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Grade 8 English
3.8 The Matterhorn - A Mountain in the Alps

The Matterhorn (French: Mont Cervin or Le Cervin, Italian: Monte Cervino) is perhaps the most familiar mountain in the Alps. Located on the border between Switzerland and Italy, its graceful pyramid towers over the Swiss town of Zermatt and the Italian town Breuil-Cervinia in the Val Tournanche. The elevation has been measured with satellite positioning systems at 4,477.54 meters.

The mountain has four faces, facing the four compass points, with the north and south faces meeting to form a short east-west summit ridge. The faces are tremendously steep, and only small patches of snow and ice cling to them; regular avalanches send the snow down to accumulate on the glaciers at the base of each face. The Hörnli ridge of the northeast (in the center of the view from Zermatt) is the usual climbing route. The North face is one of the six great north faces of the Alps, first climbed in 1931 by brothers Franz and Toni Schmid.

The Matterhorn was the last major mountain of the Alps to be climbed, not merely because of its technical difficulty, but of the fear it inspired in early mountaineers. The first serious attempts began around 1858, mostly from the Italian side, but despite appearances, the southern routes are harder, and parties repeatedly found themselves on difficult slippery rock and had to turn back.

It was not until 14 July 1865, after several failed attempts, that the party of Edward Whymper, Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, and Douglas Hadow, with Michel Croz and the two Peter Taugwalders (father and son) tried the Hörnli route and found it considerably easier than anybody expected. But on the descent Hadow slipped, knocking Croz off his feet, and dragging Hudson and Douglas with him. All seven were tied together, and would no doubt have been lost, but the rope broke, sending the lower four to their deaths on the Matterhorn Glacier 1,400 m below. The bodies of all but Douglas were later found, and are buried today in the Zermatt churchyard.

Three days later, on 17 July, a party led by Jean-Antoine Carrel reached the summit from the Italian side. Julius Elliott made the second ascent from the Zermatt side, in 1868, and soon after John Tyndall traversed the summit. In 1871, Lucy Walker became the first woman to stand atop the mountain, followed a few weeks later by her rival Meta Brevoort.

Today, all ridges and faces of the Matterhorn have been ascended in all seasons, and climbing guides take thousands up the Hörnli route each summer. By modern standards, the climb is technical (AD Difficulty rating) but not too difficult for skilled mountaineers. There are fixed ropes on parts of the route to simplify things. Still, due to inexperience, falling rocks, and overcrowded routes, each year several climbers die. The mountain is not to be underestimated. The usual pattern is to take the Schwarzee cable car up from Zermatt, hike up to the Hörnli-hütte (elev. 3,260 m), a large stone building at the base of the main ridge, and spend the night. The next day one rises at 4:00 am, so as to reach the summit and descend before the regular afternoon clouds and storms come in.

A miniature imitation of the Matterhorn featuring a bobsled ride is one of the attractions at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Matterhorn Bobsleds opened in 1959 and is a 1/100 scale replica (147 feet in height) of the actual mountain in the Swiss Alps, although not exact. The attraction was one of the first E ticket rides in Disneyland Park, with the Submarine Voyage being the first in the same summer.


Q 1: What do you think AD difficulty rating is?
How difficult a mountian in to climb.
The steepness of the mountain.
The level of difficulty in breathing due to altitude.
The amount of smog in the air.

Q 2: What country is the Matterhorn located in?
New Zealand.

Q 3: How many people died on the decent down Hörnli in 1865?
All 7.

Q 4: What directions do the faces of the Matterhorn face?
East and West.
North and West.
North, South, East and West.
North and South.

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