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Climbing Matterhorn (4478m) - The Lyceum Adventures

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

By Sabina


Matterhorn is one of the most iconic Mountains in the Alps. Its distinct pyramid like shape is well known to many people - not only aspiring alpinists but also chocolate connoisseurs (just check Toblerone packaging)


I wanted to climb Matterhorn for some time, I am not an experienced climber and apart from having decent amount of fitness, my technical abilities are ...well ... let's say, there is plenty of work to be done there. Before even attempting to summit this mountain, I have spent a lot of time in Snowdonia, climbed Mt Toubkal (4167m) and Mt Kazbek (5054m) to become confident using crampons and an ice axe, as well as test how my body reacts to 4000+ altitude. All that together with my usual s&c sessions in the gym (focusing mostly on overall strength and joint stability, plus mix of low cardio and high intensity interval training helped massively).



PREPARATION IN CHAMONIX AND ITALIAN ALPS



During the Arete des Cosmiques climb


Upon arrival to Chamonix, we found out that due to rock fall risk, Matterhorn was closed for climbers. 5 days we were spending in France, were dedicated to acclimatization and training before the main climb. This season has been unusually warm. Snow and ice melted faster and on a bigger scale than it has EVER been recorded before. Because of this situation, the danger of falling rocks was very high. The ice that served as a "glue" sealing rocks together and holding them in place, is not there anymore or there is less of it. Fortunately for us - the Swiss side via Hornli Ridge opened on Monday, which allowed us to follow with the climb as planned.


The main goal of training in Chamonix was to:

  1. Acclimatize to the altitude

  2. Get comfortable with climbing whilst using the equipment and working with our guide

  3. Get comfortable with exposure ( we had a fantastic day of training on a ridge on the Italian site)

  4. Get used to climbing using B3 boots

I am not going to describe in detail the full training we did with our phenomenal guide Oscar. It was an incredible adventure that pushed us way beyond the comfort zone. We were experiencing a serious adrenaline overload each day and had a great fun with it. The days started as early as 6 am. Any grumpy feeling we may have had waking up, disappeared within seconds when we were trotting the glacier watching the sunrise surrounded by an absolute silence but the sound of our crampons hitting the snow.




From the right - Thibaut, Sabina and Oscar - our guide



On our way to get coffee on top of Aiguille Du Midi


CLIMBING MATTERHORN


HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO CLIMB MATTERHORN?


We have climbed via the Hornli Ridge, which is the most popular route. It offers a moderately technical ascent (graded AD) with a vertical height gain of 1300m. The most difficult sections have fixed ropes. There are a few long climbs and plenty of exposure, which especially in the upper parts, was a bit tricky for me, the wind was freezing and pretty strong. Thibaut climbed with Oscar, I had Polly from Wales as my guide. I was a bit worried, as after training in Chamonix, I knew and liked the way Oscar worked, this climb however was the first adventure I was to do with Polly. All my worries proved to be completely unfounded. She was a phenomenal guide, great support and I really enjoyed being guided by a female. We were roped from start to finish. For me personally the biggest challenge was the strong wind we were caught in on the ridge close to the summit. This was the only moment I felt quite vulnerable, but I had a great trust in Polly. Slowing down was not an option, as we wanted to get out of the wind exposure as quickly as possible. In terms of physical fitness, once you relax into the climb and try to use the body efficiently without creating too much tension - it is a very nice sustainable effort, not easy, as it is a long day, but doable. You need to be prepared for 7-12 hours of climbing, depending how fast you are on the way down. Yeah, it was not the way up that was the hardest - it was coming back down. Also bearing in mind there is plenty of exposure - a good head for heights is very helpful ;).



Thibaut and Oscar on the way to Hornli Hut


All groups started near the Hornli Hut, the start times are around 4pm. Swiss guides and their clients have priority and begin the ascent. Our turn was around 4.40am. We had about 3hrs and 20mins to get to the fixed ropes (just above Solvay Hut). If we didn't make it to this point within the assigned time, we would not be allowed to continue to the summit and would have to turn back. We reached Solvay in 1hr 45 mins, which gave us plenty of time to get to the fixed ropes within the assigned time frame.

I always liked climbing or running in the dark. It is a truly special experience that keeps your senses and alertness in a heightened state, therefore I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the climb. Watching the sun rising as we approached Solvay was truly breathtaking.


Sunrise on Matterhorn


The climb from Solvay (located at 4003m) up becomes more technical, with only 475m left, the summit seems to be very close. It is ... not. The next 475m was fun, apart from the freezing wind I probably enjoyed this part of the climb the most. This section of the route can get crowded, as you encounter climbers who are already descending, but fortunately for us, the day was not too busy. Seeing St Bernard Statue at the top of Matterhorn brought a huge relief, at this point I felt really cold, despite having all the right kit tested previously in pretty extreme conditions. The wind was biting hard. After the initial excitement of making it to the top, I realised ... it was only half of the way, we needed to go back down.



Matterhorn Summit - WINDY!

To describe the descent I will only use one sentence - Well... it was a fight ;).

Needless to say, we made it to the Hornli Hut in one piece, exhausted but very happy.


THE WHY?


For us climbing Matterhorn was not only about the adventure and personal challenge, it was about much more. Myself and Thibaut decided to summit this iconic mountain to raise more funds for medical supplies for our friends fighting in Ukraine. This was our main objective and drive.






Summary - someone has told me, that it is not the fitness but the determination that makes you succeed at climbing. Determination is very important, but no amount of it will make up for lack of physical fitness and technical competence. Prepare yourself, do the groundwork, be responsible. Before taking on more technical climbs, choose "easier" Mountains with sufficient height, so you can experience how you feel at 3000m+ altitude without the technical demands of the climb. Being physically, technically and mentally prepared gives you a bigger chance of summiting, than relying on sheer will power.


The kit (what I personally used)

* Black Diamond Neve Crampons

* Camp Armour Helmet

* Black Diamont Raven Ultra Ice Axe (only used in Chamonix, not on Matterhorn)

* Black Diamond Head Torch

* 2 x gloves (thick and thin)

* B3 Boots Saleva Women's Vultur Evo GTX

* Merino Wool Tee (Innov)

* Merino Wool long sleeve from ISOBAA

* Arcteryx Nodin Jacket

* Arcteryx Beta Jacket

* Arcteryx AR-385A harness

* Arcteryx Gamma Pants


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