The Matterhorn is recognised as having perhaps one of the most iconic mountain profiles in the world, along with Everest and Ama Dablam. To climb this famous summit remains a significant challenge and is still one of the European Alps most sought after ascents.
The Matterhorn, Monte Cervino (in Italian) or Mont Cervin (in French) lies between the town of Zermatt in Switzerland and Breuil-Cervinia in the Italian Aosta Valley to the south. At 4478m the summit is high, infact one of the highest summits in the alps with no truely 'easy' route to the summit.
Climbing the Matterhorn
To climb the Matterhorn by the easiest ridge, the Hörnli Ridge (or Hörnligrat), the ability to cope with roped scrambling for a long period of time is essential. Technical rock climbing ability is not really required but sure footed-ness, good balance and an ability to deal with the heady exposure of such a significant summit are useful for a successful ascent. Moving steadily, continually moving together on the rope with you partner or Mountain Guide, is also imperative to ensure a timely ascent, as the summit is also exposed to any deterioration in the weather. You will find a series of images at the bottom of the page, showing the nature of the climbing on the Hörnligrat.
In most cases the peak season for climbing the Matterhorn is from mid July to mid August. Normally the Hörnligrat needs to be largely clear of snow on the lower section and ideally up to 'The Shoulder' close to where the upper fixed ropes begin. The Matterhorn Webcam is a useful tool if planning a visit.
The lofty ridges and steep faces of the Matterhorn are steeped in the history of alpinism. The first ascent of the Matterhorn is a famous story of both triumph and tradegy as Edward Whymper, Lord Francis Douglas, Charles Hudson, Douglas Hadow, Michel Croz and Peter Taugwalder father and son made the summit on the 14th July 1865 (via the Hörnligrat). In doing so the major peaks of the western alps were climbed heralding the end of the 'Golden Age of Alpinism'. Sadly, Douglas, Hudson, Hadow and Croz were killed in descent when Hadow slipped pulling the three other men down the north face. The others were saved by the rope they had employed snapping between the remaining members of the party. For anybody interested in the history reading Edward Whymper's Scrambles amongst the Alps is an essential and engaging read.
All the ridges of the Matterhorn are climbed regularly with the Hörnli Ridge and the Italian (Lion) Ridge being the most popular. However, the scale of the mountain, objective hazards not to mention other parties make any ascent something to be proud of.
Hörnli Ridge (Hörnligrat) AD: The most common method of ascent starting in the town of Zermatt. The usual method is to take the cable car to Schwarzsee before walking to the Hörnlihutte at 3260m (closed for renovation in 2014). Starting at around 4am most of the lower section is climbed in darkness before reaching the summit early, descending before the build up of afternoon cloud.
Italian Ridge (Lion Ridge) AD: Commonly climbed from the Italian side via the Carrel Hut, the Italian Ridge has some tricky sections high on the route. In fact the traverse of the mountain by taking the Italian Ridge before descending the Hörnligrat to Zermatt has technical as well as asthetic appeal.
Zmutt Ridge D: Long and commiting the Zmutt Ridge is both technical and long making it a sought after line for the experienced alpinist. Normally accessed from the Hörnlihutte by a long traverse.
North Face (Schmidt Route) TD/ED1: One of the six classic north faces of the alps, the Schmidt route is a highly saught after route - a long ice and mixed line of sustained difficulty.
Tony Clapham and James Thacker on the summit during a successful ascent in 2013... enlarge