Monte Cervino

The Matterhorn
(east and north faces, separated by the Hörnli ridge)
Elevation 4,478 m (14,692 ft)
Prominence 1,040 m (3,412 ft) [1]
Parent peak Weisshorn
Matterhorn is located in Alps
Location in the Alps
Location  Italy /  Switzerland
Range Pennine Alps
Coordinates 45°58′35″N 7°39′30″E / 45.97639°N 7.65833°E / 45.97639; 7.65833Coordinates: 45°58′35″N 7°39′30″E / 45.97639°N 7.65833°E / 45.97639; 7.65833
Topo map Swisstopo 1347 Matterhorn
First ascent July 14, 1865 by
Edward Whymper
Charles Hudson
Francis Douglas
Douglas Robert Hadow
Michel Croz
Peter Taugwalder (father)
Peter Taugwalder (son)
Easiest route Hörnli ridge (AD, rock/mixed climb)

The Matterhorn (German), Monte Cervino (Italian) or Mont Cervin (French), is a mountain in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its summit is 4,478 metres (14,690 ft) high, making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps.[2] The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points. The mountain overlooks the town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais to the north-east and Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. The Theodul Pass, located at the eastern base of the peak, is the lowest passage between its north and south side.

The Matterhorn was the last great Alpine peak to be climbed and its first ascent marked the end of the golden age of alpinism.[3] It was made in 1865 by a party led by Edward Whymper and ended disastrously when four of its members fell to their deaths on the descent. The north face was not climbed until 1931, and is amongst the six great north faces of the Alps. The Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps: from 1865 – when it was first climbed – to 1995, 500 alpinists died on it.[4]

The Matterhorn has become an iconic emblem of the Swiss Alps and the Alps in general. Since the end of the 19th century, when railways were built, it attracted more and more visitors and climbers. Each summer a large number of mountaineers try to climb the Matterhorn via the northeast Hörnli ridge, the most popular route to the summit.



The mountain derives its name from the German words Matte, meaning "meadow", and Horn, which means "peak". The migration of the name "meadow" from the lower part of the countryside to the peak is common in the Alps. The Italian and French names (Cervino and Cervin) come from Mons Silvius (or Mons Sylvius)[5] from the Latin word silva, meaning forest (with again the migration of the name from the lower part to the peak). The changing of the first letter "s" to "c" is attributed to Horace Bénédict de Saussure,[6] who thought that the word was related to a deer (French: cerf and Italian:cervo).[7]

View on the south and east faces and the area of the Theodul Pass between Italy (left) and Switzerland (right).

In Sebastian Münster's Cosmography, published in 1543, the name of Matter is given to the Theodul Pass, and this seems to be the origin of the present German name of the mountain. On Münster's topographical chart this group is marked under the names of Augstalberg ("Aosta mountain") and Mons Silvius. An hypothesis of Josias Simler (De Alpibus Commentarius, 1574) on the etymology of the name of Mons Silvius was readopted by T. G. Farinetti:[8] "Silvius was probably a Roman leader who sojourned with his legions in the land of the Salassi and the Seduni, and perhaps crossed the Theodul Pass between these two places. This Silvius may have been that same Servius Galba whom Caesar charged with the opening up of the Alpine passes, which from that time onward traders have been wont to cross with great danger and grave difficulty.[9] Servius Galba, in order to carry out Caesar's orders, came with his legions from Allobrogi (Savoy) to Octodurum (Martigny) in the Valais, and pitched his camp there. The passes which he had orders to open from there could be no other than the St. Bernard, the Simplon, the Theodul, and the Moro; it therefore seems likely that the name of Servius, whence Silvius and later Servin, or Cervin, was given in his honour to the famous pyramid." It is not exactly known at what period the new name of Servin, or Cervin, replaced the old, from which it seems to be derived.[10]

The Matterhorn is also named Gran Becca by the Valdôtains[11] and Horu by the local Walliser German speaking people.[12]


Typical banner cloud formation on the Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn is an isolated mountain. Because of its position on the main Alpine watershed and its great height, the Matterhorn is exposed to rapid weather changes. In addition the steep faces of the mountain and its isolated location make it prone to banner clouds formation with the air flowing around and creating vortices, conducting condensation of the air on the lee side.

The Matterhorn has two distinct summits, both situated on a 100-metre-long rocky ridge: the Swiss summit (4,477.5 m) on the east and the Italian summit (4,476.4 m) on the west. Their names originated from the first ascents, not for geographic reasons, as they are both located on the border. In August 1792, the Genevan geologist and explorer Horace Bénédict de Saussure made the first measurement of the Matterhorn's height, using a 50-foot-long chain spread out on the Theodul glacier and a sextant. He calculated a height of 4,501.7 metres.[13] In 1868 the Italian engineer Felice Giordano measured a height of 4,505 metres by means of a mercurial barometer, which he had taken up to the summit. The Dufour map, which was afterwards followed by the Italian surveyors, gave 4,482 metres, or 14,704 feet, as the height of the Swiss summit.[14] A recent survey (1999) using Global Positioning System technology has been made, allowing the height of the Matterhorn to be measured to within one centimetre accuracy, and its changes to be tracked. The result was 4,477.54 metres (14,690 ft).[15]


The Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens seen from Tête Blanche.

The Matterhorn has a pyramidal shape with four faces facing the four compass points: the north and east faces overlook, respectively, the Zmutt valley and Gornergrat ridge in Switzerland, the south face (the only one south of the Swiss-Italian border) fronts the resort town of Breuil-Cervinia, and the west face looks towards the mountain of Dent d'Hérens which straddles the border. The north and south faces meet at the summit to form a short east-west ridge.

The north side seen from the Zmutt valley.

The Matterhorn's faces are steep, and only small patches of snow and ice cling to them; regular avalanches send the snow down to accumulate on the glaciers at the base of each face, the largest of which is the Zmutt Glacier to the west. The Hörnli ridge of the northeast (the central ridge in the view from Zermatt) is the usual climbing route.

Well-known faces are the east and north, visible from Zermatt. The east face is 1,000 metres high and, because it is "a long, monotonous slope of rotten rocks",[16] presents a high risk of rockfall, making its ascent dangerous. The north face is 1,200 metres high and is one of the most dangerous north faces in the Alps, in particular for its risk of rockfall and storms. The south face is 1,350 metres high and offers many different routes. The west face, the highest at 1,400 metres, has the fewest ascent routes.

The east face.

The four main ridges separating the four faces are the main climbing routes. The least difficult technical climb, the Hörnli ridge (Hörnligrat), lies between the east and north faces, facing the town of Zermatt. To its west lies the Zmutt ridge (Zmuttgrat), between the north and west faces; this is, according to Collomb, "the classic route up the mountain, its longest ridge, also the most disjointed."[16] The Lion ridge (Cresta del Leone), lying between the south and west faces is the Italian normal route and goes across Pic Tyndall; Collomb comments, "A superb rock ridge, the shortest on the mountain, now draped with many fixed ropes, but a far superior climb compared with the Hörnli."[16] Finally the south side is separated from the east side by the Furggen ridge (Furggengrat), according to Collomb "the hardest of the ridges [...] the ridge still has an awesome reputation but is not too difficult in good conditions by the indirect finish".[16]

The south face

The border between Italy and Switzerland is the main Alpine watershed, separating the drainage basin on the Rhone on the north (Mediterranean Sea) and the Po River on the south (Adriatic Sea). The Theodul Pass, located between the Matterhorn and Klein Matterhorn, at 3,300 metres, is the lowest passage between the Valtournenche and the Mattertal. The pass was used as a crossover and trade route for the Romans and the Romanised Celts between 100 BC and 400 AC.[17]

While the Matterhorn is the culminating point of the Valtournenche on the south, it is only one of the many 4000 metres summits of the Mattertal valley on the north, among which the Weisshorn (4505 m), Dom (4545 m), Lyskamm (4527 m) and the second highest in the Alps: Monte Rosa (4634 m). The whole range of mountains forming a crown of summits around Zermatt. The deeply glaciated region between the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa is listed in the Federal Inventory of Landscapes and Natural Monuments.


Apart from the base of the mountain, the Matterhorn is composed of gneiss belonging to the Dent Blanche klippe, an isolated part of the Austroalpine nappes, lying over the Penninic nappes. The Austroalpine nappes are part of the Apulian plate, a small continent which broke up from Africa before the Alpine orogeny. For this reason the Matterhorn has been popularized as an African mountain. The Austroalpine nappes are mostly common in the Eastern Alps.

Matterhorn at Sunrise

The Swiss explorer and geologist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, inspired by the view of the Matterhorn, anticipated the modern theories of geology:

What power must have been required to shatter and to sweep away the missing parts of this pyramid; for we do not see it surrounded by heaps of fragments; one only sees other peaks - themselves rooted to the ground - whose sides, equally rent, indicate an immense mass of débris, of which we do not see any trace in the neighbourhood. Doubtless this is that débris which, in the form of pebbles, boulders, and sand, fills our valleys and our plains.[18]


Different layers of rock can be seen: the lower part is sedimentary rocks (yellow); the middle part is greenschists from the oceanic crust. The peak itself (above the seracs) is gneisses from the African continent.

The formation of the Matterhorn (and the whole Alpine range) started with the break-up of the Pangaea continent 200 million years ago into Laurasia (containing Europe) and Gondwana (containing Africa). While the rocks constituting the nearby Monte Rosa remained in Laurasia, the rocks constituting the Matterhorn found themselves in Gondwana, separated by the newly formed Tethys Ocean.

100 million years ago the extension of the Tethys Ocean stopped and the Apulian plate broke from Gondwana and moved toward the European continent. This resulted in the closure of the western Tethys by subduction under the Apulian plate (with the Piemont-Liguria Ocean first and Valais Ocean later). The subduction of the oceanic crust left traces still visible today at the base of the Matterhorn (accretionary prism). The orogeny itself began after the end of the oceanic subduction when the European continental crust collided with the Apulian continent, resulting in the formation of nappes. The Matterhorn acquired its characteristic pyramidal shape in much more recent times as it was caused by natural erosion over the past million years. At the beginning of alpine orogeny, the Matterhorn was only a rounded mountain like a hill. Because its height is above the snowline, its flanks are covered by ice, resulting from the accumulation and compaction of snow. During the warmer period of summer, part of the ice melts and seeps into the bedrock. When it freezes again, it fractures pieces of rock because of its dilatation (freeze-thaw), forming a cirque. Four cirques led to the shape of the mountain. Because of its recognizable shape, many other similar mountains around the world were named or nicknamed the 'Matterhorn' of their respective countries or mountain ranges.[19]


Most of the base of the mountain lies in the Tsaté nappe, a remnant of the Piedmont-Liguria oceanic crust (ophiolites) and its sedimentary rocks.[20] Up to 3,400 metres the mountain is composed of successive layers of ophiolites and sedimentary rocks. From 3,400 metres to the top, the rocks are gneisses from the Dent Blanche nappe (Austroalpine nappes). They are divided into the Arolla series (below 4,200 m) and the Valpelline zone (the summit).[21] Other mountains in the region (Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Dent Blanche, Mont Collon) also belong to the Dent Blanche nappe.

Tourism and trekking

Flight around the Matterhorn

Since the eighteenth century the Alps have attracted more and more people and fascinated generations of explorers and climbers. The Matterhorn remained relatively little known until 1865, but the successful ascent followed by the tragic accident of the expedition led by Edward Whymper caused a rush on the mountains surrounding Zermatt.

The construction of the railway linking the village of Zermatt from the town of Visp started in 1888. The first train reached Zermatt on July 18, 1891 and the entire line was electrified in 1930.[22] Since 1930 the village is directly connected to St. Moritz by the Glacier Express panoramic train. However there is no connection with the village of Breuil-Cervinia on the Italian side. Travellers have to hire mountain guides to cross the 3,300 metres high glaciated Theodul Pass, separating the two resorts. The town of Zermatt remains completely free of internal combustion vehicles and can be reached by train only. (Electric vehicles are used locally).

View from the train to the Gornergrat

Rail and cable-car facilities have been built to make some of the summits in the area more accessible. The Gornergrat railway, reaching a record altitude of 3,100 metres, was inaugurated in 1898. Areas served by cable car are the Unterrothorn and the Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn) (3,883 m, highest transportation system in Europe). The Hörnli Hut (3,260 m), which is the start of the normal route via the Hörnli ridge, is easily accessible from Schwarzsee (2,600 m) and is also frequented by hikers. Both resorts of Zermatt and Cervinia function as ski resort all year round and are connected by skilifts over the Theodul Pass. A cable car running from Testa Grigia to Klein Matterhorn is currently planned for 2014. It will finally provide a link between the Swiss and Italian side of the Matterhorn.[23]

The Matterhorn Museum (Zermatt) relates the general history of the region from alpinism to tourism. In the museum, which is in the form of a reconstituted mountain village, the visitors can relive the first and tragic ascent of the Matterhorn and see the objects having belonged to the protagonists.

The Tour of the Matterhorn can be effected by trekkers in about 10 days. Considered by some as one of the most beautiful treks in the Alps, it follows many ancient trails that have linked the Swiss and Italian valleys for centuries. The circuit includes alpine meadows, balcony trails, larch forests and glacial crossings. It connects six valleys embracing three different cultures: the German speaking high Valais, the French speaking central Valais and the Italian speaking Val d'Aosta. Good conditions are necessary to circumnavigate the peak. After reaching Zinal by the Augstbord and Meiden passes, the trekker crosses the Torrent before arriving at Arolla. Then the Col Collon must be crossed on the road to Prarayer and another one to Breuil-Cervinia and back to Zermatt via the Theodul. In total, seven passes between 2,800 and 3,300 metres must be crossed on a relatively difficult terrain.[24]

Climbing history

Portrait of Edward Whymper at the Monte Rosa Hotel

The Matterhorn was one of the last of the main Alpine mountains to be ascended, not because of its technical difficulty, but because of the fear it inspired in early mountaineers. The first serious attempts began around 1857, mostly from the Italian side; but despite appearances, the southern routes are harder, and parties repeatedly found themselves having to turn back. However, on July 14, 1865, in what is considered the last ascent of the golden age of alpinism, the English party of Edward Whymper, Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, Douglas Robert Hadow, Michel Croz and the two Peter Taugwalders (father and son) were able to reach the summit by an ascent of the Hörnli ridge in Switzerland. Upon descent, Hadow, Croz, Hudson and Douglas fell to their deaths on the Matterhorn Glacier, and all but Douglas (whose body was never found) are buried in the Zermatt churchyard.

Only three days after Whymper's ascent, the mountain was ascended from the Italian side via an indirect route by Jean-Antoine Carrel and Jean-Baptiste Bich on July 17, 1865.[16]

Before the first ascent

In the summer of 1860, Edward Whymper came across the Matterhorn for the first time. He was an English artist and engraver who had been hired by a London publisher to make sketches of the mountains in the region of Zermatt. Although the unclimbed Matterhorn had a mixed reputation among British mountaineers, it fascinated Whymper. Whymper's first attempt was in 1861, from the village of Breuil on the south side. He was at the beginning of the climb, with a Swiss guide, when he met Jean-Antoine Carrel and his uncle. Carrel was an Italian guide from Breuil who had already made several attempts on the mountain. The two parties camped together at the base of the peak. Carrel and his uncle woke up early and decided to continue the ascent without Whymper and his guide. Discovering that they had been left, Whymper and his guide tried to race Carrel up the mountain, but neither party met with success.

The Rifugio Carrel (3,830 m) on the Lion ridge

In 1862 Whymper made further attempts, still from the south side, on the Lion ridge (or Italian ridge), where the route seemed easier than the Hörnli ridge (the normal route today). On his own he reached above 4,000 metres, but was injured on his way down to Breuil. In July John Tyndall with Johann Joseph Bennen and another guide overcame most of the difficulties of the ridge that seemed so formidable from below and successfully reached the main shoulder; but at a point not very far below the summit they were stopped by a deep cleft that defied their utmost efforts. The Matterhorn remained unclimbed.

Whymper returned to Breuil in 1863, persuading Carrel to join forces with him and try the mountain once more via the Italian ridge. On this attempt a storm, however, soon developed and they were stuck halfway to the summit. They remained there for 26 hours in their tent before giving up. Whymper did not make another attempt for two years.

In the decisive year 1865, Whymper returned with new plans, deciding to attack the Matterhorn via its south face instead of the Italian ridge. On June 21, Whymper began his ascent with Swiss guides, but halfway up they experienced severe rockfall; although nobody was injured, they decided to give up the ascent. This was Whymper's seventh attempt.

During the following weeks, Whymper spent his time climbing other mountains in the area with his guides, before going back to Breuil on July 7. Meanwhile the Italian Alpine Club was founded and its leaders, Felice Giordano and Quintino Sella, established plans to conquer the Matterhorn before any non-Italian could succeed. Felice Giordano hired Carrel as guide, he feared the arrival of Whymper, now a rival, and wrote to Quintino Sella:[25]

I have tried to keep everything secret, but that fellow whose life seems to depend on the Matterhorn is here, suspiciously prying into everything. I have taken all the best men away from him; and yet he is so enamored of the mountain that he may go with others...He is here in the hotel and I try to avoid speaking to him.

The Matterhorn seen from the Val Tournenche

Just as he did two years before, Whymper asked Carrel to be his guide, but Carrel declined; he was also unsuccessful in hiring other local guides from Breuil. When Whymper discovered Giordano and Carrel's plan, he left Breuil and crossed the Theodul Pass to Zermatt to hire local guides. He encountered Lord Francis Douglas, a Scottish mountaineer, who also wanted to climb the Matterhorn. They arrived later in Zermatt in the Monte Rosa Hotel, where they met two other British climbers — the Reverend Charles Hudson and his young and inexperienced companion, Douglas Robert Hadow — who had hired the French guide Michel Croz to try to make the first ascent. These two groups decided to join forces and try the ascent of the Hörnli ridge. They hired another two local guides, Peter Taugwalder, father and son.

First ascent

Whymper and party left Zermatt early in the morning of July 13, heading to the foot of the Hörnli ridge, which they reached 6 hours later (approximately where the Hörnli Hut is situated today). Meanwhile Carrel and six other Italian guides also began their ascent of the Italian ridge.

Despite its appearance, Whymper wrote that the Hörnli ridge was much easier to climb than the Italian ridge:

We were now fairly upon the mountain, and were astonished to find that places which from the Riffel, or even from the Furggen Glacier, looked entirely impracticable, were so easy that we could run about.[26]

The first ascent of the Matterhorn, by Gustave Doré.

After having camped for the night, Whymper and party started on the ridge. According to Whymper:

The whole of this great slope was now revealed, rising for 3,000 feet like a huge natural staircase. Some parts were more, and others were less, easy; but we were not once brought to a halt by any serious impediment, for when an obstruction was met in front it could always be turned to the right or left. For the greater part of the way there was, indeed, no occasion for the rope, and sometimes Hudson led, sometimes myself. At 6.20 we had attained a height of 12,800 feet and halted for half an hour; we then continued the ascent without a break until 9.55, when we stopped for fifty minutes, at a height of 14,000 feet.[26]

When the party came close to the summit, they had to leave the ridge for the north face because "[the ridge] was usually more rotten and steep, and always more difficult than the face".[26] At this point of the ascent Whymper wrote that the less experienced Hadow "required continual assistance".[26] Having overcome these difficulties the group finally arrived in the summit area, with Croz and Whymper reaching the top first.

The slope eased off, and Croz and I, dashing away, ran a neck-and-neck race, which ended in a dead heat. At 1.40 p.m. the world was at our feet, and the Matterhorn was conquered. Hurrah! Not a footstep could be seen.[26]

Precisely at this moment, Carrel and party were approximatively 400 metres below, still dealing with the most difficult parts of the Italian ridge. When seeing his rival on the summit, Carrel and party gave up on their attempt and went back to Breuil.

The Matterhorn tragedy, by Gustave Doré

After having built a cairn, Whymper and party stayed an hour on the summit. Then they began their descent of the Hörnli ridge. Croz descended first, then Hadow, Hudson and Douglas, Taugwalder father, Whymper with Taugwalder son coming last. They climbed down with great care, only one man moving at a time. Whymper wrote:

As far as I know, at the moment of the accident no one was actually moving. I cannot speak with certainty, neither can the Taugwalders, because the two leading men were partially hidden from our sight by an intervening mass of rock. Poor Croz had laid aside his axe, and in order to give Mr. Hadow greater security was absolutely taking hold of his legs and putting his feet, one by one, into their proper positions. From the movements of their shoulders it is my belief that Croz, having done as I have said, was in the act of turning round to go down a step or two himself; at this moment Mr. Hadow slipped, fell on him, and knocked him over.[27]

The weight of the falling men pulled Hudson and Douglas from their holds and dragged them down the north face. Taugwalder, father and son, and Whymper were left alive when the rope linking Douglas to Taugwalder father broke. They were stunned by the accident and for a time could not move until Taugwalder son descended to enable them to advance. When they were together Whymper asked to see the broken rope and saw that it had been employed by mistake as it was the weakest and oldest of the three ropes they had brought. They frequently looked, but in vain, for traces of their fallen companions. They continued their descent, including an hour in the dark, until 9.30pm when a resting place was found. At daybreak the descent was resumed and the group finally reached Zermatt, where a search of the victims was quickly organized. The bodies of Croz, Hadow and Hudson were found on the Matterhorn Glacier, but the body of Douglas was never found. Although Taugwalder's father was accused of cutting the rope to save himself and his son, the official inquest found no proof for this.

Second ascent

The summit

On July 16, two days after the first ascent and the catastrophe, Jean-Antoine Carrel set out to crown Whymper's victory by proving that the Italian side was not unconquerable. He was accompanied by Amé Gorret, a priest who had shared with him the first attempt on the mountain back in 1857. Jean-Baptiste Bich and Jean-Augustin Meynet completed the party. Giordano would have joined them, but Carrel refused absolutely to take him with them; he said he would not have the strength to guide a traveller, and could neither answer for the result nor for any one's life. After hearing Sunday mass at the chapel of Breuil, the party started. Amé Gorret has described this ascent with enthusiasm: "At last we crossed the Col du Lion and set foot upon the pyramid of the Matterhorn!" On the following day, the 17th, they continued the ascent and reached Tyndall's flagstaff. "We were about to enter unknown country," wrote Gorret, "for no man had gone beyond this point." Here opinions were divided; Gorret suggested ascending by the ridge and scaling the last tower straight up. Carrel was inclined to traverse to the west of the peak, and thence go up on the Zmutt side. Naturally the wish of Carrel prevailed, for he was the leader and had not lost the habit of command, notwithstanding his recent defeat.[28]

They made the passage of the enjambée, and traversed the west face to reach the Zmutt ridge. A false step made by one of the party and a fall of icicles from above warned them to return to the direct line of ascent, and the traverse back to the Lion ridge was one of the greatest difficulty. A falling stone wounded Gorret in the arm.[28]

At last they reached the base of the final tower. 'We stood," wrote Gorret, "in a place that was almost comfortable. Although it was not more than two yards wide, and the slope was one of 75 percent., we gave it all kinds of pleasant names : the corridor, the gallery, the railroad, &c., &c." They imagined all difficulties were at an end; but a rock couloir, which they had hitherto not observed, lay between them and the final bit of ridge, where progress would be perfectly easy. It would have been unwise for all four to descend into the couloir, because they did not know where to fix the rope that would be needed on their return. Time pressed: it was necessary to reduce the numbers of the party; Gorret sacrificed himself, and Meynet stopped with him. Very soon afterwards Carrel and Bich were finally on the top. Meanwhile Giordano at Breuil was writing in his diary as follows: "Splendid weather; at 9.30 saw Carrel and his men on the Shoulder, after that saw nothing more of them. Then much mist about the summit. Lifted a bit about 3.30, and we saw our flag on the western summit of the Matterhorn."[28]

Other ascents


On the Hörnli ridge

The first direct ascent of the Italian ridge as it is climbed today was by J. J. and J. P. Maquignaz on September 13, 1867.[16] Julius Elliott made the second ascent via the Hörnli ridge in 1868, and later that year the party of John Tyndall, J. J. and J. P. Maquignaz was the first to traverse the summit by way of the Hörnli and Italian ridges.[16] On August 22, 1871, while wearing a white print dress, Lucy Walker became the first woman to reach the summit of the Matterhorn,[29] followed a few weeks later by her rival Meta Brevoort. The first winter ascent of the Hörnli ridge was by Vittorio Sella with guides J. A. Carrel, J. B. Carrel and L. Carrel on March 17, 1882,[16] and its first solo ascent was made by W. Paulcke in 1898.[16] The first winter solo ascent of the Hörnli ridge was by G. Gervasutti in 1936.[16]

The Zmutt ridge was first climbed by Albert F. Mummery, Alexander Burgener, J. Petrus and A. Gentinetta on September 3, 1879. Its first solo ascent was made by Hans Pfann in 1906,[16] and the first winter ascent was made by H. Masson and E. Petrig on March 25, 1948.[16]

The last of the Matterhorn's four ridges to be ascended was the Furggen ridge. M. Piacenza with guides J. J. Carrel and J. Gaspard on September 9, 1911, climbed most of the ridge but bypassed the overhangs near the top to the south.[16] Not until September 23, 1942, during the Second World War, did Alfredo Perino, along with guides Louis Carrel (nicknamed "The Little Carrel") and Giacomo Chiara, climb the complete ridge and the overhangs directly.[30]

On August 20, 1992 Italian alpinist Hans Kammerlander and Swiss alpine guide Diego Wellig climbed the Matterhorn four times in just 23 hours and 26 minutes. The route they followed was: Zmutt ridge–summit–Hörnli ridge (descent)–Furggen ridge–summit–Lion ridge (descent)–Lion ridge–summit–Hörnli ridge (descent)–Hörnli ridge–summit–Hörnli Hut (descent).[31] Their itinerary has not been repeated.


William Penhall and guides made the first (partial) ascent of the west face, the Matterhorn's most hidden and unknown, one hour after Mummery and party's first ascent of the Zmutt ridge on September 3, 1879.[32][33] It was not until 1962 that the west face was completely climbed. The ascent was made on August 13 by Renato Daguin and Giovanni Ottin.[5][34] In January 1978 seven Italian alpine guides made a successful winter climb of Daguin and Ottin's highly direct, and previously unrepeated, 1962 route. But a storm came during their ascent, bringing two meters of snow to Breuil and Zermatt, and their accomplishment turned bitter when one of the climbers died during the descent.[30]

The north face

The north face, before it was climbed in 1931, was one of the last great big wall problems in the Alps. To succeed on the north face, good climbing and ice-climbing technique and route-finding ability were required. Unexpectedly it was first climbed by the brothers Franz and Toni Schmid on July 31–August 1, 1931. They reached the summit at the end of the second day, after a night of bivouack. Because they had kept their plans secret, their ascent was a complete surprise. In addition, the two brothers had travelled by bicycle from Munich and after their successful ascent they cycled back home again.[35] The first winter ascent of the north face was made by Hilti von Allmen and Paul Etter on February 3–4, 1962.[16] Its first solo ascent was made in five hours by Dieter Marchart on July 22, 1959.[16] Walter Bonatti climbed the "North Face Direct" solo on February 18–22, 1965.[16]

Ueli Steck set the record time in climbing the North Face (Schmid route) of Matterhorn in 2009 with a time just under 2 hours. he clocked in at an astounding 1 hour 56 minutes.

After Bonatti's climb, the best alpinists were still preoccupied with one last great problem: the "Zmutt Nose", an overhang lying on the right-hand side of the north face. In July 1969 two Italians, Alessandro Gogna and Leo Cerruti, attempted to solve the problem. It took them four days to figure out the unusual overhangs, avoiding however its steepest part. In July 1981 the Swiss Michel Piola and Pierre-Alain Steiner surmounted the Zmutt Nose by following a direct route, the Piola-Steiner.[30][36]

The first ascent of the south face was made by E. Benedetti with guides L. Carrel and M. Bich on October 15, 1931,[16] and the first complete ascent of the east face was made by E. Benedetti and G. Mazzotti with guides L. and L. Carrel, M. Bich and A. Gaspard on September 18–19, 1932.[16]

Climbing routes

Routes Start Time of ascent Difficulty
Ridges Hörnli Hörnli Hut 6 hours AD+/III+
Zmutt Hörnli Hut (or Schönbiel Hut) 7 hours (10 hours) D/IV
Lion Carrel Hut 5 hours AD+/III
Furggen Bivacco Bossi 7 hours TD/V+
Faces North Hörnli Hut 14 hours TD/V
West Schönbiel Hut 12 hours TD/V+
South Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi 15 hours TD+/V+
East Hörnli Hut 14 hours TD

Today, all ridges and faces of the Matterhorn have been ascended in all seasons, and mountain guides take a large number of people up the northeast Hörnli route each summer. By modern standards, the climb is fairly difficult (AD Difficulty rating), but not hard for skilled mountaineers according to French climbing grades. There are fixed ropes on parts of the route to help. Still, several climbers die each year due to a number of factors including the scale of the climb and its inherent dangers, inexperience, falling rocks, and overcrowded routes.

On the way to the Hörnli Hut

The usual pattern of ascent is to take the Schwarzsee cable car up from Zermatt, hike up to the Hörnli Hut elev. 3,260 m (10,700 ft), a large stone building at the base of the main ridge, and spend the night. The next day, climbers rise at 3:30 am so as to reach the summit and descend before the regular afternoon clouds and storms come in. The Solvay Hut located on the ridge at 4,003 m (13,133 ft) can be used only in a case of emergency.

Other routes on the mountain include the Italian (Lion) ridge (AD Difficulty rating), the Zmutt ridge (D Difficulty rating) and the north face route, one of the six great north faces of the Alps (TD+ Difficulty rating).


Aegidius Tschudi, one of the earliest Alpine topographers and historians, was the first to mention the region around the Matterhorn in his work, De Prisca ac Vera Alpina Raethi, published in Basel in 1538. He approached the Matterhorn as a student when in his Alpine travels he reached the summit of the Theodul Pass but he does not seem to have paid any particular attention to the mountain itself.[37]

The Theodul Pass around 1800

The Matterhorn remained unstudied for more than two centuries, until a geologist from Geneva, Horace Benedict de Saussure, travelled to the mountain, which filled him with admiration. However de Saussure was not moved to climb the mountain, and had no hope of measuring its altitude by taking a barometer to its summit. "Its precipitous sides," he wrote, "which give no hold to the very snows, are such as to afford no means of access." Yet his scientific interest was kindled by "the proud peak which rises to so vast an altitude, like a triangular obelisk, that seems to be carved by a chisel." His mind intuitively grasped the causes which gave the peak its present precipitous form: the Matterhorn was not like a perfected crystal; the centuries had laboured to destroy a great part of an ancient and much larger mountain. On his first journey de Saussure had come from Ayas to the Col des Cimes Blanches, from where the Matterhorn first comes into view; descending to Breuil, he ascended to the Theodul Pass. On his second journey, in 1792, he came to the Valtournanche, studying and describing it; he ascended to the Theodul Pass, where he spent three days, analysing the structure of the Matterhorn, whose height he was the first to measure, and collecting stones, plants and insects. He made careful observations, from the sparse lichen that clung to the rocks to the tiny but vigorous glacier fly that fluttered over the snows and whose existence at such heights was mysterious. At night he took refuge under the tent erected near the ruins of an old fort at the top of the pass. During these days he climbed the Klein Matterhorn (3,883 metres), which he named the Cime Brune du Breithorn.[37]

The first inquirers began to come to the Matterhorn. There is a record of a party of Englishmen who in the summer of 1800 crossed the Great St. Bernard Pass, a few months after the passage of Bonaparte; they came to Aosta and thence to Valtournanche, slept at the chalets of Breuil, and traversed the Theodul Pass, which they called Monte Rosa. The Matterhorn was to them an object of the most intense and continuous admiration.[37]

The Matterhorn, Edward Theodore Compton, 1879

The Matterhorn is mentioned in a guide-book to Switzerland by Johann Gottfried Ebel, which was published in Zürich towards the end of the eighteenth century, and translated in English in 1818. The mountain appeared in it under the three names of Silvius, Matterhorn, and Mont Cervin, and was briefly described as one of the most splendid and wonderful obelisks in the Alps. On Zermatt there was a note: "A place which may, perhaps, interest the tourist is the valley of Praborgne (Zermatt); it is bounded by huge glaciers which come right down into the valley; the village of Praborgne is fairly high, and stands at a great height above the glaciers; its climate is almost as warm as that of Italy, and plants belonging to hot countries are to be found there at considerable altitudes, above the ice."[37]

William Brockedon, who came to the region in 1825, considered the crossing of the Theodul Pass from Breuil to Zermatt a difficult undertaking. He gave however, expression to his enthusiasm on the summit. When he arrived exhausted on the top of the pass, he gazed "on the beautiful pyramid of the Cervin, more wonderful than aught else in sight, rising from its bed of ice to a height of 5,000 feet, a spectacle of indescribable grandeur." In this "immense natural amphitheatre, enclosed from time immemorial by snow- clad mountains and glaciers ever white, in the presence of these grand walls the mind is overwhelmed, not indeed that it is unable to contemplate the scene, but it staggers under the immensity of those objects which it contemplates." Those who made their way up through the Valtournanche to the foot of the mountain were few in number. W. A. B. Coolidge, a diligent collector of old and new stories of the Alps, mentions that during those years, besides Brockedon, only Hirzel-Escher of Zürich, who crossed the Theodul Pass in 1822, starting from Breuil, accompanied by a local guide. The greater number came from the Valais up the Visp valley to Zermatt. In 1813, a Frenchman, Henri Maynard, climbed to the Theodul Pass and made the first ascent of the Breithorn; he was accompanied by numerous guides, among them J. M. Couttet of Chamonix, the same man who had gone with de Saussure to the top of the Klein Matterhorn in 1792. The writings of these pioneers make much mention of the Matterhorn; the bare and inert rock is gradually quickened into life by men's enthusiasm. "Stronger minds," remarked Edward Whymper, "felt the influence of the wonderful form, and men who ordinarily spoke or wrote like rational beings, when they came under its power seemed to quit their senses, and ranted and rhapsodised, losing for a time all common forms of speech."[37]

Among the poets of the Matterhorn during these years (1834 to 1840) were Elie de Beaumont, a famous French geologist; Pierre Jean Édouard Desor, a naturalist of Neuchatel, who went up there with a party of friends, two of whom were Louis Agassiz and Bernhard Studer. Christian Moritz Engelhardt, who was so filled with admiration for Zermatt and its neighbourhood that he returned there at least ten times (from 1835 to 1855), described these places in two valuable volumes, drew panoramas and maps, and collected the most minute notes on the mineralogy and botany of the region. Zermatt was at that time a quiet little village, and travellers found hospitality at the parish priest's, or at the village doctor's.[37]

The Matterhorn, John Ruskin, 1849

In 1841 James David Forbes, professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, came to see the Matterhorn. A philosopher and geologist, and an observant traveller, he continued the work of De Saussure in his journeys and his writings. He was full of admiration for the Matterhorn, calling it the most wonderful peak in the Alps, unsealed and unscalable. These words, pronounced by a man noted among all his contemporaries for his thorough knowledge of mountains, show what men's feelings then were towards the Matterhorn, and how at a time when the idea of Alpine exploration was gaining ground in their minds, the Matterhorn stood by itself as a mountain apart, of whose conquest it was vain even to dream. And such it remained till long after this; as such it was described by John Ball twenty years later in his celebrated guide-book. Forbes ascended the Theodul Pass in 1842, climbed the Breithorn, and came down to Breuil; as he descended from the savage scenery of the Matterhorn, the Italian landscapes of the Valtournanche seemed to him like paradise. Meanwhile Gottlieb Samuel Studer, the geographer, together with Melchior Ulrich, was describing and mapping the topographical features of the Zermatt peaks.[37][38]

Rodolphe Töpffer, who first accompanied and guided youth to the Alps for purposes of education and amusement, began his journeys in 1832, but it is only in 1840 that he mentions the Matterhorn. Two years later Töpffer and his pupils came to Zermatt. He has described this journey of his in a chapter entitled Voyage autour du Mont Blanc jusqu'à Zermatt, here he sings a hymn of praise to the Matterhorn, comparing its form with a "huge crystal of a hundred facets, flashing varied hues, that softly reflects the light, unshaded, from the uttermost depths of the heavens". Töpffer's book was illustrated by Alexandre Calame, his master and friend, with drawings of the Matterhorn, executed in the romantic style of the period. It is an artificial mountain, a picture corresponding rather with the exaggerated effect it produces on the astonished mind of the artist, than with the real form of the mountain.[37]

About this time there came a man who studied the Matterhorn in its structure and form, and who sketched it and described it in all its parts with the curiosity of the artist and the insight of the scientist. This was John Ruskin, a new and original type of philosopher and geologist, painter and poet, whom England was enabled to create during that period of radical intellectual reforms, which led the way for the highest development of her civilisation. Ruskin was the Matterhorn's poet par excellence. He went to Zermatt in 1844, and it is to be noticed as a curious fact, that the first time he saw the Matterhorn it did not please him. The mountain on its lofty pedestal in the very heart of the Alps was, perhaps, too far removed from the ideal he had formed of the mountains; but he returned, studied and dreamt for long at its feet, and at length he pronounced it "the most noble cliff in Europe." Ruskin was no mountaineer, nor a great friend to mountaineering; he drew sketches of the mountains merely as an illustration of his teaching of the beauty of natural forms, which was the object of his whole life. In his work on Modern Painters he makes continual use of the mountains as an example of beauty and an incentive to morality. The publication of Ruskin's work certainly produced a great impression at the time on educated people in England, and a wide spread desire to see the mountains.[37]

It is a fragment of some size; a group of broken walls, one of them overhanging; crowned with a cornice, nodding some hundred and fifty feet over its massive flank, three thousand above its glacier base, and fourteen thousand above the sea, — a wall truly of some majesty, at once the most precipitous and the strongest mass in the whole chain of the Alps, the Mont Cervin.[37]

Aerial photography by Eduard Spelterini in 1910

Other men of high attainments followed, but in the years 1850 scientists and artists were about to be successed by real climbers and the passes and peaks around Zermatt were explored little by little. In the preface to the first volume of the Alpine Journal, which appeared in 1863, the editor, Mr. H. B. George, after remarking that nearly all the highest peaks in the Alps had by then been conquered, wrote the following words, which sounded an appeal to English climbers : " While even if all other objects of interest in Switzerland should be exhausted, the Matterhorn remains (who shall say for how long?) unconquered and apparently invincible."[37]

The traditional inaccessibility of the Matterhorn was vanquished after an expedition led by Whymper successfully reached the summit in 1865. But it ended dramatically with four men perishing on the descent. The news of the catastrophe gave rise to a universal cry of horror. Of all Alpine disasters, not one, not even of those which had a larger number of victims, ever moved men's minds as this one did. The whole of Europe talked of it; the English papers discussed it with bitter words of blame; Italian papers invented a tale of a rock detaching itself from the summit, and sweeping the helpless victims to destruction, or of a hidden crevasse opening wide its terrible jaws to swallow them. A German newspaper published an article in which Whymper was accused of cutting the rope between Douglas and Taugwalder, at the critical moment, to save his own life.[37]

In 1890 the Federal Government was asked simultaneously by the same contractor for a concession for the Zermatt-Gornergrat railway, and for a Zermatt-Matterhorn one. The Gornergrat railway was constructed, and has been working since 1899, but there has been no more talk of the other. The project essentially consisted of a line which went up to the Hörnli, and continued thence in a rectilinear tunnel about two kilometres long, built under the ridge, and issuing near the summit on the Zmutt side.[37] Sixty years later in 1950, Italian engineer Count Dino Lora Totino planned a cable car on the Italian side from Breuil-Cervinia to the summit. But the Alpine Museum of Zermatt sent a protest letter with 90'000 signatures to the Italian government. The latter declared the Matterhorn a natural wonder worthy of protection and refused the concession to the engineer.[39]

During the 20th century, the Matterhorn and the story of the first ascent in particular, inspired various artists and film producers such as Luis Trenker and Walt Disney.[40][41]

Designed in 1908 by Emil Cardinaux, a leading poster artist of the time, the Matterhorn affiche for the Zermatt tourist office is often considered the first modern poster. It has been described as a striking example of marriage of tourism, patriotism and popular art. It served as decoration in many Swiss military hospices during the war in addition to be found in countless middle class living rooms. Since then, the Matterhorn has become a reference that still inspires graphic artists today and has been used extensively for all sort of publicity and advertising.[42][43][44][45]


View from Schwarzsee. From left to right: Dufourspitze, Liskamm, Breithorn, Klein Matterhorn, Theodul Pass, and Matterhorn.



  • Charles Gos, Le Cervin (Attinger, 1948)
  • Yvan Hostettler, Matterhorn: Alpine Top Model (Olizane Edition, Geneva, 2006). The use of the Matterhorn in advertisement, publicity, movies, painting and arts[46]
  • R. L. G. Irving, Ten Great Mountains (London, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1940)[47]
  • Beat P. Truffler, The History of the Matterhorn: First Ascents, Projects and Adventures, 4th ed., (Aroleit-Verlag, Zurich, 1998). ISBN 3-905097-14-1. Translation of Die Geschichte des Matterhorns from the German by Mirjam Steinmann
  • Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps (1871)
  • The book, Banner in the Sky, by James Ramsey Ullman is based on Edward Whympers ascent.


  1. ^ Despite its prominence in a local sense, the Matterhorn is not among the top 100 mountains in the Alps measured by topographic prominence. Its close neighbors Monte Rosa, the Dom, Liskamm and the Weisshorn, have higher summits. See a panoramic photograph of the view from Finsteraarhorn, to the north. The key col is Col Durand, at 3,438 metres, between the Matterhorn and the Weisshorn.
  2. ^ Considering summits with at least 300 metres prominence, it is the 6th highest.
  3. ^ Messner, Reinhold (2001-09). The big walls: from the North Face of the Eiger to the South Face of Dhaulagiri. The Mountaineers Books. p. 46. ISBN 9780898868449. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Journal de Genève, 10-28-1995, p. 23
  5. ^ a b Matterhorn in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  6. ^ 24 heures: Déguisé le Mont-Cervin, 17.10.2008
  7. ^ Swiss Mountains - Names Retrieved 26 November 2007.
  8. ^ Bulletin of the Italian Alpine Club (vol. ii., 1867, p. 107)
  9. ^ Caesar, De Bello Gallico, book iii.
  10. ^ Rey, Guido, The Matterhorn, p. 289
  11. ^ Silvia Tenderini, La montagna per tutti: ospitalità sulle Alpi nel Novecento, 2002, p. 40
  12. ^ Matterhorn Retrieved 2011-01-23
  13. ^ Key dates in the history of Zermatt, Zermatt tourism. Retrieved on 2009-10-16
  14. ^ Guido Rey, The Matterhorn, p. 317
  15. ^ No change in the height of Matterhorn, leica-geosystems
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Robin G. Collomb, Pennine Alps Central, London: Alpine Club, 1975, pp. 241–59
  17. ^ Key dates in the history of Zermatt Retrieved on 2009-10-19
  18. ^ Edward Whymper, Scrambles amongst the Alps, 6th edition, London: John Murray, 1936, p. 80
  19. ^ A list of 109 world 'Matterhorns' CERVIN top model des Alpes Retrieved 15 October 2007 (French).
  20. ^ The Matterhorn - Really from Africa?
  21. ^ Internides, Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, University of Lausanne
  22. ^ Histoire du BVZ Zermatt-Bahn Retrieved on 2009-10-16
  23. ^ Zermatt Bergbahnen AG, Projects Retrieved on 2009-10-22
  24. ^ Hilary Sharp, Tour of the Matterhorn, Cicerone
  25. ^ Roger W. Patillo, The Canadian Rockies: Pioneers, Legends and True Tales, p. 176
  26. ^ a b c d e Edward Whymper, Scrambles amongst the Alps, 6th edition, London: John Murray, 1936, pp. 309–13
  27. ^ The Times 08-08-1865, p 9
  28. ^ a b c Guido Rey, The Matterhorn (translated J. E. C. Eaton), London, 1908, p. 140
  29. ^ Janet Adam Smith, Lucy Walker (1836–1916), Oxford University Press
  30. ^ a b c Herve Barmasse and Luca Maspes, July 2006, "The Matterhorn", Alpinist, 16
  31. ^ La Stampa 08-21-1992, p. 12
  32. ^ Helmut Dumler and Willi P. Burkhardt, The High Mountains of the Alps, London: Diadem, 1994, p. 151.
  33. ^ William Penhall, 'The Matterhorn from the Zmutt Glacier', Alpine Journal, Vol. IX, reprinted in Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, pp. 64–72.
  34. ^ Guide des Alpes Valaisannes, du Col Collon au Theodulpass, 1992, Swiss Alpine Club
  35. ^ Reinhold Messner, The big walls: from the North Face of the Eiger to the South Face of Dhaulagiri, p 41
  36. ^ Le Nez de Zmutt,
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Rey, Guido, The Matterhorn (translated J. E. C. Eaton), London, 1908. Available on the Internet Archive
  38. ^ Sydney Spencer,Mountaineering, p. 27, 1934
  39. ^ Tragödien am Matterhorn, Johannes Schweikle,
  40. ^ Hans-Michael Bock, Tim Bergfelder, The Concise Cinegraph: Encyclopaedia of German Cinema, p. 480
  41. ^ Walt Disney and Zermatt
  42. ^ The first Swiss Posters: travel posters
  43. ^ David Scott, Poetics of the Poster: The Rhetoric of Image-Text, p. 94
  44. ^ Hans Ulrich Jost, From Liotard to Le Corbusier: 200 years of Swiss painting, 1730-1930, p. 19
  45. ^ Hilary Sharp, Tour of Monte Rosa, p. 54
  46. ^ CERVIN top model des Alpes (French)
  47. ^ The climbing history up to 1939 of the Matterhorn, Snowdon, Ben Nevis, Ushba, Mount Logan, Everest, Nanga Parbat, Kanchenjunga, Mount Cook and Mont Blanc

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  • Matterhorn — Matterhorn, frz. Mont Cervin, ital. Monte Cervino, Gipfel der Penninischen Alpen, an der Grenze von Wallis und Piemont, 4505 m; von dem romantischen Mattertal (oberer Teil des Visptals, mit dem Dorfe Zermatt) führt der Theodulpaß über das… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

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  • Matterhorn — Alpine mountain, from Ger. Matte meadow, pastureland (see MEAD (Cf. mead) (2)) + Horn (see HORN (Cf. horn) (n.)). So called for its horn like shape …   Etymology dictionary

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