Our trip was fab. Here is the basic run-down. Saturday: fly to Geneva, train along Lake Geneva, past Mount Blanc, Lausanne and Sion. Up a winding little railway to Zermatt, 5000ft, with a superb view of the Matterhorn. Camp.
Sunday, hike up to the "base camp" for the Matterhorn, around 11,000 ft. Lots of other tourists and disappointed climbers - the Matterhorn could not be climbed due to some snow dropped the week before. Try to acclimatize.
Monday, go for it! Climbed our first 4000+ meter alpine peak, the rounded massive Breithorn. Ride up by successive cable cars to the ski resort on the Klein Matterhorn. Slog, slog, through the snow and some glacier walking. Roped up, but in fact just hard work. Couldnt see the Mezzalama hut upon descending and couldnt get advice as to location/distance. So we practiced self-arresting on icy slopes for an hour (on your back with your head pointed down is the hardest!) and then went back down to Zermatt.
Tuesday, slow start. Figure out that most of what we wanted to do is impossible, either because it has rock climbing at 14,000 feet or forces us to cross glaciers with systems of "delicate" crevaces at the late-afternoon end of a walk (better at 3AM). Finally, get a really good description of how to find the Mezzalama hut from the Klein Matterhorn and pay another 50 pounds to ride back up. Glorious couple of hours crossing wide open crevaces (you can see waaaaaaay
and walk into Italy for a night in a very well equipt hut (hardwood walls, Sambucca, indoor toilets) perched unbelievably at the top of a bowl swooping down thousands of feet into the clouds.
Wednesday, wake at 5AM and start to climb Castor, steep and icy, but still only 4256 meters or so (less than Witney). The morning clouds dont burn off and we soon have trouble seeing a half rope length. Kevin is forced to belay me, by driving his axe into the ice and then passing the rope across this as I traverse sections that are nearly solid ice at a 65 degree slope and 25 degree temperature. No use trying to self-arest on a fall here, there is nothing to bite into. My snot started freezing as it ran out of my nose. We continue successfully, until we are a couple hundred meters from the top. Kevin left me hunkered down against my ice axe (all points of the crampons dug in) and went a bit higher. He could not see anything and started to question the wisdom of continuing. We retreated. My first stance on level ground was a miracle. I was very proud of having done so well (I didnt freak at all, like I did climbing in Wales) and wanted to kiss everyone. Since Kev was the only one there, he bore the brunt (smmmooooch). After 3 more hours of walking back across the glaciers, we thought that we should be somewhere in the neighborhood of the Klein Matterhorn, but the white-out did not relent. The wind began to blow, 50-60 mph and gusting past 70, and a clearing showed us that we were almost there. Literally made it to a hundred feet from a ski lift before we could see anything (lifts, cablecar station, mountain). There were two others waiting at the station when we finally arrived and before we finished packing away our gear, three more had come. The telepherique (cable cars), of course, couldnt run in that weather, but nobody remained to check on us stranded mountaineers. We put on all of our snow/wind-proof clothing and walked down a few thousand feet of ski runs. We actually passed one restaurant, which was open, but couldnt figure out how it would help us to stop there. I mean, we needed a way down or a place to stay more than an espresso. We continued on until we neared the next telepherique station. Looked very closed and the weather was getting worse (grey, rather than white). Painfully slowly crossed a sloping dry glacier - dry means bare ice - one slip and -khechht- (visual of knife across throat). Into Italy by 10 feet, for a minestrone and lasagna dinner, hot mulled wine, and two clean beds. Apparently, the hut SHOULD have been closed, but the huge French tour group who had walked up from Italy on the non-glacial side made reservations. We lucked out. Still, they were incredibly annoying individuals; tastefully dressed for the occasion.
Thursday was just as bad of a day weather-wise, and we spent a few hours descending the rest of the way to the next telepherique station. Three very hunky Germans without crampons had a bitch of a time and had to almost be carried by us. Good bonding experience and I felt like uberwench. When I saw the huge group of Japanese tourists milling out of the station, I almost kissed them. I grabbed some towering, German, blond ski-bunny and demanded of her - "The telepherique is open?!" She could not appreciate my haste or desperation, but answered in the affirmative. Down into Zermatt and hot showers and beer. I learned that on a long enough climb, you really can get tired of force feeding yourself Oreos and ice-tea.
Friday we packed up 5 tons of equipment and took a last picnic hike into the valley above Zermatt - more views of the Matterhorn and Monta Rosa, bright red alpine flowers, green grass where we were and new white snow in the heights. Switzerland has the best bread in the whole world, by the way, and is well complimented by a healthy chunk of Edam and a sweet nectarine. We boarded the train back down the mountain and eventually wound up in Geneva. But I cant write about Picasso in this same letter, so Geneva will have to wait...