Climbing the Matterhorn is a bucket list item for many climbers. It has four faces, the pyramid shape providing four climbing routes. Each face is steep and bounded by sharp ridges. The climbing is steep and complex. It begins with rock and often ends with snow and ice at the summit.
Climbing the Matterhorn: guide Tim Robertson gives his views:
What’s special about the Matterhorn? Why would anyone want to climb it?
The Matterhorn is one of the world’s most recognisable peaks – think of the Toblerone logo. There is only one Matterhorn. it’s a really inspiring looking peak, quite a challenge.
What are the particular challenges in this ascent?
The constant nature of the climbing. Because it’s so steep, you’re constantly having to climb rather than walk, using your hands and feet the whole time, having to be really careful about where you place them. Then you have to reverse that the whole way down, there’s only about 60m abseiling on the way down.
It’s quite a summit day: 1200 meters, 90% of which is climbing or scrambling.
What’s your approach to this mountain?
I prefer to do a warmup climb, so I get to know the client and their capabilities. I would not be keen to take someone cold unless they had an extremely strong climbing resume and are current.
Some guides may be very focused on the time to the Solvay bivouac. If you’re not up to that in good time they will turn you around because they have another client the next day.
Another challenge is crowding. If you go in October, the lifts aren’t running but there’s a lot less people. Climbing the Matterhorn during the high season you can have up to 100 people doing the route with you.
Next, lightning. The Matterhorn’s pyramid shape attracts thunderstorms. You don’t want to be caught up there in a thunderstorm. It often takes people longer to climb down than to climb up so it can be a challenge to get up and down before mid-afternoon when the thunderstorms start to become active.
What are the requirements for the clients climbing the Matterhorn?
You need to be fit and acclimatised to climb up to 4500m. The hardest technical climbing is above 4000m. You need to be an efficient rock climber in alpine boots, not necessarily an excellent technical rock climber. You might be able to climb harder in the rock climbing gym but it’s the ability to climb for six or seven hours, looking where you’re placing your hands on your feet the entire time that counts. Three or four hours of that is above 4000m.
It’s the kind of peak that you want to be over prepared for rather than under prepared. Conditions can be quite fickle. You need the ridge to be in good condition, clear of snow and it can be pretty random from July through to October. You only need one big snowstorm and a few low temperatures and then the snow doesn’t melt.
Check out other options in the Bernese Oberland or Zermatt regions:
What’s so special about the Valais?
The Alps are a massive range, stretching over 8 European countries. The highest peak, Mont Blanc (4,804 m), is shared by France and Italy. Switzerland has most of the rest. The Valais has 22 peaks above 4000m plus another 30 in the 3500 – 4000m range.
Of the 10 highest peaks in The Alps, 8 are located in the Pennine Alps, in the Valais canton. At number 9, Finsteraarhorn (4274m) is in the Bernese Alps and is shared between the Valais and Bern cantons. Here’s the list:
- Mont Blanc (4804 m), one of the classic trio
- Monte Rosa (4634 m), the tallest mountain in Switzerland
- Dom (4545 m), a 3100 m ascent but no major difficulties
- Liskamm (4527 m), often climbed as a traverse between the Feliksjoch and the Lisjoch
- Weisshorn (4506 m), all routes difficult
- Matterhorn (4478 m), another of the classic trio
- Dent Blanche (4357 m), not a climb for the faint hearted
- Grand Combin (4314 m), a giant, demanding massif
- Finsteraarhorn (4274 m), highest in the Bernese Oberland
- Zinalrothorn (4221 m), great rock, excellent climbing