How Difficult is the Matterhorn

Written by Matt Dickinson (IFMGA Mountain Guide)
19th July 2017
The Matterhorn Summit

The Matterhorn is the most easily recognised peak in the world. Many climbers and walkers aspire to climb it. But how difficult is the Matterhorn? This is a question we are asked frequently. The fact is, looking from Zermatt, the peak looks nothing short of terrifying! Compared to most alpine peaks it looks impossibly steep and uncompromising. But on the other hand it is a popular mountain which is climbed on a daily basis by people without vast amounts of experience. The route is both complex and loose, so it is a necessity that the leader knows the mountain well. We would never advise attempting the peak without using a qualified guide.

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The most important attributes for the ascent of the Matterhorn are fitness, determination and 'sure footedness'. Typically the summit day is between 9-12 hours, that's pretty much non-stop without long breaks. There is an old joke regarding the lack of rests. 'A British climber was tired on the approach to the Solvay hut (half way bivouac refuge). So he says to his Zermatt guide "please can we rest and have a drink", to which the Zermatt guide replies "yes, at the Solvay Hut". When they get to the Solvay hut the guide does not stop. The English climber, says "I thought we could stop for a rest at the Solvay hut" to which the Guide replies "yes that's right, on the way down"!

Sure-footedness is of prime importance on the Matterhorn. This is different to climbing ability. I have guided good climbers who are not sure footed and non-climbers who are surefooted! This simply means the ability to be agile and secure when scrambling on rock, ice and snow. This ability can be learned by practising scrambling and easy climbing. The climbing on the Matterhorn is not so hard, but it is exposed. That means it is important not to take a fall.

The climb line

When climbed via the Hornli ridge, the Matterhorn ascent is graded AD with a vertical height gain of 1300m (from the Hornli refuge). The climbing is never more difficult than the British grade 'Moderate'. The climbing is mainly on rock, however the upper section is usually snow and ice. The most difficult sections have fixed ropes.

There is no doubt that climbing the Matterhorn is an intensly satisfying experience, and one which will stay with you for a lifetime. Plus, everybody has heard of the Matterhorn so it is instantly recognised by family and friends.

At Mountain Tracks we offer Matterhorn courses from July - September. The courses are 6 days in length and include 4 days of training & acclimatization climbs around Zermatt or Saas Grund prior to the 2 day Matterhorn ascent. Participants should have some alpine mountaineering experience before the Matterhorn week, although being an expert climber is not a prerequisite. For more information or to book this unforgettable climb Click Here

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