Ruairi's final installment - after a successful climb!!
31st July 2012
When Leo Imesch called me this morning at 8.30am I feared the worst: too much snow, too much wind, too little ability, I shall let him down gently. But when, instead Leo said we are on for the Hornlii Hut tonight my fear changed more to a palpable panic - I have to do it now! So, with the training done and the waiting over I packed my rucksack, took the lift to Schwarsee hotel and restaurant and set off with my thoughts of Aisling and my Dad on the one and half hour hike up to Hornlii.
Hornlii Hut is a refuge as basic as only mountain climbers understand. Thirty five mountain guides and their clients, both male and female, make a close group of seventy for the night. The service is warm and friendly and at 7.30pm we share a basic but generous meal. There is much banter, particularly among the experienced guides, thankfully Leo is one.
And then, I don’t quite know when, the mood changes. It is not the smell of poor hygiene in such cramped surroundings, more a scent of tension; perhaps fear of the daunting task ahead. There is a clear mutual respect. I think it starts when a guide checks his client’s rucksack and discards most of what is in it. He places your unnecessary plastic objects in a numbered tray for you to collect if you return. This is deadly serious.
By 9pm all is quiet, the electricity is disconnected and I am reminded that there is a 3.30am alarm call for breakfast and no one can leave the hut before 3.50am. The last thing Leo does is attach a small headlamp to my helmet.
1st August 2012
Siren goes at 3,30am, if only one had slept.
Breakfast is quiet and simple and then the queue slowly forms at the exit of the hut as the professionals and experienced climbers seek to make an early departure. My wise old guide offers me another cup of tea and suggests that there is no rush on the mountain at any time. We arrive at the queue of head lamps, an eerie sight and commence our climb at 4.30am. The initial ascent is a rock climb by fixed rope, very difficult but thankfully no stage fright on my part and up we go. We climb in the dark, my head lamp fixed to Leo’s heels. The night time lights of Zermatt are magnificent.
The sun rises one and a half hour later to reveal how far we have climbed, spectacular! And on we go – heart pounding, oxygen debt, light headed – we continue to rise and rise and rise. Headlamp switched off, crampons on as we reach the snow. The rocky ridges and overhangs are terrifying but none so much as the snow capped knife edged ridges like Valee Blanche. I attempt to admire the view of Zermatt, Cervenia and Champoluc, but can’t. After two and a half hours we reach Solway Hut, where yesterday’s failed climbers have stayed. Leo calmly announces that we are now half way up.
We continue as my heart pounds, my lungs burst, and my resolve weakens. An hour later I am told we have a difficult manoeuvre to perform. It involves stepping onto an iron rung, reaching for a chain ladder, pulling on a fixed rope and making three steps to safety. I wait my turn, arms aching and resolve waning. I have one chance. If I fail my strength is gone and Leo will say the climb is over. I make it and from there I know I can do it.
We reach the summit after four and a half hours where there is a statue of St Bernard, the patron saint of mountain climbers and the name of my maternal grandfather. There is some congestion at the summit and little time to take good photographs. Leo explains that this is not a photo shoot but one of the most difficult climbs imaginable. He also reminds me that we are only half way.
The beginning of the descent is exciting with much abseiling and overtaking of less experienced climbers. Then the hard work and danger comes in the snow, it is terrifying, ‘no mistakes’ is the advice. If I slip I can pull us both off the mountain.
Finally we remove the crampons and I know now that I shall return. But it goes on and on. I have forgotten the nocturnal climbing with headlamp which seems so long ago. I don’t recognize the terrain and although I can now see the Hornlii Hut each couloir is succeeded by another. At last after a five hour descent we return to Hornlii Hut where we have some tea and some water. We then make the one and a half hour hike to Schwarsee hotel and restaurant where a crowd awaits Leo and I. David Banks and Tanya run Schwarsee with a great outdoor band who announce, unsolicited, our return and the cause of St John’s Ward, Crumlin. Tanya tours the crowd with a champagne bucket and collects 170SFr, great stuff.
The climbing is over and the fundraising continues in earnest.
The weather changes after our climb. During our great party which coincided with Swiss national day it rained heavily in the town with much snow on the mountain. On 2nd August all climbers were sent back at Solway Hut, halfway to the summit.
Was I lucky? Was I well advised by Leo who picked the right day? Was I watched by Aisling?
Tuesday 31st July
The waiting is over and the training is done.
Leo Imesch called this morning to confirm arrangements. We walk to Hornlii Hut this evening which is a two hour climb from Schwarsee lift station. There we will have a meal and sleep with the other climbers.
We rise at 3am and will set off with headlight, crampons, harness, helmet, rope and stick.
I shall let you know when I am down safely, hopefully around lunchtime tomorrow.
Friday 27th July
5am alarm gave me plenty of time to make ready harness, crampons and helmet and to meet Leo at 6.10am at the Klein Matterhorn lift station. There was a large queue waiting for the first cable car, which concerned me. There is something cool about your guide making his way through the crowd to the front of queue and taking priority. The crowd was the Swiss, Austrian, and Russian national ski teams with coaches and bag carriers! They train on the glacier early mornings while the snow is firm.
By 7am we were walking in the snow towards the foot of Pollux, 4,100m which took one and a half hours. Then out came the harness and rope for a vertical rock climb, which was a great challenge, completed successfully. The final ascent to the summit is a half hour trek in crampons up a narrow ridge. I’ll be sending some photos on Monday.
The highlight of the return journey was undoubtedly the two abseils, which were great fun. We were back in Zermatt at 1pm making it a seven hour round trip. It was much quicker than expected according to Leo.
The plan may now change. The weather forecast next week is mixed meaning that we are leaving Wednesday/Thursday as the only window for the Matterhorn.
Therefore, as training has gone well, we intend to drop Rimfischorn and go to Hornlii Hut on Monday night for an attempt at the Matterhorn on Tuesday.
No guarantee but we are going to do our best!
Wednesday 25th July 2012
Weather has improved further here with Zermatt bathed in warm sunshine this morning. My guide Leo Imesch has therefore decided to change the plan a little.
Today we set off at 8am by the conventional route to Rothorn which is an easy cable car ride, anyone can do it! It was much easier than my four hour hike yesterday. If I thought the hikes were difficult I’m kidding myself. They are merely muscular and altitude acclimatization. Today was a vertical integration to the real deal.
We climbed to Fluehorn with harness and rope, and then commenced a one and half hour horizontal treacherous trek along a ridge to Schwartzgrat, 3,600m. The vertical drops are not for the faint hearted! The lengthy descent is akin to Matterhorn terrain. It is clear that this was a test of my mental and technical ability. Leo appears satisfied although praise is difficult to illicit from a wily experienced guide like him.
Tomorrow: a dreaded hike. Then Friday 5.30am start for Pollux, 4100m.
I am off now to buy a schtick and a pair of gloves.
Tuesday 24th July 2012
Leaving my home in London on Sunday morning I knew that the challenge ahead of me wouldn’t be an easy one but with a lot of training under my belt I was confident that in two weeks time I will have summated The Matterhorn. And the fact that I’m climbing in memory of my niece Aisling makes the task all the more worthwhile.
We had another long hike today and as we ascend the mountain the climb is getting more difficult already. Tomorrow we will climb 3,200m to Rothornhutte, although it will be a long climb no ropes or helmets are needed at this stage. On Thursday we will have a much deserved rest day which means only a two hour hike before we tuck into a good lunch.
I met my guide, Leo Imesch, this evening who is happy that conditions have improved considerably (the winds had changed apparently) and he is confident that we can climb next week, which comes as a great relief. It would, of course, be a huge disappointment if at this stage we were thwarted by the weather.
Our plan over the next week is as follows:
Friday morning. Start at 5.30 with helmets, ropes, crampons, and things to hook to my harness. We will spend 5 hours climbing Pollux and ascend 4,000m.
Saturday and Sunday: General hiking in circles to take time to acclimatise
Monday: Sleep at refuge to prepare for the climb ahead
Tuesday: Start at 2am with head lamp to take on Rimpfischorn which is only 250m lower than The Matterhorn.
Wednesday (or Thursday, depends on the weather and how the climb is going): We will go to the Hornlii refuge for the Matterhorn ascent.
Over the next week I will hopefully have for updates for you. Until then please visit my Just Giving
page to donate to The Aisling Appeal
. Thank you for your continued support.