The Matterhorn is 4,478m high and counts as one of the Alps’ and therefore also Switzerland’s highest peaks. It is also THE Swiss emblem and the world’s most-photographed mountain. The ‘mountain of mountains’ is the focal point in the Zermatt region and the Mattertal valley. Like a magnetic triangle, the ‘Horu’ (the locals’ name) draws everyone’s eyes towards it and it is photographed and filmed thousands of times. The impressive, sheer rock walls are unique, towering in isolation from the rest of the peaks.
The name Matterhorn
The locals call the Matterhorn ‘Hore’ or ‘Horu’ in their Valaisian dialect; in Italy they call it Monte Cervino or Cervino and in French it becomes Mont Cervin or Le Cervin. The name ‘Matterhorn’ is derived from the meadows beneath the mountain. The meadow beneath the Gornerschlucht gorge refers to that part where today Zermatt is located (on the ‘Matte’). In Valaisian dialect a meadow is a ‘Matte’, and thus the name comprises Matte + Horn (a meadow and a peak).
The first ascent of the Matterhorn
On 13. July 1865 eight climbers set off in the early morning towards the Matterhorn. Edward Whymper, Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, Robert Hadow and three local mountain guides: Michel Croz, Peter Taugwalder and his son, Peter.
Going via the Schwarzsee lake they began their ascent over the ridge towards Hörnli and then climbed up to the east face where they set up their tents. While Croz and the younger Taugwalder reconnoitred the route further up, the remainder of the group prepared for their ascent the following day. At the same time, on the Italian side, Jean-Antoine Carell and his companions had been preparing for a Matterhorn ascent for three days and so speed was of the essence.
On 14. July 1865 at 13.15 the first ascent was accomplished. A climb apparently without any great problems and the group were extremely proud of their achievement. The Englishmen tied an old shirt onto a stick and hoisted their ‘flag’ on the summit. They could make out the Italian group further down the mountain.
After about an hour on the summit they got ready to descend. Only 300 metres below the summit Hadow slipped and fell onto the first mountain guide, Croz. They fell down the face together dragging the two Englishmen Hudson and Douglas with them on the rope. With great presence of mind, Taugwalder senior threw the rope around a rock, but the rope between him and Douglas wouldn’t hold and it ripped. The four mountaineers tumbled down to the Matterhorn glacier and thus became the first victims of climbing on the Matterhorn. Whymper survived this earliest ascent and is celebrated at the first man to reach the top of the Matterhorn.
The Matterhorn’s dark side
Following the success of Edward Whymper and his team in 1865, tourism in Zermatt began to develop and many more mountaineers came to try their luck and skill on the Matterhorn. It is recommended to attempt the climb with a mountain guide, as since the first ascent more than 500 climbers have lost their lives on its rock faces and every year the death toll increases.
Matterhorn climbing routes
The 4,478m Matterhorn is one of the most difficult of the 4,000 classic Swiss climbs. Mountaineers need to be extremely fit and have had experience with climbing over rock without crampons. The ascent and descent normally go via the Hörnligrat ridge (the north-east ridge) with an overnight stay in the Hörnlihütte lodge. However, there is also a route from the Italian side going over the Liongrat ridge.
Hiking to the Matterhorn
Day 1: Schwarzsee lake to Hörnlihütte lodge in ca 2 hours
Zermatt 1,608m above sea level
Schwarzsee lake 2,583m above sea level
Hörnlihütte lodge 3,260m above sea level
Zermatt - Hörnlihütte
|Type||Alpine walking trail|
|Lowest (point)||Point 2559 m|
|Highest(point)||Point 3259 m|
Hörnlihütte lodge – base camp for the Matterhorn
The first accommodation on Hörnli was built in 1880 and provided 17 beds and since then has served as overnight accommodation for many climbers. After several re-builds the lodge was expanded in 1982 providing 170 beds for climbers. Just in time for its 150th anniversary the Hörnlihütte lodge was rebuilt and totally renovated in 2015; it is open from July to September.
34 bedrooms with 130 beds
- 10 rooms with 6 beds
- 6 rooms with 4 beds
- 3 rooms with 3 beds
- Toilets and showers on the landing
- 2 suites with private shower/bathroom/toilet
- Recreation room
Day 2: Hörnlihütte lodge - Matterhorn in 4 – 5 hours
Hörnlihütte lodge 3,260m above sea level
Emergency accommodation Solvayhütte lodge at 4,003m above sea level
Matterhorn 4,478m above sea level
Hörnlihütte - Matterhorn
|Lowest point||3260 m|
|Highest point||4478 m|