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From Klein Matterhorn to the Real Thing

Way back on the border of Liechtenstein in early July, people asked where I was headed. "To the Matterhorn!" I replied.

At the time it was funny, the ultimate improbable approach. Well, it's not funny anymore, but I expect it will be fun. We get up at 4:30 and intend to be out the Hoernli Hut door by 5:00.

Today's approach to the Hoernli was amusing in its own right. We began at Klein Matterhorn, where we spent last night in a dormitory I would highly recommend to any mountaineer.

The dorm is on a floor above and a world apart from the main purpose of this highest gondola ride in the Zermatt valley: disgorging skiers and sightseers.

The first lifts in the morning produced waves of race-training skiers who come up all summer to train on the glaciers. We followed them out onto the slopes, then ducked under the safety ropes to continue on glaciers where the crevasses still want to swallow you. But soon we ascended onto the Furggrat, a very long ridge that's the exact border with Italy. We had no idea what to expect here, other than what we could see from a distance. It turned out to be spectacular and interesting, with really nice walking spiced with occasional rock steps we roped up for and ice slopes we probably should have roped up for.

This led all the way to the east face of the Matterhorn, which we traversed on a glacier to reach the Hoernli Hut.

Judging by the looks on people's faces when we arrived, and by the obvious lack of traffic on the ridge, this is not often done. Indeed, I wonder if anyone has ever approached the Hornli Ridge to climb it via this route. If you know, please tell me.

Here at the hut we had a great dinner and now everyone else is in bed. I'll climb into my bunk soon. Though I stayed here in 1991 the first time I climbed the Matterhorn, I'm a bit shocked by some of its habits. Not only do the bathrooms have no water to wash with, but no hand sanitizer, either. The Italian hut on the summit of Monte Rosa had no water, but they wisely provided hand sanitizer.

The other thing is that the guides all sit off in specially reserved room for guides only. No mixing with clients, no matter how much they pay (they pay a lot). I can understand it a bit from the guides' perspective, as they live up here waiting for one client after another to risk their lives for. But this turns the relationship into such a mechanical business process that it provides none of the joy of a mountain partnership, which is one of the great hearts of the climbing experience. For my part, sharing the climb with someone as joyful to be with as John Bird provides most of the pleasure and much of the reward of doing any route, whether it's today's adventure along the Furggrat or tomorrow's on the Matterhorn itself.

Speaking of which, I'd better go join him for a few hours of rest.