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Big plans on the Matterhorn

The Zermatt Civic Community is planning to invest several million francs in the renovation and extension of the existing mountain huts on the Matterhorn. The modernized accommodation is to be opened in 2015 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. It is intended to upgrade the Hörnli Hut with space to sleep 120 and a daytime restaurant to meet increased guest requirements and the latest standards of technology.

The current accommodation options on the Matterhorn at 3260 m.a.s.l. consist of two buildings: the Berghaus Matterhorn (Belvédère), from the turn of the 19th century, which is owned by the Zermatt Civic Community, and the Hörnli Hut, which was built in 1965 by the Monte Rosa section of the SAC on a leasehold plot belonging to the people of Zermatt. The two buildings are not linked and both are in urgent need of renovation. By 2015, the two buildings are to become one unit that will meet today’s requirements in terms of gastronomy, functionality, energy, sanitary facilities, water supply and wastewater disposal, whereby the water shortage at the foot of the Hörnligrat presents a particular challenge. Plans envisage solving this problem in a similar way to the new Monte Rosa Hut; snow would be melted in winter and stored in a tank under today’s SAC hut.

Operational challenge
Every year, an average of up to 3500 guests stay overnight on the Matterhorn. Of these, some 400 stay in the Hörnli Hut and 3100 in the Berghaus Matterhorn. The narrow dormitories for up to 25 persons and simple sanitary facilities no longer meet today’s requirements. On summer days, up to 140 mountaineers set out on the ascent of the Matterhorn. The Berghaus Matterhorn is also extremely popular with day guests, who have played a large part in the success of the lodge. This results in the modest infrastructure and hut team around host, Kurt Lauber, regularly reaching the limit of what is within the realms of possibility. Fernando Clemenz, Director of Mountain Operations at the Matterhorn Group sums it up: “It is of prime importance to the responsible persons in the civic community and the Matterhorn Group to offer guests suitable facilities and services at this special location, even if the focus is not on a profitable operation because of the short opening period.”

New construction or renovation: different versions under examination
The initial position is not exactly straightforward and also somewhat out of the ordinary, even for the Matterhorn Group: the modernization of a major building complex in the high mountains requires time. Thus planning at the Matterhorn Group has been pressed ahead with for months, even while decision making is still in progress. The civic community has commissioned Zermatt architect Hans Zurniwen to draw up a pre-project for the renovation and extension of both huts on the Matterhorn. The pre-project will present and examine different versions. The preferred version is to renovate the Berghaus Matterhorn and build a modern extension to replace the Hörnli Hut. Another option being considered is to replace the Bergaus Matterhorn with a completely new building or an extension to the western section of the building. Particular attention will be paid to the building services and supply concept during modernisation. Solar panels will be installed for the supply of hot water. There are no plans for an actual heating system; the major part of heating needs will be covered using passive solar radiation. The water supply will be provided via a water reservoir for meltwater, which must have a volume adequate to ensure the supply until September. Wastewater disposal will take place using the proven method of a separate sewer system (solid/liquid) with sewerage system and sewage plant disposal, whereby a small hydropower station will be operated using treated grey water. In addition, a ventilation system is planned for the kitchen and communal room and the installation of a photovoltaic system envisaged on the south façade for the supply of electricity. Initial cost estimates anticipate an investment of approximately 7 million francs for the renovation and extension of both huts.
Zermatt Civic Community want to buy Hörnli Hut
The responsible bodies of the Zermatt Civic Community and the Monte Rosa section of the SAC agree that for operational and economic reasons, it would make sense for the future responsibility for catering operations at the start of the Matterhorn climb to be in one pair of hands. The Zermatt Civic Community now wants to take over the entire building project and buy the Hörnli Hut from the Swiss Alpine Club. Preparatory building work can commence in 2012, as soon as the decision is made on the version chosen for the extension and renovation. A possible new-build section would be realized in 2013 and 2014 and completion work carried out in 2015. The smooth running of normal hut operations must be ensured during the building phase, because closing the Hörnli Hut would be equivalent to closing the Matterhorn. Environmental associations are included in the key planning phase as well as the SAC and regular discussions are held. All agree that a modern operation will welcome guests in 2015, at the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn.Thrills at Switzerland’s most famous SAC hut 

Thrills at Switzerland’s most famous SAC hut
“You never walk alone” – appropriate words published on the Internet by a hiking blogger from England. Anyone hiking from the Schwarzsee lake towards the Hörnli Hut is truly never alone, because an increasing number of mountain hikers are now making the ascent as well as climbers. Some people sit equipped with binoculars on the terrace of the Hörnli Hut like avid fans. From their ringside seat they watch every step - or false step - of the Matterhorn gladiators and comment on the events.

Hörnli Hut guests, day visitors, know that a stay on the terrace is a “live” thriller, mountain panorama and perhaps documentary of a dramatic rescue rolled into one. If poorly prepared climbers are en route, watchers can be witness to a game of Alpine Russian roulette played by the summit hopefuls. Of climbers who enter the wall with poor equipment and scant preparation and then tumble down like rag dolls from the east flank. At worst, the unfortunate climbers belong to the ten per cent of victims who disappear for ever into the glacier.

But up there are also many serious mountaineers, the summit scalers, whose presence has made the Matterhorn world famous since 1865 and continues to do so today. And then there are the charismatic mountain guides, who lead their guests safely up and down the magical “Hore”, the local name for the mountain. Every summer they make their pilgrimage to the Hörnli Hut and accept the stresses and strains of a restless, if not sleepless, night in a dormitory with up to 25 people. And if water is in short supply, they’ll also go without brushing their teeth. On sunny, summer days there are so many climbers on the Matterhorn that lack of space on the roped routes results in exchanges of strong language, holdups and accidental rock falls.

In its almost 150 years of mountaineering history, the Matterhorn has claimed well over 500 lives. Four deaths occurred at the start in 1865. After Englishman Edward Whimper’s seven-strong team stood in triumph on the summit, he was acclaimed the victor. However, four people fell to their deaths on the descent and Whimper faced court proceedings. Nevertheless, the Matterhorn has a magical attraction. It is the most photographed mountain in the world. It holds many mountaineers in its grip and won’t let go until they too have stood on the summit.

Information on the first ascent and the torn rope of Whimper’s team: on view in the Matterhorn Museum

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