It’s one of Switzerland’s most beautiful and famous mountains, and one of the highest in the Alps. The mountain, which is known as Mount Cervino by the Italians, is unusual in that it has four flat and sharply rising faces that are located at exactly the same points as those on a compass. Resembling to some extent a massive pyramid, the Matterhorn is on of the most interesting and easily recognisable mountains in the Alps.
The German name of the mountain, Matterhorn, is a combination of the German words for meadow and peak, reflecting the difference in landscape and conditions between the bottom of the mountain and the summit.
Amongst climbers, the mountain is known as a particularly challenging climb, fraught with dangers and in the past many deaths. But it remains one of Switzerland’s most popular, with the better weather following the harsh winters enabling thousands of climbers to attempt a scale of all or part of the mountain every year.
One of the most challenging aspects of climbing the Matterhorn is the fact that the exposed faces of the mountain mean that the weather can change quickly and drastically, leaving climbers exposed and vulnerable to dangerous conditions. The faces of the mountain are so steep that there are frequent avalanches and rock slides, posing additional dangers to even the most experienced climbers.
The location of the mountain, situated on the Swiss and Italian sides, ensure some stunning views over both countries and other peaks in the area. Many climbers and locals believe that the Matterhorn is one of the Alps most beautiful mountains, with forests and ice fields and beautiful passes between areas that are best navigated by an experienced local guide.
The mountain was successfully climbed in the 1860s by Englishman Edward Whymper, and the descent ended in tragedy when a number of the group fell after the climbing rope broke. Whymper survived, however, and an Italian team also reached the summit from the Italian side a few days later.
The most popular route is with guides through to the Hoernli Hut, and is not particularly difficult for very experienced characters; although, usual precautions must be taken to avoid disaster. Hikers begin their journey at the Schwarzsee Cable Car, taking it up to the Hoernli Hut and spending the night there at almost eleven thousand feet. From there, climbers will reach the summit early the next day and begin a descent before the notoriously bad afternoon weather hits the highest parts of the Matterhorn.
Whatever the challenges, climbers recognise that some of the most stunning scenery and views over the surrounding area into Switzerland and Italy make it all worth it!
(Image by thisisbossi on Flickr)