The Swiss Alps & Matterhorn

12th October 2014
When I learnt I could take a couple of days off from work there was only one place I wanted to go back to. The Alps.

I booked my flight, train and accommodation about 2 weeks ago and immediately started looking into possible places to go hiking. My destination had to be Zermatt; a small town of roughly 5800 people lying at the foot of Matterhorn 4,478m (or Monte Cervino in Italian) an iconic emblem of the the Alps. I was under no illusion I would climb it this time, this entire season had the lowest number of people reaching the top (only 60) and the Hornli hut has been closed until the summer of 2015. This mountain hut was built by the Swiss Alpine Club and offers a shelter for climbers at 3,260m aiming for the Matterhorn summit the following morning. Without spending the night there, you haven’t got much chance to reach the top from the Swiss side. After this hut had been closed, a temporary base camp with 25 shelters was erected lower down on Hirli at 2,880m from 15 July until 15 September. But from what I hear, the weather played a huge part in many unsuccessful expeditions this year.

Still, tell an adventure photographer/ mountaineer she or he would be spending three days in the Alps and I would guarantee the first thing they do is check out the possibilities of reaching a summit of one of the peaks. And this is what I did too but the weather gods had a different idea.

When I arrived at my accommodation in Zermatt in the evening on Wednesday the 8th of October, I peeked out of my room and spotted the mountain I had been waiting for so long to see. The Matterhorn looked incredibly gracious in the setting sun and I fell in love with it. I was excited and ready to explore. Unfortunately, the following morning brought the bad news, clouds were moving in fast and wind reached 85km/h. The Schwarzsee cable car was closed but luckily Trockener Steg wasn’t so I was pleased to grab a ticket and get up the mountain to start the hike I planned for the day.

Since I had 3 days I didn't have to rush, not like when I climbed Mont Blanc in a day and a half. Also this time I was suffering with a badly bruised left tight, bum and groin from a road bike accident I had 3 days prior to this trip. Taking it easy was my only option.

When I arrived at Trockener Steg at 2939m I suddenly realised why other skiing areas were closed. The wind was strong and fierce but at that point, nothing could have stopped me. I started walking towards south west through a barren area, felt like the moon. The mountains were hiding behind the clouds but the stunning glacier lakes reminded me that i was very near the beautiful mountains. A three hour hike limping was enough for the day and I was slightly disappointed for not being able to capture the peaks. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow.
Well, the day after didn’t look better either. This was the day I planned to get up to Little Matterhorn at 3883m then onto Castor 4,228m, Pollux 4,092m or Breithorn 4,164m. However when I stood on the top of Klein Matterhorn I new immediately that no summit will be done that day. The wind was still blowing hard (all the ski areas were now closed) and when I found myself in the middle of the angry clouds I had to make sure the backpack was wrapped around me tightly and I had every single layer on. The cold was biting through my jacket and the stunning peaks I saw on my date of arrival were all hiding behind the ghost looking grey clouds. I was upset, really really upset. Here I am, in the famously breathtaking Swiss Alps and the weather is stopping me to climb further. And it was bad.. once second I was in a complete white out then the next thing I saw from the clouds separating were giant crevasses. I bumped into a couple of mechanics who told me I shouldn’t be out there and certainly not a good idea to wander far from Little Matterhorn. One thing I couldn’t miss though; capturing this unforgiven weather beating up the mountains around me. So I did what I had to, set off on a walk in the snow with my camera on my chest so when opportunity arises I would take photos of what was surrounding me.
After a couple of hours of being out snapping away, it was time to give in and accept that it was no game and I wasn’t going to summit any of the 4000’s. I was heart-broken but I had to get off the mountain and return to the valley.

My last day didn’t get off to a great start. It was raining in Zermatt and huge clouds were covering Matterhorn. I searched other areas like Chamonix and Verbier and while watching the webcams whilst shoving down my breakfast I realised I didn’t have much choice but to stick around until my 4pm train and hope for the best. I still hadn’t seen Zermatt so grabbed my camera, waterproof and went for a walk in the town. After about an hour, I knew that wasn’t where I was meant to be. Yes it was lovely to see the old part, popping into outdoor shops and checking out the area but my eyes kept looking for the famous mountain. I made a sudden decision; went back to the hotel to pick up some more layers, a book and some munchies and headed for the cable car station.
When I got off at Schwarzsee 2,583m my heart started beating faster. I can see it! Not the whole of it, but I can certainly see a lot more than I did in the last 2 days! That’s it, I’ve got 3 hours until I have to be back down in the valley, I am going for it! It only took me an hour to get up to a perfect spot. I sat down with my camera next to me and found myself talking to the clouds. “That’s fine, no rush, I can wait. But i will not leave until I got the shot I came here for.” Grabbed the book and started reading. There could have been worse places to spend my last couple of hours in Switzerland, might as well be up in the mountain at the foot of Matterhorn!
Half an hour later, the clouds changed direction and bit by bit I started seeing more of my adored mountain until the breathtaking triangle shaped peak emerged from the grey clouds. I felt so emotional. As a photographer, I didn’t need perfect weather with blue sky in fact I think I had the perfect afternoon to take pictures as the clouds were moving around the mountain. Every movement offered a new photo opportunity and man did I grab it! At 2pm, I was the happiest I had been during this trip. Nothing could have wiped the smile off my face, so I stuffed my down jacket into my rucksack and headed back down. At first, I turned back after every ten steps noticing that the view wasn’t as good as before so I wasn't too disappointed for leaving my perfect spot. Down in the valley, the sun came out and more blue sky was dominating the sky than earlier that morning. I picked up my duffel in the hotel and headed for the train station. I may not have climbed a 4000m peak but I ended up with some great shots and added some miles in my legs on the hills which is the best training I could have hoped for. Well, almost the best :)