Mountaineering Up The Matterhorn
The Canton of Valais is a paradise for climbers and adventure seekers who want to explore the majestic glaciers, spectacular ravines, and breathtaking mountain peaks. Apart from the spectacular scenery, there are several alpine routes available for all individuals, from beginners to the most experienced climbers who love a challenge.
One popular and exhilarating place for mountaineers to climb is the Matterhorn, one of the most recognizable mountains in the Alps!
The Matterhorn is a calling for mountaineers, and for centuries, individuals from the four corners of the Earth have been willing to answer the call and try their luck at this majestic mountain. This iconic mountain, often called “the King of Mountains”, peaks into the sky at 4,478 meters. Located southwest of Zermatt resort and on the border between Switzerland and Italy, this peak is famous for its four picturesque ridges – the Hörnli ridge, the Furggen ridge, the Lion ridge, and the Zmutt ridge.
Climbing the Matterhorn
Every year, about 3,000 people climb the Matterhorn, which requires outstanding fitness and experience in rock climbing, with and without crampons. This is because the ascent and descent are difficult, physically demanding, and dangerous. Some of the routes have very steep sections, can be covered with snow or ice, and are even at risk of exposure to falling rocks.
Depending on the route, the Matterhorn can be climbed from both the Italian and Swiss sides. If ascending the Matterhorn from the Swiss side, there are over 25 routes and variations to the summit, with the starting point from Zermatt. We’ll tell you about the three main routes up this peak.
While all of the Matterhorn’s ridges can be climbed during any of the seasons, the Hörnli ridge, which is along the northeast side of the mountain, is the most common approach for mountaineers. With the first ascent in 1865, this ridge is the easiest way to the summit. This ridge has a climb rating of “AD”, which means that it is fairly difficult. Normally, the ascent takes two days from Zermatt, with the first part of the climb to the Hörnli Hut, and the second part of the climb along the route and back to Zermatt.
In good weather, especially during the main climbing season (early- or late-June to mid-September), the route can be crowded. “Traffic jams” can even occur if parties are either slow or take a bad route during the ascent, slowing everyone else down.
Photo: Maria Talanova / suissepic
Popular alpinism routes at the foot of Matterhorn
On the first day of the climb, alpinists will usually take a lift to Schwarzsee, a small lake at the foot of the Matterhorn. Individuals will then proceed up a well-marked and maintained trail to the Hörnli hut, where they will spend the night. The ascent from Schwarzsee to the hut is about 700 meters, and takes about two and a half hours.
Some mountaineers have the option of choosing a direct climb from Zermatt to Schwarzsee, which is an ascent of 950 meters and takes about 3 hours. On the second day of the climb, alpinists will climb an estimated 1,700 meters from the Hörnli Hut to the peak in about 6 hours. With this climb, about 1,200 of the 1,700 meters are vertical, making the ascent intense and exhilarating. After reaching the peak, the descent is back down same trail, which takes about 5 hours.
The second popular route up the Matterhorn is the Zmutt ridge, the longest ridge along northwest side of the mountain. The Zmutt ridge is not for novices, but for skilled and experienced alpinists. This route is one of the most difficult to climb up the Matterhorn, and has a “D” climb rating. This is why this ridge is only climbed a few times each year, with the first ascent in 1879. The ascent’s starting point is usually the Hörnli hut, or alternatively the Schönbiel hut, and takes about 2 to 3 days. While the ascent from the Schönbiel hut takes 10 hours and is an additional 600 meters of altitude, the ascent from the Hörnli hut takes about 7 hours, but is much more difficult and dangerous.
The third main route up the mountain is the Furggen ridge, the southeast ridge of the Matterhorn. Like the Zmutt ridge, this route is not frequently climbed, and is the most difficult to climb (“D+/TD” climb rating). The route involves an overnight stay at the Bivacco Bossi hut, and involves a 7 hour hike to the summit. It is usually avoided, and is only tackled by veteran climbers.
Whatever route you take, it will certainly be a unique experience. The enjoyment of climbing the Matterhorn is a real pleasure for mountaineers. The exhilaration you’ll feel at the summit will be unforgettable. Take in the breathtaking panorama of the Alps. For those who want to climb the Matterhorn, but do not have the experience to do it on their own, there is the option of taking a guide from the Zermatt resort.