12 December, 2020 | Reccy Guide
Because of its perfect pyramidal shape, the Matterhorn is a well-known sight for anyone familiar with the landscape of the Alps, and climbing the Matterhorn is a bucket-list item for any experienced climber dreaming of iconic summits. Towering at 4478m above sea level and in the Swiss region of the mountain range, the Matterhorn offers an incredible challenge for climbers experienced enough to attempt its ascent.
Who is the Matterhorn climb for?
The Matterhorn is a moderately challenging climb and suited for climbers with previous grade VI climbing experience. You will also need mountaineering experience, using crampons and ice axes on slopes of up to 50 degrees. In addition to the technical experience, you will of course also be required to be in excellent physical conditions as summit day will require climbing/hiking for up to 9 hours.
The Matterhorn can be climbed via four different routes. The classic one, the Hörnli Ridge, was the route of the first ascent in 1865 and is very popular with climbers nowadays. It is rated AD III-. The other routes are the South West/Italian Ridge, graded AD+ III, the North-West or Zmutt Ridge graded D III+, and the North Face of Schmid route graded TD.
Starting from Zermatt, the available routes are the Hörnli Ridge, the Zmutt Ridge, and the Schmidt routes. Because of its northern exposure, the Zmutt Ridge route is often not in a good enough condition to be climbed. The Schmidt route is a 1200m wall climb, one of the longest in the Alps, and should only be attempted by technically advanced/expert climbers during the fall and spring months. Because these two other routes are not climbed that commonly, we will focus on the Hörnli Ridge ascent.
The Matterhorn climb
Before you begin the ascent to the Matterhorn, you will most likely be spending a couple of days acclimatizing and training in order to make sure that you are ready to reach the summit. These days will be filled with climbs of smaller peaks in the Chamonix Valley, where you will be able to practice your steep rock, snow and ice ascent/descent skills. You will also be sleeping in huts at higher heights – in general around 3000m – to allow your body to adapt to the altitude. During this time frame, you will also be able to get acquainted with your guide and your group. The night before the start of the expedition, you will discuss weather conditions and last-minute preparation with your guide to make sure that everything is in order.
The first day of the Matterhorn expedition will start with a 3-hour drive or train ride from Chamonix to Zermatt, in Switzerland. Once there, you will take the cable car up to Schwarzsee, enjoying incredible views on the way, and will then hike up for 2½ hours to Hörnli Hut. You will spend the night at 3260m above sea level, getting your body adjusted to the altitude and ready for the next day’s climb.
An early start is a must on summit day, so you will leave the refuge around 3am to tackle the Matterhorn. The climb via the Hörnli Ridge will take you between 4 and 5 hours and through steep sections with fixed ropes, the final section being a 40 degrees snow slope. Once at the top, the feeling of achievement will overwhelm you: you have climbed one of the most iconic peaks in the world! Take the time to enjoy the moment with your guide before descending the same route towards the hut, where you should arrive for a late lunch. Depending on your preference, you might go back to Zermatt and Chamonix that day or the next.
The Matterhorn climb is, overall, an incredible experience for any intermediate to advanced climber. If you are in the Alps and wanting to cross off the next item off your bucket list, then this expedition is a must for you.
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