KMF SPEAKER PROFILE: Hervé and Marco Barmasse and the Matterhornby Hervé and Marco Barmasse Sep/2010
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With the Matterhorn in his backyard and four generations of mountaineering in his genes, it is little wonder that Hervé Barmasse became one of mountaineering's most passionate and accomplished alpinists. He began career on his home mountain - opening and repeating many prestigious routes, steep ski descents and solo climbs there - before leaving the Alps to seek new horizons.
Hervé first travelled to Pakistan to seek unclimbed granite walls, opening up new alpine-style routes and continued his fascination with the rock in Patagonia. Here he established a new route on the north face of Cerro San Lorenzo - before seriously injuring himself on Cerro Piergiorgio. Despite the near tragedy, Hervé would return to the mountain on three occasions, before overcoming the region's notoriously bad weather and partner's close calls to finally reach the summit with Cristian Brenna in a 24 hour push. In between these encounters he made the first solo ascent and first repeat ascent of the Matterhorn South Directissima.
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Hervé and Marco Barmasse, father and son who share the same passion: mountains, mountaineering and the Matterhorn
South face of the Matterhorn, 17 March 2010.
Via Nuova 1200 m – difficulty rating: ..... who cares!
by Hervé Barmasse
Tragedies, grades, topo drawings, records, styles of climbing, controversies and prizes fill articles and stories about modern climbing, increasingly rich in route details and increasingly low on excitement.
Those who expect a technical explanation of the route from this account, with an accurate description of the sections and difficulties, will probably be disappointed. This is the story of a son who, after one generation, decides to relive an adventure begun 24 years previously by his father to attempt to climb with him that Couloir which, from the Enjambée, drops for 1200 m towards the base of the south face of the Matterhorn. A logical and clear line, still unresolved in 2010.
After so many years, with the excuse of making the first ascent of a new route on the “Gran Becca”, the name given by the inhabitants of Valtournenche to the Matterhorn, my father and I, as excited as two novice climbers, nervous and after a sleepless night, were once again roped up. Contrary to expectations we have climbed together only very rarely, the last time dating back to 2001 when we made the first ascent of “Friend”, a very fine mixed route on the west face of the Breithorn. After that climb we each went our own way, near yet, at the same time, far, united by the same passion for mountains albeit with different goals: I was travelling the world to build up experience on various expeditions and my father, always with the same enthusiasm he had when he was twenty, was working as a mountain guide. Whenever we met up, at a family meal or just for a coffee, the “ Couloir” was often the main topic of conversation. We always ended up talking about the Matterhorn which for us Barmasses represents much more than a mere mountain. So many things have been said and written about it; I can only say that this mountain is in my heart and each time I stop to look at it I can only daydream. I think my father feels the same – I must have got it from someone! Years ago my father, after one of his many “firsts” said on TV that falling in love with the Matterhorn was like falling in love with a beautiful and charming woman. I was amazed, too young to understand, but now I agree totally with his idea to the extent that if I can't climb it at least once a year I feel hopelessly bereft.
My father and his 61 years' experience. He never tried to force me “upwards”, but when he understood that I was making a free decision and saw the light of an inescapable destiny in my eyes, he tried to give me the support and motivation to follow my dreams.
He was the one who taught me that in the mountains, in addition to technical training, you must always use your head, with caution and safety, and know how to follow your instinct and fears. He was the one who made me understand that, without a strong passion for the mountains, you should never work as mountain guide or mountaineer.
By Marco Barmasse
“In the Eighties the other Matterhorn guides and myself had managed to climb various routes both in winter and in a single day, so we were ready to attempt the Couloir which splits the south face of the “Gran Becca” in two, ready to enter its heart.
With Walter Cazzanelli, at two o'clock in the morning on 21 December, 24 years ago, I left from the Breuil to attempt to climb the gully which reaches the Enjambée, a classic section of the Normal Italian Route. Two thirds up, given the lateness and a snow bank above a vertical wall where good protection couldn't be set up, we decided to turn back. We returned to the Breuil after 24 hours of effort, satisfied with that goliardic experience in a wild corner of the Matterhorn.
From that year onwards, every winter I began to monitor the conditions of the Couloir, not climbed by any roped-up climbers. Two Swiss climbers had recently tried but, having arrived at the point reached by Walter and myself, they also decided to give up.
South face of the Matterhorn, 17 March 2010
by Hervé Barmasse
I grew as a climber on the South Face of the Matterhorn, where I started with the first ascent of a new route on the “Scudo”, the Shield, before making the first solo ascents of the “Casarotto/Grassi”, “Deffeyes”, “Direttissima” and “Spigolo dei Fiori” routes. And now there is this new climb, difficult both technically and mentally, a unique and exciting experience, the best among all those up now because I had the privilege of sharing it with my father.
We started the ascent at around 7.30 in the morning. The first part of the route alternates difficult sections with easier ones. The snow, which had fallen heavily that cold winter, covered the technical rock sections and made us sink to our waists where it's possible to move forwards together. We reached the start of the key section of the ascent after a couple of hours and then, after a very difficult section, we found ourselves beneath the same vertical face which 24 years previously had barred the way for my father and Walter Cazzanelli.
It was afternoon and we had a few hours of light left. We had to try to get over these last parts fast in order to avoid having to bivvy, something which is not too pleasant at 17 degrees below zero ... I raised my head and looked upwards, trying to find the best way to go. I thought for a few minutes and then made a first attempt, but without success. I tried a second time and after various hesitations I was again forced to descend close to my father who told me firmly that perhaps it would be better to turn back. I asked him for just one more chance, just one try. He agreed.
I started off again, following a loose rock path which died out on a smooth stretch. I wanted to use my ice axes but couldn't find anything to hook. The climb looked risky and difficult to the point that, even if it was very cold and the powdery snow covered the holds, I was forced to take my gloves off to get a better grip. It was all smooth and slippery. My crampons kept scraping on the rock, making that high-pitched grating sound that sets your teeth on edge. Finally, after 15 metres, I managed to position a friend which protected me from a fatal fall. I breathed a sigh of relief and then started off again up some more slabs devoid of any decent holds. I unclipped the ice axes from my harness and started to scrape the snow in search of some ripples. I swore once, twice, three times ... Then, as if by magic, the tip of the blade, like a cliffhook, hooked onto a few millimetres of rock and allowed me to move upwards. I carried on like this, one hold after the other, without placing any pro until I reached the belay. While I belayed my father I thought again about what he'd said a few days earlier: “there's too much snow and not much ice, perhaps the route isn't in condition...”. As usual he was right!
A few remarks about the route
I won't dwell on grades, also because these often depend on the conditions in which an ascent is carried out. I believe however that this is a very difficult route, above all in the final section, where difficult rope lengths are tackled with very widely spaced protection - 4 every 60 m on some sections – rendered even more difficult by the rock quality and then, even if this is a Couloir, we came across hardly any ice at a ll. Climbing with frozen hands with the last piece of pro 15 meters beneath you, you don't think about how difficult it is, but how to avoid falling off.
I would like to thank my father for having given me the possibility of fulfilling one of his dreams.... A dream which was mine too!!! The Barmasse Couloir.
Matterhorn, South Face
Barmasse couloir, 1200m
Difficulty: while waiting for the first repeats, I would say ... tough M.