January 3, 2009

Ascent in hail and snow

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright United Athletes Magazine

Mountains in a snow storm (Zermatt, Switzerland).

Surrounded by at least forty high mountain peaks, Zermatt is the central point to start some good ascents. So, I was in this Swiss-German region in order to do three treks above 3,000 meters in three days and it’s the first hike which gave me the best sensations; the one which led me to the summit of Rothorn.

On the morning of September 13, 2008, the weather was not favourable. At 8:00, some showers were sweeping across the locality and nothing indicated that the sky was going to clear up. At the top of the mountains, one could imagine that the climatic conditions would not be mild. But for adventure, I walked without hesitating in the direction of the slope of the mountain. One must simply prepare well for these conditions…

So, it is under the rain that I left Zermatt by following the path leading to Rothorn Paradise. As a prelude to the ascent, one must take the training path for the Matterhorn. Indeed, this quite steep route serves as a reference point to those who want to climb the emblematic pyramidal Swiss mountain. But the muddy ground does not help the climber who must work harder. The risk of slipping is great. In several passages where the inclination is noticeable, one must combine muscular power to some agile crossing of the legs. Yes, it’s a good test for the Matterhorn!

For the first four kilometers, one must past through a beautiful coniferous forest where the peaceful nature was linked that day with the rain falling to the ground. However, the second part was on a cleared land where there is nothing for visual satisfaction. What a contrast! That day, the field of view was narrowed by the presence of a dense fog. The mountains around which are visible during a clear day were hidden in the fog. Deprived of that scenery, the circumstances brought nevertheless some other pleasures. Among boulders, nearly thirty chamois came unexpectedly onto the scene. The fixed silhouette of these small agile animals gave a mysterious side to the décor. But that pleasure was short-lived because these mountain antelopes, which are afraid of any single movement, ran away in the mist.

At 2,400 meters, the rain left its place to hail and wind which can strikes the face. One must go beyond these difficulties. After another push toward a higher altitude, it was now the snow which was falling. Alone on the path, I was walking on an immaculate white ground. It’s in this alpine and natural environment that I detached myself from the urban lifestyle where the perturbation of the activity does not always allow us to take time to relax.

The path on the ridge.

Arriving onto the ridge of the mountain above 3,000 meters, I felt something good. To walk on a one meter wide ridge has manifestly an entrancing character. When the fog was clearing up for a brief moment, I could catch a glimpse of the other massive mountains near me. Just great!

Motivated by this frenzy, I finally arrived at the Rothorn peak where I felt real pleasure to have surpassed myself physically. In spite of the difficult conditions, I will remember well this ascent in the storm and on a marvellous white ground…

And again, I knew in the back of my mind that the day after tomorrow I will be climbing another mountain, the incredible Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn, the iconic Swiss mountain.