The Matterhorn was first summitted in 1865 by a team of seven climbers tied together on a single rope. Only three came back alive.
During their descent, the story goes, one fell off the 3,500-foot north face. His weight on the rope dragged others off the face with him. Four dangled in the abyss while three clung to the rock. Then the rope snapped between the dangling four and the clinging three.
We’ll never know what really happened. In those days, their hemp ropes sometimes did snap. And sometimes they were cut.
Since then, the mountain has claimed another 500 lives. It kills a dozen a year. During the short climbing season, it kills more than one a week. On any given day, there’s a fair chance that a climber on your route will fall to his death. It’s the deadliest mountain on the planet. In Zermatt, 9,500 feet below the peak, the church cemetery is crowded with crosses reading, “Died on the Matterhorn.”
Eleven years ago, I set out to climb it. Continue reading