Matterhorn (Hörnligrat; 4478 m)

Mont Cervin / Monte Cervino

August 3 - 5, 1996

no large image available
The 'classical' view from Hörnli hut
Some day it must be. Every mountaineer will understand me: Whenever you touch the topic of mountaineering in a discussion with the (so-to-say average) non-mountaineer, you end up in the question "Well, if you're a mountaineer, did you make the Matterhorn ?" Further in the east it might be Watzmann or Grossglockner, but in the end everything will reduce to Matterhorn.
So, some day we couldn't stand this shame any more. So we will attack this hillock, too. Seen precisely, this is the second attempt - last time there was still too much snow. We only take the railroad from Täsch to Zermatt and enjoy all the complete ascent via Zum See ("at the lake", where since several centuries there's no more lake) and Schwarzsee (which still exists) to Hörnli hut (3260 m) - 1600 height meters. The weather is still a bit strange: As we spent the night at Furka pass, there still was a bit of snow; the whole day it remained quite cloudy, only in the evening it opens up.
On Sunday, we leave the hut at 4:20. Five hours later we have reached Solvay hut (4003 m). A really complete route description would surely blow up my homepage. The way up, however, is mostly quite easy to find. The Moseley plates below and above Solvay hut are a bit of fun in terms of climbing technique (III-), if there's no snow. Further up the rock becomes more compact. After a bit jumping around at a narrow, we soon reach the fixed ropes stretching from the shoulder to the summit slope. One spot - the very last steep step - demands a lot of force. The way on is a rather easy, mostly snowy slope with about 40° gradient. During ascent completely without problems, we just wonder seeing from above, how we could go up something steep like that slope completely unsecured.
no large image available The summit ridge is quite spectacularly narrow and surely unique for the views down in all directions - really dreadful abysses everywhere. We are content with the Swiss summit (4478 m), although the Italian summit (1 m lower) carries the summit cross.
The descent along Hörnli ridge takes about as long as the ascent. Theoretically. In fact, even in the afternoon there are people ascending, who - as to compensate for complete lack of alpine abilities - efficiently block the strategically important spots of the mountain.
Having escaped from all the traffic jams, it is already six o'clock in the afternoon at Solvay hut. Since probably some people would come down from above (filling the hut), we decide to continue our descent and try to get to Hörnli hut. At the Abseil spots below, everything goes on quite slowly. Beyond the securing poles, the route is hard to find from above, so we work on downwards on some abseil hooks (not necessarily put by people on the right route) and along traces of a trail (fools like we are?). Time elapses quickly; at half past nine the trail is practically no more visible. and continuing would be too dangerous. Therefore we establish for an overnight stay in this uniquely nice scenery. That's no joke: Although we are not too well equipped for an overnigth stay outside (i.e. bivouac sack and warm jacket), the position on a small band, 1 1/2 by 4 meters in a 45° steep scree flank guarantees for the exclusivity of this spot. An unhindered view down to Zermatt, situated more than 2000 m below us, and to Hörnli hut, where on time at 22:00 the lights go off. At least I can offer one can of beer, an unexpected luxury in this slightly sparse environment. (I had forgotten it in the rucksack yesterday and carried it all the way up and down.)
The night is more or less cold (-10°C), but except for cold feet it is easy to endure. Just the position changes are a bit annoying, when one has remained in one position at the rock for too long. A thunderstorm threatening in the morning doesn't take place in the end - at about five o'clock a cloudless sky greets us, and some mountain guides ascending five meters above us, along the route. In the darkness of last evening we never would have found found the way. The area between Solvay hut and the end of the second couloir always looks quite the same, and one easily looses orientation when not taking attention for just a second. After the second couloir, everything is clear again, there are even some trail traces, and in between those there are only some steep steps to climb down. The weather today is not as nice as it was yesterday. After some sun during the ascent clouds begin to close from Italy, and a biting wind comes up. At the shoulder and above, it's probably by far less comfortable than yesterday.
But we don't need to care about that, since we were on top yesterday. Now finally we can answer "YES" to the question of all questions. Not without the hint that especially the most famous mountain is an extraordinary scree heap.

Practical hints

way to the hut
From Zermatt via Schwarzsee to Hörnlihütte about 5 hours, 1600 height meters. Who doesn't like it that tough, can cheat to Schwarzsee, then it's only 700 meters.
Just generally: a very, very complicated route. Best (for German speakers) to read in the SAC guide. There, the description is about two pages. Everything below that is over-simplyfying. Most of the way to Solvay hut is rubble. The terrain is not difficult, but very loose. You mostly recognize the right way as there the very loose stuff is already removed. Hooks that you might eventually find ONLY say that either this is the route, OR somebody very desperate had found no other solution than putting in a hook for Abseil to whereever he might come out...
Up to Solvay hut, one more or less stays left of the ridge. Below Solvay, there's lower Moseley plate with some securing pins.
After Solvay one goes five meters to the left and then directly upwards to upper Moseley plate. From there, follow the crest, sometimes avoiding to the left. One spot with a fixed rope (normally traffic jam there); then you follow the plated crest upwards (good, big Abseil hooks) to the shoulder. Here the crest usually becomes icy but the continuous fixed ropes begin here. Follow these ropes to the beginning of the "roof". From here either in a steep snow slope or with a trail (as conditions are) to the summit.
Don't underestimate - it takes about the same time as the ascent. In the upper area one can easily abseil; that is a bit difficult in the lower regions (more scree, not so steep). The whole way is, however, dangerous - every mistake could possibly be the last. From above, the route is by far harder to see than from below. So, try to remember everything already during the ascent. Otherwise you will find a thousand possibilities to come out in the nowhere.
Telephone Hörnlihütte: +41 27 967 2769 (in the valley: 967 5468)
Map and guide
Guidebook (in German): Maps:
© 1997 Hartmut Bielefeldt

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Last updated August 09, 2002 by Hartmut Bielefeldt