Roccia Nera 4075 m, Breithornzwillinge/Breithorn Twin 4106 m and Eastern Breithorn 4141 m

[picture from Sept. 2020]

Our story 

Well, this was an adventure that we didn’t expect. I apologize in advance if this is too long, but I think it’s a story that needs to be told! 🙂 

Our original plan was to head up to the Mischabeljochbiwak on Thursday June 23rd and then climb Alphubel via the north ridge on Friday and Täschhorn on Saturday. But when we checked the weather again on Thursday morning the forecast showed 30 cm of snow expected on Friday, so we decided that it wasn’t the best idea to head up to do two ridge climbs with all that fresh snow. 

The weather still looked very good for the day though, and we didn’t want to waste a perfect day for climbing, so we quickly decided to catch the cable car from Zermatt and do the Breithorn Traverse – a route that we know well since we’ve done it before, so we figured that we would be able to do it pretty quickly (but just in case we’d miss the last lift down we called and checked if the mountain hut at Testa Grigia, near the top lift station, was open). 

We got on one of the first cable cars from Zermatt and reached the Klein Matterhorn in amazing weather – clear blue skies and cold air (the glacier was frozen which felt amazing after all the wet slush we had encountered recently!). Crossing the plateau towards Roccia Nera was quick in these conditions, we only had to slow down a bit towards the end since there were no tracks for the last part – there were tracks going to the half traverse (that starts on Central Breithorn), but then from there we needed to make new tracks to the start of Roccia Nera. 

The climb of Roccia Nera was very different from last time we did it – back then (September 2020) it was all hard ice and we had to climb it in pitches, this time it was good snow and we could just walk up the steep slope. We reached the top a little over two hours after getting off the cable car at Klein Matterhorn. The wind was picking up a bit at this point, but the skies were still clear blue, so we began walking along the snowy ridge towards the Breithornzwillinge. 

The ridge was definitely trickier than last time – much steeper and the snow was very soft, every few steps our feet would plunge through the crust and make us loose our balance, which was a bit scary, so we proceeded very slowly on this section. Finally we reached the rocky sections right before the summit, where we let out some more rope so we could protect the crux section with a couple of cams. 

When we reached the top we had a look around and saw some very dark clouds approaching fast from the valley on the Italian side. It didn’t look great, so we opened up our weather apps again, and now the forecast had suddenly changed – lots of rain and snow was now expected, in only about an hour and a half. We made a quick assessment of the situation and came to the conclusion that our best option was still to continue on the ridge to the col between the Eastern and Central Breithorn, where we knew that there were tracks that we could follow down to reach the glacier and head back towards the cable car station. Back tracing our steps didn’t feel like a great option since the Roccia Nera is very steep, and we felt more comfortable with the idea of descending on the less steep slopes between the Eastern and Central summits. 

We barely had time to make this decision before the wind picked up even more and we were enveloped in a thick white cloud. Shortly after, it began snowing. The hour and a half that we though we had before the bad weather would hit had been reduced to zero. All we could do at this point was to move, in order to reach the point of descent as quickly as possible. 

To get down from the Breithornzwillinge you need to make a series of rappels. We found a good anchor and I headed down first – I saw another anchor after about 5 meters, but figured it was way too close to make another rappel from there, so I kept going… and going. And then I reached the knots at the end of the ropes. There was another anchor just a few meters from me, but I couldn’t reach it. Luckily I was standing quite firmly on a snowy ledge and I could stick a cam into a crack in the rock wall, so I did that and secured myself before detaching from the ropes and taking a few steps to reach the anchor. 

As Emma S. began rappelling down I yelled to her to stop at the second anchor and make another rappel from there – luckily she heard me though the howling winds and was able to reach my anchor with a few meters of rope to spare. We quickly set up for another rappel and Emma went first. She reached the snow but then had to climb up a bit towards the top of the ridge to find a secure spot where she could build an anchor. I followed, but when we tried to pull the ropes down from there they were totally stuck. I kind of wanted to have a full on meltdown at this point – everything was wet, covered in ice, it was freezing cold and we couldn’t see more than a few meters ahead. Not a situation that anyone wants to be in, I think. 

We didn’t really have the option of breaking down though, we just needed to methodically solve any problems and keep moving. So I moved back down to the point where I was vertically right below the rappel station and began pulling hard on the ropes to get them down. Finally something moved (I think they were iced up and the pulling eventually released some of the ice) and the ropes came down. Back at the anchor Emma lended me her down jacket since I was absolutely freezing at this point even though I was wearing all my layers. Feeling a bit warmer helped a lot, it was easier to think clearly and move in a controlled manner this way. 

Ahead of us lay another snowy ridge. We decided to let out the full rope so that I could move up the ridge with Emma belaying me from the anchor, so we could do it as safely as possible – we knew that this section was quite steep and tricky from the last time we did the route, when we saw another rope team tumble down the face in this exact spot, so we didn’t want to take any risks here. As soon as I moved a few meters away I couldn’t see or hear Emma anymore – it’s such an odd feeling, like being in a white bubble. I followed some faint tracks on the ridge for what felt like an eternity before finally reaching the rocks on the other side. There I set up a belay and began pulling in the rope so Emma could follow. 

From there we made our way up the rocks and shortly after reached the summit of Eastern Breithorn, took a quick selfie and went straight toward the first anchor for the two rappels – at this point we knew that the col was close. Two rappels later we were standing on (kind of) solid snow, but very steep and with limited possibilities of making an anchor – all the cracks in the rocks were very shallow and I had to dig to find some solid ice to place an ice screw. 

Now we just needed to find the tracks that we knew were there somewhere along the ridge. We kept the rope short on this section to stay safe and be able to block any slips or falls immediately. I went first since I felt most comfortable on the terrain, and tried to make good steps for Emma to follow in. After a while we saw some tracks leading down the face diagonally and headed down that way. They were quite tricky to follow since they were almost completely filled up with snow – at one point I started doubting if I was actually following someones tracks or a snow-covered crevasse! Some digging to see if there was ice below the snow and a few holes from an ice axe convinced me that they were actually tracks so we kept going. 

While we were climbing down we suddenly heard a voice through the wind – someone yelling ”helloooo”. We thought this was odd – was there someone else out there in the storm? Maybe they needed help? We tried answering, asking if they were ok, but didn’t get an answer. Probably the wind carried our voices in the wrong direction. When we finally reached the glacier we discussed this quickly, and came to the conclusion that the best thing we could do at this point was to get to the mountain hut, or at least to a point where we had cell phone reception, and alert the mountain rescue to the fact that there seemed to be someone in need of help in that area. 

On the glacier there was a really good track to follow and we could finally speed up a bit. It felt SO good to know that we were now near the hut. Eventually we saw the cables and the structures near the Klein Matterhorn lift station. And as we set foot on the ski slopes a big piste machine/snowcat appeared in front of us. The guy driving it took one look at us (he was probably wondering what the heck we were doing out there in the storm!) and stopped – he opened the door to ask if we were ok, and we said that ”yes, we’re fine – we’re just heading down to the hut!”. He told us that he would be happy to give us a ride down there, which obviously was an offer we did not want to refuse, so we climbed in to the driver’s cabin and enjoyed the ride down. 

On the way down he said that if we wanted, he could pick us up at the hut when he was done with work and give us a ride back down to Zermatt with his colleagues and himself. That sounded pretty great, so we decided to wait in the hut and then head down with them. In the hut after only a few minutes we were joined by a rescue team, who had been out looking for two people stuck on Central Breithorn – the people we had heard yelling. They hadn’t been able to locate them in the storm, and were now taking a break at the hut. The hut warden (and member of the rescue team) kindly invited us to eat and drink something with them, much appreciated since we had barely eaten anything all day. We were also able to give them the info we had about the location of the missing people, hoping that they’d be able to locate them later on (we later reached out to the rescue team to ask how it went and learned that they had been brought to safety later that night, very good news!). 

We eventually made it down to Zermatt with the guys working on the ski slopes, and could have a fancy dinner based on instant noodles and cold leftover pizza in the van before getting a good nights sleep. 

We’ve been talking a lot about this experience in the past few days, and are both super proud with how we handled it. It was no doubt a difficult situation, but we managed to stay calm and kept on making good decisions to get down safely. I think our combined experience of being out in the mountains and dealing with crappy weather helped, as well as knowing the route well and being aware of the possible escape routes – we knew our options and could choose the best one. 

Also, three more summits – so we’re now at 10/82! 

We’re now enjoying a bit of well deserved rest (and/or work), and will be back in the mountains in about 10 days! 

//Emma H. 


Route & grade 

Breithorn Traverse, AD+ (if you do the full route, we interrupted the climb halfway).


Pennine Alps, Switzerland

Start of climb 

Klein Matterhorn cable car station, or the bivy Rossi-Volante right below the start of the climb up Roccia Nera.


Approximately 4 km one way from the cable car station

Elevation gain 

+ 1000 m for the full traverse (we did about +800 m)

Estimated time 

1,5-2 hours from Klein Matterhorn to the base of Roccia Nera or the bivy Rossi-Volante.

From there the full route can take anything between 5 to 10 hours depending on conditions and how crowded it is!

About the route 

This is a very nice route with some sections on rock up to grade IV UIAA (very exposed even if not super difficult!). I definitely would recommend spending the night in the bivy to get an early start.

When to climb

Summer. It’s easiest when the rocky sections are still pretty free from snow but the snow ridges are nice and frozen. Slushy snow like what we found on the ridge makes it a bit scary!

Gear to bring 

Rope (30 meters works fine if you also bring a 30 m rad line, otherwise 60 m is a good choice), a few quickdraws, cams, ice screws, ATC/Petzl reverso or similar, a few slings/pieces of cord if you need to add something to the abseil anchors, carabiners, helmet, ice axe, crampons.

GPS track 



I’ll first add some photos from our traverse made in September 2020 to give you an idea of what the route is like when you can actually see something!  Then the photos from this time around 🙂 //Emma

September 2020

Evening at the crowded Bivacco Rossi-Volante.

Rappelling down from the Breithorn Twin.

On the rocky sections of Central Breithorn

On the col between Central and Western Breithorn.

June 2022

Stellar conditions as we headed towards Roccia Nera!

Summit of Roccia Nera.

On the summit of Breithornzwillinge, checking the weather again

Summit of Eastern Breithorn, in the storm!

Very low visibility on the glacier.

Getting a ride down!

The glacier is not looking good at all. There were big rivers flowing down on it as we headed down towards the lift station at Trockener Steg.