The first ascent took place on July 14, 1865 by Edward Whymper in a team of 7 climbers, four of whom lost their lives. The legend of the Matterhorn still attracts up to 3,000 climbers every season. Climbing the Matterhorn is still a real challenge and can only be achieved by experienced mountaineers with the right equipment and an experienced guide. Between 8 and 10 people die on the Matterhorn every year.
The SRF documentary “Tatort Matterhorn” sheds light on the background to the dramatic first ascent and the unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of the four climbers in Edward Whymper’s team.
Dramatic first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865
There is hardly any other mountain where triumph and tragedy are as close together as on the Matterhorn. The drama 150 years ago made the mountain near Zermatt world-famous overnight. British mountaineering enthusiast Edward Whymper had traveled to Switzerland to earn his living by illustrating popular mountain panoramas. Together with his friend Jean-Antoine Carrel, he unsuccessfully attempted to climb the Matterhorn in the Valais Alps seven times. Once he survived a fall of 60 meters. When he learned that Carrel wanted to attempt the climb from the Italian side without him, he put together a team himself to conquer the summit before him.
The route he chose led from Zermatt via the Hörnligrat to the summit and is largely congruent with today’s normal route. In addition to Whymper, the successful rope team also included his compatriots Lord Francis Douglas, Reverend Charles Hudson and Robert Hadow as well as the mountain guides Michel Croz from Chamonix, Peter Taugwalder and his son of the same name from Zermatt.
His rope team made it to the summit at 4478 m on July 14, 1865. On the last few meters to the summit, Edward Whymper is said to have detached himself from the rope in order to win an internal race against his mountain guide Croz. After an hour’s rest, it was downhill again. In the midst of the euphoria of victory, the Briton Douglas Hadow slipped, fell on Michel Croz and pulled Charles Hudson and Lord Francis Douglas with him 1200 meters into the depths before the rope broke. Edward Whymper, father and son Taugwalder returned safely to Zermatt.
How dangerous is the Matterhorn today?
Every season, up to 3000 mountaineers want to conquer the Matterhorn. The starting point of the most popular route is the Hörnlihütte at 3260 m. It is an alpine refuge at the foot of the Matterhorn. Most mountaineers start their ascent of the Matterhorn from here.
On peak days, up to 130 climbers attempt to reach the summit via the Hörnlihütte. Between 8 and 10 people die on the Matterhorn every year. Almost 600 climbers have lost their lives since the first ascent. Several dozen of those who have fallen have never been found. The Matterhorn is the deadliest mountain in Switzerland and one of the deadliest in Europe.
Normal route via Hörnligrad
The ascent of the Matterhorn from the Hörnihütte to the summit takes 4-6 hours if the climber is confident in alpine terrain and on a short rope and the conditions are good, otherwise it can take considerably longer! The ascent and descent is exclusively on rock and ice and requires good physical condition, alpine experience and safe rock climbing with and without crampons.
The normal route over the Hörnligrat ridge is very difficult to find in the dark morning hours up to the Solvayhütte and leads partly over loose rock. The Solvayhütte at 4003 m is a refuge run by the Swiss Alpine Club on the Matterhorn and is located on the most frequented ascent route, the Hörnligrat, the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. There are often a lot of people on the route, which means you have to plan for waiting times and falling rocks!
The descent is via the ascent route.
The “Tomb of the Unknown Mountaineer” at the mountaineering cemetery in Zermatt commemorates the more than 500 deaths that have occurred on the Matterhorn since 1865. It also commemorates the missing and the dead who cannot be recovered or cannot be fully recovered after the fall.
The Matterhorn Museum “Zermatlantis” shows the development of Zermatt from a mountain farming village to a world-famous tourist destination as well as the history of the first ascent of the Matterhorn on July 14, 1865.
Film “Death on the Matterhorn”
The tragic story of the first ascent | Documentary | SRF Dok…