22 Summits Stories

Stories from our grandfather Paul Julen - Zermatt ski instructor and mountain guide


It was an incident on the Leiterspitzen (3,407m) that almost cost mountain guide Paul Julen, grandfather of Carolina, Rahel and Nicola, his life in 1961. There, of all places. Not far away on the Teufelsgrat, Paul Julen's eldest brother Max had had an accident in 1957 and crashed on the side of the Kinflanke.

The weather was bad. It was snowing and raining. Paul Julen, a second mountain guide from Klosters, and their guests climbed high into the col and waited until the sun shone. Then they set off. Paul was climbing the exposed and airy ridge with his guest ahead and had just put his hands on the rock when a large stone came loose and threatened to fall on his feet. He was able to save himself by jumping to the opposite side of the ridge. The tightly stretched rope blocked on the edge of the ridge between Paul and his guest and thus prevented a fatal fall.

The generation of Paul Julen, who was born in 1926 as the fifth of 12 siblings, was the first to be able to support their families from tourism. Paul's parents, Severin and Veronika, still lived largely from farming. The family of fourteen spent the summer with their sheep in Findeln. Five of Paul's brothers became mountain guides and ski instructors. Two brothers worked exclusively as ski instructors. Mother Veronika, it is said in the family, was the first Zermatt woman to climb the Matterhorn.

Paul became a mountain guide in his late 20s. He first learned carpentry and carving. At 7 o'clock he went to work. When he came home at 4 o'clock in the afternoon for "Zabund Tee", his brothers were already at home. Paul earned 48 francs a week and worked 60 hours. The other brothers earned 32 francs a day. This seemed to be the better business model, but it also carried a high risk: After Max, the youngest brother "Norbert Seelig" had an accident in 1962 in a snow avalanche in the Findeltrift

Paul Julen climbed the Matterhorn over 300 times. Among others, he guided Thomas J. Watson Jr, the former head of IBM. Watson, then 65 years old and with a severe heart condition, had been teased at every party by Senator and Matterhorn climber Ted Kennedy, led by Paul's brother August, that he had not yet been on the Matterhorn. Watson's arduous ascent to the summit - the descent was by helicopter - was followed by a late political career: he became ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1981.