Climbing Parties setting off – 8:41am
As one event in life passes, another is anticipated. In a month or so I and my wife will be back in Zermatt, Switzerland for two weeks and naturally my mind is already starting to plan walks and recall past experiences. And part of that planning leads me to my archive of images from previous visits to Zermatt, of which there have been many.
Over the last few days I have been reviewing images from July 2008: I had been retired for just over a month, my first digital SLR (a Nikon D80) and 16-85mm zoom lens were also a month old and I was still getting acquainted with the camera. A trip to Zermatt in the Swiss Alps saw the camera put through its paces and I returned home with over a 1,000 images.
It may surprise you to know that some of those images remained unprocessed until very recently. It actually surprised me too, as I discovered images that simply required a fresh eye to exploit their potential. And in all cases the potential was realized with a conversion to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex that produced the results you see here today. Of the images in this Post, only the third one and the two colour images had been processed fairly close to the time they were taken.
All the images in this Post were taken in a span of just under two and a half hours during a solo climb of the main (West) summit of the Breithorn from the top lift station of Klein Matterhorn. It’s one of the easiest snow summits in the Alps but I then continued over to the Central summit which adds extra interest and takes the difficulty up a notch or two.
It was one of those days when the weather seemed to be in two minds – the highest summits had their heads in the clouds, and lower cloud flirted with the subsidiary peaks. The sun played a game of peek-a-boo appearing briefly only to disappear again. In consequence the light varied from very flat to dramatic.
8:47am. Focal length 24mm
My task in processing was to reflect that variety. The shot immediately above and the one below were shot within six seconds of each other from the same place. If you look carefully at the first image just right of centre you will be able to identify the source of the second image with light rimming the ridge-line. The first image was shot at the widest focal length of the lens and the second at the longest. The Nikkor 16:85mm zoom lens is fitted to a DX Nikon body with the result that the true focal length is 1.5 times the figure quoted.
8:47am. Focal length 127mm
A period of flat light followed and I have evoked that feeling in the image that follows.
9:03am. Focal length 127mm
But within a few minutes the view in the opposite direction showed significant breaks in the clouds with the promise of better weather to come.
9:10am. Focal length 24mm
Unfortunately my route took me towards the flat light climbing steeper ground for nearly an hour to gain the summit – and what a view greeted me.
9.59am. Focal length 127mm
Whenever people question the reason why mountaineers climb high mountains, it is images like this that more eloquently provide the answer than a paragraph of words. Ahead lies the central summit of the Breithorn, but to reach it requires a descent down a narrow arête with a very steep drop on the left side before the route climbs back up to the summit visible in this image. Notice the crenelated edge to the ridge – formed by a continuous line of cornices overhanging the steep face of the mountain. Cornices are accretions of snow formed by the combined action of wind and snow that overhang ridge lines. Cornices must always be given a wide berth to avoid stepping too close to the fracture line with tragic consequences.
The arête is narrow in places, passing fellow climbers involves one of you stepping off onto steeper ground.
10:18am. A climber on the arete leading back up to the West Summit
Close to the central summit I stopped to capture this astonishing cornice – that you can clearly seen in the earlier image. The climbing party in front of me are giving this a very wide berth.
10:49am. Massive cornice just before the Central Summit
From the central summit the difficulties increase and this was as far as I intended to go as a solo climber, but the way ahead has an undoubted elegance to it. Centre frame (see below) you can now see the ridge line seen in the third image in this Post. The peak just beyond (whose summit fails to break the sky line) is Pollux, and the higher mountain to the right is Castor. Castor and Pollux – the heavenly twins – not quite matching ‘twins’ from this viewpoint although from other directions they do merit that description. To the far left hiding in the clouds is the vast bulk of Liskamm. All these peaks including the Breithorn are part of the Frontier Ridge that forms the boundary between Switzerland (on the left) and Italy (on the right)
10:53am. View along the Frontier Ridge from the Central Summit.
After a few images it was time to head back down to the col seen in the final image below and then drop down to pick up the route back to the top lift station.
11:02am. View back to the West Summit. The lower slopes of the Matterhorn are visible below the clouds to the right of the peak
I seemed to have enjoyed the best of the weather, the Matterhorn is lost in the clouds on the far right of the image above and bad weather is not far away. Route finding on days like this is straightforward – on snow peaks a well trodden path is usually clearly visible – but if the clouds come down and snow falls then it is all too easy to become disorientated in the white-out that can so easily prevail. To climb solo affords me the luxury of being in charge of how fast I travel, when I stop, and when I capture images. It is the greatest way to experience these mountains but common sense must always take precedence.