Italians Finish Off Matterhorn Challenge

Posted on: April 17, 2010


The south face of the Matterhorn (4478m), Italian Alps, showing Couloir dell'Enjambee (1220m), a longstanding project finally completed by the father-son team of Marco and Herve Barmasse on March 13. [Photo] Herve Barmasse collection

On March 13, the Italian father-son duo Marco and Herve Barmasse climbed a new line on the Matterhorn (4478m), the iconic peak that straddles the border of Italy and Switzerland. Couloir dell'Enjambee (ungraded, 1220m) climbs the south face, following a couloir so prominent that Italian alpinist Giancarlo Grassi had called it one of the last great challenges of the Alps. As a result, the route had been attempted by numerous alpinists over multiple decades without success.

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Including Marco Barmasse. Marco first tried to climb the line in 1986 with Walter Cazzanelli, three years after they had established another Matterhorn classic, the South Face Direttissima, with Vittorio De Tuoni. Not far from the southwestern shoulder, they were forced to turn back in 1986. Almost 25 years later, at age 61, Marco returned to finish the line with his son.

The line proceeds directly up the face, following the unmistakable gully just left of the Direttissima. The last 400 meters ascend the right side of this couloir, which had surprisingly little ice and challenging climbing on "difficult to interpret" rock with runout gear, Herve said. Though Herve considered it a mixed line and wore crampons all day, he led most of the climb barehanded.

Marco and Herve Barmasse work through mixed conditions with little protection on Couloir dell'Enjambee. [Photo] Damiano Levati / The North Face

The father-son team left at 7:30 in the morning to climb the line in a single push; it took them about 13 hours to connect with the Italian Normal Route on the ridge at the southwestern shoulder. They did not continue on to the summit, however, due to extremely cold temperatures and deep snow. From the shoulder, they descended to Carrel Hut, ending their climb around 1 a.m. They were reluctant to rate the route, Herve said in an interview with planetmountain.com, as conditions on the face are constantly changing.

Both father and son have a storied history on the Matterhorn. Herve, 32, is a fourth-generation mountain and ski guide from northern Italy who has followed a similar life-path as his father. He climbed the first solo of the Casarotto-Grassi Route and made the first repeat and solo of his father's South Face Dirrettisima. He also authored the Mountain Profile on the Matterhorn in Alpinist 16.

In an interview with Alpinist, Herve said: "One of the greatest lessons of my father has always been that the mountains do not move and remain there waiting. It's obvious, but it's something we often forget. The Matterhorn has waited for us."

Sources: Herve Barmasse, planetmountain.com, climbing.com, hervebarmasse.com, iborderline.net

The view from the southwest saddle of the Matterhorn, where the Barmasses ended their new line, Couloir dell'Enjambee. [Photo] Damiano Levati / The North Face



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