Local climbers Greg Kenny and Michael Tobin, both members of the Peaks Mountaineering Club in Clonmel, with Noel Cunneen from Limerick and Michael Berry and Alan Sheely from Cahir have just returned from a mountaineering trip to the Swiss Alps.
With the ultimate aim of climbing the Matterhorn by way of the Hornli Ridge, it was first necessary to climb a number of peaks to prepare themselves for climbing at altitude above 4000m.
With acclimatization complete the group then moved to Zermatt to have a go at the Matterhorn (4490m).
To climb this mountain safely, it is best to have a weather window of at least 2, if not 3 days of very settled weather. The normal route to the top is by way of the Hornli Ridge - a ridge going up between the north and the east faces of the mountain. This can have as many as 50 climbers on any one day attempting to reach the summit. Most of these climbers have guides, as the route, while not overly technical in nature from a climbing point of view, is very long, very physically demanding and very exposed in places. Route finding, particularly in descent, is also very difficult.
The Clonmel group, unaccompanied by any professionals, started their climb early on Monday, August 5. The weather was not as good as the previous week and the local forecasts indicated that a storm was due late Tuesday, but they hoped that they would still have enough time to reach the top. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The weather deteriorated earlier than expected, and it was decided to descend before any thunder or lightening arrived on the route. A storm can develop very quickly in the Alps, and when it does the Hornli Ridge is a very dangerous place to be. So despite being disappointed, the group decided to make a hasty retreat and got off the mountain before the ‘fireworks’ started. As the climbers said - “The weather decides everything in the mountains and although we were reluctant to turn around, it was the right decision. It’s better to be safe than sorry, the mountain is not going away anywhere and there is always next year! ‘