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Matterhorn Hut climbing stories, access and main routes

Written by Thomas Crauwels

Cabane du Cervin, hörnlihütte, cabane du Hörnli... Perched in the Valais Alps, close to the Matterhorn, it is a beacon for mountaineers attempting to climb the Matterhorn. Zermattit is a beacon for climbers attempting toascend the Matterhorn. Suspended between heaven and earth, the hut welcomes men and women in search of adventure and communion with nature.

This refuge occupies a special place in my heart, as it lies at the foot of the mountain that fascinates my soul. That's why I naturally made a donation of 11 works depicting the Matterhorn from every angle. Explore these 11 alpine photographs throughout this article.

Find out more about thehistory of the hut and the Zmutt climbs, as well as practical information about access to the hut and the main routes from thehut.

History of the Hörnli hut and the Matterhorn's most emblematic climbs

The hut was built in 1880, after the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. Jean Antoine Carrel, an Italian mountaineer, convinced that the Lion ridge was the classic route, was narrowly beaten to the summit by Edward Whymper. Whymper reached summit via the Hörnli ridge three days before the first Italian attempt. Whymper's success was marred by tragedy on the descent. Roped in by seven climbers, the fall of one of the companions dragged 4 climbers into the abyss of the mountain. Between the fourth and fifth climbers, the rope broke, saving Whymper and the Taugwalders from certain death.

But this emblematic peak also boasts other climbs that have left their mark on history, such as that of Lucy Walker, who was the first woman to climb the summit Matterhorn in 1871. A significant step forward in the history of women's mountaineering.

In 1880, the Hörnli hut, owned by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), was built with 17 beds. Between 2013 and 2015, the building was renovated and refurbished with the help of Zermatt architects Arnold, Perren & Zurniwen. The refuge has been reborn with 2 private suites and dormitories with a maximum of 8 beds per room. Wifi is available.

Since its construction, every mountaineer has left his or her indelible mark on this majestic summit . The records for climbing the Matterhorn via the Hörnli hut are one after another:  

  • Matterhorn round trip in less than four hours by Andreas Steindl in 2018 ;
  • ascent of the Matterhorn via all its ridges in 16 hours and 4 minutes by Andreas Steindl and Italian François Cazzanelli in 2018;
  • Fernanda Maciel's ascent of Gran Paradiso and the Matterhorn in a single day in 2020;
  • etc.

How to get to the Matterhorn hut

The hut at the foot of the Matterhorn in the canton of Valais has a unique ambience: that of a stopping-off point for mountaineers venturing to summit the most aesthetic of mountains.

Black and white photo of the Matterhorn above the sea of clouds
Matterhorn - celestial crossing

Set at an altitude of 3,260 metres in the heart of the Swiss Alps, the hut impresses with its proximity to the Matterhorn. From here, the King of the Alps appears in all his splendor and immensity.

It's so good to get away from the world below, to reach Hörnlihutte and let our emotions transcend when we catch sight of this giant pyramid!

Access path to the Hörnli hut from Zermatt :

  • Hiking rating: T4
  • Ascent: 1650 m
  • Duration: 7 hours round trip from Zermatt, or 3 hours round trip from Schwarzsee

After crossing the main street of the mountain village of Zermatt, head for Zum See. This relatively easy first stage is ideal for warming up. Pass through the hamlet and on to Furi. The second part of the route is immersed in Alpine pastures. This is the start of the ascent to Schwarzsee, from where you can admire the splendor of the Valais landscape from a large terrace. A cabin ascent to Schwarzsee is also available.

Portrait of the Matterhorn plastered in snow with black background
Glowing Matterhorn

The last stage of the hike leads to the Matterhorn hut. A rocky path alternates between gentle and steep slopes. A footbridge and handrails make the steep path easier to negotiate. Finally... Hörnlihutte rises before your eyes, with Switzerland's iconic mountain behind. The hut's janitors extend a warm welcome to all passers-by.

"The adventurers we welcome must feel good and fit to climb summits, celebrate their victories and turn their dreams into reality. "

Edith and Martin Lehner-Rüegsegger, hut janitors

Book a night at the Hörnli Hut

Mountaineering route: ascent of the Matterhorn via the Hörnli ridge

One of the normal routes to summit is via Hörnligrat. A mountain guide is strongly recommended for this route.

  • Rock type: gneiss
  • Ratings : AD 4b>3b III P2
  • Ascent from hut: 1220 m
  • Slope: 40°.
  • Direction: NE
  • Duration: 8 to 10 hours round trip
  • Equipment required: 30m rope for descent (or 50m for abseiling), crampons, ice axe, a few quickdraws, straps, helmet.

Very popular race. The most exposed passages are equipped with fixed ropes. The main difficulties are linked to the length of the route and the search itineraries on the first half of the route. That's why we recommend venturing out shortly before sunrise to find the route more easily. Many climbers carry out a reconnaissance of the route to the Tour auf dem Grat the day before (approx. 2 hours round trip).

Climbing the Matterhorn requires a high level of fitness. To test your climbing skills, a trail segment has been created: the Matterhorn fitness test. It is also advisable to stay at altitude for a few days before the race to acclimatize.

The gneiss rock is of good quality throughout the route. If the rock becomes very loose, the climber is moving away from the route. It is advisable to be vigilant when crossing roped climbs, as this can lead to rock falls.

Black-and-white panorama of the Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens
Matterhorn - The Dent d'Hérens

The descent from the Matterhorn can be made via the Hörnli ridge. An alternative route is via the Lion ridge on the Italian side.

Learn more about the Matterhorn route: Hörnli ridge

Trekking around Zermatt : among the highest summits in the Alps

Hikers trekking between the highest summits and the biggest glaciers in the Alps stop off at the Hörnli hut. For 5 days, hikers move from hut to hut, discovering the alpine world of Zermatt :

  • Day 1 - Trift (730 m ascent; 3.7 km): the route starts at Zermatt and leads to the Berggasthaus Trift inn. Rich in history, the hut is run by the builder's great-granddaughter and her husband, a fifth-generation mountain guide.
  • Day 2 - Schönbiel (780 m ascent, 11.3 km): after a climb to the Höhbalmen and Hohliecht viewpoints (2675 m), the route crosses the Zmutt glacier. There, the picturesque Matterhorn rises up before our eyes. Further on, the Schönbiel hut appears in all its splendour. Formerly known as "Dr Scheen Biel", meaning "pretty little flat on a hillock", Schönbielhütte offers a breathtaking view of the north face of the Matterhorn.
  • Day 3 - Hörnlihütte (1105 m ascent, 13.2 km): Hut wardens Edith and Martin Lehner-Rüegsegger welcome hikers at the foot of the Hörnli ridge. Before daybreak, the ballet of headlamps begins as climbers ascend Switzerland's most symbolic mountain.
  • Day 4 - Gandegg (430 m ascent, 9 km): the trail starts at the foot of the Matterhorn and continues beneath its east face. Impressive views of the Gorner glacier, Monte Rosa and Breithorn. The arolla wood hut, with its 135-year history, offers a unique view of the majestic Théodule glacier.
  • Day 5 - Zermatt (1415 m ascent, 8.9 km): return to the starting point.

A donation of 11 works from the Matterhorn

The Hörnli hut and the Matterhorn occupy a special place in my heart. For the past 15 years, I've been capturing the essence of this majestic summit through my lens.

It seemed only natural to donate 11 of my works to the Hörnli hut. Each photograph reveals a different facet of summit, highlighting all its angles, ridges and unique atmospheres.

"The Matterhorn seems completely inaccessible... solitary and fierce, it seems to defy man to ever set foot on its inviolate brow, which only the eagle can graze with its wing. "

Laveleye

My works invite mountaineers who set out on the mythical ascent of the Matterhorn to embark on an imaginary journey. Many have traveled miles to realize their dream: to conquer this legendary summit , the object of constant fascination.

Black and white photo of the Zinalrothorn, the Matterhorn and the Matterhorn.Obergabelhorn
Zinalrothorn - Matterhorn - The Matterhorn Obergabelhorn

I was lucky enough to realize this dream thanks to the Hörnli hut in September 2020. The emotion was intense when I reached its summit. To tread these heights is to follow in the impressive footsteps of Edward Whymper. 

Black and white panorama of the Matterhorn above the sea of clouds
Matterhorn - Emergence

The gift of my work is an act of gratitude, a tribute to the mountain, a gesture to give back what it has given me. By entering the annals of Alpine heritage, my photographs achieve immortality - just like the mountain itself.

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