22 Summits Stories

The little versatile one

There are 1255 mountain guides in Switzerland, only 30 of them are female (as of December 2018). One of them is Bettina Sulliger-Perren from Zermatt. She studied sports education and has been guiding guests safely through the mountains for 25 years. In this profession, she moves in a male domain and has learned to deal with prejudices over the years. "When I became a mountain guide, I was insanely proud of my badge. I wore it on my jacket and marched through the village. The people of Zermatt were cool with me, but out-of-town mountain guides who had never seen a female mountain guide before made stupid comments. At some point I went out in private equipment when I was guiding regulars. That way, we could overtake rope teams in peace, without people talking shit. I had my peace in the mountains again.

When Bettina Sulliger-Perren gets requests, she decides realistically: "I don't go out with untrained or heavy guests. That plays a role especially on the Matterhorn, because the danger of falling is greatest there. My physique is different, I don't have broad shoulders, but I still have to have the same equipment with me. If the guest has a crisis, I have to be able to take something off him."

If she were to compare herself to a mountain, she describes it like this: "I'm a bit like Pollux: small and versatile. It is varied: glacier, rock, glacier. First you cross the huge Breithorn plateau: freedom! Vastness! You don't see the Pollux for a long time. It is inconspicuous. Then, when you get to the bottom, you have to climb. At the end it's a bit like the Matterhorn, with fixed ropes and chains. At the end, there's a beautiful summit ridge. You climb towards the sky. On foot, with skis, without skis: everything is possible. If the steep flank facing southwest is not icy, I ski down it. The Pollux is the little twin of the Castor, and I also have a twin - my brother Ronnie. We have been touring together since we were teenagers. When we were 12, we went out on our own for the first time. It was adventurous: we went towards Untergabelhorn with an old military rope made of hemp. We had no idea how to tie it around ourselves properly and our parents had no idea what we were up to. We told them something. It turned out all right. Mountaineering always starts somewhere at the bottom."