Matterhorn

Photo of Matterhorn

Photo by Jim Budlong

Details

Elevation (feet): 14,691
Elevation (meters): 4,478
Continent: Europe
Country: Switzerland/Italy
Range/Region: Savoy Alps
Latitude: 45.976389
Longitude: 7.658333
Difficulty: Technical Climb
Best months for climbing: Jul, Aug, Sep
Year first climbed: 1865
First successful climber(s): Edward Whymper and party (see note below)
Nearest major airport: Geneva, Switzerland
Convenient Center: Zermatt, Switzerland

Description

The Matterhorn is a classic peak, a sharp, isolated rock pyramid with steep narrow ridges jutting from surrounding glaciers. The town of Zermatt, nestled beneath the mountain's north face, is a mountaineering Mecca. One of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world, the Matterhorn's every ridge and face have been scaled, and there are now fixed ropes, ladders, and huts along the normal routes to the summit. Don't let these props, however, provide false security, because much of the climb still requires a great deal of technical expertise, and its death rate is one of the highest in the world.

The isolation of the mountain results in its forming its own weather, which can change rapidly; it is possible for a storm to be raging on the Matterhorn when conditions in the region as a whole are good. One of the largest dangers on the Matterhorn is its popularity, since large numbers of climbers ascending simultaneously guarantees that meeting and overtaking maneuvers will be required, and increases the likelihood that rocks will be dislodged onto lower climbers. (There is much loose rock on the mountain).

Edward Whymper and party's first ascent of the mountain ended in tragedy, as the Rev Charles Hudson, Douglas Hadow, Lord Francis Douglas, and the guide Michel Croz all fell to their deaths on the descent. Only Whymper himself and two Swiss guides (Taugwalder father and son) survived. Lord Francis Douglas' body has never been recovered.

It was the English who made the resort of Zermatt popular with tourists. Here they came hiring locals as guides to guide them towards and often up their chosen mountain. Zermatt is surrounded by many 4000 metre mountains, and these were all climbed during the 'Golden Age' of mountaineering around 1850. The Matterhorn stood aloof for many years after repeated attempts from both Italy and Switzerland. The ascent of this mountain became a symbol of national pride, and wherever it was first climbed from (either Cervinia in Italy, or Zermatt in Switzerland), would reap the benefits from the tourist trade.

There are now many routes to the summit of the Matterhorn, the least difficult being the first ascent route: Hornli Ridge (AD), and the Lion (Italian)Ridge (AD+). However these grades would be much harder were it not for long sections of fixed ropes and ladders to enable local guides to get their clients up as quickly as possible. Away from the popular 'Voies Normales' the experienced climber may tackle classic routes such as the Zmutt and Furggen Ridges (D), while even more experienced climbers can test their skills on the North Face (ED1). Today the Matterhorn remains a significant challenge that should never be underestimated by climbers. The Matterhorn's familiar shape invites more comparison than perhaps any other peak in the world, including Ama Dablam in the Himalaya, Ushba in the Caucasus, Canada's Mount Assiniboine, and Peru's Jirishanca.

Note that the description in Wikipedia of the ascent of the Hornli Ridge as a "scramble" is dangerously misleading. It is a long climb on a high mountain with unstable rock and variable snow conditions. To climb it without guides demands fitness, technical skill, understanding of safety techniques and general mountaineering competence. Many people die each year on this mountain.