100% Switzerland for Women

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At the end of September, Maria Dupina, Nadezhda Oleneva, and Polina Oshmarina went to Switzerland to participate in the all-women climbing project and returned with several climbs and bright pictures and impressions. Masha shares hers, as usual, in an ironic way.

By Maria Dupina
Photos from team archive

We fell into a fairy tale! That was the feeling I lived with every one of the six days we spent in Switzerland this September. I am very grateful to people and coincidences that turned my dream of trampling the slopes of the Matterhorn into reality.

With Nadia and Polina, as representatives of the mountaineering community in Russia, we took part in the 100% Women Peak Challenge.

Switzerland is an unusual country. It is impossible and not necessary to compare it with Russia. The gap of differences will not let you sleep well when you return to your homeland.  Therefore I just observed and put impressions into the piggy bank of my memories, and photos into the memory of my MacBook, to enjoy them later, on winter evenings in Krasnoyarsk.

Here are some of those impressions:

  • Too tasty food at the regular stores. It is not a shame to give 3-4 francs for this yogurt, great pastries, and bread. The cost of food is very low relative to the average Swiss wages. The quality is very high.
  • The people are too polite. They take care of their personal space and do not violate the privacy of others, do not play loud music in public places, do not put bags on seats in trains (not to stain), do not push in queues, sincerely appreciate the law and order. If you have to do it, you have to do it. If you can’t, you can’t.
  • Everything is too beautiful. I would say too much.
  • Too many retirees, vacationers, enjoying life, drinking wine, walking in the mountains.
  • Overly elaborate public transportation. Something rides or floats to every destination. And the schedule is designed so that you don’t have to wait for hours on transfers. It takes 10 minutes at the most. The Swiss trains are my love for life!
  • Despite the advanced transportation system and the fact that you can not walk at all, the Swiss are too athletic. They love to walk outdoors, to reel kilometers on mountain trails. It is possible that the Swiss-made such an impression because we were not in the hangout youth places in the capital, which may not differ from Moscow, but there were a lot of people in the mountains too! And this in “covid” times, when strangers are not allowed into the country without a good reason. Domestic tourism is very developed.

On this trip, we only had time to get a glimpse of Switzerland. First of all, none of us had been here before. Secondly, we wanted to see as many areas as possible, get a closer look at the mountains, feel, touch, evaluate, and return with a great project for the future.

And yet within six days, we had time to climb three four-thousand meter peaks (this was a tough plan) in two areas – Eiger and Matterhorn – the most photographed and known in Russia Swiss peaks. I think we managed to do the best we could. A few days we lived in Grindelwald (near Eiger), then we moved to Zermatt (near Matterhorn).

I do not want to “soil the paper” describing prices, maps, routes, and information on how to get there and there. But all general information to drive on our “trails” you will find on the Swiss Tourist Office website, as well as in a handy mobile application of the public transport network in Switzerland.

I will return to the description of local nature, glaciers, mountains, nice Swiss lodges, and green meadows, which touched my soul.

Grindelwald made the most vivid impression. Being a pretty old Swiss village, it became popular among tourists thanks to the Eiger and the famous railroad that tunnels through the mountains to the glacier at the foot of the Jungfrau. This vintage railroad, built with private money and private initiative in 1908 using only manual labor, is stunning!

It took me a long time to believe that a tunnel through the Eiger could be dug by hand only “so that every Swiss could enjoy beautiful views of the Jungfrau Mountain” and not for political, strategic, or military purposes.

All three climbs (Mönch, Jungfrau, and Matterhorn) we made on classical routes, that is 2A-3B in our usual difficulty categories. Although I am a fan of big wall climbing, I got an incredible high on these relatively easy routes. Firstly, because walking on glaciers and crossing avalanche-prone slopes gives me as much mental thrill as a technically complicated wall route.

Secondly, I like mountains very much, and it does not matter what category of difficulty the route is. Third, completing simple routes sometimes takes just as much energy as climbing difficult ones. Because exhaustion is determined by time on the mountain, not by the category of difficulty (even with a good technical base). On the Matterhorn, we climbed for 6 hours and descended for 6 hours. That’s quite a lot. It’s been a long time since I’ve climbed as much in crampons on snow-covered rocks as I have now in the Alps. It was a very rewarding 3B route.

In general, anyone can climb to the top of the Matterhorn. And this is the basic principle of organizing any event in Switzerland, whether it’s railroading or climbing (“everyone in Switzerland should see this beauty”).

And this is what I mean by “everyone”: the classic route (along the Hörnli ridge, which we walked) is equipped in difficult places with points for organizing insurance or self-insurance. In some places, there are even ropes that you can hold on to. At the altitude of 4000m on the ridge, there is a hut built for emergency overnight stay in case of bad weather or for those who didn’t have time to come down. And this is done not so that the crowds of tourists could climb the mountain faster. And for safety. The Swiss are serious about safety in the mountains.

This is reflected in the fact that when planning climbing with a guide, the following rule applies: one guide – one client. No group ascents. It is essentially a different approach from Russia. The guide is responsible for the client, he guides, and belays the client all the time. Of course, this is not cheap. For example, the average cheque climbing with a guide on the Matterhorn (including accommodation in Zermatt) is 1300-1600 francs. It is possible to go and climb the mountain without a guide. To do this, you just need to book a place (20 francs) in the right hut under the mountain (it is prohibited to sleep in tents in the Matterhorn region – this limits the daily flow of climbers). However, without a rope, enough equipment, and basic mountain training, in my opinion, there is nothing to do on the mountain. After all, this is mountains and mountaineering – a potentially life-threatening sport, please remember about that. Well, and do not forget to buy local insurance (35 francs per person per day at the local tourism office), Swiss helicopters come quickly, but the flight is “expensive”.

Taking the train past the northern wall of Eiger, I found a new dream! I don’t know how time-consuming this project will be or if it is realistic to do it in winter, but now I know for sure that I will come to Switzerland again for it. And then a couple or three more times with my husband to ride the Swiss trains, and for all the things we didn’t get to see during those overly intense six days in an amazing country. Now I know exactly how to spend the money I earned in Russia!

And a little about the 100% Women Peak Challenge.

In just over half a year since March 8, more than 700 climbers from more than 20 countries has climbed summites higher then 4,000 meters in Switzerland in teams made up entirely of women. It was a very exciting challenge. And the organizers report that by the end of the project on October 8, the all-women teams had climbed a top of all 48 four-thousand meter peaks in the country, on some of them more than once. On the project’s website, you can see a lot of summit photos of the project participants, designed to give a sense of partnership and show how big the women climbing community is.

We are grateful to the Swiss Tourism Office in Russia for their help in organizing the trip.

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