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
John and I shoveled the snow off the bench outside the Carrel hut and took turns staring up at the Italian Ridge with the monocular. It didn't look that bad. It really didn't. There was a lot of new snow, but it was melting fast.

Sometimes it doesn't pay to think too much; other times thinking will save your life. It's case by case. The hard part is knowing what is reality and what is just the confusion of opinion, hearsay, and the constant three-way battle in your head between Mr. Ego, Mr. Fear, and Mr. Rationality. If you can't sort it out, you can get killed. You can get killed even if you do sort it out.

By noon we couldn't stand it anymore.

"We could just run up a few pitches and see how it goes," John blurted out.

"Right," I chimed. "If it's bad, we can rap right back down."

To forestall an imprudent attempt on the summit, neither of us took food or water. John even left his headlamp behind. We were going for a little reconnaissance, nothing more.

With all the snow and us not knowing the route, we moved cautiously but steadily, and in three hours we found ourselves atop Tyndal Peak with only the last rock tower between us and the summit. We were standing right where Carrel had been—only a few hours from the top—when Whymper had summited. We cursed our own late start. We cursed the unwarranted foreboding we had allowed into our hearts. We cursed our prudence for tricking us into leaving behind food and water. We turned and descended to the Carrel hut.


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