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. 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 one of the last great Alpine peaks to be climbed and its first ascent marked the end of the golden age of alpinism. 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.
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 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.
Tourism and trekking :
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. 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).
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.
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. 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. On August 22, 1871, while wearing a white print dress, Lucy Walker became the first woman to reach the summit of the Matterhorn, 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, and its first solo ascent was made by W. Paulcke in 1898. The first winter solo ascent of the Hörnli ridge was by G. Gervasutti in 1936.
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, and the first winter ascent was made by H. Masson and E. Petrig on March 25, 1948.
Climbing routes :
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.
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).