Big challenges are the most appealing these days. In the outdoor market, these last years lots of guides have been promoting the climb of Mont Blanc, Matterhorn and Eiger in just one trip. Generally this takes a good 10-12 days, with some days of rest here and there, but most important, you must have a solid weather window AND good conditions up in the mountain, expecially for the Matterhorn and the Eiger (not to mention the fact that one has to be in great shape to be up to the task). That’s the reason why I agree it’s appropriate to call it a “Mission Impossible”.
Some people might say “12 days is a big and long trip”, so what if we cut 7 days down and you have only 5 days to make it happens? Well, this is another whole story, maybe a true “Mission Impossible”. And this is the story of me and Jon, my client / partner in crime for 10 days, almost a month ago.
I met Jon in Chamonix thanks to Rob Jarvis, we had couple days for warming up and knowing each other before chasing the first of the Big Three, the Mont Blanc. Tess was also part of the team, together we had a quick morning lap accross the Aiguille d’Entreves followed by a good journey up the Dent du Geant, our first 4000 meter peak. We were feeling all right, I was constantly keeping an eye on the weather forecast and see how it was evolving. Uncertanties were already showing up on all meteo websites for the latter part of our trip. Our Mont Blanc climb was meant to be via the Bionassay ridge, a long and challenging route that was not in great shape due to the heat wave. Jon is über fit and competent, but I felt it was better to play the smart card and takle Mont Blanc via the easiest way. So we get into our Day 1 of the Mission Impossible, approach to the Tete Rousse hut. Nothing to say about a simple and short hike. Weather was great! And so it was promised for the day after.
I love early start, even if we had a reservation for the next night at the Gouter Hut we left the Tete Rousse at 2.30am on Day 2, head torches on we climbed the Gouter ridge and the long plod up the Dome de Gouter. A cold wind welcomed us at the Col du Dome and further we went, summiting Mont Blanc around 8am. First peak is in the bag! Once back at the Gouter we went for a very early lunch and wolfed down a good omelette with a cold Mont Blanc beer. I was fighting the whole afternoon for having a good reception from up there, and looking at the weather forecasts.
Still 3 days with good weather ahead, they said, with low pressure kicking in afterwards. What to do? My mind started to work hard, “what if…” “mmh..yes the Matterhorn we can do that, but the Eiger?” Everything was already booked for the next dates, so before screwing all plans you have to be sure you can change all your bookings. And have a partner who’s up to your crazy ideas. So the new plan was : day 3, we climb down the Gouter hut and go back to Chamonix; day 4 to Zermatt. Day 5 Matterhorn. But on day 6 the weather was not gonna be good for the Eiger. Damned it.
Anyhow, let’s go back on track. Our Day 3. We ran down the Gouter ridge early in the morning, got down to Nid d’Aigle in time for our 1050 train, to find out it was canceled due to poor weather. Welcome to Chamonix folks…Looking at the other side of the coin though, on those 35 minutes wait I had the shining, and I came up with the new plan. “Today’s day 3, we go down to Chamonix. We drive straight to Zermatt to catch the last cable car to Schwarzsee and further up to the Hornli Hut for the night. Day 4 we climb the Matterhorn, we go down to Zermatt, drive to Grindelwald. Day 5, we climbed the Mittellegi ridge in one day with the 8am train from Kleine Scheidegg.” Hell yes! This is a “Mission Impossible” I say to Jon, who looks psyched and happy like a kid listening to my crazy plan.
Couple calls to change (again!) all the bookings, and the real Mission Impossible was starting to shaping up. A bit after 12pm we were back to the car in Les Houches, ready to drive West while eating our sandwiches. We got some heavy showers on the way up to the Hornli Hut, temperature was dropping down and the few guides in the hut were getting worried about the early morning conditions. At the guides apero, we all agreed it would have been a verglassed start the next morning.
For some “interesting” reasons we were third before the last team who headed out at 4.20am the next morning, our day 4, and while waiting in line at the first ropes we watched people already slippering here and there. “Be careful buddy” our daily motto. I can say I know the Matterhorn pretty well, so with some tricks and shortcuts we managed to overtake many teams before the first hour. Snow was already covering the rocks at the “Faules Eck” (around 3750 meters, so pretty low down), where most of the teams stopped to put the crampons on. We were still feeling confident and comfortable, saw we kept going till the Solvay Hut, making a good time there. “It can’t get much worse up there” I said to myself and to Jon, so we decided to keep going still without crampons, so to be faster and more comfortable on the next rocky part. In fact, it was still very manageable, we were moving up pretty quick and we found overselves as the third team on today’s summit ranking, when we got at the beginning of the fixed ropes after the Shoulder at 4250 meters. It was our time to put the crampons and get ready for the last push to the top of the Matterhorn. It got windy up in the north face, chilly, and we summited 4h20 minutes after we left the Hornli hut. Matterhorn: tackled! Or better, not yet, as we had to climb back down the mountain.
Luckily we just encountered a bunch of other teams on our way down, as most of the people decided to bail around the Solvay biwak due to the spicy conditions. Back at the Hornli Hut, the only way to celebrate properly the summit of the Matterhorn is to get a Roesti Matterhorn, and a big beer, of course! A quick look at the weather forecast for the next day in the Bernese Oberland, it was looking perfect. Sun, warm, high pressure deteriorating only late in the night. Ah… “nickel”, they say in the Valais.
The afternoon of the Day 4 was another rush then. Packing all our shit up at the Hornli, hike back down to Schwarzsee, ride the gondola to Zermatt before 4.30pm, train to Tasch, car drive to Interlaken via Kandersteg train transfer. We got rewarded that night though, twice. An almost romantic dinner next to the Thünersee, and a shower (yes!) after 4 days in the mountain.
And so we get to our Day 5, the “Eiger Mission”. A tiny bit of stiffness on our bodies, but we had lots of adrenaline flowing and everything went like clockwork. It was so beautiful and nice that it felt almost unreal to me. We covered the distance from the Eismeer station to the Mittellegi Hut in a mere hour and 20 minutes, the sun was high and we had plenty of time to have a drink with Kai, the guardian at the renewed Mittellegi Hut on her second season. So we went up, climbing the exposed and steep rock perfectly dry. Nobody ahead of us, I had the feeling of hearing voices of other people only once we had to put crampons on to negotiate the exposed snow ridge on the last part of the climb.
It was only when we sat down to have a snack a few steps from the summit that I saw a bunch of teams rappelling down to the Eigersjoch.
“Hey buddy, let’s get a quick snack and go chasing the rabbits!” I said to Jon. In less than one hour we got behind the last self guided team at the Eigersjoch, and we overtook other 4 teams while climbing the rocky ridge that takes you to the Südliches Eigerjoch, the end of the difficult part of the whole journey. We would have had time to catch the last train to Kleine Scheidegg that same day, but we opted to spend the night at the Monchsjoch Hut, hoping to climb the Monch the next morning. We got there so happy and tired that evening that it was too easy to get drunk with a bunch of beers and couple genepy shots.
Yes, we made it. Mont Blanc, Matterhorn and the Eiger in 5 days. A proper Mission Impossible. The next morning weather was pretty shit, as some forecasts said, so we only had to follow the groomed path to the Jungfraujoch and catch the train to go back to Grindelwald.
Mission accomplished my friends.
Thank you Jon for a great time, will never forget our adventure.