Zermatt, Switzerland has been attracting foreign visitors since the middle of the 19th Century, when its local mountain and icon--the --represented the last of Europe's major Alps that had yet to be climbed. In his monograph on Swiss Tourism, Rush to the Alps, Paul P. Bernard describes the Matterhorn mystique of the late 1850s:
The Italian side of the mountain looked more promising, and several groups--both Italian and British--tried unsuccessfully to reach the peak via the western slope.
In 1861, a 21-year-old Englishman and amateur artist named Edward Whymper visited Zermatt. While sketching the Matterhorn, Whymper became interested in climbing. One thing led to another, and Whymper made several attempts on the Matterhorn over the next few years.
In 1865, with a large Italian party scheduled to assault the peak from the southwest ridge, Whymper hastily put together a group of climbers and headed for the mountain's Swiss side. The young Englishman and his climbing friends reached the summit at 1:40 p.m. on July 14, 1865. All went well until, during the descent, one of Whymper's companions slipped and a rope broke, sending four climbers to their deaths.
The resulting newspaper coverage whetted the public's interest in both climbing and the Matterhorn, and a new tourist industry was born.
Today, more than 3,000 aspiring Alpinists hire guides and attempt the Matterhorn every year. (The route is easier now, thanks to a network of fixed pitons and ropes over the trickier sections.) And every year, a few tourists die on the mountain--usually by attempting to climb it on their own.
Should you crawl (or get hauled) up the Matterhorn?
If you're tempted to follow in Whymper's footsteps, here's what you'll need:
A better alternative might be one of the various hikes and excursions offered by the Zermatt Tourist Office and the local Bergführerbüro, or mountain guides' office. These range from "Walking and Painting in Water-Colors" to "Matterhorn Trekking."
"Take the cogwheel train and leave the climbing to us"
Another option is the Gornergrat mountain railway (see article link below), which hauls more than 3,000,000 tourists to an elevation of 3,135m or 10,256 ft. each year.
At the upper station, you'll enjoy a great view of the Matterhorn and neighboring Monte Rosa--assuming that the weather is cooperative.
You can also take the cableway from the Gornergrat station to the Stockhorn for an additional fee. And if you're an avid hiker, you can buy a one-way ticket to the Gornergrat and walk back down to Zermatt. (Allow several hours for the descent, plus another hour if you decide to have lunch at a mountain restaurant in Findeln on the way down.)
Related articles and Web sites
Winter Resort Report:
Zermatt Alpin Center
Matterhorn Museum - Zermatlantis
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