In the world of fast-disappearing internet cafes (equipped with computers as opposed to BYO laptop or smartphone), it is increasingly more difficult to blog-as-I-go. So now that I am back @ home, here will be some catch-up blogging of the events from the last 10 days or so.
This post will be about the Hornli Ridge (AD-, 2000m gain from Schwarzsee). On the 9 Sep we caught a cablecar from Zermatt up to Schwarzsee, return ticket costing CHF24 with our Swiss Half Fare Pass. From there we ascended the steep zigzags to the Hornli Hut in 1:45hr. HH has no running water of any sort (you cannot even wash hands after going to the loo), like most alpine huts, and I had to buy 3L of water for CHF16 (about AUD20)...what a monumental ripoff!! Also accommodation costs CHF35, even with alpine club membership. This hut really sucks.... super expensive and very crowded.....but we knew that it would as this is one of the two most crowded routes in the Alps....at least we were in the off-season.
More importantly, on 10 Sep was the Matterhorn summit day! We got up at 5am along with the other 40 aspirants, most of them with mountain guides (unlike Neil and me) and got out of the door at 5:40am, in pitch black darkness.
We followed a guide who knew the way, by far the smartest strategy as the route snakes all over the place and finding it in the dark is not easy. There was a lot of scrambling, in fact the whole climb is one gigantic scramble, mostly along scree slopes, minor buttresses and along the main and subsidiary ridges. After 3 hours and some waiting behind slower parties at bottlenecks we arrived at the Solvay bivouac hut. This is where we put on crampons. The section above Solvay is considerably more difficult, with snow, ice and many fixed ropes and with exposure on the ridge and on the final headwall. Without the fixed ropes and metal stakes spaced out every 20-30 metres this would be a stiff climb. One can see why the first ascent party in 1864 strayed onto the North Face, away from the ridge....and had a hideous accident there where 1 person slipped and 4 people died. The going is easier there but also more exposed and dangerous. After 5hrs from the start we passed the black statue of St Bernard and stood on the summit at 4478m. Hurray! We have climbed the Hornli Ridge, the most beautiful line in the world up the most iconic mountain in the Alps. It took 1250m of elevation gain from the hut and 2000m elevation from the cable car, the route being graded AD. It was a clear sky day with perfect views in all directions, very different from our experience on the Eiger.
We spent 1/2 hour on th summit taking pictures and eating, the descent took 5 hours, same as the ascent, with several abseils required. This is a great route up a great mountain and was a fantastic experience. The most awkward part of the route was the final headwall where some parties were descending while others were going up....all on the same fixed rope. But with some consideration and deference it all worked out OK. In the evening we bought dinner at the Hornli Hut and slept, or tried to sleep in a crowded and stuffy dorm on the third floor. Good for further acclimatisation through. The next day we dropped down to Zermatt and caught a train to Chamonix, France where another big mountain awaited.
pics: top - Hornli Ridge from approach, bottom - Neil and me on summit at 10:45am