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In 1932, at the Alpine Club in London, Col. Hugh Banning recounts the story of an expedition that took place thirty years before on Switzerland's famed Matterhorn mountain, noting that when the men were near the top, the lead guide fell, taking an American, Jim Stevens, with him. Upon finishing his tale, Banning is joined by American chemist Jeffrey Stevens, Jim's son, who is planning a trip to Switzerland to visit his father's grave. Still haunted by his father's death, Jeffrey bitterly rejects Banning's suggestion that he tackle the Matterhorn. On the train to Switzerland, Jeffrey meets Marie Carrel, a Swiss pianist returning from London to spend the summer with her uncle, Peter Oberwalder, who was one of the guides on the ill-fated expedition. At the Matterhorn, meanwhile, noted alpine guide Hugo Lannier, the son of the doomed guide, fends off the advances of novice climber Clara Kingsley, then learns that Marie has arrived. Hugo plans to ask Marie to marry him and is annoyed to see her with Jeffrey. After Peter gives Jeffrey his father's diary, which mentions his dream of someday climbing the Matterhorn with his son, Hugo offers to be Jeffrey's guide. Jeffrey, however, insists that he will never be ready to climb the mountain. Later, after Marie takes Jeffrey to his father's grave, they join Hugo and the Oberwalder family for a celebration dinner. During the evening, Hugo proposes to Marie, but she asks him for more time to be sure of her feelings. The dinner is then interrupted by the news that two English women have been injured and are stranded on the Matterhorn. Hugo prepares to lead a rescue party, and Peter, Jr., asks to go along. His parents reluctantly consent, and when the boy slips on the icy mountain and falls to his death, Hugo angrily reproaches the two women, blaming them for the accident. Meanwhile, the growing attraction between Jeffrey and Marie has not escaped the notice of Hugo's fellow guide, Jules Koerber, who teases Hugo about it. The jealous Hugo confronts the couple and challenges Jeffrey to climb the mountain. Jeffrey agrees, and early the next morning, Hugo, Jeffrey and Marie set off. The climb is arduous, with many near-disasters, especially for Marie, and the tension between Hugo and Jeffrey escalates. Near the top, Marie hurts her leg, but she insists that the men finish the climb without her. While the townspeople watch the climb through a telescope, Jules comes to warn them that Clara saw Hugo pack a revolver in his gear. A special relief party is quickly assembled to intervene. On the mountain, meanwhile, Hugo and Jeffrey finally reach the top, and Hugo pulls out his gun. Jeffrey strikes the gun out of Hugo's hand, but Hugo knocks him unconscious and cuts the rope, leaving Jeffrey alone to die. Upon rejoining Marie, Hugo admits what he has done, and Marie declares her love for Jeffrey and begs Hugo to go back for him. Hugo agrees, but falls to his death while attempting to reach Jeffrey, who has regained consciousness. Marie and Jeffrey are then rescued by the relief party. Later, at the Alpine Club, Jeffrey concludes his tale of adventure, prompting the members to speculate about what makes men climb mountains. Marie enters, and Jeffrey introduces her as his wife.