The summer of 2009 found us in the European Alps again. This year we has the pleasure of another Alps Trilogy trip with four great climbers. Howie and I had a great time climbing and laughing our way up three classic Alps peaks. We hit Mt. Blanc first and then with the help of our guide Dave Miller, we were able to climb the Matterhorn and the Monch. Thanks to Howie I am dialed into the Alps scene.
Please take a few minutes to watch the slide show, and then read John Banks trip account below.
We hope you will be inspired to take an international trip with us!
July 21- August 2, 2009
By: John Bank
The 2009 Alps Trilogy expedition to the 3 major climbing areas of Europe turned out to be the most successful ever. Led by guides extraordinaire Neil Satterfield and Howie (“Howie”) Schwartz, the climbing team of John Bank, Steve Kaiser (Mont Blanc, Cosmique Arete and Chambre Neuf), Taylor Samuels and Ramero (“Ram”, “Ram Jam” or “Rambo”) Gomez proved to be amazingly strong, summiting Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and the Monch in a seven day period and performing feats of daring, strength and endurance which left the locals stunned and gaping.
At the invitation of the Astana team, Messrs. Satterfield, Bank and Kaiser started the trip off on a high note by journeying to Courmayeur, Italy to watch the 15th stage of the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong was visibly shaken at seeing the sight of his former mentor (and nemesis) Neil Satterfield consuming a kilo of Gouda at a key turn in the upper reaches of the Petit St. Bernard hill climb.
After several days of warm-up climbs in the Chamonix Valley, including the Cosmiques Arete, Mer de Glace and the Croche Traverse accompanied by long nights in the local cabarets consuming kamikazes and regaling young ladies with tales of fear and desperation in the mountains, the team traveled to Les Houches to begin the long ascent of Mont Blanc. Good weather accompanied the intrepid explorers as they made their way to the Nid d’Aigle to start the 2500’ climb to the Tete Rousse Hut, the starting point on the Gouter Route of Mont Blanc. Reaching the Tete Rousse Hut late in the afternoon of July 25th, they settled down for some relaxation in anticipation of the early morning start the next day. A 1:30am wake-up call got things going on the morning of July 26th and the team started the climb at 2:00am. After 2.5 hours of strenuous, exposed rock climbing, the Gouter Hut was attained. The team continued up the Dome du Gouter, past the Vallot Hut and onto the steep, exposed summit ridge, finally attaining the top of the Alps (15,770’) at 9:00am, after 7 hours of arduous climbing. The morning dawned magnificently and the weather turned out to be fabulous for the entire day- warm, cloudless and very little wind. The descent back to the Tete Rousse Hut took 5 hours and an additional 2 hours to the train station at Nid d’Aigle. The climb was a 14 hour day with 16,000 feet of vertical ascent and descent. Truly a Herculean effort!
The next day, the team left Chamonix to make its way to Zermatt to climb the Matterhorn. Since the weather pattern was stable, we decided to accelerate our ascent of the Matterhorn by one day. On July 28th, we left the friendly confines of the Alpenblick Hotel to take the tram rides to the Schwartzsee Paradise to begin the long hike to the Hornli Hut, gateway to the Matterhorn. A late afternoon arrival gave the team time to do some recon work on the lower portions of the route, since we would be climbing it in the dark the following morning. 3:30 am July 29th found the team up and ready to go at the Hornli Hut, jostling and fighting for position with the local Zermatt guides to be the first ones out the door. The team was fast and well-positioned to explode up the route, passing weaker teams at will. Especially notable was the performance of Howie Schwartz, who was “Schwartzing” other parties at will and embarrassing the Zermatt guides. The team reached the summit of the Matterhorn in 4 hours (14,688’; 4100’ of ascent). The descent back to the Hornli Hut took another 4 hours. On the way down, we were passing all the weaker parties on their way up. The crampon tracks on their backs were a stark reminder of who we were. All in all 8 hours up and down the Matterhorn; an incredibly fast, efficient time. The weather was again magnificent for us- warm, cloudless and virtually no wind.
After our big push on the Matterhorn, we decided to have an “easy” day. We went rock climbing on the Rifflealp, a huge monolith of rock located in the shadow of the Breithorn and Monte Rosa. A long, multi-pitch rock climb under the strong Alpine sun proved to be just what we needed to relax and re-energize.
On July 31st, we left Zermatt to travel to Grindelwald to attempt the Eiger. When we arrived in Grindelwald, we found the weather pattern to be unstable, so we adjusted our plans- we would attempt the Monch and Jungfrau instead. On August 1st we left Grindelwald and took the cog train through the Eiger and to the Jungfraujoch, an incredible structure built at 11,720’, where we set out up the southwest ridge of the Monch. The southwest ridge of the Monch is a little-climbed route which proved to be a fantastic climb which presented us with a wide variety of terrain and called upon all our skills as alpinists: 5th class rock climbing, 4th class scrambling over loose rock, glacier travel, steep snow, steep ice, cornices, rock arêtes, couloirs and snow ridges. We summited the Monch after 3.5 hours of climbing and descended the normal route to the Monch Hut, where we would spend the night. The weather, which had been good all day, started to deteriorate rapidly as we reached the Hut. Unfortunately, the quick deterioration of the weather forced us to scuttle our plans to climb the Jungfrau the next day.
The trip was a raging success and an incredible experience, the memories of which will be forever indelibly etched on all those who were fortunate enough to participate.