When she was 20 years old, Teresa Corti dreamed of climbing the mighty Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps Mountain. Four years later, she made it come true. And only in 72 hours.
Wednesday, 9 September 2020. I was with some friends at a bar and overheard, “I’m going to the town of Zermatt tomorrow,” and I jumped right into the conversation. Suddenly what was meant to be a chill evening out quickly became a packing list for an adventure.
I’m 24 years old and was born in Lugano, Switzerland. Life happened, and my family moved around a bit so now I speak four languages, have friends all over the world and a couple of years ago my life drastically changed. I started climbing.
Up until then, I did several sports, but when I started climbing, everything clicked and made sense. It was that thing in life I was missing. It brought many changes in me, and I welcomed them all with open arms. Finally, life got exciting, and with so many “unknowns” in front of me, I was ready for new challenges.
I moved to Chamonix, a small town nestled below the highest mountains in Europe. This was the least scary move in my life. I was just excited to start a new job, meet new people and thanks to this move, I discovered alpine climbing, culminating in this trip to Zermatt, Switzerland, to climb the Matterhorn.
Climbing Aiguille Du Tour
When talking about adventures, I never say no to anything because why would I limit myself? So the first proposition ever was from Matt to climb Aiguille Du Tour, a peak 3,540m above sea level.
We woke up at 4 a.m. and we knew we had more than 2,000 vertical meters in front of us, so we were praying for the coffee to wake us up. Slowly but surely, we approached the Le Tour mountain, and at 7 a.m., we caught a glimpse of sunrise. It was probably one of the best moments in my life. At that point, we were on a glacier with nobody around us, only surrounded by mountain peaks poking out of the sea of snow.
The sun just warmed our bodies and minds while we continued this endless hike up to the bottom of that mountain. That was all quite silly, honestly. Walking for hours in adverse conditions just to get a bit of climbing in for the day. It was in May, so there was still a lot of snow early in the season. We decided to take the snow gully on the right side of an iconic rock table that is the main feature of the route on Aiguille du Tour.
I had never been on that type of terrain; snowing, potential loose rock, and extremely exposed. I would look down to one side or the other, and there was a 200m drop. One wrong step could end up in a very long fall. To avoid that, obviously, I was with an excellent partner, Rick, who had an idea of what he was doing compared to me.
Eventually, we got to the top, and even though the day was far from over, it was so satisfying and rewarding that my little body brought me up there. I had no issues with the altitude, sure I was tired, but the view was sublime. It was a clear day, and we could see all the other, higher peaks surrounding us. I felt a sense of completeness. I was with a person I love, overlooking the most beautiful scenery on earth and eating cookies. Life does not get any better than that.
The summer passed by, and I tried to climb as much as possible, sport climbing, bouldering or alpine climbing; it did not really matter as long as I enjoyed my surroundings. Slowly but surely, I ticked off some of the classic climbs around Chamonix; Arete des Cosmiques, some climbs up Brevent. Then as the last adventure, I had a big day with my best friend Adele and climbed Arete du Papillon, where we walked and climbed for 21 hours straight.
Conquering the Peak of the Meadows
By early September, I thought my silly summer adventures of walking from the valley floor up to the mountains was going to be over but instead, the day after I heard the conversation, Thursday afternoon after work, I ran to the train station and hopped on the wagon where Rick was waiting for me on the train to Zermatt.
While on the train, I realized I was going on a 4000-meter peak, which in the Alps, there are 82 mountains over 4,000 meters, and each is a unique challenge. However, the Matterhorn, which roughly means the Peak of the Meadows, is unlike any other. It stands at 4,478 meters above sea level, and is a famed mountain steeped in mountaineering history. It is nearly a pyramid shape, steep and proud, standing on its own.
This is a serious business as it is considered high altitude mountaineering. This means that there are so many factors to take into consideration before attempting such a peak. But realistically, I did not have time and skipped a couple of steps. So not acclimatised, with 13km ahead and an elevation gain of about 1,6km from Zermatt, we headed off to the Hörnli Ridge trail, and in the first half-hour, we were making good time. We met a couple coming down who informed us that the winter room was packed. After a 5-hour walk, we closed our eyes for a power nap under the stars and in the bitter cold, up at 3,200m right underneath the Matterhorn. Not that we could see it since it was pitch dark. At 4:30 a.m., we were awake again and ready to set off!
In the early morning hours, the rock had a thin layer of ice, a phenomenon called verglas. Making it a tricky beginning. I am used to climbing steep vertical walls, and this turned out to be more of a strenuous hike with high steps and pulling on the fixed rope that led the way.
At sunrise, we made it up to the Solvay hut. In my mind getting to 4,000 meters was already quite an achievement. I could have waited for my partner if I was not feeling well. But that magnificent sunrise just warmed my heart. A couple of snacks fueled my body, and up we went again. By 9 a.m., we were beckoning the summit. It was so close yet so far.
When we saw the statuette of San Bernard, as tradition, I rubbed his head, and a couple of tears ran down my cheek, probably out of exhaustion, but it was also a pure sense of joy. We were not even halfway done. We pushed to the top, walking along a sharp ridge edge no more than 20 cm wide from the Swiss summit to the Italian peak. Looking down on the right, the north face a plummeting drop, on the left the view down to the Italian town of Cervinia. And in front of us, a picture-perfect cross.
Meaning the end of our ascent and marking the halfway point because the descent probably was even trickier than the ascent. Besides being scared of walking down the snowy path, I do not remember much of it, but Rick lowered me safely on some bits due to time constraints. At 7 pm, we were in McDonald’s with two chicken burgers.
No such thing as impossible climb
The words “what did I get myself into” during the climb kept running through my mind. I am happy I did it, and I did not stop when I could have and pushed through the pain and general discomfort of no sleep, tired legs, hunger. I honestly had no idea how difficult and beautiful it was going to be, and I am glad this adventure taught me to be more prepared and that I should not underestimate myself and that willpower goes a long way.
Getting to the peak does not really matter. The people I met along the way and who have made my life better and more fun are what I take away from all these unusual, extraordinary days. These little stories make me so profoundly happy that I cannot put them into words. Confidence is what I am gaining while climbing. Becoming physically and mentally stronger to face the world and all its hurdles, climbing the Matterhorn taught me that I may not have somebody who really believes in me, but it does not matter. As long as I believe in myself, I can do whatever I want.
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Teresa Corti is a Filipino/Swiss climbing professional. She is a presenter and assistant producer for Epic TV Climbing.