22 Summits Stories

Mountain rescue in the old days on the Obergabelhorn 

One of the most difficult mountain rescues in the history of the village took place in 1959. It was the end of July when 26-year-old Alex Perren, descendant of the first Matterhorn climbers Taugwalder, was on his way to the Obergabelhorn with a guest and had an accident on the south face. Zermatt heard about the accident from his guest, who was uninjured and able to join another rope team. But hours after the accident, the weather conditions were still so bad that the rescue team could not venture up the mountain. It was snowing too heavily. It was a time when injured or dead people on the mountain still had to be carried down on their backs before they could be transferred to mules. It often took a very long time before the mountain rescue officials even heard of an accident, as radio telephones were only available in the huts. Helicopters were not yet stationed in Zermatt and even when there was a rescue helicopter in Sion from 1965, the weather conditions were often such that it could not take off and fly to Zermatt. 

Alex Perren remembers the hopeless situation: he was lying in the snow with an open broken leg, eating his last provisions, drinking his small schnapps and remembering his beautiful but hard life as a child of Zermatt mountain farmers. He was ready to die when, completely unexpectedly, after 16 hours, his fellow mountain guides Thomas Biner, Gottlieb Perren, Josef Biner, Adolf Schaller, Josef Petrig and Herbert Graven appeared. They had set out despite heavy snowfall and found the severely hypothermic Alex Perren. After 24 hours, the second rescue team consisting of Beni Perren, Heinrich Taugwalder and Josef Fux arrived. After 38 long hours, they were finally back in the village. Alex Perren's lower left leg was frostbitten and already black, so they had to amputate. He was in hospital for a long time and received a prosthesis after 18 months. His mountain guide dream was over, but Alex Perren, who at 19 was already the youngest certified ski instructor and mountain guide in Zermatt, did not give up and was already skiing a week after his hospital stay.


He decided to become a hotelier and built a respectable chalet hotel. He soon met his Austrian wife Gisela, with whom he ran the house. The Hotel Alex soon developed into a hot spot of Zermatt's nightlife. In the 70s and 80s, VIPs such as Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldorf, Roger Taylor (Queen) and many more frequented the hotel. So it happened that a mountain guide became a hotelier - and a hotelier with only one leg became the founder of a hip Zermatt dancing location.


Read more

Focus Matterhorn: Zermatt history and stories. Mountain Bible Association. Rotten Verlag, Visp 2015.
Hermann Biner: The Matterhorn and its mountain guides. Rotten Verlag, Visp 2015.
Beat H. Perren: Pioneers of Mountain Rescue. Co-authors: Luzius Theler, Gerold Biner. Rotten Verlag, Visp 2018.