Conquering the Matterhorn: Jamie Andrew on the Mountain of Mountains

On a wet afternoon in the summer of 2015 I had a wide-ranging conversation with the celebrated Scottish mountaineer Jamie Andrew, a discussion which covered his journey from the tragic five days he spent trapped on the north face of Les Droites in the Mont Blanc massif to his triumphant return to Alpine climbing less than two years later. Jamie’s story is one of survival, strength, and a man with an unbending determination not to allow the loss of his hands and feet to limit or restrict him. As we parted in the rain I reflected on what was next for Jamie, with little idea that he would soon capture the country’s attention with an ascent of the deadly Matterhorn, one of Europe’s greatest and most evocative mountains. Jamie has once again shared his experiences with bespoken, and we talk within weeks of his return to the UK after this remarkable feat of human endeavour.  

A 4,478 metre peak resting on the border between Switzerland and Italy, the Matterhorn is often popularly known as the ‘mountain of mountains’, and since the first ascent in 1865 hundreds of climbers have lost their lives in the treacherous journey to the summit. “After convincing myself it was possible I started planning the climb back in 2011” Jamie tells me. The dangers Jamie was facing quickly became apparent when his friend Roger Payne was tragically killed in an avalanche on Mont Maudit in 2012. In 2013 Jamie attempted the ascent with a Channel 5 crew, however after climbing too quickly and risking the debilitating effects of altitude sickness he was forced to turn back just 250 metres from the top. “I’m a husband and a father, and my family is the most important thing to me – getting off the mountain safely was my priority”. Over the course of the following two years Jamie’s efforts were repeatedly thwarted by adverse Alpine weather conditions, and he was forced to concentrate on climbing other peaks.  

By 2016 Jamie had spent five years planning his ascent of the Matterhorn. He tells me that “I was fit enough, I was experienced, and I knew what to expect”. Preparing to attempt the climb once again, Jamie assembled a team “capable of climbing independently so that they could help me if necessary” and made his way to the mountain. Jamie’s colleagues, Steve Jones and Steve Monks, ensured that “every time we stopped there was another pair of hands to make things go quicker”. Time was critical as the men faced a short window of stable weather conditions. “We had to do it that day, and we weren’t going to spend the night on the mountain in a bivouac – we had to move quickly, which was a worry”. Always a dedicated advocate of the elegance of simple solutions, Jamie also avoided technically-advanced adaptations to support his climb in favour of “my standard legs, with crampons fitted too – the only other adaptations were my walking poles, including a 40 cm long pole for clutch”. Moving swiftly and efficiently to take advantage of perfect conditions, Jamie and his team safely achieved the summit of the Matterhorn within six hours. 

Reflecting quietly on the immensity of the mountain, Jamie tells me that “the summit is a tiny crest of snow and ice and rocks, just 100 metres long – perched above the north and south faces, I had a feeling of being above all things”. He was aware however that the summit is “precarious, and not a place to relax – we were keen not to spend too much time there, and were there for just 10 minutes”. Jamie and his team safely descended from the Matterhorn, the culmination of five years of focused work and effort. As our time draws to a close I ask him what challenges lie ahead, and as always his family is first and foremost in his thoughts. “Family is the toughest and most important challenge – there will be something, further challenges, but I’ll be taking time before settling on what’s next”. Whether ascending the world’s greatest mountains or at home with his wife and children, Jamie Andrew’s achievements are testament to the power and endurance of the human spirit.  

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