This will be the Matterhorn’s summer. Zermatt is celebrating its own world-renowned mountain. 150 years ago, on 14 July 1865, Edward Whymper and his rope team reached the summit that had long been deemed unclimbable. Then it seemed impossible. Now it’s quite common, among other reasons thanks to better equipment. The idea of what is and is not possible on a mountain has changed and continues to do so. Top mountaineer Dani Arnold from Uri in Switzerland has already pushed the limits of what is possible in various high-speed ascents of difficult routes. This week, he set a new record: he climbed the Matterhorn North Face in only 1 hour and 46 minutes. He used the classic route of the North Face first ascenders (Schmid Route). Arnold undercut the previous record by Ueli Steck from 2009 by ten minutes.
Dani Arnold began his ascent of the 1100 meter high wall at the Bergschrund on Wednesday, 22 April, at 8:34 AM. 1 hour and 46 minutes later, he pushed the stop watch on the summit. “I didn’t feel well at all initially,” Arnold commented on his shape that evening. “I almost felt sick and thought about giving up.” However, he did continue, and finally found a good rhythm. “I wasn’t super-fast. The only thing that counts is the rhythm,” he says. Considering his time, that is a bit of an understatement – “normal” mountaineers take eight to ten hours for the route through the North Face. Understatement fits Arnold, who tackles even difficult projects with an amazing ease. When he undercut Ueli Steck’s record in the Eiger North Face in 2011, 20 minutes faster than Steck, hardly anyone outside of the scene knew of him. It is a special confirmation for Arnold that he was able to underbid the best time for the Matterhorn North Face as well four years later nearly to the day. “This shows me that I have done many things right in the last few years. This is the most important thing for me about this result.”
Speed and solo ascents are a form of alpinism that the mountain guide from Uri has a special love for. He is known for having a lot of “steam” and mastering even difficult terrain with great confidence. Speed isn’t the only thing Arnold is looking for. He considers himself an all-rounder and continually sets new targets for himself in the various alpinist areas. For example, he worked on various other projects this spring and did not specifically work towards a new record on the “Horu”. “I thought that I wasn’t quite that fit after the many lectures this winter,” he says. “The last tours went great, though.” And so he suddenly set his sights on the North Face again.
The conditions Arnold found on the wall were good, though not perfect. Particularly the upper part had little snow, and climbing on blank ice or rock was accordingly demanding. Arnold summarizes: “It’s probably possible to be faster.”
*All photos courtesy of Mammut
He started using ice picks as a child, when he dreamed of great mountains and had made Stephan Siegrist his role model. Dani’s first ice climbing attempts took place at the frozen brook near his parents’ house – at night, without any experience, with old mountain picks. And without a rope and safety harness, of course. The mountain guide, now 31 years old, started properly climbing at the age of fourteen. A short while later, he first climbed the Eiger North Face as a teen with colleagues. Later, Dani Arnold completed a solo ascent of the 36 pitches of the legendary Salbit West Ridge in an hour and a half. Together with Stephan Siegrist and Thomas Senf, he also completed the first winter ascent of the Torre Egger in Patagonia. Dani Arnold has been known to the wider public since his speed record on the Eiger North Face, where he outperformed Ueli Steck’s time by nearly 20 minutes at 2 hours and 28 minutes.