Syndication Feature Article

The Matterhorn

Article Length: 528 words Photographer: Paul Williams Author: Paul Williams  

The Matterhorn | Magazine Article Content Syndication - Images by Paul Williams
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FEATURE ARTICLE SERIES: Quintessential Europe - The Matterhorn

The great icon of the Alps is the Matterhorn. The mountain sits on the border of Switzerland and Italy rising as an isolated mountain out of the Alpine pastures as its German name Matte "meadow" horn "peak" aptly describes. Its summit is 4,478 meters (14,692 feet) high and the mountain was the last of the six great north faces of the Alps to be climbed. The first successful assent was led in 1865 by Edward Whymper who tragically lost four of his team, who fell to their death, during the decent. Since then over 500 alpinists have lost their lives on the Matterhorn making it one of the most deadly mountains in the Alps.

The Matterhorn is a four sided mountain. On its northern Swiss side is the ski resort of Zermatt and on the Italian side of the mountain is the ski resort of Cevinia ( The Matterhorn is called Monte Cervino in Italian). The mountains sheer cliffs, rising 1400 meters (4600 feet) vertically from the mountain base, were feared by the mountaineers of the late 1800s which is why it was the last to be climbed.

Edward Whymper was an illustrator and engraver who fell in love with the Alps fervently exploring and drawing the great Alpine peaks. In 1860 Whymper was employed by a London publisher to make drawings of mountains in the Zermatt region. This was the first time Whymper saw the Matterhorn and it was love at first site. The following year Whymper made his first attempt on the summit from the Italian side of the mountain. It was on this attempt that Whymper met the French Swiss mountain guide, Jean-Antoine Carrel, who was also attempting to climb the Matterhorn. Both failed to climb the mountain and a rivalry grew between them and Carrel was determined to beat the Englishman to the summit.

In 1865 the newly formed Italian climbing club hired Carrel as their guide who in turn hired all the best climbers in Cervinia, so that by the time Whymper turned up there were no experienced climbers or guides left to employ. Whymper went to Zermatt where he joined forces with Lord Francis Douglas, Reverend Charles Hudson, Douglas Robert Hadlow and their guides Michel Croz and the Taugwalder father and son. On July 13, the team climbed the Matterhorn's Hörnli ridge to become the first to reach the summit. They looked down the Italian side to see Carrel and his team struggling 400 meters below them. Carrel was defeated and gave up the ascent. On the decent Whimpers party suffered a terrible accident when Hadlow slipped and fell taking four other climbers with him. The safety rope snapped and they fell to their death.

This awe inspiring mountain is one of the great icons of the world and is both terrifying and inspirational all at the same time. Looking up at its seemingly impregnable cliff faces it is hard to imagine how climbers can climb it even with the modern high tech equipment they use nowadays. How climbers 150 years ago dressed in tweed Plus Fours, wearing stout walking boots and equipped with a few ropes made the ascent is unimaginable.


© Paul Williams 2011. All Rights reserved. Unauthorised copying prohibited. Please contact us for usage license.


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