Posted by: sunshack | August 30, 2015


I had returned to Zermatt to hike to the summit of the Breithorn. It’s been something I’d had in the planning stage for a while. On my first visit for this route, there was too much snow. I booked into a Guided Group with a Mountain Guide organised by the Alpin Centre in Zermatt. The price was 160 CHF.  I was not given the name of the Guide when booking, just told to meet at the Cable Car Station at a specific time. Despite having a big mountaineering history, Hoteliers in Zermatt seem unwilling to offer an early Breakfast to anyone meeting a Guide. I managed to get a sandwich the night before from my hotel, but it was no substitute for a proper breakfast.

The group was put together by the Mountain Guide and consisted of me, 2 young Dutch lads, and a married couple from Switzerland who bragged to me they had done lots of 4000’s. The Dutch lads, were dressed quite lightly for the altitude, one was wearing Jeans. The Guide made no comment on this, so I kept quiet.

We set off from the top of the Klein Matterhorn lift. I was slow as I could not seem to get my breathing quite right, so asked for a break to get my breath back. I was directly behind the Guide. His response was “Oh, so you are not in good condition” I ask for a slower pace, the response “I am already going at the slowest pace possible” “You are not fit”

We carried on a little further, and were still not wearing our Crampons, it was quite hard to avoid slipping over, and having to sidestep. It was cold and windy, with low visibility. The snow was about 30cm deep. The Guide finally stops and tells us to put on our Crampons. One of the Dutch lads says “How”, the Guide responds loudly “Thats YOUR job”. The Dutch lads are very cold by now, and starting to shiver.

We continue upwards, I ask for another break as the pace is too fast for my breathing. The Guide responds “We are going up the Breithorn” He sounds sarcastic to me, but that may be just the language differences. From the back, beyond the Dutch lads, the Swiss tell me loudly, that I’m spoiling their wedding anniversary. Each time I tell the Guide that I need a breather, I get more whining from the back. The Guide does nothing to manage morale in the group. Perhaps group management skills are not covered at Swiss Mountain Guide School.

I had not realised that this was to be a time trial, and I reach a point where I say to the Guide that I have had enough. From the back, I hear the whiners say”it’s all in your head”. They must believe they are Psychics. I was not tired, and had I not been tied to the Guide, would have loved to go to the back and give the wannabee mind readers a good slap.

I request a pause, the Guide reaches around and takes hold of the Safety Rope, jerking it, “Come On” he says loudly. I recall thinking that he must own a Dog.

The two Dutch lads then announce that they are too cold to continue. They got no Breakfast from their Hotel either. They are visibly shivering, and are unable to use their hands. I give a Seed Bar to one, and offer Coffee from my Flask (not a Hotel’s of course).

Another Group comes up behind us, and we do some swapping, the Whiners go over there, and we take in exchange, one of their guys, who keeps falling over, and can’t understand why. We set off back to the top of the KM lift with stops for the guy who keeps falling over, and as we arrive, there are lots of folk setting off on the same route. I notice that they are all starting out with their Crampons fitted. The Guide unties us. He suggests I come back for another try, tells me I reached 4000m and leaves. I then help one of the Dutch lads get his Crampons off, as they are jammed, and he still can’t use his hands. I suggest they both get inside straight away to get warm.

As for my breathing rate, it puzzled me, so I did some digging on the internet, and found quite a few folks had reported breathlessness when taking a prescription drug that I’m currently using. It’s not listed in the known side effects on the Patient Information Leaflet.

Additionally, the amount of smoking still present in Switzerland causes me problems, as I get an Asthma type reaction to primary and secondary Tobacco smoke. Valais Canton has banned smoking inside buildings, that just leaves getting through the cloud as the smokers gather outside restaurant doors, and swerving around the smokers in the street. There were quite a few smokers in the area aound the Gondola where I waited for the Guide. I did move several times, but still copped a few breaths of the bad stuff.

I feel pretty certain that I would have reached the summit, if I had been given the support and space to do so. I was not tired. I was told I quit 20 mins from the top. That the Guide suggested I “come back and try again” shows a real lack of understanding about the climate he created within the group, which gave license for others in the group to make verbal attacks on me. Those attacks contributed to my decision to quit. I have decided that I am not prepared to spend the time and money on trying again. The weather is often unfavourable, and I have a finite amount of money.  I would not book onto a public group managed by a Swiss Mountain Guide again.

To put my  alleged”lack of fitness” into context, 2 days later I hiked to the Hornlihutte at the base of the Matterhorn, and reached the Cabane at 3260m, just 5 mins down on the time suggested in my Guidebook. I found it quite a straightforward hike, albeit on a busy route. It’s much easier when you are not being undermined from in front and behind. Blog entry and photos to follow.

Went there, did that

The Breithorn. If you look closely there is a line of hikers close to the edge up high. Been there done that.