The summit of the world-famous Matterhorn sits precisely on the border between Italy and Switzerland — and that fact of international geography posed an irresistible challenge for Tucsonan Terry DeWald.
What a grand adventure it would be, thought veteran mountain climber DeWald, to start in Italy, climb over the top of the Matterhorn and come down on the other side in Switzerland.
Others had made such an exhilarating traverse of the 14,692-foot peak, which is one of the most recognizable mountains on the planet. But for desert-dweller DeWald, 67, it promised to be quite literally a high point of his climbing career.
“It was magnificent — a privilege and a great adventure,” said DeWald, who completed the traverse with a skilled climbing guide over two days last September.
He will give a free photo and video presentation on the climb at 7 p.m. today at the Summit Hut, 5045 E. Speedway.
A DREAM TAKES SHAPE
DeWald, who operates a business called Terry DeWald American Indian Art, previously had climbed challenging peaks in Europe’s Alps — including the Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau.
“I had climbed the Matterhorn previously by the Hornli Ridge from Switzerland,” the standard climbing route on the peak, DeWald said. “I looked down into Italy from the top and thought how great it would be to come up from Italy, push over the top, and come down into Switzerland in a grand traverse of the Matternorn. That was my motivation.”
UP THE LION RIDGE
DeWald and his German climbing guide, Arne Bergau, began their adventure in the town of Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn on the Swiss side of the peak. It would also be the end point for their climb.
“We had a glorious window of good weather for the climb,” DeWald said.
The two mountaineers trekked from Zermatt over high ridges and eventually arrived at a hut in Italy, where they spent a night. After taking a tram down to the Italian resort of Cervinia, they started their climb from there the following day up a spine of rock called the Lion Ridge.
“It’s steep, and parts are pretty slippery,” DeWald said.
DeWald and Bergau were roped together for the entire climb, and they also were able to use ropes fixed to the mountain for assistance at some points.
The first day they ascended from Cervinia at 6,581 feet to a climber’s refuge called the Carrel Hut, perched on the ridge at an elevation of 12,582 feet.
After enduring a night with about 80 other climbers packed into the hut, they set off at 2:30 a.m., wearing headlamps, for a push to the summit.
DeWald said he felt no fatigue on the extremely steep ascent, and he attributed his fitness in part to rigorous training in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson.
He had gone to Mount Lemmon Ski Valley and made arrangements to ride the ski lift repeatedly down the mountain. He climbed the steep slopes, took the lift down, climbed again, took the lift down, and repeated the regimen as long as possible on each visit to the mountain.
ON THE SUMMIT
“We reached the Italian summit of the Matternorn at 8:30 a.m. and the Swiss summit at a little after 9 a.m.” on Sept. 3, DeWald said.
The two summits are separated by an airy, narrow ridge.
“It was crystal clear. It was magnificent!” DeWald said. “I made a 360-degree video on the summit. The views were just great.”
DeWald and Bergau made their way carefully — very carefully — down the long, steep ridge on the Swiss side of the mountain.
“It’s a long way down, and we kept in mind the mountaineer’s saying: Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory,” DeWald said.
The climbers reached a hut at the base of the ridge in Switzerland at about 5 p.m.
“It felt so good to be down in Zermatt and looking back up at that beautiful mountain,” DeWald said. “I just felt humble and privileged to be able to do this.
“I felt the gratitude of life, and I hope this provides some inspiration for other people.”