Climbing the Matterhorn via the Standard Route (Hornli Ridge)Location: Swiss AlpsStarting elevation: Matterhorn hut at 3270 metersSummit elevation: 4478 metersElevation gain: 1208 meters (approx. 4000 feet)Time required: 8 to 10 hours round tripPhysical fitness required: Very good to excellent. Prior acclimatizion.Technical skills required: Good basic motion skills in exposed 4th and easy fifth class terrain. Good movement skills with crampons on rock. Difficulty rating: 5.4/ Grade 3; mostly rock, some snow and ice.
Just about every serious mountaineer contemplates climbing the Matterhorn at one point or another. Even though climbed for the first time back in 1865 and many thousands of times since then, it has not lost any of its attraction and majesty.
We have guided the mountain many times and know what it takes. I climbed the mountain again with client and friend Kurt Buchwald in August of 2005. The conditions were excellent and I tried to document the ascent. Here is what you can expect:
Be ready for a strenuous, exciting climb that offers a lot of exposure and fun climbing at a relatively brisk pace.
About the pace of climbing:
Local guides are the kings of the mountain. This means that these guides get to leave before the “others”.
This may seem strange, but it has a reason. The first couple hours of climbing happen in the dark, route finding is very challenging and efficient rope handling skills are a must.
Non guided or inexperienced parties get lost very often or are in the way of the efficiently moving parties.
You should be completely packed and ready to go in the evening, since getting up and dressed, having breakfast should take no longer than 30 minutes. This is crucial.
The beginning pace is quite fast.
All this may appear a bit stressful, but it is worth it. Here is the reason.
A well prepared party can summit the mountain and be back down below the fixed ropes at 4200 meters before the first non guided parties come to the fixed ropes. This avoids nasty bottle necks and will make your experience much more enjoyable.
After a few minutes on the climb the pace relaxes and becomes a normal mountaineering pace.
The actual climb:
The climb starts out with a set of short fixed ropes. From here the terrain ranges between exposed hiking terrain and short steps of third and fourth class climbing. You pass a couple of couloirs until you come to the first set of real fixed ropes. These ropes are relatively new. They were installed on a sharp crest on the East Ridge proper after a massive rockslide had wiped out the old route a few years back.
The climb remains easy but difficult to find for the first 2000 feet of vertical. The rock is solid as long one is on the good route. Cairns and crampon scratch marks are not a great aid, since many of these lead the wrong way.
The Moseley Slabs right by the Solvay hut
After passing landmarks such as the Galbe Fad (Yellow Path), Bohrlocher, ds’ Gebiss (the dentures), d’alt hitta (the old hut at 3800 meters), one finally arrives into the vicinity of the lower Moseley slabs.
These slabs are located right below the Solvay hut (4000 meters).
The Solvay hut at sunrise
Well moving parties arrive at this spot within 2 to 2.5 hours. The climbing at the Moseley slabs is not very difficult (a couple moves of low fifth class), but it indicates the upcoming change in character of the climb.
A time check at the Solvay hut is important. You are now about half way up the mountain in regards of time even though you have climbed two thirds of the vertical. Since the descent takes just about as long as the ascent, you are about a quarter of the way there. It is important to realize this. Being on the summit truly is only half the effort. One can not relax and just slog down like on snowier peaks like Mount Rainier or the likes.
If the ascent time to the Solvay hut takes less than 2.5 hours, you can expect to be on the summit in 4.5 to 5 hours without much trouble. Your descent time will be about the same.
Statistically if the ascent takes over 5 hours, the descent times actually turns out to be longer than the ascent time and this is where the trouble lies for many climbers. There is a big difference between having to concentrate in the Matterhorn terrain for 9 or 13 hours. The majority of the accidents occur during the descent when people are tired.
From the Solvay hut one ascends the upper Moseley slabs (Mr. Moseley was an unfortunate American who perished here over 100 years ago) and continue on or near the proper ridge crest. The climbing remains quite easy, but there is a lot more exposure now. The views down the famous North Face are excellent.Right around here crampons get put on if conditions are “normal”.
Good movement skills with crampons on rock are essential to having a good and safe experience on the Matterhorn. Even once the crampons are on, you will be climbing on rocky terrain the majority of the time.
After the mentioned ridge section above the Moseley slabs one reaches the shoulder and shortly after that you will come to the “fixed ropes” at about 4200 meters. These ropes are made of thick hemp and aid immensely in climbing the vertical steps that lead to the “roof” section of the peak.
Kurt at the strenuous fixed ropes at 4200 meters
At the point of the fixed ropes you are climbing at over 14000 feet and pulling yourself up the ropes is certainly strenuous and very exposed.
The “roof” section of the Matterhorn does not offer any great technical difficulties, but like on so many other sections of the climb, there is a great deal of exposure and constant attention is required. The roof is never steeper than 35 to 40 degrees, but the looming North Face below you adds to the excitement.
The roof section of the Matterhorn
A short walk across the sharp summit crest will lead you to the summit proper.
The standard route on the Matterhorn offers not too many technical challenges along the way, but the constant exposure and difficult route finding make it a special summit.
Let’s face it. The are many very cool peaks, but there is only one Matterhorn.
On the summit
A few pictures of the descent:
Back in the fixed ropesBack below the Solvay hutBack at the hut right before the storm that “shut down” the mountain for a week.Getting ready for it:
Climbing the Matterhorn is strenuous. I have never climbed the Grand Teton, but have people draw comparisons to it quite a bit. I have also heard several guides who have guided both mountains tell me that the Matterhorn involves at least twice the amount of terrain that a standard ascent of the Grand Teton does. The terrain is apperantly not any more difficult than what you would encounter on the Grand Teton.
The fact that there is over 4000 feet of exposed terrain to be covered is important when trying to prepare for the climb.
Very good physical conditioning will make the climb not only more enjoyable and successful, but also a lot safer. You should be able to move at a 1200 feet per hour pace for a couple hours before taking a short brake and you should be strong enough to move with good concentration in exposed terrain for about 8 to 10 hours.
Good basic movement skills on exposed (not necessarily difficult) rock with crampons on cannot be overemphasized.
We highly recommend some training in the North Cascades, the Tetons or the Sierras. Any of these ranges provide plenty of training terrain.
Be realistic about the objective:
The craggy mountains in the Zermatt Valley can be hit by a summer snow storm at any time of the standard climbing season and this may shut down the Matterhorn for several days. It is important to realize this. If you are aware of this and willing to come to the Swiss Alps with an open mind, Pro Guiding Service will be able to produce a good week in the mountains for you with almost 100 % certainty.
Hiring the right guides:
The guides of Pro Guiding Service have guided the Matterhorn over 50 times combined and know many bad weather alternatives. We provide transportation, speak all the local languages, know the hut keepers personally and know our way around.
If we cannot provide the guided service at the desired time, we will be glad to assist you in finding a guide.
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