I just popped back over to Zermatt with Geoff W from England, for a strategically-planned attack on the Matterhorn's Hornli ridge. Geoff and I have climbed a bunch of things before, and I know he's been drooling over the Matterhorn for some time now. So we decide to put that skeleton in the closet to rest...
We got a nice, lazy, late afternoon start from Zermatt, up the Schwarsee lift and onward to the Hornli hut. We stopped to take photos and nibble on Toblerone chocolate, but the strong winds and light rain made us want to hustle. The gloomy weather stressed me out - it wasn't forecasted!
Team America (Adam George, Todd Passey, and Kevin Mahoney) was present at the hut, along with about a dozen local swiss guides. Every 6:30 pm in the Hornli hut, there is a mandatory "aperativo" for the guides. This is designed so that we can make peace with one another. One guide is far less likely to smack another in the face if the two have shared a glass of wine the night before.
For anyone who has ever climbed the Matterhorn from the Hornli hut during a nice, summer, high-pressure system, you already know how iconic and unique the morning routine is: 4:00am wakeup (no sooner or you risk being slapped), 4:08 breakfast, and 4:14 (and 30 seconds) departure from the hut. Deviation from the time-plan is punishable by flogging and threats to make you sleep outside the hut next time.
At 4:00 the hut was instantaneously awakend... except for those goonies in room 15 who set their alarm at 3:15 so they could faff and make noise 45 minutes early... Geoff was two stale bread-slices into breakfast by the time I walked down the stairs (my morning contact lens routine makes me 2.4 minutes slower than the other guides...). I ate one slice of bread, slurped half a cup of instant coffee, spilled the rest on my shirt, and tied Geoff into the end of my rope. Geoff and I left at our appointed time, with a fairly favorable pole position of guided team 12 (or so...). A line of headlamps belonging to the stalwart "campers" from eastern Europe bobbed - slightly off-route - about 300m above us...
We made it to the Solvay Shelter in good time, passing said headlamp-bobbers along the way (while saying "Dzień dobry"), and scratching up the lower Mosely slab without too much difficulty. We added our crampons at about 4150m, and scampered up the fixed lines to the summit snowfields with nary a hindrance from other teams. It's good to be ahead of the pack! I have learned (the hard way) from previous experiences that a 30-minute faff session at the start of the day can lead to several hours of lost time by the end (do to being passed early by slow, inefficient, and sorta unsafe recreational groups).
No offense to "recreational climbers" as I am a recreational climber my self (during rest days!) but if you are climbing the Matterhorn's Horli ridge, and you've never been there before, AND you leave before the guided parties, prepare for a stiff tongue-lashing by a Zermatt guide as they elbow past you like you're standing still. Poor route-finding in the dark on the lower mountain creates rock fall hazards for those of us below. I won't give you a tongue-lashing, however, because I'm not a Zermatt guide, and because my self-esteem issues make it hard for me to yell at people. I will give you the stink-eye though...
We topped out at 8:20am, a fairly good time to be on the summit! 4 hours exactly... A streamer of fast-moving stratus was wrapped around the north face. Clear skies prevailed over Italy. Strangely, the stiff winds we encountered on the summit snow fields were almost nil on the summit. Well, maybe that isn't strange. It seems to happen on a lot of summits, doesn't it?
Geoff and I embarked on our 5-hour descent (yes, the descent usually takes longer than the ascent), dealing with the traffic jams at the fixed lines as best we could. We wore our crampons until low on the mountain once again - albeit not as low as David and I had to wear them on our stormy descent last week.
Upon arrival at the hut, Geoff drank his obligatory cokes, and I ate my obligatory Rösti! 'Twas a job well done! Now I get a year to conjure up some adventurous alpine endeavours for Geoff's next visit!