The Matterhorn, one of the world’s most famous and iconic mountains, is attracting thousands of tourists each year! Some come to admire its beauty and some intend to climb to the top.
But there’s much more that makes this mighty mountain so special. Here are some facts about the Matterhorn you may not know about and that have built its distinctive reputation.
1. The Matterhorn is believed to be 50-60 million years old! According to geologists, it was formed when the African crashed into the European continental plate. This technically means that the Matterhorn is formed from African rock.
2. The Matterhorn isn’t the highest mountain in Switzerland! It might be the most famous mountain but, it’s only the 10th highest within the Swiss Alps and the 12th highest peak in Western Europe. Standing 4’478 meters tall it’s one of the 48 Swiss peaks above 4000m.
3. The first ascent of the Matterhorn took place in July 1865. A group of seven people, led by Brit Edward Whymper, started the tour in Zermatt and successfully climbed to the top. Very unfortunately, four of them tragically died on the descent. It remains a mystery what exactly happened.
The north wall of the Matterhorn where just below the peak, the tragic accident happened in 1865
4. The group that started from Zermatt was not the only one that tried to reach the summit of the Matterhorn that day. There was another group that started from Italy but they had been 200m below the summit when the first successful ascent took place. The Italian climbers withdrew, but only three days later they reached the summit without any tragedy making it the first successful attempt from the Italian side over the Lion Ridge.
5. It took 6 more years until the first woman was able to successfully reach the peak of the Matterhorn in 1871. It was Lucy Walker, same as Edward Whymper who led the group that managed to be the first to reach the top, she was also British. She was also the first woman to summit the Eiger (1864).
6. The Matterhorn is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous mountains. Since the first ascent in 1865, it’s estimated that over 500 people have died while climbing or descending the Matterhorn. These days, the danger especially comes from its popularity as overeager tourists without experience often try to climb it without a local guide.
The Hörnlihütte mountain hut - the starting point of the ascent of the Matterhorn
7. Every year, between 3000 and 4000 people attempt to climb the peak. Out of the 300 to 400 people that tackle the ascent with the help of a guide, about 20 fail to reach the summit. Roughly 3500 people attempt to reach the peak without a guide. About 65% of them never reach the top, usually due to a lack of fitness or poor weather conditions. It’s estimated that on certain days when the conditions are ideal, there are up to 300 mountaineers that tackle this mighty mountain.
8. The oldest person to have ever reached the peak of the Matterhorn was Ulrich Inderbinen a local that summited the mountain at the age of 80. He first climbed the Matterhorn when he was 20 years old and throughout his life, he tackled it again on multiple occasions.
9. Back in the day, it used to take two days to climb the 1100 meters of the Matterhorn's North face. Nowadays, thanks to better equipment and knowledge about the mountain it doesn't take as much time. On average, the summit can be reached in roughly 8 to 10 hours.
One of the most famous views - The Matterhorn reflecting in the Stellisee lake
10. It’s unclear who currently holds the record for the fastest ascent to the Matterhorn. There are many records as it depends on the starting point and route chosen from where the time was tracked. One notable achievement is the one from Andreas Steindl, a local from Zermatt. He started his ascent in front of Zermatt’s church, and it took him 3 hours, 59 minutes, and 52 seconds to climb to the peak and get back down to the town center!
11. Each year, the Air Zermatt flies various missions to rescue climbers who had accidents or overestimated their abilities. Like the number of deaths, the number of rescues has decreased in recent years. It can be assumed that it’s because nowadays more climbers climb with guides than in the past. Bayard Tip: In 2016 RedBull created a documentary about Air Zermatt where they followed the rescue teams on several missions. If you haven't watched it already, you should definitely check it out here!
12. The Matterhorn also became known worldwide as the “Toblerone Mountain”. It first appeared on the packaging of the famous Toblerone chocolate in 1960. Chances are high that you’ve seen it before, but did you notice the bear in within the Matterhorn image on the Toblerone packaging? This is a reference to Bern, where Theodor Tobler first invented the chocolate bar.
The Matterhorn & the Toblerone Logo - Can you see the bear?
13. The Matterhorn is the most photographed mountain not only in Switzerland but in the whole world. It's estimated that this picture-perfect rock makes it on to multiple millions of pictures annually.
14. In 2015, to mark 150 years since the first ascent, the route of the first ascent of the Matterhorn has been lit up with lamps that had been positioned along the path. A red light marked the spot where the accident took place where four men tragically fell to their deaths.
15. In 2020, due to the Corona pandemic, the Matterhorn was illuminated between the 24th of March and the 26th of April as a sign of hope and solidarity. During the 5 weeks, we were able to admire projections of words such as “hope” and “solidarity” as well as national flags and symbols such as a heart or mountaineers. In total, there were over 80 images that have been projected on our beloved Matterhorn.
The Matterhorn illuminated with the Italian flag during the Corona pandemic 2020 - Source
It's safe to say that the Matterhorn is a remarkable mountain, it's more than just beautiful. Nonetheless, it's its beauty that makes it stand out and that attracts thousands of tourists to Zermatt each year. That is why we created our Matterhorn Online Shop. From printed T-Shirts to socks to bottles, everything is designed with Zermatt and the Matterhorn in mind. Be sure to check it out and if you're in Zermatt already, then just stop by our shop on the main street or The North Face Shop by the train station to have a look at all the goodies.