22 Summits Stories

The long breath of Ulrich Inderbinen

One of Zermatt's best-known mountain guide personalities is Ulrich Inderbinen (1900-2004). You can still see his picture in some of the cafés and restaurants in the Matterhorn village. Since 2004, a fountain has been gurgling in his honour in the historic village centre. His biography "I am as old as the century" was published in its seventh edition in 2014. When Inderbinen died in 2004 at the age of 104, even the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the British Independent published an obituary on the Swiss mountain guide legend.

Ulrich Inderbinen worked as a mountain guide for 75 years. In 1990, he was 89 when he made the 125th anniversary ascent of the Matterhorn. At 96, he undertook his last major tour. He climbed the Matterhorn 371 times, Mont Blanc 84 times and the Dufourspitze 81 times. His deliberate but tireless pace was notorious. Hermann Biner, mountain guide from Zermatt, remembers:

"In August 1986, we (some guides) were sitting in the kitchen of the Monte Rosa hut with the hut warden Sepp Gruber, waiting for our next guests for the Dufourspitze. A guest came up to the counter and asked if his guide Ulrich had arrived yet. We answered in the negative. A short time later, the guest came to the counter again, very excited, and said that he had found an Ulrich on the official list of mountain guides (which hangs in every hut), who was born in 1900, and that was surely a mistake! We said that the list was correct. Whereupon the guest said that it couldn't be and that he had been cheated at the mountain guide office - this old guide would hardly get on the Dufourspitze.

Later, Ulrich arrived at the hut and, as usual, only talked the most necessary things, which did not reassure the guest at all. At dinner, the two of them (the guest and Ulrich) spooned the soup and eyed each other suspiciously. The next morning at 2 o'clock we all started off with our guests - Ulrich at his usual slow pace, which he pulled off, however, and which turned out to be rather brisk for most of the guests after half an hour. In any case, Ulrich pulled away from all of us, taking only the absolutely necessary breaks and reaching the summit first. When he arrived at the hut after the descent, the guest was exhausted. He told Ulrich that he had gone too fast. Ulrich replied, 'If the gentleman wants to go slower, next time you'll have to hire an older guide than me.'"

When Ulrich Inderbinen was born on 3 December 1900, Zermatt had 741 inhabitants and about 170 mountain guides. By way of comparison: In 2018, the number of inhabitants is approaching 6000 with 60 active mountain guides - new blood urgently needed. This was not the case in Inderbinen's time: Competition among each other was fierce. Without family members who worked in the hospitality industry or in the hotel business and mediated between guests and mountain guides, young mountain guides had a hard time and Ulrich Inderbinen, according to his biography, was too shy to approach mountain tourists on Bahnhofstrasse.

Nevertheless: Inspired by his uncle Moritz and his godfather Theodul Biner, both mountain guides, the young Ulrich took the risk. In 1921 he climbed the Matterhorn for the first time with his sister Martha, his friend Alfred Aufdenblatten and his sister. That was the prerequisite for being admitted to the mountain guide course in Sierre in the first place. The traverse of Wellenkuppe and Obergabelhorn on 6 August 1925 with two Swiss alpinists was one of his first assignments, which earned the young mountain guide an excellent reference in his guidebook. He had three engagements in the first season - after all! Over 70 more mountain summers followed.

Read more

Heidi Lanz/Liliane De Meester: Ulrich Inderbinen. I am as old as the century. 7th edition, Rotten Verlag, Visp 2014 / Hermann Biner: "Das Matterhorn und seine Bergführer" (Rotten Verlag, Visp 2015).