And the catwalk across many long passages held our attention, being only the width of two boots. But what was really amazing was how it just kept going and going, for hours on end. Neither John Bird nor I had ever been on anything that delivered such a non-stop balancing act.
Couple that with perfect weather (if you ignore the cold wind) that allowed us to see crystal clearly to Mont Viso, the southernmost high peak in the western Alps, and to Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. Both of these are on the Italian border, as is Monte Rosa (second highest peak in the Alps) and the Matterhorn. Plus, of course, the entire ridge of 4479-meter Liskamm. Fortunately John was feeling considerably better today and could revel in all this as much as I did.
We then crossed Castor (4223m), with its own special ridge, followed by fast hiking across many kilometers of glacier. We were determined to reach the showers and dormitory beds of Kleine Matterhorn, where we had reservations. John Bird used to be one of the strongest aerobic animals I'd ever known, so it was good to see him starting to adjust to the altitude and to the pace of my daily efforts, which have become a matter of habit over the last couple of months.
At the Kleine Matterhorn we met Hermann Biner, a fifth generation mountain guide. Nearly 60 years old now, he looks younger than I do and is about to reverse the exact path that John and I took today. Hermann says that the original Biner guide, Johann, started in 1832 and called himself a botanist guide. This was well before peaks became objects of interest. Indeed, this was before climbing for its own sake even existed.
Hermann warned us about an upcoming storm, scheduled to hit on Thursday afternoon, September 1. He strongly suggested that we abandon my plan to traverse the Matterhorn via the border. I then called my friend Simon Anthamatten, also a Zermatt guide, who had planned to join us on the Furggrat, the Matterhorn's difficult border-following ridge. He said it would be impossible on those days. He told us that the only safe thing would be to race up and down the normal Hornli Ridge, which could be done in eight hours round trip. By starting at 4am we could be back down to our gear a couple of hours before the storm starts and reach the Schoenbiel hut that afternoon after many kilometers of hiking.
I'm greatly disappointed to not traverse the Matterhorn via its border, but glad at least to not have to carry our big packs over the summit.