A daily journal of our climbing
trip to the Swiss Alps

29 July 2002



At long last, we are on our way! At least, I am. Susan's flight leaves later today. She booked her flight before I did and when I tried to get the same itinerary, I was unsuccessful. One leg of the round-trip flight had no economy class fares left, so I had to pay a higher fare for the entire trip (i.e., $4450 vs $1100!). I chose to fly another airline and got a $1250 ticket.

The preparations for this trip have been stressful. Not knowing what to bring and, more important, what to leave behind, has been difficult. I finally winnowed it down to the bare minimal climbing equipment. My only concession to frivolous gear is a rain poncho and hiking stick. Everything else does double duty or more. I tend to over prepare -- to cover any contingency -- and rarely ever need to use the equipment. I'm hoping that this trip will be the same.

I'm flying Phoenix-Atlanta-Zurich. Susan flies Phoenix-Frankfort-Zurich. Jan Rayman is already in London and arrives a few hours after I do. Susan arrives a few hours after that. And Tom Masterson will arrive in two days. Jan now lives in Los Angeles, we live in Flagstaff, and Tom still lives in Boulder. At one time, all of us were Boulderites and we have done many hikes, ski trips, and rock climbing together. This will be a fun reunion for all of us.

Tom called last night to tell us he had a cycling accident in the Mount Evans race. His arm is in a sling and he has been told by the doctor not to wear a pack. How, then, is he going to climb the mountain? How will he use his ice axe? Lead the rock climbing sections? This is going to be interesting at the very least, and might even force us to make changes to our route and plans. On the other hand, this is Tom. He'll do it anyway!

I will arrive at 8 a.m. local time, or 1 a.m. Phoenix time. I will be met by Sonja Oswald, a young woman we met eight years ago when she was a high school exchange student. Although living and studying in New Hampshire, she spent her spring break with us in Colorado. We did a hut ski trip, rock climbing, hiking, and went to the Utah deserts. We've kept in touch all these years and she is excited to be able to show us her country.

30 July 2002


The flight was long, but uneventful, as flights should be. I tried to sleep and was able to doze from time to time. The sky was hazy upon arrival and it was difficult to see much from the air, especially as I was in an aisle seat.

Off the plane, through an unfamiliar terminal, pick up my baggage, and then through customs. That was easy! And, then, there was Sonja. Easy to spot. We gathered my belongings, bought a 24-hour transportation pass, took the local train, and went to her house to wait until it was time to get Jan and Susan.

Sonja lives in a large building with eight people. It is a many-roomed structure on multiple levels and each person has their own bedroom. Susan and I will be using Katya's room. Katya is on a multi-day bike tour and is not expected back for a couple of days. Katya is the sister of Ben, another traveler who stayed with us in Colorado many years ago. We hope to get to see Ben while in Switzerland.

A shower, a change of clothes, some food and coffee, and it is time to go back to the airport. We take the tram this time, winding our way through Zurich, past the University, and many shops. We pass through many "circles" which are the centers of the ancient villages before they merged into the city of Zurich. We arrive at the airport and wait for Jan and Susan, and then we return to Sonja's flat for some rest.

Late afternoon arrives and we leave for a tour of the city. We take the tram but go a different way this time. We stop at the University and the science and engineering building, where Sonja works. From here, we walk into the old town with its narrow, winding streets and many shops and restaurants. We try to find a Swiss-style eatery but the one that Sonja takes us to is closed. We wander on and visit one of the many old cathedrals. Eventually, we return to the flat and prepare a dinner of fresh salad, fresh-baked bread, and cheese. And, then, suddenly I can no longer stay awake. It has been 36 hours since I slept in a bed and it's time.

31 July 2002


After a slow start, we again leave the flat for a tour of Zurich. Our first stop is the English bookstore. My plan is to buy another copy of the book I was reading on the flight -- and left on the plane. It's an interesting book and I want to finish it on the return flight. The downtown area is served by trams and busses so that getting around is quite easy.

Our next stop is the mountaineering bookstore. We buy a guidebook for ourselves, and another as a gift for Sonja. She shows us a guidebook that has two photographs of her rock climbing. She has had one of the photographs enlarged to present as a gift to her parents.

Lunch arrives and we enjoy falafal and pita at a small shop. Dinner is held at the home of Sonja's parents, Kaspar and Tine Oswald. They live in the nearly village of Klingnau. Her younger sister, Susan, also comes. She is a veterinary student in residence, with exams approaching. Good luck, Susan. Kaspar is attempting to hike the border of Switzerland and had just returned from completing another segment in the southwest. We wish him success. The evening begins with wine produced in small batches by Kaspar and his friends. It is a very tasty, slightly sweet white wine. There is much conversation as we learn about each other. Finally, it is time to eat. Tine serves an excellent meal that is enjoyed by all. Kaspar opens a bottle of red wine to complement the food. Dessert and coffee is served and we enhance the coffee with kirsch, a strong, clear liquor made from cherries. Finally, it is time to go. It has been a wonderful evening, with good food, good wine, and good conversation. It's only our second day in Switzerland, but I like it very much!

01 August 2002

It is travel day. We finish packing and leave the flat for the bahnhof (train station). There, we meet Tom, who has just arrived from Denver. His arm is in a sling and he believes that the collar bone is fractured. This causes him pain but he tries to ignore it and act like there is no problem.

We validate our Swiss Transfer Railway passes, purchased back home. These are good for any "round trip" on the Swiss Rail system. Each half of the round trip must be completed in 24 hours. This means that you can disembark and do some quick site seeing along the way before embarking once again to complete your travel.

The first train takes us from Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, to Bern, the capital of Switzerland. The route goes through much of the "mitterland" or central midlands of Switzerland. We transfer to another train that goes to Brig. This segment takes us through the "pre-Alps," or the foothills of the Alps. We transfer again in Brig to the Zermatt train -- a cog railway to climb the steep grades.

We arrive in Zermatt in a thunderstorm and check in at the HotelBahnhof, a hotel that caters to climbers. The hotel has dormitory-style sleeping quarters, as well as private rooms, a group kitchen for food storage and preparation, and lockers for storing gear while climbing in the nearby mountains. After checking in, we begin our walking tour of Zermatt. There are no private vehicles in the village, but many battery-powered taxi vans and delivery vehicles.

Today is August 1, a Swiss national holiday celebrating their independence into a nation in the 13th century. There is a short parade through the village with flags, dignitaries, and a band. They are followed by many children carrying lighted paper globes. That night there is a fireworks display. The revelry continues into the evening but ends before midnight.

02 August 2002



Today starts our journey into the mountains. But, first, we buy R.E.G.A. rescue insurance. For CHF30 (30 Swiss francs), we are entitled to rescue at no cost (but with a limit of CHF10,000) within the country. It is a small price to pay for some peace of mind. We visit the local bakeries and COOP store, buy some food and have breakfast in the "climbers kitchen," and finish packing. Our next stop is the Gornergrat cog railway that will take us to the trailhead. We get a price discount because of our Railway Pass, but not everyone at the station was certain that such a discount was available. We simply bought our tickets from someone what thought that it did apply.

The train deposits us at the trailhead at 12:13 p.m. (which is exactly on time) and we begin the hike to the Monte Rosa Hut. The cost is CHF59/person/night and includes breakfast and dinner. The trail crosses some glaciers and moraines, but is well marked, well travelled, and fairly simple. We arrive at 2:30 p.m.

Tomorrow, we climb Monte Rosa, the highest peak wholly within Switzerland. The broad summit lies near 4500 meters (14,750 feet) with many rock outcrops climbing slightly higher. The Dufourspitz rock outcrop is the highest and is 4633 meters (15,298 feet). On another outcrop is the Margherita hut at 4554 meters (14,940 feet), but this hut actually lies just across the international border and is in Italy. We will arise at 2:00 a.m., have breakfast, and begin climbing by 3:30 a.m.

03 August 2002



We get a wakeup call at 2:00 a.m. from the hut crew. A cold breakfast is waiting for us downstairs. After eating and some last minute re-packing, we are on our way at 3:20 a.m. The climb starts an the lateral moraine, then moves onto the glacier. We put on crampons and hoist our ice axes. Travel is slow in the dark but we still make good progress by sunrise. The first difficult snow arrives and we don our harnesses and rope up. The ascent becomes more difficult as we traverse back and forth to avoid crevasses. Some are small, but many are very deep. It's quite cold and the sun is just coming over the ridge to warm the far wall of the valley. On the valley floor, we remain in the shade.

We see a party descending and they take a different route than ours. We will consider that alternative on our descent. Finally, we break out into the sun and try to warm ourselves. It's been cloudy much of the morning but, for now, the clouds are thinning. We talk to a guide and he tells us it's at least 2 hours more to the Margherita Hut. Many routes converge here and we see climbers coming to and from the hut. We can see it perched high above us on a snow-covered rock outcrop.

Suddenly, the clouds fill in and the wind increases. We are getting tired and the weather is making the final stretch very difficult. The final 1/4 kilometer to the hut is extremely steep and our pace slows to a crawl. We arrive at the hut. The time is 12:36 p.m. -- the time we set for our turnaround to be certain we arrive back at the Monte Rose hut in time for dinner.

We go inside and collapse at the tables. Susan is very cold and chilled. I'm tired and also begin to feel chilled. And the weather completely goes to hell. The decision is made to stay here for the night since it is no longer safe to attempt the descent.

We make arrangements to stay the night with the hut attendants, then go to our room and take a nap. Surprisingly, I'm suffering some mild altitude sickness and find that I have no appetite. I force myself to eat anyway. Susan is feeling the same way. After dinner, I have dessert (i.e., aspirin!), drink some water, and go to bed.

And the storm gets worse.

04 August 2002




The wind howls, snow falls, and there is an amazing amount of lightning and thunder. I wake up every hour or two, drink more water, eat a bite of food, and go to the bathroom. Oh, yes, these are Italian-style bathrooms.

Morning arrives and it is still snowing and blowing. There is a cold breakfast of cereal, milk, yogurt, zwieback, and juice and coffee. My appetite is back and I eat well.

We're off by 8:30 a.m. in a near whiteout - although there are occasional breaks. We start down the mountain and can see the trail. Just as quickly, the clouds close back in and we can't see more than a few meters in front of us. We stop. We wait. Visibility improves and we move again. We see a very large group of climbers travelling to the hut. It will be very full tonight.

By the way, the hut, at 4554 meters, is higher than any point in the lower 48 states, and the highest elevation at which I have slept.

About 15 cm (6 inches) of snow fell overnight and a few skiers take advantage of the excellent conditions. On the other hand, the new snow has made it almost impossible to see the crevasses. Tom probes each step before committing his weight to the snow and only drops in to his thighs a couple of times. The pace is slow -- but we remain safe. For our descent, we are joined by Patrick, a German climber travelling alone. Knowing the danger created by the new snow, he asks to travel with us and we gladly accommodate him.

It is 3 p.m. and we arrive back at Monte Rosa Hut to gather our belongings, then continue on the trail back to the Gornergrat railway, finally descending to Zermatt. Our original plan was to travel to the Hornli Hut in preparation for climbing the Matterhorn tomorrow. The snow, however, has made it unsafe for at least a few days, and we retreat to the village.

Addendums -- in no particular order:

We actually named one crevasse. It was dubbed the "Apple Crevasse" after an apple was dropped and rolled a long way down the mountain, finally to be swallowed by the crevasse.

On the trip down, the snow warmed and would create snow balls under our crampons until, finally, it was impossible to stand up straight. Then we would knock off the snow, and the process would start all over.

The Margherita Hut has a forced air heating system. This results in even heating throughout the hut -- and the vents make a great place to dry boots.

05 August 2002


I sleep well for the first time in days and sleep in late. Tom and Jan go to the backerie (bakery) and buy fresh bread and other food for breakfast. After a leisurely breakfast, Susan and I go browsing and shopping. I buy a few postcards and a book about one climber's multiple, and eventually successful, attempts to climb the Matterhorn.

After regrouping, we go for a walk on one of the multitude of trails leading out of the village. The trail is smooth and well maintained, but moderately steep. We pass through a few ancient villages, some of which now serve food and drink to walkers. The wild flowers are fabulous and there are many butterflies as well.

Our view of the Matterhorn changes and we finally get to see the route and Hornli ridge in profile instead of straight on. From this angle, the route looks less formidable. The weather begins to deteriorate quickly and we descend back the way we came. Lightning is flashing all around us and the thunder booms and echoes off the steep valley walls. The rain remains light and we barely get wet. As the storm passes, we see that the Matterhorn has yet again a fresh coat of snow.

06 August 2002

Another rainy day. After a breakfast of fresh bread and fruit, we go on a mountain walk -- this time to Sunnegga. Along the way, it begins to rain hard. Tom goes on while Jan, Susan, and I descend. Shortly, the rain stops. I turn around and go back up but am never able to catch Tom. At 2288 m, I reach Sunnegga and the funicular tram that heads back down to the village, and the cable cars that continue up the mountain. The next tram does not leave for another 15 minutes so I have some time to look around. Since it is cloudy and completely socked in, there isn't much to see. The funicular tram runs completely underground and there isn't much of a view there, either. It is a fast ride down and I arrive back at the hotel before Jan and Susan.

After lunch, we go window shopping and walking around the village. Eventually, we make it to the Alpine Museum. The museum contains a wealth of climbing material and history of some famous ascents. Teddy Roosevelt climbed the Matterhorn when he was about 20 years old and wrote an account of it to his sister. This letter is housed in the museum. In his letter, he claimed that the ascent and descent was similar to climbing up and down stairs on your hands and knees for nine hours.

Back at the HotelBahnhof we meet Chimi, a Japanese woman travelling through Europe. We invite her to join us for dinner and we become friends over food and conversation.

07 August 2002

Today, we leave Zermatt. The weather has not cooperated with us and we do not get a chance to climb the Matterhorn. Although this is the main reason for doing this trip, we are not disappointed. It is a good example of it "not being the destination, but the journey" that matters.

After another breakfast of fruit and bread, we walked across the street to the bahnhof to catch the train down the valley to Brig-Visp. Our plan is to stay on this train, the Glacier Express, and travel back to Zurich via the eastern half of Switzerland. We learn that our railway pass is insufficient and an additional fare of CHF15/person is required. All decide that it will be worth the extra cost. The only problem is this train has reserved seats and it becomes necessary to changes seats many times. We consider this a trivial problem.

The scenery is beautiful as we pass one valley after another. The mountains, however, are obscured by clouds again. Soon, we descend from the mountains to Chur, where we disembark and get onto the IC (inter-city) train to Zurich. This is a high-speed train compared to the Glacier Express. We arrive in Zurich and go to the flughafen (airport) to secure Tom's bags in an overnight locker since he will be departing tomorrow. His next destination is Moscow. From there he will travel to the Caucasus Mountains and climb Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe at 5643 m (18513 ft). We learn later that his attempt was successful. Congratulations, Tom!

From the flughafen, we continue on to Sonja's house. Sonja has not yet returned from climbing camp where she is an instructor. Katya, however, has returned and is our host for the evening. We also call Kaspar Oswald to make arrangements for visiting Lucerne and Zug tomorrow. Kaspar knows a great deal of history about Switzerland and is eager to share it with us as we visit many of the old cities.

08 August 2002




Kaspar arrives promptly at 7 a.m. and we drive south to Zug. There, we walk around the old section of town. Strasses (streets) are narrow, and homes are both narrow and tall. Many of the buildings date back to the 14th and 15th century.

We leave Zug and go to Lucerne. It is a bigger city and the medieval part of the city is larger, too. Again, we walk along old strasse, gasse, and platz (streets, narrow streets, and narrower streets). The old city is protected by a castle and fortified wall and we visit these, too.

Lunch is spent sitting at a riverside cafe where we drink mineral water and wine, and eat fine food. We leave Lucerne and drive around Lake Lucerne, stopping in another village for kaffee (coffee) and dessert.

The drive back to Zurich is on the autobahn and through an incredibly long tunnel. The engineering for this highway is very impressive. We switch to country roads after awhile and stop to look at a beautiful farmhouse. This house is owned by friends of the Oswald family.

We arrive back in Zurich to find Sonja and many of her roommates at home. Her friend, Ben, has come over to join us for dinner. Ben stayed with us briefly in Colorado many years ago, not long after Sonja's visit.

We are informed that there will be a big party at the house on Saturday and do we plan on attending? No, unfortunately, because we will already be back home in Flagstaff. It would be nice to meet their friends and experience more of their culture.

09 August 2002

Up at 4:30 a.m., we walk to the nearby bahnhof to catch the 5:10 a.m. train to the flughafen (airport). We arrive in plenty of time. Susan checks in quickly (Lufthansa airlines), then Jan (British Airways). On the other hand, my check-in with Delta requires a great deal of questioning and a thorough security check. Finally, we are in the air. I arrive in Atlanta to clear customs only to find that my baggage has not arrived. A quick check with other passengers indicates that about 20 of us have no bags and we all were early to check in. We surmise that there is a cart somewhere in Zurich with our luggage. I fly on to Phoenix and file a claim with the baggage department. I am informed that the next inbound flight from Atlanta will arrive in an hour and that I should check the baggage carousel. An hour later, I do check the carousel and there is my bag! Slightly delayed, but it has arrived.

A few hours later, I am home again in Flagstaff. It has been a wonderful trip, but it is also good to be home.