The Alps: Switzerland or Italy
Climb the Matterhorn either via
Hoernli Ridge from Zermatt, Switzerland
or the more difficult Lion’s Ridge from Cervinia, Italy.
- Matterhorn – need we say more?
- Challenging climbing in a stunning alpine setting
- New Hoernli Hut – Living in style at 3200m
- Breathtaking views from the summit
- Great way to end a trip to the Alps
- Enjoy Zermatt!
The Matterhorn is the most iconic peak in the Alps, a brand name with tremendous recognition value which has been helping to market “made in Switzerland” to the rest of the world, from chocolate to watches.
The Matterhorn poses a tremendous lure to climbers and “wanna-be” climbers and the difficulties are often underestimated, as documented by the countless memorial plaques encountered en route: All routes on the Matterhorn require good technical climbing skills, excellent fitness and at almost 4500 m (= 14750 ft) good acclimatization before the climb. The climbing is exposed, often requires crampons even in the rocky sections and don’t forget: Every meter you climb up you need to down climb or repel again in the end.
The main season for the Matterhorn tends to be from Mid-July to Mid August but some years the true Matterhorn season can be as short as two weeks. Exposure to weather, high altitude and the technical nature of the terrain render the Matterhorn quickly out of condition and “unclimbable” for most recreational climbers even after storms in the summer. Therefore, we recommend to plan in a few “cushion days” and best book a longer program (see “Packages” tab below), that offer skills training and acclimatization.
If you don’t have any prior climbing experience, we highly recommend participating in our Mont Blanc Mountaineering Course or our Haute Route Glacier Trek before considering doing a Matterhorn ascent.
Matterhorn Ascent – Day-to-Day Itinerary
2 Days of mountaineering
For our Matterhorn ascents we usually use the route via the ‘Hoernli Ridge’, occasionally also the ‘Lion’s Ridge’ from Italy, which can also be done as a traverse, descending to Zermatt and Switzerland after reaching the summit.
The Italian normal route (Lion’s ridge) is overall a fair bit more involved. The hut approach is a lot longer and if coming from Zermatt, it requires a gondola ride to either the Klein Matterhorn (approx CHF 120 / person or Schwarzsee (CHF 50 / person). Many parties go up and down the same way, which usually makes it a three day trip with an overnight again in the Carrel Hut or the lower Duca di Abruzzi Hut. In spite of the lesser vertical distance from the Carrel hut (12,562 ft) to the Matterhorn summit (14,688 ft) (The Hörnli hut is at 10,695 ft) guides commonly count a little more time than what the Hoernli Ridge takes because the difficulties are more sustained. Since it’s a first come – first serve system the hut can be overcrowded at times and backpacks are heavier as overnight packs have to be carried at least to the hut and in the case of a traverse, all the way across the summit of the Matterhorn.
Ascent via the ‘Hoernli Ridge’
Meeting with the guide in town around mid-morning for a trip briefing, equipment check and possibly lunch together. Gondola ride via Furi to Schwarzsee, followed by a approx. 2-hour hike to the Hörnli Hut (elev. 3,260 m/10,695 ft). Often, we spend the remaining hour or so to warm up on the first few meters of the climb in the afternoon and descent again, since the lower part of the route requires climbing in the dark early the next morning.
The Matterhorn climb is steep and exciting for 1200m vertical (4000 ft) all the way in technical terrain along the ridge that divides the impressive north from the east face. Most of the climbing will be “on a short rope”, however there are also some sections up to grade 5.5 that are commonly being pitched out, namely the slabs below the Solveigh Hut emergency shelter, which you’ll pass 2/3 up the mountain. Above, the route steepens and fixed ropes help over sections that would otherwise rate 5.7 (UIAA 5). Ideally the rock is dry and the crampons are only required for a few shorter sections, namely for the “Dach”, the last 15 min to the summit. However, after storms or early in the season, crampons might be necessary for most of the climb, which increases the level of difficulty substantially. With a wake up time at 4 AM, 5 – 6 hours are usually budgeted for the ascent and 4 to 5 hrs for the descent. These timelines are generally strictly adhered to, as the height and the isolated position of the Matterhorn create its own micro-climate, which promotes clouds and afternoon thunderstorms and severe weather.
Clients must be able to climb fast and efficient and a high level of attentiveness is required for the entire climb.
Return to the Hoernli Hut around 2 to 3 PM for a quick break and commonly we descend back to Zermatt via Schwarzsee gondola.
Ascent via the ‘Lion’s Ridge
From Zermatt we take the Schwarzsee cable car up, then we cross over the Furggjoch (3271m-10730ft) into Italy. A descend of approx. 1500ft brings us to the Abruzzi hut, where we stop for a quick bite to eat and to rest. Another 1000m-ascent will get us to the Carrel hut, where we will be staying for the night.
The Carrel hut is self-catered, which means we will have to carry cooking utensils and food for that evening and the next day. Since we won’t come back the same way, we will have to carry everything with us on our ascent of the Matterhorn. This is a very long day in comparison with the ascent to the Hoernli hut!
After a fairly early wake-up call we will head out the door, up the Lion’s Ridge. You first follow the south side of the ridge and reach the Tyndall rope via the “mauvais pas”, “rocher des écritures” and the “sheet”. We climb to the ridge, follow it as far as the “cravatte” and continue to the Pic Tyndall. From here you cross the Tyndall ridge to the “enjambée” in order to reach the Col Félicité. The summit pyramid is climbed as far as the “balcony” with the help of fixed ropes and the Giordano ladder. From the “balcony” you climb to the summit. Descent via Hoernli ridge, as above.
Detail and Logistics
To be arranged with each client individually, commonly at or after breakfast on the first day at our Hotel in Zermatt.
Travel to Zermatt
The three closest international airports with road distances, train travel durations and fares:
Geneva: Car 235 km, 2.30 hrs. Train: 3.45 hrs, SFR 90 / person, almost hourly departures.
Zurich: Car 350 km, 3.30 hrs. Train: 4.5 hrs, SFR 120 / person, almost hourly departures
Milan: Car 230 km, 3 hrs. Train 4 hrs, Euro 80, almost every two hourly departures
Please note that if traveling by car, you will have to leave your car on a commercial parking lot (fees from SFR 4 to SFR 7 every 24 hrs) in the village of Tasch, located about 10 km before reaching Zermatt. From there, you have to either travel by taxi or train (SFR 8, departures usually every 20 minutes during the day).
Climate, Weather, Temperatures
High season for all mountaineering in the western Alps is beginning of July through to mid-September. Understandably, most aspiring Matterhorn climbers worry about catching a bad weather week. Here are some hard facts to help you assess your chances from the Meteo Swiss statistics for Zermatt (Averages from 1961 – 1991):
|Precipitation in mm||
|Number Days of Precip.||
|Temperature Average in C||
The Matterhorn climb requires relatively dry conditions and quite commonly the most reliable period to catch good conditions on the mountain is mid-July to Mid August, but we have also seen seasons where the Matterhorn was only in climbable condition for 2 weeks – if even that! While September appears to be drier, new snow often lingers longer due to the colder temps.
Day time temperatures can vary between 30C (86F) in the valleys to -10C (14F) on clear mornings, when we start our day from the hut.
Services Included in the Total Price
Guiding by an internationally (UIAGM/IFMGA) certified, multilingual mountain guide or guide aspirant under supervision, trip organisation, all guide expenses except hut lodging and food.
Hut Lodging and food for both client and guide (Approx CHF 300 at the Hoernli Hut or Euro 100 at the Carrel Hut (catered by the guide)), lunch (sandwiches, snacks can be purchased in the huts or in the valley),
drinks (beer is about SFR 7/ can, wine SFR 25 – 40 bottle), any accommodation or meals in the valley (Can be included from SFR 60 / double room with breakfast), gondola return trip to Schwarzsee aprox. SFR 50, use of technical equipment: Harness, helmet, crampons, ice axes, carabiners can be arranged for a fee.
Matterhorn Ascent – Multi-Day Packages
3 Day Matterhorn Program:
Arrive in Zermatt, lodging at our recommended Hotel in town
Gornergrat train from Zermatt to Rotenboden station. Rock climbing (6- 7 pitches) at the Riffelhorn (2900 m). Lodging at the Hotel Riffelboden @ 1850 m for better acclimatisation.
Day 2 and 3
Continue with our 2 day Matterhorn program
5 Day Matterhorn Program
Meet your guide either at 5 PM or on day 2 8AM for breakfast in a Hotel or B&B in Saas Grund, located in the Saas Valley, which is the neighboring valley to Zermatt. Sass Grund can be reached by hourly scheduled buses from the train stations in Visp or Brig in the Rhone Valley.
Trail hike to the Saas Almageller Hut located at 2900 Meters (= 9500 ft.), 5 hrs hiking time (see web site at http://www.almagell.ch/). In the afternoon rock climbing practise in the “Klettergarten” close to the hut.
Traverse of the Portjen Ridge (6 hrs – rock scrambling and technical climbing to grade 5.5) to the Pizzo d’ Andola (3640m = 11800 ft) or traverse of the Dri Hoerlini Scrambling and technical climbing to 5.6 (summit at 3200m = 10500ft.).
Traverse of the Weissmies (4023m = 13200 ft), which involves hiking, snow climbing, some scrambling and finally a traverse of a narrow, snowy ridge to the summit. Descent via the heavily glaciated (and crevassed) north side of the mountain to a cable car. Descent to Saas Grund. Transfer to Zermatt. Lodging in Zermatt in a Hotel or B&B.
Day 5 and 6
Continue with our two day Matterhorn program
Can I Do It?
Very strenuous 2 – 3 day mountaineering trip in high altitude (4800m = 15750 ft) that requires enough stamina for a 14 hr day on your feet on the summit day with few brakes. For essentially all of the climb you will be roped to your guide. On the Normal Route via Gouter Ridge the main difficulty involves steep rock scrambling (at times on crampons) to get to the Gouter Hut on day 1. The last two hours of the climb require front pointing on crampons and finally a very exposed traverse along the icy / snowy summit ridge. The Traverse Route via Cosmique Hut involves an easy first day, but the summit day is longer and more strenuous than the normal route and requires front pointing on your crampons on several occasions. We recommend the two day Mont Blanc format only to participants who (1) have previous experience climbing technical glaciated peaks and (2) who have spend at least two additional days in high altitude (either with or without one of our guides) before the Mont Blanc climb.
Can I Do It?
This is a challenging program for experienced climbers only. On both Matterhorn standard routes, it is necessary to keep to good time while climbing carefully and efficiently. You should be able to climb rock to 5.6 (UIAA grade 4) in mountaineering boots and possibly with crampons. You also need to be sure footed on your crampons while traveling along exposed ridges and slopes to 60 degrees in snow and ice. The continuity of the technical terrain paired with long days requires excellent cardiovascular fitness, stamina and good acclimatization.
Is it possible to schedule an additional day as a bad weather contingency?
Our guides can reserve an additional day at 50% of our advertised daily guides rate plus lodging / food expenses to maintain flexibility in order to reduce chances that the Matterhorn summit bid doesn’t fall victim to bad weather. Should this day in the end be used, we would charge you the remaining 50% fee after the trip.
Hornli Hut reservation and cancellation: Full Cancellation penalties apply if cancelling the Hornli Hut at anytime after making a reservation.
1. Technical Equipment
- Leather or plastic mountaineering boots* sturdy with RIGID soles
- crampon compatible
- Backpack (40 – 45 liters) Best bring a big plastic (garbage) bag as an inside liner for your backpack or package clothing items in separate plastic bags.
- Climbing helmet**
- Ice axe for glacier travel (50-75cm, classic pick)**
- Crampons that fit your boots or can be easily adjusted**
- Anti-balling plates for your crampons (highly recommended)**
- Collapsible ski poles* (One pole is very useful and recommended)
- 1 harness**
- 1 locking carabiner**
- Crevasse rescue equipment, if you are familiar with using it. (Prusik slings, webbing, pulleys, auto-locking device). Your guide will bring a full set.
All items marked ‘*’ can be rented from a rental shop locally.
All items marked ‘**’can be provided by OnTop.
Please bring your own equipment if you have it.
We suggest using the ‘layer system’: Light technical clothing that doesn’t take much space in your backpack and dries quickly if sweaty or wet. Layers can be put on and taken off fast if weather conditions change during the day.
- Wind and waterproof shell jacket with hood (Gore Tex or similar)
- Wind and waterproof over pants with side zippers (Gore Tex or similar)
- Mountaineering pants
- Fleece or heavy jacket
- Medium weight fleece sweater
- Long underwear or running tights (e.g. Capilene or polypro)
- Undershirt – preferably long sleeves (e.g. Capilene or polypro)
- Warm socks for mountaineering boots (wool/synthetic outers)
- Thin “liner” socks
- Warm hat, covering your ears
- Lightweight gloves (fleece or leather)
- Warm, waterproof pair of gloves
- Gaiters (unless pants lock tightly to your boots)
- Sun hat, with a wide brim if possible
- Bandana (optional)
3. Hut lodging
- Spare underwear, socks
- Down vest or light insulated jacket (optional)
- Light-weight sleeping bag liner (preferably silk) – wool covers are provided by the hut
- Light hut slippers (optional) – we recommend to use the ones the huts provide
- Light stuff sacs or zip lock bags to keep your backpack organized (optional)
- Toiletries : only tooth-brush and tooth-paste
- Alpine Club Membership Card (if you hold membership)
- Ear plugs (optional but very useful)
4. Other Items
- Sun glasses (heavy duty – glacier use, with very good UV protection)
- Sun screen and lip protection
- Water bottle, preferably insulated, minimum volume: 1 liter or Camelback (if too cold, bladder tube might freeze up!)
- Head lamp with spare batteries and bulb
- Blister kit (optional)
- Snacks (candy bars, dried fruit, sandwiches, nuts, etc.)
- Personal items (prescription medicine, extra contact lenses and maintenance equipment, extra pair of prescription glasses, etc.)
- Pocket knife or Leatherman (optional)
- (Health/Travel) Insurance documents
- Zip-lock bag for wallet and other documents to keep them dry (recommended)
- Camera, batteries (optional)
- Compass, maps and GPS (optional)
- Up to 14 hrs/day
- Stamina required!
- Exposed ridges
- Rock / ice / snow
- Front pointing
- 5.6 / 5b rock skills
2 days anytime
July – September
Additional training days recommended under “Trip Packages” tab below.
€ 500 – 600 depending on client to guide ratio and objectives
Guide Expenses Extra.
Certified Mountain Guide, all guide expenses except lodging / food at the hut, trip organisation
Gondola, lodging and food for guide and client at the Hoernli Hut (Approx Euro 130 each) or Carrel Bivi Hut (Approx Euro 50 / each), rental equipment (quoted separately)