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Copyright© 2004 by Michael Powers. All Rights Reserved.
Photos one to three are of the Eiger summit. The photo above shows the traverse via Mont Blanc du Tacul. See below.
Copyright© 2004 by Michael Powers. All Rights Reserved.
Guiding the Eiger, Matterhorn and Mont Blanc
Since the birth of mountaineering, these three peaks have held the fascination of the climbing public like no others: Mont Blanc because its ascent heralded the dawn of alpine climbing, and because its 15,771-foot summit is the highest point in Western Europe; the Matterhorn because of its appearance as an unclimbable rock tower; and the Eiger, with its dark, brooding North Face, the last of the “Three Great Problems” to be conquered.
Though now climbed regularly, these peaks still offer a unique and unmistakable alpine challenge, and the character of the climbing encountered on them is as diverse as the peaks themselves. On Mont Blanc the primary challenge is high altitude glacier climbing, where weather, snow and ice conditions, acclimatization, and personal fitness all combine to provide the key to a successful summit climb. In contrast, the ascents of the Eiger and Matterhorn call upon technical rock skills and the ability to move quickly and efficiently along the spiny crests of their exposed alpine ridges. Because the three peaks are located in very different parts of the Alps, each gives the climber an unusual opportunity to explore the cultural and environmental diversity of this magnificent mountain range.
AAI offers a seven-day program to climb Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn and a three-day optional extension to climb the Eiger. We also can make the spectacular traverse of the Breithorn or climb other peaks in the area if conditions at the time of our climb keep us off the Matterhorn, and we can make the classic ascent of the Jungfrau if the Eiger goes out of shape. Most of the routes are done at a 2:1 ratio, with the exception of the Matterhorn and the Eiger which are both done at a 1:1 ratio. As described below, the peaks can also be climbed individually, but warm-up climbs are required both for technical review and for acclimatization.
Mont Blanc –
The route we choose on Mont Blanc will depend on conditions, but we most typically climb the Goûter Route or a traverse via Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. After a night spent in a high alpine refuge, we rise very early to take advantage of the frozen snow of the early morning hours. Our routes wind their way up the immense glaciers which cover the entire north and west sides of Mont Blanc, eventually leading to a dramatic ridge crest and Western Europe's highest summit. Surrounded by immense glaciers and offering views of some of the most beautiful alpine peaks in the world, this is an impressive and photogenic climb from beginning to end.
The Matterhorn –
This looming rock tower truly dominates the valley town of Zermatt (5257 feet). Rising 9500 feet above the valley, like Mont Blanc the Matterhorn stands as one of the great symbols of mountaineering achievement. In 1865 this dark rock tower remained one of the final major unclimbed summits of the Alps. When at last Whymper's party was successful in reaching the airy summit on July 14 of that year, a tragic accident on the descent, in which four of the seven climbers were killed, only served to increase the mountain's reputation of impregnability. Made easier by the presence of fixed ropes and other anchors, today the climb does not appear so fearsome as it did over a century ago. However, it still remains a long and very exposed route and one which offers the climber significant challenges. After a night in the Hörnli Hut we ascend the arête of the same name which rises nearly in a straight line to the 14,691-foot summit astride the Swiss and Italian border. The route is almost entirely on rock with only occasional snow patches where we leave the sharp ridge crest and climb gullies and chimneys on its flanks.
The Eiger –
In the heart of the Bernese Oberland, classic wooden Swiss chalets dot the hillsides amid green fields of grass and flowers. No other part of Switzerland epitomizes the traditional alpine vista as well as the valleys of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. Our route of ascent on the Eiger is the Mittellegi Ridge, a fine dividing line between the mile-high North Face and the Fiescher Glacier. Our approach to this seemingly remote ridge is via the incredible Jungfraujoch Railway which enters on the west side of the Eiger, tunnels through the peak, passes the infamous North Face “windows” (often used as routes of retreat for storm-battered Eigerwand climbers), and finally emerges high on the southeast face at the Eismeer station at 10,364 feet. We disembark, traverse the upper reaches of the Fiescher Glacier, and climb the final slopes to the Mittellegi Hut which stands on the ridge at just over 11,000 feet. From here the route climbs steadily along the exposed ridge to the Eiger's summit, mixing third, fourth, and fifth class rock climbing and offering significant exposure.
For any of these challenging climbs, you need to be in excellent physical condition and be able to climb 4000 feet in 4 hours including rest stops while carrying a 25 pound pack. You should also have experience with glacier travel and the use of crampons and ice axe in all fundamental techniques. For the Matterhorn and the Eiger, you need to have multi-pitch Class 5 rock climbing experience, be comfortable following at least 5.7, and have made 5th class ascents in mountaineering boots.
4 or 6-Day Chamonix - Mont Blanc Program
After an orientation in Chamonix, France, the program begins with a one-day ascent of the Cosmiques Arête on the Aiguille du Midi (12,602'). This classic mixed route gives us a chance to become acquainted with the Mont Blanc Massif and to begin the process of acclimatization in preparation for our ascent of Mont Blanc. In addition to the Aiguille du Midi, we review glacier skills or make a second ascent before tackling Mont Blanc (possibilities are the East Arête of the Pyramide du Tacul or the Midi-Plan Traverse).
5-Day Zermatt - Matterhorn Program
We meet in the alpine village of Zermatt, Switzerland, and begin our series of ascents with a two-day climb of the photogenic Rothorn. We approach a high hut by hiking through a beautiful alpine valley and gorge; on summit day we enjoy moderate glacial terrain, the climb of a moderately steep snow face to reach a ridge, and spectacular mid-fifth class rock climbing on a sharp arête that takes us right to the summit. Our second ascent is on the famous Breithorn which rises between Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. We make an airy traverse of this peak on snow, ice, and rock, climbing and rappelling a series of horns as we make our way to the summit. We then have an easy day as we make our way to the Hörnli Hut and prepare for summit day on the Matterhorn.
7-Day Mt. Blanc and Matterhorn Program
Those wishing to experience two of the finest alpine routes that France and Switzerland have to offer may climb Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn in a single seven-day program. We begin with climbs in the Chamonix area, then travel by train to Zermatt. This program offers a great deal of flexibility for those wishing to summit two of Western Europe's most sought-after alpine peaks, in addition to skills review, thorough acclimatization, and ascents of classic routes in preparation.
For experienced alpinists, AAI offers a ten-day program to climb these three classics, beginning in Chamonix, France and ending in Grindelwald, Switzerland. This program runs as does the 7-day program described above, then includes a day of travel to Grindelwald, and two days for the ascent of the spectacular Mittellegi Ridge on the Eiger. With only two days dedicated to the beautiful journey between alpine villages, climbers will enjoy ten days of spectacular climbing in three distinct areas of the region that fostered the birth of alpine mountaineering.
Fees do not include food, lodging, or local transportation for the client. They do include those expenses for the guide. Estimates on costs can be provided when you discuss your program with the Institute's registrar.
Information and Reservations
American Alpine Institute (AAI)
1515 12th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225
Note: Michael Powers moved to Bend Oregon recently. I met him when we were both interviewed by New York based KPI TV for a TV adventure series about notable accidents. He spent the summers of 2004and 2005 in Europe guiding the great classic peaks for AAI. Michael Powers is the Discipline Coordinator for the Alpine Guides Certification for the prestigious American Mountain Guides Association. --Bob Speik
Read more . . .
About Alpine Mountaineering:
The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
Following the Leader
The Mountaineers' Rope
The Ten Essentials
Alpine climbing on snow and ice:
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