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The race for the Matterhorn summit.

How seven brave pioneers conquered one of the last 4000 m summits of the Alps.

A breath-taking view. The Matterhorn majestically rises up in the South of the canton Valais. It characterizes the Swiss mountain world more than any other 4000 m summit. Its characteristic shape with its summit at 4478 meters and its spectacular ascent routes have made it famous and a destination for ambitious mountaineers from around the world that must not miss in any tour log.


Since 1857, many attempts have been made at climbing the Matterhorn, most of them from the Italian side. The summit was long considered unconquerable even among experienced mountaineers. Myths of mountain demons and ghosts that tried to prevent the ascent arose. The Matterhorn was one of the last famous 4,000 m summits of the Alps that were conquered by Alpinists.

In 1862, John Tyndall. Jean-Antoine Carrel and three other mountaineers tried the ascent via the South-Western shoulder, today's Pic Tyndall for the first time. This expedition also found its end at the Lion Ridge. Later first ascendant Edward Whymper thought the ascent via the Lion Ridge to be impossible from the beginning. He thought that Zermatt was the right place to start an ascent, rather than the little Italian town of Breuil. His friend Jean-Antoine Carrel continued to be convinced that the Matterhorn could only be conquered from Italy. 

In July of 1865, Whymper learned from an innkeeper that his friend Carrel was planning an attempt at the summit via the Lion Ridge. Whymper now knew that he had to put his own plans into practice as soon as possible. He travelled to Zermatt to put together a group for the ascent via the Hörnli Ridge.

The rope team of 7 around Whymper consistent of the mountain guides Michel Croz (from Chamonix), Peter Taugwalder father and Peter Taugwalder son (both from Zermatt), Reverend Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas and Douglas Robert Hadow (all from England). After two exhausting days, the mountaineers finally reached the summit of the Matterhorn on 14 July 1865

 

The success came at a high price, however. Croz, Hadow, Hudson and Douglas fell to their deaths above "shoulder". Three of the victims could be recovered a few days later. The body of Lord Francis Douglas was never found. 

 

The expedition via the Lion Ridge with Jean-Antoine Carrel, which started out nearly in parallel, reached the summit only 3 days later. The "race" for the first ascent had thus been won. As a gesture of making up, Whymper and Carrel climbed the Matterhorn again together in 1874.


Only 6 years after the first ascent, the first woman mastered the difficult path onto the Matterhorn in 1871. Brit Lucy Walker was a sensation and made the headlines around the world. At the time, mountaineering was a men's domain only. As it was proper for a Victorian Lady, Walker wore a long flannel skirt on this expedition.

Hörnli Ridge (North-Eastern ridge)
First ascent: 14 July 1865 by Edward Whymper
Lion Ridge (South-Western ridge)
First ascent: 17 July 1865 by Jean-Antoine Carrel
Zmutt Ridge (North-Western ridge)
First ascent: 3 September 1879 by Albert Mummery
Furggen Ridge (South-Eastern ridge)
First ascent: 9 September 1911 by Mario Piacenza

The first ascent of the Matterhorn was an important event not least for Zermatt. After all, the little Valais town was the starting place for the first successful expedition. Visitors of the Matterhorn museum find many utensils of the mountaineers from that time to remind of the triumph and tragedy of the first ascent.

Among others, there are some remnants of the torn rope from 1865, on which the lives of the four mountaineers from Whymper's rope team hung.

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