Nestled in a deeply carved gorge, and surrounded by some of the highest peaks of the Alps, Zermatt is one of the world’s most revered mountain hiking destinations In Europe. Whilst the consummate skiing and rock-climbing opportunities this whole area offers are unsurpassed (not to mention exceptional dining and drinking), there is really only one sacrosanct event which single-handedly catapulted this once sleepy village, into one of the most venerated mountaineering destinations in Europe: the conquering of the Matterhorn.
Book your holiday apartment in Zermatt Centre and be overawed by what is often referred to as the most challenging, and beautiful, mountain on earth.
The famed Matterhorn has been luring audacious alpinists to Zermatt since the mid 1800s. Standing tall and proud on the Swiss-Italian border, and reaching a height of 4,478 metres, the Matterhorn had always been seen as an utterly unclimbable. Many expeditions had been made on all the nearby mounts (Zermatt centre is actually surrounded by 29 vertiginous summits), yet the Matterhorn had always remained a seemingly unobtainable dream.
Many men had attempted the feat, but it wasn’t until 1865, when British explorer Edward Whymper made the first ever successful ascent that climbing-fever hit Zermatt with exceeding fervour. Funnily enough, it wasn’t even the success of the climb which grabbed the world’s headlines, but rather the tragic and heartbreaking descent. Whymper’s victorious yet calamitous expedition has gone down in history books as one of the most inspiring stories of mankind’s attempt at achieving the impossible.
Whymper and his entourage of six companions, after many failed attempts, finally reached the apex of the Matterhorn on the 14th July 1865. After celebrating their incredible accomplishment, the group linked themselves by rope, turned around, and started to head back down to Zermatt. Soon after setting off, the second in line made a tragic misstep and proceeded to knock over the first, and drag all the others, down the immense edge of the cliff. In an incredible twist of fate, the rope snapped just as the last three climbers were about to plunge to their deaths, leaving them in complete shock, but alive, on the edge of the mountain. Whymper was one of the three survivors.
The mountaineering world was left in awe and despair, as soon as the news of the journey was released. Merely three days later, an Italian climbing team (no doubt inspired by Whymper’s efforts) made their own attempt from the Italian side, and managed to reach the top as well. Within just a few days, the ostensibly unclimbable Matterhorn had been conquered from both sides! The story of the Matterhorn has been an inspiration to mountain climbers the world over ever since.
While much higher summits have been conquered since then, this most picturesque pinnacle retains its allure. The difficulties of conquering the Matterhorn have earned it the reputation as one of the most dangerous mountains to climb, even more so than Mount Everest, which is twice as high. While just over 200 people have perished trying to reach (or descend from) the top of Everest, more than twice than number lost their lives on the Matterhorn.
You certainly do not need to channel your inner Whymper on your Zermatt vacation, but you can always pay a visit to the local cemetery, and spare a thought to the adventurous and hapless climbers now buried there. Discover the magic of the Matterhorn in Zermatt and enjoy one of Europe’s most remarkable holiday destinations.