Tour the dramatic Matterhorn Alps: a 5-day hiking adventure

4 January, 2021 | Reccy Guide

There are many astounding and sky-scraping summits in the beautiful Pennine range. Though it’s not the tallest in sight, the Matterhorn draws thousands of climbers and trekkers each year. Why? A combination of its unique structure and thrilling history creates a draw—and challenge—that few mountaineers are able to resist.

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The Matterhorn trek from Zermatt provides an up-close look at the wonderful mountain, without much risk. You can enjoy unique views of its many sides while staying in traditional huts along your route. Each night, you’ll be immersed in alpine beauty. 

The town of Zermatt is the gateway to the Pennine Alps for those adventuring in Switzerland. These mountains mark the Swiss-Italian border; as such, many people enter from Italy. For those who’ve elected to enjoy the Swiss countryside, there’s plenty to discover. And many do come to town and explore its offerings before heading out. 

The Matterhorn trek around the Pennine AlpsThe Matterhorn Trek around the Pennine Alps

Despite its bustling nature, Zermatt is a rather peaceful retreat. The town is almost entirely car-free. Only emergency vehicles are allowed to run on combustion engines. The taxis, tour vans, and public buses are all electric—and nearly soundless—by nature. Crossing the town on foot takes a mere 30 minutes and provides a wonderful glimpse into local life. 

Zermatt is also home to a museum of regional history. The Matterhorn has its own section, which details the fateful trip of the Edward Whymper Party. This monolith was the last to be summited of the Pennine Alps. In July 1865, Whymper and six other climbers finally managed to scale the peak. It was a moment of victory that would soon be cut short. 

During the descent, four party members fell to their death when the rope snapped. That rope is preserved in the museum today. This story also inspired the Disney movie Third Man on the Mountain, which was filmed on location, along with a handful of documentaries.

The view of the iconic MatterhornThe Matterhorn Trek: view of the iconic Matterhorn

For those who are uninterested in the risks of climbing, trekking is a much safer alternative that still provides a thrill. You’ll leave the comfort of Zermatt and travel with a certified guide through the icy terrain. It will still be a challenge, as you’ll hike 46 kilometers and cover 3,000 meters of altitude change. The path is also icy at some points, which will require crampons to navigate.

Your first day will be spent exploring the Trift Valley. This area is known for its diverse botany and rare flowers. After ascending 700 meters on your first day, you’ll rest in the small and comfortable Trift hut. This lodge is known for its delicious, homemade fair, including apple tarts, potato rösti, and beef jerky.

The second day’s trek provides you plenty of picture-perfect viewpoints, including an incredible vista of the Zmutt Glacier. In the evening, you’ll stay at Schönbiel hut. Here you can enjoy a landscape of beautiful green fields and a view of the perilous north wall of Matterhorn.

Snowshoeing in the Matterhorn trekSnowshoeing in the Matterhorn trek

Next, you’ll arrive at the base of the Matterhorn where many climbers begin their ascent. You can rest at the Hörnlihütte. This hut is located directly underneath the Matterhorn’s infamous pyramidal peak. If you wake early enough, you can see the bobbing headlamps of dozens of climbers.

The fourth day guides you around Matterhorn’s base, showing you its glacier and east wall. As you rest in the Gandegg hut, you’ll witness stunning views of Monte Rosa—the tallest mountain in the area—as well as the Breithorn massif and Gorner glacier. In the morning, you’ll complete your descent down to Zermatt. 

If you find yourself craving another taste of the Pennine Alps before you depart, there are plenty of other opportunities for exploration. For a shorter excursion, you could consider one of the day treks to the Breithorn summit. These leave daily and rely on a cable car to bring hikers as close to the summit as possible. 

There is also a labyrinth of hiking trails that surround Zermatt that wind through the meadows and woods. Or perhaps you’ll want to rest. A ride on the famous Glacier Express allows you to tour the Alps from the comfort of a train car. Whatever brings you to the Alps, you’re sure to find an adventure that delights you.

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