For over a year now, our days have been filled with dreams of accomplishing The North Face Project. As our time in Europe is quickly approaching the end, these dreams are cultivating into obsessions. Having four of the six north faces remaining, it became an obsession we realized would likely have to be shelved for another trip to Europe in the distant future. We prioritized the remaining peaks, and knowing that one of them could only be feasibly climbed during the warm summer months, the eight hour away Piz Badile, we were on alert for a forgiving weather window for the other three - Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses and Petit Dru, in order of descending obsession.
Friday night, after 24 hours of webcam creeping and weather watching, we set off for Zermatt, Switzerland, a seven hour drive. Saturday morning, we slammed back a coffee and some bars before setting off from the posh town of Zermatt (1605m) for the Hörnlihütte (3260m), the base camp for the Matterhorn's North face routes and famous Hornli ridge. Whoof... our packs were heavy and we quickly regretted not forking out the money for the lift to cut out 950m of hiking. We made it to the Hörnlihütte some hours later, immediately followed by a group of five French guides attempting our route and then another two Swiss. I brewed some beer on the patio (how?!) of the "under construction" hut and we quickly made friends, everyone notably nervous about the coming adventure. From a descending party that had to bail from just beyond the bergschrund, due to spindrift and excessive snowfall the previous night, we learned conditions were good and everyone was excited.
Eventually we made the Zmutt ridge ledges and got mixed up with an Italian team that reached utter exhaustion and created some difficulties for us to pass them as they meandered on and off route. Our sun-dial lost yet again, the sun dipped into the horizon forcing us to pursue the final 100m in the dark with the crisp wind beating at our souls. We reached the summit (4478m) exhausted and freezing. We opted to take advantage of the heavily corniced summit, fortuitously providing wind protection, and set up a bivy on top of the world. It was a five-star gig, compared to the previous night, our whole pad fit 'nicely' on the ridge. We hunkered down, boiled some snow and passed out to awake on top of the world. The Italian team opted to descend through the night.
After stuffing ourselves silly, we tucked into our warm sleeping bags for one last night. Not being rushed we awoke with the sun at a modest 0800 and hiked out, returning to Zermatt a few hours later. Talk about a weird emotional odyssey. After spending three days on the Matterhorn, rationing out two days worth of food and gas, we were now in Zermatt where our money could buy us whatever hot drink or warm meal we desired. We threw our packs down in front of a rotisserie chicken joint and feasted on the best fowl of our lives. We must have smelled because a lot of the restaurant seemed to clear out on our arrival, ouch. In need of coffee we stopped at McD's and ended up eating all over again before setting off home, all grins! We had climbed the Matterhorn's Schmid route.
- From Zermatt, take a lift to Schwarzsee and follow the well marked trail to the Hörnlihütte (3260m), about two hours and 700 meters of vertical. Alternatively you can hike from Zermatt sans lift, adding another three hours and 950 meters of gain.
- Spend the night at the Hörnlihütte (*note* the hut is 'closed' for renovations until 2015 summer)
time varies on conditions, 6-12 hours
- From summit, traverse from the Italian summit to the Swiss summit and then follow the ridge down the Hörnligrat (1700m of climbing, 1200m vertical rise).
- The Solvay hut (4003m) is about 400m below the summit (4478m) along the Hörnligrat and equipped with bunks and blankets.
Guidebook: Good luck. There is an 'Alpine Club Valais' guidebook floating around that covers this, albeit not well, though it is near impossible to get your hands on. A special thank you to Simon K. for sharing his copy with us! Hopefully our topo helps future parties (download pdf ).
Conditions and Weather
The Alpin Center Zermatt is of ZERO help on conditions or whether parties have even successfully climbed it or even set off to climb it, but I included it for good riddance.
It's up to you to watch the webcams and weather for a proper window. Optimal conditions result from having a lot of snow coverage on the face, which usually occurs in the early winter season, and following three or so VERY cold nights to solidify the unstable rock composing the north face.
Hörnlihütte (3260m) - Closed for renovations until July 2015. In the interim, there is a construction side room where you can unofficially spend the night or just bivy on the patio. If planning to climb after July 2015, reservations are obligatory!
Berghaus Matterhorn / Hörnlihütte
opened from July to September
Tel +41 27 967 22 64 / +41 27 967 27 69 (Hörnlihütte)
closed from October to June (winter room open)
- technical ice axes
- crampons with anti-balling
- warm mountaineering boots, waterproof
- gaiters or tie downs
- crevasse rescue kit. The breakdown of this is fairly unique based on the individual's crevasse practice and preferences from such. Ultimately it is a combination of ice screws, slings, carabiners, and pulley devices. If this confuses you, do not attempt this route, go practice crevasse rescue instead.
- ice screws
- small gear for rock belays and protection, very useful
- ice axe bungees (to harness is preferred)
- backpack, 45-55 liters
- headlamp with fresh batteries and spare batteries
- stove, we recommend MSR Reactor
- warm sleeping bag (0/-10)
- insulating pad
- bivy sack
- cell phone to call for help in case of emergency
- warm socks
- pants relatively warm and windproof (Gore-Tex)
- warm baselayer pants
- fleece midlayer, Patagonia R1 hoody!
- synthetic or down puffy
- windproof jacket with hood (Gore-Tex)
- midweight gloves