Guest Author - Carol Viau
The Alps are one of the most impressive mountain ranges in Europe. They pass through France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Slovenia. The climbing history of this region is just as impressive, as this DVD illustrates in the movie “Matterhorn”.
The Matterhorn is considered to be one of the six “classic north faces” in the Alps. Due to the height of these mountains and the difficulty in climbing them, many alpinists aspire to achieve these summits. In 1865, the Matterhorn was the last great peak in the Alps that had not yet been summited.
A British climber, Edward Whymper, had set his sights on being the first to summit this great mountain. It proved to be no small feat, as he attempted it seven times without success. Although two years had passed since his last attempt, he was not deterred and decided to try again. He went to Italy to ask a certain guide to accompany him. This man declined and so did another, so Edward went to the Swiss side of the mountain to find climbing partners there. It was at this time that he learned that an Italian man had already hired his first choice as a guide and intended to get to the summit first.
Edward ended up combining his team with another for his next attempt on the Matterhorn. There were several disadvantages with this idea. First, neither group had climbed together before. This is an ideal thing to do prior to taking on a massive climb. Second, they had two guides that didn’t speak the same language, therefore could not communicate about the decision making process. Third, they had one very inexperienced climber in the group.
Despite these causes for concern, the two groups teamed up for one combined effort to summit the Matterhorn. They somehow managed to beat the Italian team to the summit, allowing them to claim the first ascent. As they joyously jumped around on the summit, they accidently kicked off lose rocks, requiring the other team to scramble for cover. The Italians were so disappointed they descended immediately.
The descent on any climb can be as dangerous as going up and such was the case with Edward Whymper’s group. Typically a guide will belay a weaker climber down so they may arrest a fall. Yet in this case, one of the guides went first to help guide the feet of the inexperienced climber. This proved to be a fatal idea, as that inexperienced man fell onto the guide, sending them both down the mountain, in addition to two other men who were tied to them via rope. Edward and his two remaining companions survived only because that same rope broke before yanking them down the mountain with the others. They had originally all been tied together.
This DVD provides not only incredible footage and rich history, but it also follows this story with a 19th century winter ascent of the north face of the Matterhorn. The filming feat is quite impressive and you feel as though you are right there suffering with the climbers.
While this later footage was filmed in the 70’s, it is still a great insight into the world of alpinists, all from the comfort of your couch. I borrowed this movie from a friend and highly recommend it.