Thursday, May 30, 2024

My Matterhorn adventure: Still a mountain to climb for Paul Main

Paul Main on the Matterhorn
Paul Main on the Matterhorn

Turning back from the summit was painful, but fund-raising was the main aim
By PAUL MAIN – Squash Mad Reporter


Squash Mad have kindly asked me to write a report of my recent attempt to climb The Matterhorn. The attempt was to mark my 50th and I chose to do some fundraising on the back of it – a bit more productive than the traditional p*ss up, but I will happily accept a beer from any readers!

Many of you will know that one of my fellow Luton and Dunstable club players, Harry Faulkner, was tragically taken from us just over three years ago aged only 18, whilst playing squash, with an undiagnosed heart condition. Initially I wanted to raise money for C-R-Y, but after discussions with Stefan his father, the purchase of a defibrillator for our club was felt more fitting.

I have been hillwalking for many years and indeed only took up squash around 11 years ago to get fit for a mountain challenge I undertook for my 40th where I raised funds for NSPCC. In 2012 I attempted a Traverse of The Cuillin and subsequent to that the idea of The Matterhorn came to mind.

So, the culmination of those plans took place on Monday 22nd August this year after three or so years in the planning and preparation.

For those who followed me via Twitter etc, you will know that I had the support of Gary Nisbet of Unique Fitness solutions and frankly I couldn’t have been stronger. When I departed these shores I felt the only things that could stop me were the weather and how I would react to altitude. In the end neither element played the pivotal issue when I turned back at around 4,100mts, some 400metres or so from the summit.

The week’s preparation weren’t ideal as bad weather prevented any prolonged climbing, so we were restricted to two very short expeditions whilst getting acclimatised to altitude. Once at The Hornli Hut, at the base of The Matterhorn, we had a bit of practice on the mountain itself and that gave us a real taste of what was to come – stark!

Alps time is different from normal UK time so it was off to bed by 9pm ready for a 4am rise. Managing only 90 minutes sleep was hardly ideal preparation. Being held up in the queue to get started wasn’t ideal either (imagine being in a queue of around 100 where you had to climb vertically in twos the length of a squash court and couldn’t start yourself until the pair in front had cleared!) so things didn’t start well.

As we climbed there was various pushing and barging on the mountainside and as the sun rose so did the temperature and the winds. By the time we got to The Solway Hut at 4,000mts we were an hour behind schedule.

That Hut is considered by most to be “halfway” up in terms of time, therefore a quarter of total time and so discussions were had with the guide as to whether it was safe to carry on, particularly as two people died on the mountain just a couple of weeks earlier. A little further on we agreed to abort.

Sitting in the hotel afterwards with a beer one of the Guides, a leader of Glen Coe Mountain Rescue Team, said, “You have three objectives in the mountains, get back safely, make friends and if you’re lucky make the summit”.

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I have heard of people who have set out to take on The Matterhorn for a decade and more and never even set foot on the mountain itself. At the end of the day the mountain will still be there another day.

I certainly learned a lot, some different training, different equipment especially boots and axe, lighter coloured clothing to reflect rather than absorb the sun and in all honesty, a couple of beers or glasses of wine the night before to get me off to sleep and be sharper to get further up the queue at the start – all marginal gains!

In absolute subjective terms then I failed, however, I did raise enough to purchase a defibrillator for the club, with some extra going to C-R-Y, where you can still donate if you wish:

Later this year a stellar squash star is being scheduled to do a formal presentation/handover of the kit with Stefan Faulkner as guest of honour, and so hopefully raise a few more quid for that great cause – so I don’t consider myself a failure.

I did feel a bit like Captain Ahab afterwards as I stared back up to the summit late that night and Guy, my climbing mate, and I agreed no discussion about future attempts until we were back and settled in the UK.

My wonderful wife, Debbie, on the other hand immediately asked when I walked in the door, “When are you going back?” As it stands, negotiations have started for a 2018 attempt.

I will end with a quote from Edward Whypmer, who was the first to summit The Matterhorn 151 years ago, “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

For the full description of the adventure visit

Pictures by PAUL MAIN


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