September 3, 2012

Breithorn, Switzerland, 2012

During my visit at Zermatt I had planned to climb my first 4K mountain. Since I have zero experience in high altitude mountaineering I decided to book a day tour with the Zermatt Alpine Center to climb the Breithorn.

View at the Breithorn shortly after our exit from the Klein Matterhorn cable car.
The Breithorn (4165 meters, 13,665 feet) comprises a long ridge line which makes up the western end of the still more massive frontier crest stretching from Monte Rosa, over the multiple summits of the Liskamm Group, and past the twin peaks of Castor and Pollux. It is considered the most easily climbed 4.000 m Alpine peak. This is due to the Klein Matterhorn cable car which takes climbers to over 3.820 m for a starting point. The standard route (SSW flank) continues over a glacial plateau before climbing to the summit on a 35 degree snow slope. The primary challenges are those normally associated with high altitude climbing, that is fitness, pace, and basic crampon technique.

August 15 at 6:30 AM I got up and after a nice breakfast at my hotel (Hotel Weisshorn). Around 7:40 I made my way through Zermatt, following the river from my hotel. Shortly before crossing the bridge to walk up to the cable car station, I had an amazing view of the Matterhorn.

View of the Matterhorn from Zermatt in the morning.

At 8:00 we met up at the cable car station. Our group consisted out of five people and Beat our guide. The cable car to Klein Matterhorn climbs the 2200m from Zermatt in 3 stages. Firstly over the pinewoods up to Furi, then a fast and steep ascent to Trockener Steg, followed by the last stage over the ice fields to the 3800m summit of Klein Matterhorn. The view from Klein Matterhorn is well worth going up for, but I came here to get on top of the Breithorn and actually do some physical work as well instead of just riding cable cars. It was below -3 C and windy, so in the shades it was pretty chilly. But in the sun it was very nice

View at the Breithorn shortly after our exit from the Klein Matterhorn cable car.

After starting to walk over the snow at Plateau Rosa we pretty soon reached our rest spot where the tracks in the snow curved around more to the left. Up till now it was just a nice walk in the snow, but now it was getting a little steeper. At this point we put on our crampons and set off towards the peak.

Here we put our crampons on.

The slope steepened as we progressed higher in long zig zags, firstly with the slope up to our right and facing the Klein Matterhorn, now below us and then with Italy to our right and Castor, Pollux and Monte Rosa in front.

The ridge was narrow, but wide enough to walk along. To the south, the steep snow slope we'd just come up while to the north, a fearsome drop to the Monte Rosa Glacier. 

Summit time.

We took photos while Beat pointed out most of the peaks we could see. In the east the ridge dropped down and over the Breithorn's subsidiary summits before rising again to Castor and Pollux before reaching the Himalayan looking Liskamm and Monte Rosa. Far to the east over the top of the Allalinhorn, could be seen the far off snows of Bernina on the eastern rim of Switzerland.

On our way back the weather has changed. A nasty wind came up and the sun disappeared behind the clouds.

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