On July 13, 1865, Edward Whymper and his expedition departed early in the morning from the city of Zermatt for the ridge of Hörnli Hill, the journey took approximately six hours. While on the other hand, Jean Antoine Carrel and his team also started moving up the Italian ridge on the same day.
Whymper was quite surprised to find the Hörnli Hill ridge far from what he had expected.
Previously Whymper predicted that Hörnli Ridge would be as difficult as the Italian Ridge. However, it turned out that Whymper’s prediction was wrong, the Hörnli Ridge had a much easier terrain than the Italian Ridge, which helped them move quickly.
In his notes Whymper even wrote “even we could while running through it”, an expression that shows how fun the track is.
Edward Whymper Winning the First Ascent Competition on Matterhorn
After spending one night camped at Hörnli Ridge, Whymper’s expedition team continued to move at a fairly fast pace, in large part because the terrain they traversed was quite easy.
On that day, Edward Whymper and Charles Hudson took turns leading the climb.
If they find a challenge that they can’t pass then the team will circle it either to the right or to the left, and it always works. Furthermore, in his notes Whymper revealed that most of the routes they took did not require ropes to go through them.
At 6:20 p.m. Whymper and company reached an altitude of about 3,900 meters. They stopped for about half an hour and then climbed again until they reached an altitude of 4,267 meters at 21:55. At this point Whymper and his expedition decided to rest for an hour.
As the climb approached the summit, it was agreed that they should leave the ridge route, because usually the ridge is more filled with weathered rock and quickly collapses. It is also steeper and more difficult to climb than the sides themselves.
Douglas Robert Hadow who was the least experienced in the team did not escape the object of Whymper’s correction and ‘complaint’. In his notes Whymper wrote “Hadow needs constant help”, so he got a little more involved
But having overcome difficulties on the north side towards the summit, the team then finally arrived at the highest area of the Matterhorn. The steep slopes eased, Michel Croz and Edward Whymper appearing to be the first to set foot on the Matterhorn’s highest peak at 1:40 pm, with the rest of the team following later.
The team rested for a while at the top of the Matterhorn, venting their joy with some loud noises heard up to 400 meters down the Italian ridge, where Jean Antoine Carrel and his expedition are still struggling through the most difficult part of their climb.
When he saw and heard that their competitor had reached the top of the Matterhorn and defeated them, Jean Antoine Carrel suddenly felt so crushed and lost the will to continue climbing. He decided to give up and return to Breuil. The Matterhorn was over for him.
The Deadly Descent Tragedy
Edward Whymper and his expedition partners decided to rest for about an hour at the top of the Matterhorn, they made a small pyramid of rock there. Having had enough, the team then began their descent towards Hörnli Ridge again.
Michel Croz as the main guide was in the front row on the way down. As the weakest member Hadow was right next to Croz. Meanwhile, Hudson and Douglas were behind Hadouw, followed by Taugwalder Senior, Edward Whymper, and finally Taugwalder Junior who was in the last position.
The team descends very carefully, only one climber is allowed to move at a time to ensure other members are ready to help in case one of them suddenly falls.
Profit cannot be achieved, unfortunate cannot be denied. However careful the team was to anticipate potential dangers, a decision on the line of fate had been made, and it was unavoidable for them. Regarding this incident, Edward Whymper wrote in his book as follows;
“…As far as I know, at the time of the accident, not a single person was actually moving. I can’t say for sure about this, nor the two Taugwalders, because the two guides were walking behind and their positions were blocked by a protruding rock. While poor Croz had let go of his ice axe, and in an attempt to give Mr. Hadow a greater sense of security, Croz actually grabbed Mr. Hadow and put it in the right position. From the movement of their shoulders, I was convinced that Croz had done what I had told him, time and time again they had done that, moving a step or two. And by the time Mr. Hadow slipped, and fell on him, that’s what brought him down…”
When Croz and Hadow fell, the ropes that connected them to Hudson and Douglas were automatically dragged away, and this pulled them both from their grips to join forces to death with Hadow and Croz. Meanwhile, Edward Whymper and the Taugwalder duo managed to survive because the rope connected to them was suddenly severed.
There was no farewell, in just the blink of an eye, the four figures disappeared into the abyss of the Matterhorn they had just conquered. Whymper and the Taugwalder duo gasped at what had just happened in front of them, no words came out other than a choked voice that had no meaning.
After regaining control of themselves, the three of them checked the ropes they were using, and found a little tightness in their hearts when they found out that they had used the oldest rope of the three ropes they had brought. The factor of bad condition and old age most likely caused the rope to break instantly when it was burdened with a large amount.
Taugwalder Junior broke the deadlock by moving first, ‘awakening’ Whymper and Taugwalder Senior who were still stunned by what had just happened. During the descent, the three of them searched for traces of their fallen comrades many times, but to no avail.
In the end they continued to descend until 9:30 pm, when unable to continue in the middle of the night, the three decided to rest on the bivouac they had used earlier in Hörnli Ridge. At dawn, the three of them continued their descent again and did not stop until they arrived at Zermatt.
The Aftermath of the Tragedy First Ascent of Matterhorn
News of the deaths of four European climbers on the Matterhorn immediately attracted great attention in Zermatt, a team was immediately formed to conduct a search for the bodies of the victims.
The bodies of Michel Croz, Douglas Robert Hadow, Charles Hudson were found lifeless on the Matterhorn glacier. But the body of the Scottish climber, Lord Francis Douglas, has never been found until now.
For Taugwalder Senior, the deaths of the four climbers had a not-so-good aftermath for him. It was rumored that he had deliberately cut the rope that connected the poor climbers to them. Further allegations suggest that Taugwalder Senior had the heart to do so in order to save the lives of his son and himself.
Faced with these accusations, Edward Whymper did not remain silent, he defended the Taugwalders duo at every opportunity. That the accident was not the fault of the two local guides, neither can be blamed for the deaths on the inconquerable mountain.
Taugwalder Senior’s reputation was finally saved by official research which found absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing by the guides regarding the breaking of the rope in the incident.
Who Was Wrong in the Tragedy Matterhorn Descent?
First Ascent indeed cannot be said to be successful if it ends with the death of more than half of the expedition members. The four lives that were lost were completely unequal when compared to the victory of those who managed to defeat Jean Antoine Carrel in reaching the top. Lives and peaks are not a fair exchange value for conducted. No noble climber, no matter how great he is, would be willing to trade a piece of human life, just to reach the top of a mountain.
The only thing that might be criticized in the Matterhorn’s first ascent disaster is the presence of Douglas Robert Hadow in the team.
Edward Whymper as an expedition team leader should not allow an inexperienced climber like Hadow to take part in a first ascent ascent. From the beginning, it was known that Hadow was an incompetent figure in the expedition, even though he was an experienced climber’s companion (Charles Hudson) but that did not make him automatically understand the climbing route.
Apart from these reasons, it was the first ascent attempt at the Matterhorn, none of the seven people had a good understanding of the path they were going to follow, not even Edward Whymper.
Whymper has been to the Matterhorn many times and has had a wealth of experience that’s true, but not over the Hörnli Ridge, he’s climbed so far from the Italian ridge six times, and once through the South Ridge. Whymper doesn’t know the least bit about the climbing terrain of Hörnli Ridge, this is evidenced by his enthusiastic writing that finding the route was actually easier than the Italian ridge.
Hadow’s figure honestly could not help but be said to be the one who made the climb all the more difficult. After they had moved from the ridge to the north side of the cliff face, Whymper said Hadow needed constant help.
While on the way down, it was even more troublesome, Michel Croz, who was the main guide, even had to help put Hadow where he had to set his feet. And in the end, in the midst of the extra care and attention, the figure of Hadow was also the trigger for the fall of the other three climbers.
This is simply not a view that blames Hadow, he is not to blame, he does lack experience. However, the main issue is, why is it that people with general experience like Robert Hadow are allowed to take part in a first ascent ascent whose route itself is still mysterious?
The Matterhorn is by no means a suitable place for someone who is just learning to climb a mountain, let alone trying to climb a first ascent.
In addition to this hypothesis, several other opinions have also mentioned that the accident could have occurred like excessive euphoria when the seven people unexpectedly won the competition against Jean Antoine Carrel from the Italian side. The euphoria of making it to the top coupled with the exhaustion of exerting energy while climbing made the team start to lose balance on the way down.
This last opinion certainly cannot be taken for granted, because we clearly know how careful the seven people were on the way down. They even set a rule, only one person is allowed to move at a time to anticipate the possibility of falling.
In the end, humans really can plan and try, but the result is absolutely in the hands of God.
Humans may think that they can conquer mountains, but in fact nature will never be able to be resisted. No matter how hard humans try to defeat nature and the mountains, in the end they nature and mountains will also come out as victorious.
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