Ascent of Zinalrothorn in 1972


Zinalrothorn seemed a logical follow-on in 1972 to Matterhorn and Rimpfischhorn from the two preceding seasons. It is a popular mountain with nice varied climbing, slightly more advanced than my previous targets. Although not as majestic as the Matterhorn, it has its own character with a sharp needle-like peak, and with great views of the surrounding mountains. Zinalrothorn lies to the west of Zermatt and east of the Val d'Anniviers valley with the village of Zinal - hence its name. (Link to map.)

Zinalrothorn, Matterhorn, Obergabelhorn

Zinalrothorn is the pointed peak just left of the Matterhorn. This is one of the postcards I sent home from Zermatt.

Copyright Deriaz Baulmes. Reproduced with permission..

Just as in the previous year, I spent a week in Saas-Fee for acclimatization. This time, I explored the right side of the Saas valley, i. e. the eastern side, including a walk on the "Höhenweg" at about 2000 m down the valley to Gspon. From there, I descended to Stalden by cable car and went back to Saas-Fee in the post bus.

Trail to Gspon.
The trail to Gspon passes the typical Valais buildings made of larchtree wood.

Other excursions took me to Plattjen and to the slopes directly above Saas-Fee:

Wild chamois crossing the path.
Goats above Saas-Fee.

After a week, I relocated to Zermatt where I spent a few days before my parents and my brother Erik arrived. Erik had just moved to Zürich with his Swiss wife, and my parents had come to visit them. They now took the opportunity to visit me in Zermatt. As a veteran of four seasons, I proudly took them to the Gornergrat, to Schwarzsee, and - in the case of my mother - as far as the Hörnli hut.

Breithorn, Kleinmatterhorn
My parents took the train to Rotenboden and walked from there to Gornergrat. The mountains are Breithorn and Klein-Matterhorn.
Monte Rosa
My father and I on the Gornergrat in front of Monte Rosa.
My parents admiring the Matterhorn from Schwarzsee.

My mother "climbing the Matterhorn" on her way to the Hörnli hut.

My mother reached the Hörnli hut!
Stefan, Gerd and Erik Zenker in a Zermatt café. Judging by the color of his skin, Erik really deserved a vacation!
Stefan and Erik in the "main street" of Zermatt.
Zermatt in 1972
Zermatt from the path up to the Trift gorge.

After a few days they left Zermatt, and it was time to "get serious". I contacted my guide from the previous two seasons Werner Perren and we agreed on Zinalrothorn as the objective and to meet at the Rothorn hut on a given day. The walk up the Trift valley in the afternoon was familiar to me, as I had already visited the Rothorn hut and the Mettelhorn.

Edelweiss restaurant
The Edelweiss restaurant about 300 m above Zermatt is a popular target for tourists.

On the serpentine path up the Trift valley, I walked slowly to save my legs for the next day. Werner Perren caught up with me:

Trift valley path.

After a short chat, encouraging me to keep going slowly, he continued at a brisk pace and rapidly disappeared from view.

Eventually, I reached the hut at 3200 m where I would spend the night:

The Rothorn hut with the Rimpfischhorn in the background. I took this photo on another occasion.

The next morning, we got underway while it was still dark. A few other teams accompanied us, but there was much less of a crowd than there had been on the Matterhorn or even on the Rimpfischhorn.

There is a fairly long walk up the glacier to where the rock climbing starts. There are two normal routes: one more direct up a gully to the ridge, another one involves a traverse to the left to join the ridge further to the south and enjoy a longer climb on the ridge. Werner originally wanted to take the more interesting southern route, but he changed his mind, probably due to the unsettled weather.

Werner Perren facing the Zinalrothorn. Our route took us to the deep cut in the ridge and from there to the top.

At sunrise, we had a glorious view of the most prominent peaks surrounding us:

Sunrise on the Matterhorn
Sunrise on the Matterhorn.

As the morning sun lit up the icy north wall of the Obergabelhorn, one of the professional guides exclaimed: "Es ist ja wie ein Paradies, die Berge!" ("It's really like a paradise, the mountains!"). - For me, this was a great contrast to the remark I overheard one of the guides make on the Matterhorn (in frustration over the crowd that slowed his progress): "This is like driving a taxi cab!".

Obergabelhorn, Dent Blanche
Obergabelhorn and Dent Blanche.

As we were traversing an icy slope going to the left, I was suddenly hit in the knee with great force. My initial reaction was to turn and hit back at the aggressor - I thought that somebody must have attacked me with an ice axe. Then I saw that I had been hit by a fairly sizeable chunk of ice coming down the slope. The pain was intense for a while, but it soon subsided. Luckily, I had not been seriously injured and did not have to turn back.

Werner Perren leading up the steep gully to the ridge.

Once we reached the ridge, there was a stretch of easy rock climbing. Unfortunately, the weather was getting worse, with clouds and mist rising from below. Visibility was gradually reduced.

Eventually, we arrived at a steep slab, the "Binerplatte", that offers few holds. Werner attacked it by building up momentum so that he could "run" up the slab. He succeeded on the second try. I followed without having to use the rope.

The climb was now getting airy. Shortly before the summit is reached, there is a famous passage, "die Kanzel" ("the pulpit"), where you need to climb around an overhanging rock with a sheer drop of some 500 m directly below your feet. It feels a little like climbing on the outside of a balcony in a high-rise building (not that I have ever done that...). But the holds are excellent, and Werner's rope gave me all the confidence I needed to be able to follow him.

Once the Kanzel had been bypassed, the summit was very close. Unfortunately, the weather had now deteriorated, and the view was patchy at best.


Fellow climbers on the Zinalrothorn. Monte Rosa is in the background.

Werner Perren on the summit of Zinalrothorn
Werner Perren on the summit of Zinalrothorn.

Preparing for the descent.

As we descended, the fog worsened, and I was glad to have an experienced guide to bring me down!

All photography became fruitless for a while, but ultimately we got out of the clouds and visibility improved again. The rest of the descent was uneventful.

This completed the 1972 alpine season for me. Back home, it was a pleasure to go back to work, as our small space group had just become Swedish Space Corporation, government owned, absorbing the Esrange launch site in the process. This was the beginning of a long period of expansion, growing from 12 employees when I started, to more than 300.

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  Last edited or checked June 23, 2006.

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