and much snow this descent can be very demanding. I thought we would be down at the hut in four hours...it took us 6!
Even though we missed our stinky toilet we packed our stuff and went down to the Schwarzsee to sleep. The day before I would never had thought we would climb the route...incredible. But perhaps sometimes you just need to believe it's possible...
All's well that ends well.
Thanks to Thomas, Aaron, Alex and Martin for the good time and props to these talented youngsters!