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Mapping and alpinism, their history is often tangent, and here is our narration about these occasions centered on the beautiful Matterhorn, maybe long to read but worth the time it takes.. a little holiday gift to our readers…


The Matterhorn and the history of Mapping

by Giulia Mainenti and Jeeltcraft


Matterhorn, Cervino, Gran Becca.
The Matterhorn has a lot of names and many stories to tell, all of them stretched along its 4478 meters of altitude.
Located in the “Pennine” alps, on the mountain group called Dents d’Herens-Cervino, its ridge forms the border between Italy and Switzerland, which share the two highest peaks of this majestic piramid of rocks and ices.Along with the Eiger and the Grandes Jorasses, the Matterhorn has always represented one of the more challenging ventures for climbers all around Europe, and still remains a mountain which presents quite a few difficulties while hiking, only good for experts and profs.
If you spend a short time looking at this mountain you’ll realize that the east wall looks like a rock slipway with its frightening inclination.
The north wall instead is pointed by webs and flows of perennial snow; sure you couldn’t say that the left two walls look more welcoming.
As any mountain which conquer humanity, the Matterhorn brings men to try to achieve itself.
The first attempts to build a way to the peak date back to the second half of the nineteenth century.
Edward Whymper would be the first to try repeatedly since 1862, from the Italian side and from the Swiss side.
On the 13th of july 1865 seven people departed from Zermatt, on the Swiss way: Edward Whymper, reverendo Charles Hudson, Douglas R. Hadow, Lord Francis Douglas, mountain guides Michel Croz and Peter Taugwalder father, with his son. They reached the peak at one PM, the day after; after ten hours of climing at the Hörnli ridge (north-east), building the normal Swiss way. But the worst surprise was on their way back, the roped party became protagonist of one of the most sadly famous episodes of alpinism’s history: the void and the rocks swallowed Hadow, Croz, Douglas and Hudson.In the meantime on the opposite side, the day was the 16th of july, when the tragic news wasn’t already arrived to Cervinia, Jean-Antoine Carrel, Jea-Baptiste Bich, Amè Gorret and Jean Augustine Meynet started their venture on the Italian side. they already had tried to aim the peak from the sourth, encouraged by the minister Quintino Sella and by the Italian “Club Alpino”. But the crew soon had returned on teh valleybottom, after seeing Whymper’s mates on the peak. But the second attempt was the good one, Carrel and Bich got to the summit, by the Lion ridge (south-west)on 17th of july 1865.
For the ascent on the Zmutt ridge (north East), a difficult way exposed to the weather, you need to wait until the 3rd of september 1879, with Albert Mummery’s English expedition, his mates were Johann Petrus, Augustin Gentinetta and Alexander Burgener. Mario Piacenza, Joseph Gaspard and Jean-Joseph Carrel would build the walk on the Furggen ridge (south-west) on the fourth of september 1911.
Anyway the most suggestive places remained the north walls. I learned that standing under the north wall of the Eiger, like an ant hidden in the shadow.
The “inconceivable north” was first owned by Franz and Toni Schmid, on the first of august 1931.
Indeed the most direct way was built by an Italian climber.
It was february, in 1965, a century had passed since the first ascent on the Matterhorn, and Walter Bonatti had already announced the end of his extreme climbing activity, he decided by then to challenge himself on a last impossible venture: to hike the mountain on the north side, the more direct way, in winter time.
His first attempt was on the 10th of february, along with Gigi Panei and Alberto Tassotti, the way they tryed was the one that Kaspar Mooser and Victor Imbode had tried in 1928. But soon the rope party crew had to come back due to the storms that overtook them during the night camp.
He tryied again in a few days, on the 18th of february, alone.
Only few people knew of this venture of his. His only travel mate was Zizi’, a teddy bear, gifted by the son of one of the mentioned few people. After climbing for 5 days, with the only company of the matterhorn’s shadows and winds, sometimes Bonatti talks to Zizi’ and asks him if he thinks they will be able to reach the peak (if you’ve seen “cast away” you’ve probably thought about Wilson).
Walter Bonatti was crossing the way which will be called “The Angels’ Crossing” a transverse climbing way more than 100 meters long, with polished icede rocks and extreme slope, seldom hammering nails, to accomplish a psicological need more than to secure the way.”If I raise my eyes I cannot see the peak,but neither Zermatt if I lower them”.On the 22th of february at 6.30, during the dawn, the temperature was -30 degree, Bonatti was on his third camp, a bit of space arranged between the ices the night before. He was bound to the mountain by two ropes, one bound to the torso and the other to the legs. He was waiting for the light signals by Mario de Biasi, who used light to communicate with him from the town on the valley, still absorbed by the night.”That little light from the valley is the only human sign to accompany my venture since 3 days ago.”Bonatti confirms his presence to De Biasi, to let him know everything is allright. Then he goes on for the last day of his venture, hanging from the horizontal rocks. He arrives to the summit of the Matterhorn in the afternoon of the 22nd of february, through the future “Bonatti way”.
“I wonder if at this point you could say I crossed the limits of what is reasonable, and challenged fate for my personal pride.But you see, wisdom and fate are worth for what we are, aren’t them? I’m ending this reflections realising that wisdon today is for me this challenge to the Matterhorn, and my fate shall be arriving to the peak.”

History of Mountains and Maps

Nearly three centuries ago, during the second half of the eighteenth century, the swiss naturalist Horace Bénedict de Saussure made a big step in his age’s geology, meteorology and alpin cartography studies. His travels and his scientific studies will bring the first turistic traffic on this mountains, and the history now considers him as the founder of alpinism. In august 1786, after being targeted with persistent proposals by De Saussure, Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard acieved the summit of the Mont Blanc, after them De Saussure himself, along with a few mates, went to the peak in order to finally measure its altitude.
So we can tell there is an history of map designers who decided to challenge themself with the alps, and the last step has been done not so many weeks ago.
A young swiss startup decided indeed to build its promotional venture on the Matterhorn, to prove the ability of its drones on 3D mapping the mountain surface.
That drones are designed with the help of technologies from swiss research’ labs, and the software they use to manage sensors is called eMotion: it plans the flight in 3D, does simulations, and controls it live with the ability to change it in real time.
With the Postflight softwareit’s possible to retrack the path through geotags, in 2D and 3D maps.
In the Sensefly home page you can find a list of applications for this technology.
This effort on applying the tech research to human realities is the reason for our interest, we want people to try these applications that brings for us all a better life.
Funding for their researches arrived from France also, thanks to the Parrot group:

Their next step will be the CES conference, that takes place in Las Vegas in two weeks.
Our compliments go to the Sensefly guys, who mapped the north, east and west walls of the Matterhorn, the south side lacks from this list, as you’ve probably noticed, we tried to wait a few days, remembering past experiences, but nothing happende from the italian side.

How much time will we continue breaking projects, hikings, explorations, by nationality or political bounds?
We keep thinking of Zizì.. brought to the summit without asking his nationality, italian, swiss, person or teddy bear… Only few people knew

Short Bibliography:

  • BONATTI W., Montagne di una vita, Milano, Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore, 2005
  • CAMANNI E., Il Cervino è nudo, Courmayeur, Liaison, 2008
  • MACFARLANE R. “Mountain of the Mind”
  • MAZZOTTI G., Grandi imprese sul Cervino, Torino, CDA & Vivalda, 1999
  • WHYMPER E., Scrambles amongst the Alps in the years 1860-69, Londra, Murray, 1900