22 Summits Stories

The first woman from Zermatt on the Matterhorn

On 22 July 1871, the British woman Lucy Walker (1836-1916) in a white flannel dress, accompanied by her friend and mountain guide Melchior Anderegg, her father and other mountaineers, became the first woman in the world to climb the Matterhorn. This milestone in alpinist history took place six years after the drama of Edward Whymper's first ascent. The ascent of the Matterhorn by a woman was kept hidden from the public, as women were forbidden to climb mountains and were certainly not considered authorised to publish about it. At the time, Lucy Walker had narrowly beaten her rival, the American mountaineer Meta Brevoort (1825-1876). Imagine what it might have meant for women of the Swiss mountain population to harbour alpine ambitions, if it was already tantamount to a scandal for the aristocratic ladies. But there was also interest among local women in climbing mountains. Maria Cathrein from Brig, who ran the Hotel Riffelhaus in Zermatt, is said to have climbed the Dufourspitze with Lucy Walker in 1862. She was a hotelier and thus belonged to a privileged class.


The mayor of Zermatt, Joseph Perren (1846-1913), had a daughter, Veronika. She was the great-grandmother of Carolina, Nicola and Rahel Julen and worked on the Flualp. Between 1908 and 1910, when she was not even twenty years old, she was the first Zermatt woman to climb the Matterhorn. Paul Julen, her son, reports that she chose an aspiring priest named Gentinetta as her guide so as not to offend any of her acquaintances. She would have worn a skirt to the Hörnli hut at the foot of the Matterhorn and would have put on trousers there. Her later husband Severin Julen would never have harboured alpine ambitions. "My father was too scared," says Paul Julen.


The alpine journalists Caroline Fink and Karin Steinbach achieved a literary-historical feat with their history of women's mountaineering: "Erste am Seil - Pionierinnen in Fels und Eis. When women go their own way in the mountains". Innsbruck, Vienna 2013.