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Questions about climbing The Matterhorn

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Author Message

Rob Jarvis

Friday 05 February 2010 10:52:48 am

The Matterhorn:

Facts and Figures:

Elevation: 4478m
Position: Lat/Long Reference, 45.97980°N / 7.66020°E, Swiss - Italian Border
First Ascent: E. Whympher, F. Douglas, DR Hadow, C Hudson, M Croz, P Taugwalder (Father & Son), 14 July 1865
Hornli Ridge: Vertical height gain of 1220m from the Hornli Hut (3260m)
Italian Ridge: Vertical Height Gain of 650m from Carrel Hut (3835m), and another 1000m from the Abruzzi Hut (2802m)
Classic 'High season': Early July - early September

How hard is the climbing (what grade is it?)

The technical grade for the Hornli Ridge (Normal route from Zermatt) is UIAA III which equates roughly to British V.Diff or U.S. 5.4. There would be a few sections harder than this without the considerable aid from the fixed ropes put in place by the Zermatt Guides. This grade is based on perfect conditions of dry, ice free rock on the steep sections. For those not familiar with these numbers the Hornli Ridge includes very sustained scrambling and a few short (less than 25m) pitches (rope lengths) of the lowest grades of rock climbing. These may feel fairly straightforward on a warm day with sticky rock climbing shoes but can feel a lot harder in the cold / dark / with bigger alpine boots and a rucksack on.

The more relevant grade is the overall Alpine Grade of Assez Difficile (AD)

The technical difficulties of the Hornli Ridge are not great. The real challenge lies in the the length and commitment of this magnificent sustained major alpine route. All the hallmarks of a big 'mixed' alpine day will be encountered in abundance. A pre-dawn start; intricate route finding; sustained scrambling; short rock pitches; using fixed ropes; loose rock; snow and ice; Descending, traversing, abseiling / lowering in descent. A long day on the hill.

What hazards are there?

Route finding is one of the major challenges of the Hornli Ridge as the actual crest is rarely followed , especially in the lower half. Getting off route means the rock is not well travelled and will be of poor quality (re-trace your steps back to where it was solid and try again). There is a narrow 'strip' which is the normal route and where the rock is well used, slightly paler, scratched by crampons and generally more solid than the rest of the mountain! Sticking to this can be difficult in anything other than perfect conditions. Snow / ice / dark / cloud / rain can all add to the difficulty of finding the right line. Other parties off-route present a considerable stone fall hazard to other teams on the mountain.

Due to the length and sustained nature of the route and despite it's popularity the Hornli Ridge is a committing undertaking requiring both good conditions and good weather. With too much snow and ice on the lower sections the climbing will be much more time consuming and only very fast parties could successfully complete the climb in a day. To be caught out high on the mountain in an afternoon thunderstorm would be an 'adventurous' experience at best. Terrain that can be swiftly negotiated when dry can become painstakingly slow and difficult in a storm. The Matterhorn is no place to be caught out in bad weather. With this in mind parties attempting the ridge should be fit and acclimatised, practised at moving on similar rocky, mixed and icy terrain in ascent and descent and wait for good conditions and good weather. These are most often found in the traditional alpine 'high summer' , July, August and the start of September.

How long does it take?

With a 0400 breakfast at the Hornli Hut and allowing for good conditions, a well prepared party and an average amount of time waiting for other parties the ascent will take 4-6 hours and the descent 5-6 hours. Longer than this and the team risk getting stuck high on the mountain, moving slowly in bad weather or just running out of steam descending in the heat of the afternoon.

What equipment will I need?

Go light! Please check our Summer Alpine Kit list for more information. Brief summary given here:
Quality pair of summer alpine mountaineering boots (e.g Scarpa Freney XT GTX, Sportiva Trango Extreme,) crampons, mountaineering ice-axe (c.50cm), harness with Screw gate karabiner and 8ft sling, helmet, rucksack (30-45L), head torch with fresh batteries, warm and windproof top and bottom layers, waterproof top and bottom layers, warm hat, thin gloves, medium gloves, 1-2.5 Litres of liquid, variety of snacks, sun glasses, very small tube sun cream, Insurance details, Cash (Swiss francs) for hut, Mobile phone...ear plugs for the hut!

What training & Acclimatisation should I do?

Lots. Unless you are an experienced mountaineer you will need to prepare for the physical and mental challenges of the Matterhorn well in advance. Rock climbing, scrambling and big days hill walking will all contribute majorly to this in terms of your fitness, agility, sure footedness, 'head for heights' and ability to know and manage your own kit efficiently. Training in the gym or in other cardio sports is better than nothing as supplement but in no sense as an alternative to mountaineering based training. The hills and crags of Snowdonia in North Wales and the North West Scottish Highlands provide superb opportunities for sustained days scrambling which will be excellent initial preperation once combined with some alpine and higher altitude training in the
week or 2 prior to the ascent. There are many alpine areas which give excellent mountaineering training suitable for preparing for the mountain. The most obvious two in terms of the volume, quality and accessibility of high altitude rocky alpine routes are the Swiss Valais and the Chamonix Valley.

Acclimatisation (and preparation) to try a technical four and a half thousand metre peak should be taken over at least a 5-6 day period, ideally with at least one other 4000m peak climbed and a night spent sleeping at around 3000m.

What are the other expenses apart from hiring a Guide?

Zermatt - Schwarzsee return lift costs: Adults: sFr.33 Plus the cost of your Guide at approx half price. Discounts for holders of SwissRail Pass (25% off) and Half Fare cards (50% off).

Overnight stay at the Hörnli Hut: sFr.150. Small discounts for members of national alpine associations e.g. Alpine Club, BMC A.A.C, C.A.F. Plus the cost of your Guide at the same price. Prices for half-board (overnight accommodation, dinner and breakfast) are c. 150 CHF and 450 CHF for a double room. Check out the huts reservation page via the link below:

You can pay with Euros in all Swiss huts; some, not all, also accept credit cards and REKA cheques but cash is generally best.

If you need to spend a night in Zermatt we can book good quality and value accomodation to suit a variety of budgets. We often use the bahnoff hotel which has a mixture of rooms including dormitory style accomodation from 40 sFr. Again you will need to cover the cost of your Guides overnight stay in Zermatt at a discounted rate.