It's a vision that prompts mixed emotions, an image of beauty side by side with terror. And rightly so; for this astonishing photo of the Matterhorn's Hornli Ridge lit with red lamps was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the mountain's first ascent: an event as bloody as it was glorious.
Though the photograph was shot in 2014, it's likely the mountain will again appear the same way as you read this. The picture is the result of a test run for the anniversary this year, when Zermatt Mountain Guides and Swiss gear manufacturer Mammut will be lighting Edward Whymper's first ascent route for the entire month of July. The deadly first ascent of the 4478m peak – which claimed the lives of four of the seven-strong party – celebrated its landmark birthday on 14 July; but the celebrations in Zermatt are stretching across the year, with outdoor theatre events, commemorative clothing, street festivals and exhibitions. The peak was closed for 24 hours on the anniversary itself as a mark of respect; since the first ascent in 1865, over 500 climbers have died on the peak.
To create the image, teams of guides set off from the Hornli Hut armed with GPS units, altimeters and powerful Mammut X-Sun headtorches. Precision was critical: 46 lights (some of them on the heads of guides, some of them installed by them in situ) needed to be positioned equidistant from each other all the way up the fearsome ridge. Photographer Robert Bosch – famous for his work with Mammut and the Zermatt guides on a series of striking advertising photographs – was stationed at a distance, ready to capture the completed chain of lights tracing the route to the summit.
Given the mountain's natural form, it was always destined to be a striking image. But as in mountaineering, creating the photograph was always going to be a running battle with the weather, and worries were stoked when, just as the lit chain was completed and the pre-dawn sky was sufficiently dark, wisps of cloud began to menace the peak. Thankfully it turned out to be to the team's artistic advantage: in Bosch's long exposure, the cloud takes on a sinister red cast from the lamps. The result is a striking visual metaphor for humankind's spectacular, troubled relationship with this most famous - and notorious - of mountains.
How this incredible image came to be shot is itself an impressive feat - watch the video below to see how it was done.