After a successful week in Chamonix with Jagged Globe we were keen to put our new found skills to the test and Zermatt was out chosen playground. We took a very scenic train ride across the border, checked into our hotel and hit a cafe to await Kirsty’s arrival from Munich (and drink several litres of apfelsaft schorle). First on the agenda before we hit the mountains was to celebrate Dan’s birthday, Kirsty had baked some amazing brownies and adorned them with candles and we celebrated on the hotel roof with a fantastic view of the Matterhorn up the valley.
Cheesy grins all round for Dan’s birthday
Our aim for the first couple of days was the classic combo of Breithorn, Castor and Pollux with a night at the Rifuguio Guide D’Ayas in between. Sunday morning we took the cable car up to Klein Matterhorn and joined the crowds on the normal route on the Breithorn (F), the easiest 4000m peak in the alps. This was a great way to give Kirsty some acclimatisation without too strenuous a climb and after summiting we crossed the col to the foot of Pollux from which we descended down to the Ayas hut.
Summit of the Breithorn, the first 4000er for me and Kirsty
View along the Breithorn Traverse towards Castor, Pollux and Liskamm
Once settled into the hut we got some food and set about an evening of what we do best - Jungle Speed. By the end of the fortnight in the alps we probably got into triple figures of games and had more injuries from competitive Jungle Speed than from climbing. The hut was very comfortable and most excitingly had WIFI, pretty impressive at 3420m!
Next morning was a true alpine start and we were one of the first groups out of the hut at around 04:30. This paid dividends and we beat the crowds up to Castor (PD) where we summited before 7. It was absolutely freezing on top so after a couple of photos we turned tail a descended rapidly to the col between Castor and Pollux.
Early morning summit on Castor
With plenty of time in the bag we started up the trickier terrain on Pollux (AD). This was mixed, mainly rock with some ice/snow sections and the going was quite slow. The top section has some fixed ropes on the steeper ground and we ended up in a shouting match with some extremely rude Swiss guides who seemed irritated by our very presence on “their” mountain and proceeded to trample all over us in descended while we climbed. This cost us nearly two hours and we ended up summiting much later than expected. After descending from the summit down the ridge we were hit by some thick cloud coming up from Italy. With time pressing on and the last cable car not far off we started rapidly backtracking toward the Klein Matterhorn station, jumping crevasses with only a few metres visibility. After nearly two hours with limited glimpses of any landmarks in the clouds we were starting to wonder if we were still heading in the right direction when we hit the ski lifts signifying the Klein Matterhorn. We got the cable car down just after 4pm and all of us look dishevelled from our 12 hour epic day.
Knackered but heading back to the valley for beers
The plan for the rest of the week was a rest day followed by a three day tour to climb Dufourspitze via the Monte Rosa hut. Unfortunately the next morning it was clear that Kirsty has caught the cold that was doing the rounds and looked under the weather. Considering her limited acclimatization as she had not been in Chamonix the previous week Kirsty and I decided it would be sensible to skip the climb. Dan and Wendy headed up without us and we had a couple of days off in the valley.
Feeling better after a couple of days off we took the Gornegrat Railway up to Rotenboden station to do some multi pitch climbing on the south face of the Rifflehorn. While the Rifflehorn is a fairly ugly summit in itself it affords fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and at a relatively low altitude was a great objective.
After traversing around the base of the east ridge we found the start plaque for our route. Four routes of varying difficulty all start from the same point on the south face which was great as it allowed us a couple of decision points to make the day easier or harder depending on how we were feeling. In the end we chose the hardest of the four routes, Thermometeregg (5C), which is 8 pitches of spectacular climbing. Particularly good were the final two pitches which take a steep wall to the left of the final corner of Thermometercoulouir.
Looking up at the last two pitches of Thermometeregg on the Rifflehorn south face
On topping out we were greeted by incredible views all across the valley from the Matterhorn all the way round to Nordend. It also made me reflect on how much more I had enjoyed the rock climbing sections of the past few weeks that the snow sections. Worth remembering when planning future trips.
Stunning views from the Rifflehorn
Friday we awaited the return of the conquering heros Dan and Wendy. Turns out they had had an epic 15 hour day on Monte Rosa and the smell emanating from them when they got off the train backed up their stories. This made me happy about our decision to stay back and climb the Rifflehorn instead and after a few beers, food and exchange of stories we hit the hotel for the final time. Saturday morning we all got the train over to Visp where Kirsty left us to head back to Munich. We were all knackered after two long weeks and ready for home but chuffed with everything we had done. Now to start planning the next adventure.