Ulrich Inderbinen, 103, Guide In the Alps for Seven Decades
Published: June 17, 2004
Ulrich Inderbinen, a Swiss mountain guide who made his last ascent of the Matterhorn at 90, died on Monday in Zermatt. He was 103.
Called King of the Alps by admiring foreign tourists, Mr. Inderbinen died in his sleep at home, according to a family announcement in the daily newspaper Walliser Bote of Brig.
Mr. Inderbinen stopped work only at the age of 95. Even in his 90's, he regularly climbed peaks of more than 13,200 feet, and estimated that he had stood on the summit of the Matterhorn, which he called ''the most beautiful mountain in the world,'' at least 370 times. ''I have never felt bored,'' he once said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''That is, unless my clients walk too slowly.''
Mr. Inderbinen was born into a family of nine children on Dec. 3, 1900, and spent most of his childhood tending animals in the mountains above Zermatt, which was still an impoverished farming community rather than a top international resort.
He made his first ascent of the 14,700-foot Matterhorn in September 1921 with his younger sister, who wore the traditional long skirt and nailed boots. He got his first job as a mountain guide four years later.
''Mr. Inderbinen showed himself thoroughly safe and reliable, so I hope to climb with him more frequently,'' wrote his first customer, a German doctor, in comments that were subsequently echoed by hundreds of other climbers.
In his 70-year career Mr. Inderbinen took time off only once, when he was grounded for 10 days with a shoulder injury after slipping on an icy path. He had his first dental appointment when he was 74. He never needed glasses.
Mr. Inderbinen once said that one of the best periods of his life came after his 80th birthday, when he started competing in skiing races for fun. He always won, as he was the only competitor in his age category.
He was given a pair of skis for his 90th birthday, a gift he put to regular use, and a mountain-climbing ice ax when he turned 95.
Despite his international reputation, Mr. Inderbinen remained modest. Foreign television crews wanting to interview him found he was a man of few words. He rarely took vacations and never saw the sea. He never owned a car or bicycle. ''I am the only person in Zermatt without a telephone,'' he would say, proudly. Clients wanting to make contact with him knew they could meet him in Zermatt's church square in the early evening.
He remained under the spell of the Matterhorn, Switzerland's most famous landmark. ''It's simply a fascinating mountain,'' he said, ''which was as appealing to me on my last climb as it was on my first.''
If anyone asked him of any regrets, he would reply that his family vetoed his plans to visit Tanzania and climb Kilimanjaro at 92. ''I've really no idea why they were all against it,'' he said.
He was once asked by a journalist if he was afraid of dying. ''Not really,'' he replied. ''When I look at the death notices in the paper I scarcely see anyone of my own age.''