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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Matterhorn is a mountain situated in the Alps of Switzerland, Europe. With its dramatic steep slopes reaching a summit of 4,478 meters, it has held appeal with both climbers and sightseers since the mid 19th century.
The Emergence of the AlpsThe Alps were formed by the breaking apart of the ancient super continent of Pangaea , around 200 million years ago. The Tethys Ocean, subsequently, developed between the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn and only stopped expanding 100 million years later. At this point, movement of the tectonic plates resulted in the loss of the western Tethys Ocean, as the oceanic crust was forced under the moving Adriatic Plate. The subduction of the oceanic crust has left an accretionary prism of sedimentary deposits at the base of the Matterhorn that can still be seen today.
The Alps materialized when the Adriatic Plate collided with the European continental crust, causing the Alpine orogeny. Initially, the Matterhorn would have had a rounded shape, but because much of the mountain is above the snow line, it is regularly covered with ice. As this melts, it seeps into the rock, and upon freezing again it expands, causing fractures and eventually larger breakages. In the case of the Matterhorn, these fractures led to the formation of four cirques, which are large concave depressions in land forms caused by erosion. The massive erosion meant that the mountain completely lost its rounded form and, instead bears a dramatic tooth-shaped peak.
Position and DiscoveryThere are 537 mountains with heights in excess of 3,000 meters in the Alpine range, and the Matterhorn is the 6th tallest. It lies within the Valais region of the Alps, in the western part of the range, which is home to many of the tallest peaks. The region of the Matterhorn was first mentioned in a publication of 1538, but it was not until 1792 that a study of the mountain was made, sparking further interest.
The Alps, as a whole, became popular with explorers and climbers in the 18th century, but because of its imposing appearance, there was no attempt to climb the Matterhorn until the mid 19th century. As such, it was one of the last mountains in the Alpine range to be ascended.
Origins of the NameThe name, Matterhorn, is derived from the Swiss word for ‘meadow’, and when it was first discovered, the climate was very different and it is documented that the mountain rose above meadows. The French and Italian names for the Matterhorn, Mont Cervin and Monte Cervino, respectively, are said to be derived from a misspelling of the former name for Theodul Pass, ‘Servin’. This translates to ‘wood’, indicating that the slopes of Theodul Pass , which lies between the Matterhorn and the Breithorn, may have once been forested. Today, both Theodul Pass and the ground beneath the Matterhorn, are covered with snow and ice.
Early Climbing AttemptsAscent of the Matterhorn was first attempted around 1857, predominantly by approaching from the Italian side of the mountain. With these southern routes, via the Lion Ridge, being very difficult, climbers were repeatedly forced to abandon their attempts. By tackling the mountain from the Swiss side, via the Hörnli Ridge , a British party of seven were able to reach the summit in 1865. Unfortunately, on their descent, four of the party were pulled to their deaths when a more inexperienced member of the team slipped, not far from the summit. On losing his footing, the younger lad’s feet struck another, who was knocked off-balance and fell headlong down the slope, pulling the youngster and two others with him via their rope. The rope snapped before the force could pull the remaining three down the incline.
Significant AscentsFollowing the first ascent, further successful climbs were undertaken via both the Swiss and Italian sides of the mountain, with the first female reaching the summit in 1871. The first winter ascent was completed in 1882, while the first solo attempt was in 1898. In 1985, a solo climber successfully traversed all four ridges of the Matterhorn. The last record to be set on the mountain was in 2013, when a Spanish mountain-runner made the ascent in 1 hour and 56 minutes, with a time of 2 hours and 52 minutes for both the ascent and the descent.
Climbing the MatterhornAlthough all ridges can be ascended in any season, the Hörnli ridge on the northeast side is the common approach for climbers, and this route has fixed ropes in places. The climb has the rating of ‘AD’, meaning it is ‘fairly difficult’. Although this grade is third of the seven ratings in the International French Adjectival System, with seven being the most difficult, the ascent still claims the lives of several climbers a year, and should therefore only be attempted by skilled and experienced mountaineers.
ZermattFor skiers and snowboarders, for climbers seeking to conquer the Matterhorn or for sightseers wanting to view the mountain for themselves, the town of Zermatt in southern Switzerland is the perfect place to stay. One of the world's best ski resorts, Zermatt has a wonderful charm, looking particularly enchanting when lit up at night. Beautiful photos can be taken from within the town, as well as from nearby Trockener Steg, at the base of the Matterhorn. Zermatt was the starting point of the party that completed the first ascent, and their story is conveyed in the town's Matterhorn Museum.
Zermatt is very unusual, in that ordinary cars are prohibited. This is a preventative measure to minimize air pollution so that the town’s views of the Matterhorn remain unadulterated. As such, most vehicles seen in Zermatt are likely to be electric, with the exception of those of the emergency services and some municipal vehicles.
How to Get ThereTravel by airplane to Zurich, Switzerland, and then decide whether to hire a car or travel by train. Car-hire is likely to cost around € €94 ($108) per day and fuel costs are around € €1 ($1.60) per liter for unleaded and € €1 ($1.66) per liter for diesel. As Zermatt is a car-free zone, drivers must travel to the neighboring village of Täsch . Zurich to Täsch is approximately a 200 kilometer journey, taking a minimum of three-and-a-half hours to drive. There are numerous different routes that can be taken, so it is best to have a look at a map to choose the preferred one.
There is beautiful scenery to be enjoyed on all routes, but for some added interest, take the car train through the Lötschberg Tunnel just after Kandersteg. This cost, approximately, € €25 ($29) and takes around 20 minutes. On arrival at Täsch, vehicles can be dropped off at the car-hire company by prior arrangement or parked at the Matterhorn Terminal Täsch station for a daily fee. A shuttle train can be taken from here to Zermatt, which is a five-kilometer journey, and this costs less than € €4 ($4.60) per person. Ordinary traffic is not allowed on the road between Täsch and Zermatt, however, taxis are permitted, and these can be taken to the entrance of Zermatt.
Travelling from Zurich to Zermatt by train is convenient and costs around €100 (£80/US $134) per person. The SBB website provides all timetables and prices. If staying in Switzerland for a while, check the Swiss-Pass website before travelling for details of the various railcards, as they often work out cheaper than individual tickets. The initial journey from Zurich to Täsch takes just over three hours including a change at Visp. Then the shuttle train can be taken to Zermatt for a fare of under €4 (£3/US $5), and this only takes 12 minutes. Alternatively, taxis are available to take visitors from Täsch to the entrance of Zermatt.
An electric bus runs from the entrance of Zermatt to the bottom of the Matterhorn. From here, the Matterhorn-Express cable railway runs to Furi station, where a cable car takes visitors to the Trockener Steg station. Trockener Steg serves as a starting point for hiking trails, climbs, skiing, and snowboarding, and there is a restaurant, bar and souvenir shop that are open all year round.
Similar AttractionsFans of the Matterhorn may also enjoy other Alpine mountain ranges in Europe such as the Mont Blanc massif in France, the Rätikon in Austria or the Mannlichen mountain in Germany.
Mount Everest in the Himalayas lies on the border of Tibet and Nepal and is a must-see for mountain-lovers, and the Rwenzori Mountains form a stunning mountain range situated in Uganda, Africa.
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Author: Ruth Hayward. Last updated: May 21, 2015