The Matterhorn Disaster

The Matterhorn Disaster

The Matterhorn has long been the most outstanding mountains in the whole world. It rises 14,961 feet high, and towers above the Swiss village of Zermatt and the Italian village of Cervinia. It has inspired and haunted many people, Whymper referred to it as “that awful mountain”.

Edward Whymper was an English engraver born on the 27th April 1840. He was commissioned to go to the alps in 1860 to produce a number of engravings. Whilst he was there he became interested in mountaineering. He also came upon the Matterhorn, and was enthralled. Whymper conquered many mountains between 1860 and 1865 most being first ascents. Whymper set out in the summer of 1865 on another climbing expedition to the Alps.

After achieving most of the goals of the expedition, he set his sights on the Matterhorn. During this time all attempts on the summit of the Matterhorn were conducted from Breuil on the Italian side. Owing to an optical illusion the final 1,000 feet appear to overhang the mountain and seemed from the Zermatt valley to be an unsurpassable 90° face, this was the reason why most attempts were from the Italian side. But Whymper was beginning to suspect this was an illusion. He arrived in Breuil with his two guides Almer and Bienner. Here Whymper tried to acquire the services of Jean Antoine Carrel (the most sought after Matterhorn guide). Carrel agreed to guide Whymper on his attempt to scale the Northern side but if they failed they agreed they would return to Breuil and attempt the southern side.

On Sunday the 9th of July Carrel pulled out, saying he had been hired by a prominent family, who had not notified him of exactly when they would require his services, but had arrived now and needed their guide. From his room in Breuil, Whymper observed a number of figures upon the southern side and was informed that they were Carrel and a number of competent Italian climbers, not a group of women who intended merely on a few excursions in the valley as Carrel had...

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