giovedì 28 gennaio 2010

Arolla to Zermatt Part 3 - Breithorn

We were up early the next morning after having slept in real beds for the first time since we left Italy five days previously. After a great swiss breakfast consisting of gigantic portions of cheese, ham and bread all washed down with litres of coffee we grabbed our skis and rucsacs and made our way out to the station to catch the first train down to Zermatt. In front of us, on the other side of the valley, the three peaks of the Breithorn covered in white snow sparkled in the morning sunshine. Once we arrived in Zermatt we quickly walked through the vehicle free streets towards the cable car station. What a difference to be able to walk in the street of a ski mecca without having to avoid cars and be able to breathe pure mountain air. The swiss, as always attentive to questions of ecology and pollution, have allowed the village of Zermatt to ban any traffic within over. The only transport whether for people or merchandise is by electric cars. Transport to and from Zermatt is by train and for those wishing to use their cars there is a large parking area in the last station before Zermatt.
Despite the lateness of the season there are still numerous skiers queing for the cable car – enjoying the last skiing days of the season. We bundle into the cabin with the others and are quickly projected up the mountain to the lowest of the ski slopes. A second cabin takes us up to the Kleine Matterhorn station at about 3400m. For most people this is their highest point and the majority of the occupants of the cabin are quickly skiing downwards. We are bound upwards. After having put on our skis and shouldered our packs we move off away from the ski-pistes towards the flanks of the Breithorn mountain. Our objective is Breithorn West which is the closest of the three peaks and the easiest, particularly with skis. There are a few other groups of people following our same route but the last five days of continuous climbing and descending over 3000 meters have acclimatised our bodies to the rarified atmosphere and we quickly distance them. We climb rapidly, chatting, admiring the splendid scenery which opens before our eyes. Before long we arrive on steeper slopes and the hard snow gives way to hard, wind packed ice where our climbing skins start to slip. We stop briefly to pull out our climbing blades and fix them on to our skis. With these sharp teeth we can continue to climb even these steep icy slopes. When we arrive just below the ridge there is a small cornice which creates some difficulties for us but we are soon on top.
There are now only a few hundred meters to the top of the mountain but we will have to leave our skis here. The ridge is narrow and although we could probably climb up to the top with the skis on it would be too risky to ski back down. We pull out our ice-axes and follow each other along the narrow ridge. Here on top of the mountain at over 4000 meters the previously blue skies are replaced by high clouds and fog blown by the wind.
Finally we arrive on top and we can enjoy the solitude of this high place until the other parties arrive. Marco, as usual, shoots off numerous rolls of film while Robi and I alternate at being models and just enjoying the moment. When the first members of another party arives on top we ask them the favour of taking a photo of the three of us. From five days and thousands of photos this is the only one where the three of us can be seen together.

We quickly make our way back down the ridge to where we left the skis. The climbing blades and skins are quickly removed, our ski boots are tightened, the ski bindings are fixed into the descending postion and we are ready to enjoy our last descent. The first few meters down from the ridge and over the cornice are a little heartstopping but we are soon carving rapid curves down the slopes. The skis jump and rattle on the ice but we have no problem to control them and enjoy the sensation of our rapid descent. As the ice gives way to hard snow the skiing becomes even more pleasurable and our cuves can become tighter and more rapid. Before we know it we are back at the Kleine Matterhorn station and swallowed back into the crowds of skiers on the pistes.
Our trip is finished. Very soon we’ll return to Italy and our normal lives. We smile at each other and observe the slopes of the Breithorn before turning round and following the piste back downwards towards Zermatt.

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