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Zermatt. No matter what

*Zermatt / Matterhorn

Matterhorn (4,478 m a.s.l.)

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).


4,478 m a.s.l.

First climbed

14th July 1865

First climbed by

Edward Whymper, Douglas R. Hadow, Charles Hudson, Francis Douglas, Michel-Auguste Croz, Peter Taugwalder, Peter Taugwalder

History / Legends

From 1857 onwards, several unsuccessful attempts were made to climb the Matterhorn, mostly from the Italian side.

When Edward Whymper arrived in Valtournanche 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 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 Michi Lerjen 
- Oldest successful climber: Ulrich Inderbinen climbed the Matterhorn in 1990 at 90 years of age
- The youngest successful climber was Kevin Lauber, 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


Information for hikers

Different hiking tips with a view of the mountain

Matterhorn glacier trail (Trockener Steg - Schwarzsee paradise)
Sonnenweg trail (Gornergrat - Rotenboden - Riffelberg)
5-Seen-Weg (5 lake trail) (Blauherd - Stellisee - Grindjisee - Grünsee - Moosjiesee - Leisee - Sunnegga paradise)

Mountain railway offers


Information for excursions

Information about the various peaks

Rothorn paradise
Sunnegga paradise
Matterhorn glacier paradise

Short, easy walks or hikes

Findelbach - Zermatt
Furi - Zermatt
Alpenrosenweg trail (Sunnegga paradise - Tuftern)

Information for mountaineers / alpinists

Valley location

Zermatt (1,620 m a.s.l.)
Breuil-Cervinia (2,050 m a.s.l.)

Starting point

Hörnlihütte cabin (3,260 m a.s.l.)
Bivacco Bossi (3,345 m a.s.l.)
Rifugio Carrel (3,829 m a.s.l.)
Schönbielhütte cabin (2,694 m a.s.l.)
Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi (2,802 m a.s.l.)

Various routes

The Matterhorn is normally climbed from the Hörnligrat ridge, which represents the so-called normal route, or in other words, the easiest ascent. Of all the routes on the 4,000-metre mountains in the Alps, the Hörnligrat is considered to be one of the most difficult normal routes. The technical difficulties are not very great, but route determination and the handling of the ropes present difficulties that should not be underestimated. As long as you keep to the right line, the rock is compact and you are mainly protected from objective dangers. If you stray from the route, however, the rock becomes brittle, and you are exposed to the danger of falling rocks, the rock climbing becomes much more difficult and a great deal of time is lost. The rope groups led by mountain guides therefore often reach the summit first and are also the first back to the Hörnlihütte cabin again, even though they do not climb more quickly. In most cases, guided rope groups are back at the Hörnlihütte cabin from the summit around midday, after 8 hours of climbing. Other rope groups, who do not know the mountain so well, often only arrive a day later.  
At 4,003 m a.s.l., to the north-east below the summit, there is a bivouac for emergencies the Solvayhütte cabin, which is serviced from the Hörnlihütte cabin. It offers protection for up to ten people in cases of emergency, such as a change in the weather or delays.

Nord-east ridge “Hörnligrat ridge” (normal route)

  • Difficulty: ZS+, III+ (French Scale: AD; with III+. UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 5-6 hours
  • Starting point: Hörnlihütte (3'260 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley point: Zermatt (1'608 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 14th July 1865 by Edward Whymper, Reverend Charles Hudson, Douglas Robert Hadow, Lord Francis Douglas, with the mountain guides Michel-Auguste Croz, Peter Taugwalder and his son
  • First winter ascent: 31st January 1911 by Charles F. Meade with Josef Lochmatter and Josef Pollinger
  • First solo ascent: 1898 by W. Paulcke

North-west ridge or “Zmuttgrat ridge”

  • Difficulty: S, IV (French Scale: D; with IV. UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 6-7 hours
  • Starting point: Hörnlihütte (3,260 m ü. M.)
  • Valley point: Zermatt (1,608 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 3. September 1879 by Albert Mummery with Alexander Burgener, Augustin Gentinetta and Johann Petrus
  • First solo ascent: 1st September 1906 by Hans Pfann

South-east ridge or „Furggengrat ridge“

  • Difficulty: SS, V+ (French Scale: TD; with V+. UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 7 hours
  • Starting point: Bivacco Bossi (3,345 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley point: Breuil-Cervinia (2,050 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 9th September 1911 by Mario Piacenza, Jean-Joseph Carrel and Joseph Gaspard
  • First winter ascent: 10th February 1998 by Giorgio Carrozza, Andrea Perron and Augusto Tamone

South-west ridge or “Liongrat ridge”

  • Difficulty: ZS+, III+ (French Scale: AD; with III+. UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 4-5 hours
  • Starting point: Rifugio Carrel (3,829 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley point: Breuil-Cervinia (2,050 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 17th July 1865 by Jean-Antoine Carrel and Jean-Baptiste Bich
  • First winter ascent: 17th March 1882 by Vittorio Sella, Jean Antoine, Jean Baptiste and Louis Carrel

East face

  • Difficulty: SS (French Scale: TD)
  • Time required: 14 hours
  • Starting point: Hörnlihütte cabin (3,260 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley location: Zermatt (1,608 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 18th /19th September 1932 by Enzo Benedetti, Giuseppe Mazzotti with Maurice Bich, Louis and Lucien Carrel and Antoine Gaspard
  • First winter ascent: 27th /28th February 1975 by René Arnold, Guido Bumann and Candide Pralong
  • First traversed on skis: 14th May 1975 by Toni Valeruz

North face

  • Difficulty: SS, V (French Scale: TD; with V. UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 12-14 hours
  • Starting point: Hörnlihütte (3'260 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley point: Zermatt (1'608 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 31st July/1st August 1931 by Franz and Toni Schmid
  • First winter ascent: 3rd /4th February 1962 by Hilti von Allmen and Paul Etter
  • First solo ascent: 22nd July 1959 by Dieter Marchart in 5 hours
  • First solo ascent in winter: February 1965 by Walter Bonatti, on an new and more difficult route, with 3 bivouacs

West face

  • Difficulty: SS, V+ (French Scale: TD; with V+ UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 12 hours
  • Starting point: Schönbielhütte cabin (2,694 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley point: Zermatt (1,608 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 13th August 1962 by Renato Daguin and Giovanni Ottin
  • First winter ascent: 10th /11th January 1978 by Rolando Albertini, Marco Barmasse, Innocenzo Menabreaz, Leo Pession, Arturo and Oreste Squinobal and Augusto Tamone
  • First solo ascent: September 1983 by Jacques Sangnier (this is questionable, however)

South face

  • Difficulty: SS+, V+ (French Scale: TD+; with V+ UIAA level rock climbing)
  • Time required: 15 hours
  • Starting point: Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi (2,802 m a.s.l.)
  • Valley point: Breuil - Cervinia (2,050 m a.s.l.)
  • First climbed: 13th November 1983 by Vittorio de Tuoni and Marco Barmasse

Refreshment areas / mountain cabins

Hörnlihütte cabin (3,260 m a.s.l.)
Bivacco Bossi (3,345 m a.s.l.)
Rifugio Carrel (3,829 m a.s.l.)
Schönbielhütte cabin (2,694 m a.s.l.)
Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi (2,802 m a.s.l.)

Mountain guides-Experiences / Tips

The difficulties on all routes are heavily dependent on the conditions.
Due to the exposed situation, it is important to pay attention to the weather forecast, as a sudden drop in temperature has often been the downfall of a large number of mountaineers on the Matterhorn.

As examples:

On the Zmuttgrat ridge, good conditions can only be expected during one week on average in the summer.
This is usually in early July, when there is still enough snow on the lower part of the route.

Conditions are also at their best in early summer on the North face, or also in the winter months once the north wind has cleared the snow from the face.
In any case, the zero-degrees level must be below 4,000 metres before you can talk about safe conditions.

Snow remains much longer on the Italian ridge (Liongrat ridge) in the summer.
If the Hörnligrat ridge can be climbed at the start of the season once the snow has melted, it usually takes 14 more days before there are also good conditions on the Liongrat ridge.

Most alpinists completely underestimate the Hörnligrat ridge.
This is then reflected in the number of rescue missions.
The ridge is not technically difficult in ideal conditions, but can be completely different when there is snow on the ground. It is therefore important that you should only start to ascend in good weather conditions.

Important! Keep an eye on the time!
The distance from the Hörnlihütte cabin to the Solvay cabin is only ¼ of the complete tour.  
A rope group that takes 4 hours to reach the Solvay will need 8 hours to reach the summit and 16 hours to return to the Hörnlihütte cabin.

Tip! In the morning, it’s better to follow the local mountain guides rather than setting out earlier and then getting lost in the dark and endangering the rope groups behind you through falling rocks.

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