Matterhorn Hornli Ridge
Here is where you would tumble if you fell off: down the east face towards Italy. Had we fallen, this could have been bad: Neither of us spoke Italian.
Continuing unroped up "The Shoulder" where the terrain was ideal for scrambling. Above the Shoulder come the fixed ropes, where progress slowed to a crawl due to so many incompetent people.
Above the shoulder, approaching the fixed ropes. These ropes allow you to strenuously climb hnd over hand up the steepest terrain on the route without belaying. Difficulties would be about 5.5 rock climbing otherwise. A very big carabiner or two on a short sling is ideal to clip onto the 4" thick ropes for security. We donned crampons before the ropes ended. From there, we then frontpointed straight up 40 degree snow and ice for about 100 feet to the top. The line-up of folks on the ropes had stopped moving completely at this point as many lacked axes and/or crampons. Gridlock ensued.
A fabulous view on the Swiss summit of the Matterhorn, just before noon (ascent time: 7 hrs). The Italian summit is 10 minutes walk along the ridge, but the guides and clients turn around here after a quick slurp of tea and head back down. We stayed and savoured the view of other 4000 metre peaks, including Monte Rosa, left of centre. We could also see Mount Blanc in nearby France, our next adventure.
We descended the same way, mostly roped, with one rappel, reaching Hornli hut at 7:15 p.m. I foolishly continued down to Zermatt, arriving just before midnight. This was a 20 hour day with 1200 metres elevation gain and 2750 m loss. Smarter folks stay in the hut a second night, but incessant hut snoring usually keeps me awake, whereas sore muscles don't.
Matterhorn from Riffelsee. One of the most popular hikes (and train rides) in the area goes to Gornergrat and passes by Riffelsee. This lake is close to a small hump called Riffelhorn, subject of a famous parody of mountain climbing expeditions by writer Mark Twain. (called Ascent of the Rifflehorn)
The Matterhorn is a spectacular mountain and fantastic climb, even with the crowds. If dry, climbers on this route need only a 8.5 or 9 mm rope, a few slings and biners, belay device, plus one or two large 'biners, an ice-axe and crampons. A bit of acclimatization from one of the many beautiful hikes or easier peaks (like Breithorn or Mettlehorn) around Zermatt is invaluable.
Other Alps suggestions for peak-baggers are Mount Blanc (highest in France), The Dom (Zermatt/Tasch area), The Monch (near The Eiger at Grindelwald) and Gros Glockner (highest in Austria). None is a terribly difficult climb in good summer conditions.
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© All photos copyright by the author 1999.