Guided ascents in the Swiss Alps

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Guided ascents in the Swiss Alps
Question: I'm planning a trip to Europe in the spring, and am interested in trying a climb of the Matterhorn. Do you have any sources for guides or other information on climbing in the Zermatt area?

Gary Hellenga
Colorado Springs, CO
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: If you're banking on a local Swiss guide, your first call should be to Leo Blattler at the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (overseas, it goes by the French acronym UIAGM). Because they're the ones responsible for determining which guides are qualified to lead ascents, Leo will be able to provide you with a list of Matterhorn outfitters. Call him at 011-41-81-833-56-80 or fax him at 011-41-81-832-22-93 for details.

If you want to go with an American outfitter, the American Alpine Institute is a good bet. They offer a range of programs, including a 10-day assault on three of the Alps' most challenging peaks: the Eiger, Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc. To qualify for the climbs, you'll need to be comfortable on 5.8 rock in rock shoes or have significant experience on at least 10 pitches rated 5.5 or harder in mountaineering boots. And, for obvious reasons, you'll need to be in stellar physical condition (read: able to climb 4,000 feet in four hours with a 25-pound pack).

Programs run four times in July and August and cost $3,390 per person (with a 2:1 student-to-guide ratio), including guide fees, group climbing equipment, and transportation from Chamonix to Zermatt and on to Grindelwald. If the Matterhorn's seemingly impregnable rock tower is your main goal, arrange for a two-day AAI guided ascent for $240-$470 per day, depending on how many people are in your party. AAI will try to match you up with other Matterhorn-bound climbers who have similar backgrounds if you're looking to minimize the expense. These are straight guiding fees only; you'll need to foot the bill for your own food, lodging, and local transportation. Call AAI at 360-671-1505 for more details.

While you're in the area you may want to consider a multi-day trek through the Bernese Oberland, southwest of Zermatt. The centuries-old mountain route takes you through wildflower-blanketed meadows and across glacier-skirted peaks from one charming alpine hut/hotel to the next. Accommodations vary, from spartan Swiss Alpine Club huts--roof over your head, hot meals, and running water ($20-$40 per night)--to plush, three-star high-altitude hotels with private bathrooms and hot water ($50-$95 per night). For more details and to check availability, stop by the tourist office in almost any low-country village. In Kandersteg, call 011-41-33-75-22-33, or 011-41-36-53-12-12 in Grindelwald. Kandersteg Bergsteiger, a local alpine school, offers overnight outings along the route for $265 per person for an overnight and $525 for a five-day trek; call 011-41-33-75-13-58 for more information.

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