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*150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn

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Information about the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn is more than a wonder of creation. Through its shape and its unique solitary position, it is considered to be the epitome of a mountain. But there’s even more: there is no better-known mountain in the world whose natural shape comes as close to a pyramid as the Matterhorn. The pyramid shape symbolises the link between nature and culture, landscape and history. As a result of enormous forces, Africa moved closer to Europe 100 million years ago, and the ocean between the two continents began to recede. 50 million years later, large groups of rocks began to deform and fold, and the Matterhorn was born from the rock masses forcing their way upwards. It is a landmark and symbol of Switzerland, and the most beautiful and most photographed mountain in the world.

The Matterhorn was climbed for the first time on the 14th July 1865. Four of the seven men – led by the Englishman Edward Whymper – lost their lives as a result. Everyone was talking about Zermatt and the tragedy on the Matterhorn. The rope that connected Edward Whymper and father and son Taugwalder from Zermatt to the rest of the unfortunate rope group, and which broke during the descent, is displayed in the Matterhorn Museum alongside other relics of the first ascent.

Origin of the name
The Matterhorn is first mentioned in medieval documents as “Mons Silvus”. The name later mutated into “Mons Servinus” and “Mons Servin”, and finally became “Cervin” in French and “Cervino” in Italian. Etymologists disagree about the origin, however: some believe that it was the Latin word “silva” (forest), while others support the Italian word “cervo” (stag). The Matterhorn was first referred to in writing as “Mont Cervin” in 1581, and later also as “Monte Silvio” and “Monte Servino”. The German name “Matterhorn” first appears in the year 1682. The name is probably derived from the “Matte”, meaning meadow, referring to the grassy extended valley under the Gornerschlucht gorge, which has now been almost completely covered by the village of Zermatt (“zur Matt”). The mountain is also known by the locals as “ds'Hore” (= das Horn (the peak) in Zermatt dialect) or “ds'Horu” (in Upper Valais dialect).

From 1857 onwards, several unsuccessful attempts were made to climb the Matterhorn, mostly from the Italian side. When Edward Whymper arrived in Valtournenche in July 1865, this was already his sixth summer season in the area. During the previous five summers, Whymper has failed to climb the mountain that was regarded here as the King of the Alps and was considered to be unclimbable. It is not the highest summit, as the Monte Rosa, which is almost directly opposite, is higher by almost 170 metres, but the rock pyramid, commanding respect enthroned on the massive body of rock that makes it unique, had previously defeated all would-be conquerors. Each unsuccessful climb strengthened the superstition of the unconquerable mountain, so that even experienced local mountain guides often turned down generous offers from the leaders of foreign expeditions. But the Briton did not believe in mountain demons, and his project was based on calm considerations. He had studied the books the books of Horace Bénédict de Saussure and had come to the conclusion that the mountain could be conquered from the Swiss north-east ridge, and not from the Italian south-west. It was not Breuil that would be his starting point, but Zermatt! The place where the Mont Cervin was known as the Matterhorn. The Englishman Edward Whymper had once fallen almost 60 metres there.
In 1862, John Tyndall was the first to climb the south-west shoulder, today’s Pic Tyndall, together with the guides Bennen, Anton Walter, Jean-Jacques and Jean-Antoine Carrel. The continuation of the ascent along the Liongrat ridge seemed impossible to him. Whymper also regarded the Liongrat ridge as being unfeasible. He therefore attempted to persuade his friend Jean-Antoine Carrel to attempt an ascent from the Zermatt side, but the latter insisted that he wanted to climb from the Italian side. In July 1865, Whymper happened to learn from a publican in Breuil that Carrel had set off for the Liongrat ridge again– without informing Whymper. Whymper felt he had been deceived, and hurried to Zermatt in order to assemble a group for an immediate attempt via the Hörnligrat ridge.

On the 14th July 1865, the mountain was successfully climbed for the first time by Whymper’s 7-man rope group. The group climbed onto the shoulder over the Hörnligrat ridge and, further up, in the area of today’s fixed ropes, diverted onto the north face. Edward Whymper was the first to reach the summit, followed by the mountain guide Michel Croz (from Chamonix), the Reverend Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, D. Robert Hadow (all from England) and the Zermatt mountain guides Peter Taugwalder senior and Peter Taugwalder son. They spotted Carrel and his group far below on the Pic Tyndall. As the climbers were descending again, and while still above the so-called “Schulter (shoulder)”, the four leading men in the rope group (Croz, Hadow, Hudson and Douglas) fell to their deaths over the north face. Three of the dead were recovered several days later on the Matterhorn glacier, but the remains of Lord Francis Douglas were never found. Carrel also reached the summit three days later by traversing from the north end of the Italian shoulder through the upper west face and onto the Zmuttgrat ridge (the so-called Galleria Carrel), and then completed the ascent along the ridge.

Records on the Matterhorn
  • Solo ascent of the Matterhorn Nord Face in 1:56 hours by Ueli Steck
  • From Zermatt to the summit on foot in 3:45 hours by Troillet, Marti, Farquet
  • From the Hörnlihütte cabin to the summit and back to the cabin in 2:33 hours by Simon Anthamatten and Michael Lerjen
  • Oldest successful climber: Ulrich Inderbinen climbed the Matterhorn in 1990 at 90 years of age
  • The youngest successful climber was Kevin Lauber (son of the longtime hut warden of the Hörnli hut), who climbed the Matterhorn for the first time in 1999 at the age of 8
  • The mountain has been climbed the greatest number of times by the mountain guide Richard Andenmatten: he has reached the summit more than 800 times
  • The Zermatt mountain guide Andreas Steindl, back then 22 years old, succeeded in running from the Zollhaus in Zermatt at the end of the village to the summit of the Matterhorn in 2 hours and 57 minutes. Date: 23th August 2011
  • End of September 2011 the Zermatt mountain climbers Patrik Aufdenblatten and Michael Lerjen climbed the Matterhorn North Face via the Bonatti route in 7 hours and 14 minutes

Facts and figures
Height4,478 m a.s.l.
First ascent14th July 1865
  • The Furggrat, Hörnligrat and Zmuttgrat ridges are the well-known ridges
  • Route most often used: Hörnligrat
  • Most difficult routes: on the North Face
Number of deaths
since the first ascent
500 (as of the end of the summer season 2011). Every year, between
300 - 400 persons attempt to reach the summit of the Matterhorn with a mountain guide. Of these, approx. 20 fail to reach the summit. Around 3,500 persons try to reach it without a mountain guide every year, of which, from experience, around 65% give up the attempt. The reason usually lies in lack of condition and the onset of vertigo. The weather is also often a factor, as weather conditions can change very quickly (drop in temperature, thunderstorms). Rescues often have to be initiated by Air Zermatt (founded in 1968). On a day with ideal conditions, up to 300 alpinists climb the “Hore”.
Ideal time for an ascentJuly to September
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