Summit the Breithorn: Three paths to one breathtaking view

23 June, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The Alps stretches dramatically throughout southern Europe, but the Pennine massif often draws the most attention. This stunning collection of alpine peaks is located on the Swiss-Italian border and includes the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa. Though these peaks are a marvel, they can be difficult and time-consuming to summit. Climbing the Breithorn allows all levels of mountaineers to discover the Alps and enjoy beautiful Swiss scenery. 

The Breithorn is technically composed of four different summits. The Western Breithorn peak is by far the most popular destination, offering various degrees of access and marvelous views of the surrounding region. 

Towards the summit of the Breithorn

Your adventure begins in the town of Zermatt. This Swiss town boasts a relatively small population of roughly 6,000 year-round residents. Of course, that number can sometimes quadruple in the peak summer and winter months due to heavy tourism. Zermatt is the perfect gateway to the Pennine Alps; as such, many hikes, climbs, and ski tours depart from here. There are lodges, campsites, and hotels available year-round.

Even though this is a bustling town, you’ll still be able to enjoy plenty of peace and quiet. Zermatt is a combustion-engine, car-free zone, with a couple of exceptions. Emergency vehicles are allowed to use typical engines. Some tour company vehicles, taxis, and buses can be spotted—all of which are battery-powered and nearly silent. This small town can be traversed from point to point on foot in 30 minutes, making vehicle travel mostly unnecessary.

For Disney fans, you may be excited to learn that Zermatt was this inspiration for the setting of Third Man on the Mountain. The local climbing expeditions influenced the creation of the adventure movie.

The Breithorn climb – three possible routes

When you’re ready to depart for your incredible mountain views, you’ll head to the edge of town and climb aboard the Matterhorn Express. This will deliver you to the Klein Matterhorn cable car. After a relatively short ride you’ll arrive at the Breithorn plateau, located at 3,800 meters. There are two different paths that depart from here to take you to the top of Breithorn.

The south-southwest route is also called the Normal route. It is by far the easiest to climb, though you should still secure a mountain guide. This path is an excellent option for fit individuals who may be new to hiking and mountaineering. The Normal route allows adventurers to rope up and cross an icy glacier. Crampons are required. After traversing the glacier, the rest of the route is made up of freshly fallen snow along the steady ascent. 

The Half Traverse winds around the Breithorn from the plateau. Intermediate climbers will enjoy negotiating trickier parts of this route. You will need to use your hands and feet to climb the steep, rocky mountainside along the north face. Afterward, expect to cross a glacier, short rope your way over the eastern side, and walk over to the western peak for a final crest.

Descending from the Breithorn summit

Both the beginner and intermediate routes require you to climb from 3,800 meters to 4,100 meters. This 300-meter ascent and descent can be achieved in a single day. For advanced climbers interested in a test of skill and speed, there is one more option.

The third route is the most challenging and is called the Triftjigrat. Mountaineers must rest in the Gandegg hut before making their way toward the summit, making this an overnight adventure. To make the 1,800-meter ascent and descent in one day, most climbers depart from the hut at two in the morning. You can expect to negotiate glaciers, trek through snow, and climb icy rock faces the entire way up.

Regardless of your route, the alpine vistas from Breithorn’s summit are magnificent. Stretching out on all sides are the skyscraping peaks of the Swiss Alps. These beautiful, snow-capped mountains include the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa. Below, you can spot the Rhone valley and its bright green meadows. 

Roped up towards the summit of Breithorn

It’s important to consider the equipment you’ll need for this excursion. Although these paths can technically be traversed year-round, it’s best to do so from May through October. The mountain temperatures never rise above freezing in the winter. Crampons, ropes, and first aid equipment is a must. Although you do not legally need a mountain guide, it is advisable given the risk for falls and avalanches in the area. 

When you’ve made your descent and headed back to Zermatt, plenty of other adventures still lie at your fingertips. Consider visiting the local museum and learning more about this centuries-old region and the historical climbs that have been completed. If you find yourself craving another outdoor adventure, you’ll find plenty of hikes and treks departing year-round. After all, the Alps is just a few meters away.

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