Sitting on the border in between Switzerland and Italy, the pyramidal summit of the Matterhorn makes the mountain stand out. It is perhaps the most recognisable summit in the entire world and has long been a popular destination for mountaineering enthusiasts.
Often referred to as the “mountain of mountains”, roughly 3,000 people climb the Matterhorn each summer. While there are two main routes that lead to the summit of the peak, more adventurous climbers can choose from a number of different variations to these routes as well as several others.
The north face of the peak is one of the three largest in the Alps, part of what is known as "the Trilogy", along with Grandes Jorasses and Eiger. Each summer, advanced moutnaineers from around the world come to Switzerland to try and climb all three.
Quick Facts about Matterhorn
- Matterhorn is the German name for the mountain, meaning “peak of meadows”. In Italian, the mountain is known as Monte Cervino.
- At 4,478 metres (14,692 feet) in elevation, the Matterhorn is the sixth tallest mountain in the Alps.
- An estimated 500 climbers have died on the Matterhorn, making it one of the most deadly mountains in the world.
History of Matterhorn
Due to its distinctive shape, the Matterhorn has been used as a landmark for navigation since at least Roman times.
The first attempt to climb the peak came in 1857, when two French climbers made it up to 3,800 metres (12,500 feet), but had to turn back.
It would take about a dozen more attempts before a team of climbers led by Edward Whymper (the first person to also climb Mont Blanc) finally made it to the summit on July 14, 1865 via the Hörnli ridge (the main climbing route used today). Unfortunately, on the way down, disaster struck and four members of the expedition fell to their deaths.
Just three days later, the Matterhorn was climbed for the first time from the Italian side by one of the same climbers from the first failed expedition in 1857.
The iconic north wall of the Matterhorn, however, would not be climbed for the first time until 1931.
Experience Required for Climbing Matterhorn
Regardless of the route one chooses to climb, summiting the Matterhorn is both technically and physically challenging.
Even for the easiest route, climbers will need previous high-altitude experience and be comfortable with a mix of scrambling, rock and ice climbing. Even though some of the routes have fixed ropes, they are still considered quite dangerous as they have to be climbed unbelayed.
The hardest climbing routes to the summit are the four faces of the peak. These are each rated very difficult and require at least 12 hours of sustained multi-pitch rock climbing.
Any climber aspiring to the summit of the Matterhorn will have to be in very good physical condition. Regardless of the route, at least six consecutive hours to steep and treacherous climbing will be involved prior to arriving at the summit.
Main Routes up Matterhorn
Overall, there are eight different routes that lead to the summit of the Matterhorn: one route up each of the mountain's four ridges and one route up each of the four faces.
The most popular, and easiest, of these routes is the Hörnli route. Rated at AD, it is the least difficult and involves climbing up the northeastern ridge. The approach is made from the Swiss side to the Hörnli hut. The next day, climbers get a pre-dawn start in order to reach the summit by late morning and be back down before the afternoon.
From the Italian side of the peak, the Lion route is the most popular. Rated as AD+, it is the easier of the two routes from the Italian side of the mountain. The first day is spent hiking up to Carrell hut. The second day involves a 5-hour steep ascent via the southwest ridge.
Of the four faces of the Matterhorn, the famed north face is the most frequently climbed one. Starting from the Hörnli Hut, climbers will get a pre-dawn start and make the 14-hour multi-pitch ascent up the rock wall. The climb is rated as TD.
Useful information about the Matterhorn
Height: 4,478 m (14,692 ft)
Weather: Due to its relative isolation, the weather on the Matterhorn is known to be volatile, with storms sweeping in suddenly and without much warning. During the summer, average temperatures at the base of the peak hover around 8 ºC (46 ºF). These drop to below freezing toward the summit.
Peak Climbing Season: June to September
Summit Window: June to September
Average Expedition Length: 2 to 3 days
Accepted Currencies: Swiss franc (CHF), Euro (EUR)
Language: German, Italian
How To Get To Matterhorn
There are two main starting points to climb the Matterhorn: Zermatt on the Swiss side and Breuil-Cervinia on the Italian side. The best way to get to Zermatt is to fly into Geneva International Airport (GVA) and make the 2.5 hour drive in a rental car. A combination of trains and buses will also get you there. GVA, Turin Airport (TRN) and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) are all common starting points for Breuil-Cervinia. The town can be reached by car in 2 to 3 hours from each. Buses are also available.
Your travel route will vary depending on the expedition you choose. Please refer to the individual guides expeditions for more information.