The 4,478-metre-high Matterhorn is the symbol and landmark of Switzerland and one of the most photographed mountains in the world. It is one of the best-known mountains due to its striking pyramid shape and its history of ascents. The imposing rock faces, which stand out from the rest of the mountain range and rise steeply into the sky, are unique and unmistakable. The first ascent took place on July 14, 1865 by Edward Whymper in a team of 7 climbers, four of whom lost their lives. Even today, climbing the Matterhorn is still a real challenge and can only be achieved by experienced mountaineers with the right equipment and an experienced guide.
Note: Visit of Zermatt with Matterhorn is part of our Luxury Tours Switzerland.
Where does the name “Matterhorn” come from?
There are various theories about the origin of the name “Matterhorn”. One of them says that the name of the Matterhorn comes from the meadow below the mountain on which Zermatt (zur Matte) stands today. In Valais German, meadow also means mat. The name is therefore made up of Matte + Horn.
Dramatic first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865
There is hardly another 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 released 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.
The SRF documentary DRAMA ON THE MATTERHORN sheds light on the background to the dramatic first ascent and the unanswered questions surrounding the death of the four climbers in Edward Whymper’s team.
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 on July 14, 1865.
How dangerous is the mountain of mountains today?
Up to 3000 mountaineers are drawn to the Matterhorn every season. The starting point of the most popular route is the Hörnlihütte at 3260 m.
On peak days, up to 130 climbers attempt to reach the summit via the Hörnlihütte. Between 8 and 10 people die on the mountain every year. Almost 600 climbers have lost their lives since the first ascent. Several dozen fallen climbers have never been found. It is the deadliest mountain in Switzerland and one of the deadliest in Europe.
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.
Matterhorn for tourists
Since December 23, 1979, the Klein Matterhorn can be reached by cable car from Zermatt via the intermediate station called Trockener Steg (2930 m) to the mountain station at 3820 m. It is the highest cable car station in the Alps.
Tourists can enjoy a fantastic view of the Matterhorn from the Klein Matterhorn (Matterhorn Glacier Paradise), which is only separated from the Matterhorn by the Theodul Pass and glacier. Other viewpoints are the Gornergrat or the Rothorn. The Gornergrat can be reached by Switzerland’s first electric cog railroad in around 30 minutes from Zermatt. The viewing platform is open all year round.
The Matterhorn Glacier Ride, Europe’s most luxurious cable car, travels up to the Klein Matterhorn mountain station at 3,820 meters. A tunnel leads from there to the glacier plateau and ski area to the south, which is called “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise”. In the middle of the tunnel is a staircase and a passenger lift that lead to the actual summit at 3,883 meters.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
Since 2018, the world’s highest tricable gondola lift has been leading up the mountain to the Alpine paradise. The four “Crystal ride” cabins with Swarovski crystals are the highlight of the modern cable car. The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at 3,883 m is the highest viewing platform and mountain railway station in Europe. The summit lift takes you up to the 360-degree viewing platform. The view from there: heavenly!
An incredible 38 four-thousand-metre peaks and 14 glaciers can be seen from the platform. In addition to the glacier paradise, there is a real glacier palace, a cinema lounge, fine dining, wonderful ski slopes, and a little below on Trockener Steg or Schwarzsee hiking trails and bike trails.
The Gornergrat at 3,089 meters can be reached by cogwheel railroad from Zermatt. From the Gornergrat you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa massif and the glaciers.
The ridge itself lies at an altitude of 3,135 meters and is around three kilometers from Zermatt. It is located between the Gorner Glacier and the Findel Glacier. The view of more than 20 four-thousand-meter peaks is breathtakingly beautiful.
Europe’s highest mountain hotel
The Kulmhotel, which is the highest mountain hotel in Europe, is located on the Gornergrat.
The Kulmhotel serves as an ideal base camp for mountain tours. Guests can expect pure high mountains with a gigantic panorama, surrounded by several four-thousand-meter peaks. The views of the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa massif from every room at the Kulmhotel are incomparable.
The Monte Rosa massif is surrounded by majestic glaciers and comprises ten peaks with an altitude of over 4000 meters. It stretches across the borders of Switzerland and is partly located on Italian territory. The highest peak in Switzerland, the Dufourspitze (4,634 m), is characterized by a black rocky ridge.
As one of the ten main peaks in the Monte Rosa massif and the highest peak in Switzerland, the Dufourspitze competes with the Dom at 4,545 m, the highest mountain that lies entirely on Swiss soil.
The Dufourspitze was originally called the Gornerhorn. However, it was renamed in honor of the Swiss general Guillaume-Henri Dufour. Dufour was the first general in the history of the Swiss army.
The Monte Rosa hut (2,883 m) can be reached from the Rotenboden station of the Gornergratbahn. The challenging 3-4 hour alpine route leads over steep moraines and rocks. At the entrance to the Gorner Glacier, there is an iron ladder about 15 meters high to negotiate.
The classic route of the spaghetti circuit in preparation for the Matterhorn ascent starts at the Monte Rosa hut in Zermatt, runs along the border between Italy and Switzerland and ends at the Klein Matterhorn mountain station. The Spaghetti Route in the Monte Rosa massif is legendary and one of the most beautiful multi-day alpine tours in the Alps.
Hiking on the Matterhorn
The 5-Seenweg (Five Lakes Walk) around the Matterhorn is the trail of superlatives in the Zermatt mountain world: The iconic Matterhorn reflects in three of these mountain lakes. The views of the numerous mountain giants are unparalleled, and the hiking route is highly varied. Cable cars transport hikers up to the Blauherd mountain station at 2500 meters. From there, the trail leads to the Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee, and Leisee.
Each of the five mountain lakes has its own shape, color, and character. At Leisee, it’s all about swimming and fun for the kids. The Grünsee reveals a landscape from the barren side, where Swiss stone pines persist despite the rocky terrain. At Grindjisee, rare flowers flourish.
The tour involves no significant ascents or descents and captivates with a phenomenal mountain panorama, as well as ample opportunities to stop for refreshments along the way.
Video The Matterhorn // The Most Recognizable Mountain in the World
When I was young some of the first mountains I heard about were Everest, K2, and the Matterhorn. I think I recognized the Matterhorn before I knew the name of most my local mountains. I only recently looked into climbing the Matterhorn. Up until a few years ago I thought it’s pointy summit was unobtainable. Crowds, costs and technical skills made the peak seem out of reach. I had heard that long lines up the Hörnli Route could turn a day out into a horrible 20 hour nightmare. People I spoke with who had climbed it claimed that route finding after the Hörnlihütte was impossible without a guide.
A guide in Zermatt lectured me with a strong parental tone about the dangers of climbing it’s 4,000ft razor ridge with even a dusting of snow. All these things can be true but in the back of my mind I kept replaying the video I saw of Killian running down from its summit in shorts. So I rolled the dice for a 3rd time and convinced Chase and Aaron to go out there and give it a shot. It was the driest, hottest summer on record in parts of Europe but of course the week before our departure it rained and snowed heavily across Italy and Switzerland.
We were certain that once again this summit would be out of reach but decided to give it a go anyway. Our hopes were bolstered by a video posted by Amateur fan @adventurestothemax who climbed the Matterhorn 2 weeks before our arrival in conditions we hoped would be similar.
Video Summiting the Matterhorn with an FPV Drone
FPV drone flight up the Matterhorn’s epic Hornli ridge. I’ve wanted to try this flight for a while and finally went for it during my month in Switzerland this winter (2022). I flew an Iflight Chimera 7 with DJI air unit and crossfire. The video was shot on a GoPro Hero 10 in 5K 30 and stabilized in Realsteadygo.