Tombstone White

The treacherous history of the Matterhorn can be read in books and snowy graveyards, but to write it you've got to survive it

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
The year before, I had come to Zermatt to climb the north face of the Matterhorn and it had snowed for six days straight. I thought I could still cajole a local climber into making a quick trip up the Hornli Ridge, the mountain's autobahn, the route climbed by unskilled hordes every summer. But no climber was interested. I tracked down several guides, all of whom shook their heads. One of them ended our conversation saying, "No one. No one. No one guide Matterhorn when it snows."

I hiked up beyond the Hornli hut alone and found more than a foot of snow on the route and the rocks so slippery it was as if the mountain had been coated in grease. I descended, chastened.

Now, a year later, I was back with a partner, John Harlin. The north face was loaded with avalanche-prone, unconsolidated snow, and John had climbed the Hornli Ridge on a previous trip, so we decided to attempt a traverse: trek halfway around the mountain, crossing from Switzerland into Italy, ascend the Italian Ridge, cross over the 14,690-foot summit, and descend via the Hornli. The hike over to the south side of the mountain would give us a chance to acclimatize and the weather a chance to shape up.


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