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Blog

My name is Nancy Zimmerman and this is my blog.  I write mostly about art, travel and the bits about life that make me smile, think or piss me off.  

Enjoy!

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: GOODBYE ZERMATT, HELLO STRASBOURG

nancy zimmerman

Woke up this morning to the same sparrow convention quickly followed by a half hour of bell ringing.  It starts off innocently enough with a rendition of "Three Blind Mice."  It then accelerates into the bell equivalent of a  very enthusiastic College marching band.  Just as number was ending, the Swiss decided to do some road work outside my window and the jack hammer was just the push I needed to rise and shine.

I am still on a quest to find the one and only souvenir I shall take home.  Today, I think it may be a bell.  A bell or a sheep.  I am the only person in Zermatt wearing a flowery shirt.  

Went wandering around Zermatt, not lost in the back hills but like a normal tourist.  I wanted to come here because on line,  it looked like one of those little Christmas villages old ladies like me display on their mantels.  I am amazed that it actually does!  For such a small town of only 5,000 people there are a lot of animals here.  Cars are not allowed in Zermatt, but apparently sheep, massive Clydesdale horses and dogs are free to wander where they like.  Who would have thought the whole Saint Bernard rescue squad was an actual thing?  

I went to the Matterhorn Museum and in hindsight should have went yesterday before going up the mountain, but my experience made the museum more chilling indeed.  I like museums.  This one did an excellent job of romanticizing the past.  It was rustic and authentic with lots of hand written documents (which I especially adore) from climbers and observers.

The story of the first accent up the Matterhorn is frightening and fanciful.  It is shrouded in mystery and seems to have stuck with me.  A rope from the climb is encased in glass; the heart of a controversial inquiry as to how 4 of the 7 men died.  Equally controversial is the description of the climb by the survivors.

Decide for yourself:

20 year old Edward Whymper (who had never before climbed a mountain), joined Lord Francis Douglas, Zermatt guides Michel Croz and Peter Taugwalder,  his son Peter, Rev Charles Hudson and Douglas Hadow. 

On July 14, 1865 they made the clim and reached the summit in early afternoon.  They had forgotten a flag, so they hung Croz's shirt from the summit. While the rest began the descent, Whyper and Peter stayed behind, wrote the names and then caught up with the rest.

 

Hadow slipped and fell into Croz and Hudson and the three were catapulted to their deaths.  Two quite different versions of the event were recorded and we are left to decide which is the truth;

Whymper wrote, "

“For a few seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding on their backs, and spreading out their hands, endeavouring to save themselves. They passed from our sight uninjured, disappeared one by one, and fell from precipice to precipice on to the Matterhorngletscher below, a distance of nearly 4,000ft in height.”  With apparent difficulty,coaxed the Swiss father and son down the mountain. Whymper  claimed "they cried like infants,"  and brought the news to Zermatt in the morning. “The Taugwalders and I have returned.”

Whymper was heralded as a hero and claimed his title as the first man to conquer the Matterhorn.  

150 years later, descendants of the Taugwalders found documents that challenged Whymper's claim.

HONOURED SIR:

I am now 75 years of age, but in spite of the 52 years which have passed since then, I can remember many things that occurred just as well as if they had happened yesterday.  Indeed, such was the impression made by that fearsome disaster that I shall never forget it as long as I live.

At that time I was very young indeed and the first down was just sprouting on my upper lip; but I had enough spirit to feel that no rock was too high, no glacier too steep for me.

On the way up, the night before reaching the summit: All around us stood the great peaks in all their majesty; above the green of the valley the dark pine woods swept up to the edge of the eternal ice.  My heart was uplifted with joy and I could hardly wait for the next morning to come…I slept the sleep of the Angels.

In the morning;  We roped up at once; Cros led, followed by Hudson, Wymper and Hadow, with my father next then Lord Duglas and myself…I was nimble as a cat; so I had always time to watch the others and to plant Lord Douglas's feet for him.  He was not a good climber.

At about 2 o'clock we reached the summit.  We did not stay long.  My heart was so light that I could have taken wing, far away and out across all the mountains, heaven knows where to - down to my sweetheart in Zermatt, perhaps.

We prepared for the decent. Whymper now changed places with Lord Douglas and was therefore next in front of me on the rope…Suddenly the four of them shot out into thin air like a small cloud.  The rope broke as if it were a piece of string and the four young men disappeared from sight.  IT was all as swift as a lightning flash. Nobody uttered a sound. Down they went on the instant into the fearful abyss.

It may be imagined what we felt like. We could hardly move for a while, so terrified were we.  At last we tried to move on; but Whymper was trembling so violently that he could hardly manage a safe step forward. My father climbed on in front, continually turning back to place Whymper's legs on the broken ledges of rock.

My heart was well-nigh breaking and the tears ran coursing unchecked down my cheeks.  Our poor, poor friends! Only this morning they had been so gay and keen; now their battered bodies lay lifeless down there on the cold glacier.

If only that good Mr. Douglas had not changed places, he and not Whymper would have been safe; certainly he would have proved a better and truer friend to us than this man Whymper, who had been remote and aloof from us throughout and remained so, though we had saved his life.

For without us, he too would have perished, even if later on he vaunted himself as the Lion of the Party and reported a variety of matters which had no truth in them.

The searchers found our poor friends lying on the glacier at the place we had indicated.  Lord Douglas alone was missing and no trace of him has ever been found to this day.

I have climbed the Matterhorn more than a hundred times since but never without thinking of my dear companions who came to grief that day. My father and Whymper have already followed them to their eternal rest. Very soon, the Angel of Death will be calling me too.

I have told you simply and unreservedly what I saw and experienced on the first ascent of the Matterhorn. If you use my story for posterity, I leave my reputation in the hands of those who will read it; thus I finish my account.

-Peter Taugwalder