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The Matterhorn: Everything you need to know about the Mountain of Mountains

Guess how many people climb Switzerland's deadliest peak each year? And how many have to be rescued?

Published: Tuesday, 18th October 2016 at 2:00 pm

Have you ever dreamed of summiting the mighty Matterhorn? A new series called The Horn might make you think twice.

Made by Redbull TV (free via their website or the app), The Horn follows one of the best search and rescue teams in the world. Air Zermatt is called out on over 1,500 misions per year, and many involve rescuing victims of the Matterhorn's sheer sides and tempestuous weather.

Here are a dozen reasons it's famed as the Mountain of Mountains and shouldn't be undertaken lightly...

1. It's 4,478 metres high (14,692 feet) – making it one of the "four-thousanders" so prized by climbers and mountaineers. The highest peak in the Alps is Mont Blanc, which spans the French-Italian border and weighs in at 4,810m.

2. In centuries past, people used to believe that spirits threw boulders down the mountain. 

3. The Horn was first summited on July 14, 1865, by a seven-person team. Officially first on top was a British man named Edward Whymper. On the descent, four climbers in the party fell to their deaths, and one was never found. Whymper survived.

4. In 1871, a British woman named Lucy Walker became the first woman to scale the Matterhorn, despite wearing a long skirt! 

Zermatt is Switzerland's most exclusive ski resort


5. Nowadays roughly 2,000 people climb the Matterhorn each year. In the early ascents, it took two days to climb the north face of the Matterhorn. Today, as long as weather permits it takes eight to 10 hours.

6. The Matterhorn has a remarkable pyramidal shape, with four distinct sides that line up with the compass directions of north, south, east and west.

7. The name Matterhorn comes from the German words for “meadow” and “peak.”

8. The Matterhorn is believed to be 50-60 million years old. It was formed when land masses smashed into each other, forcing the ground upward. The hard rock on top of the mountain originally came from the African continental plate.

9. With its isolated geographical position and great height, The Horn forms its own weather. Rescuers can be exposed to rapid changes in conditions, and thick fog, gusty winds and icing of the helicopter rotors are some of the biggest dangers they face.

Air Zermatt in action

10. Since the first ascent in 1865, more than 500 people have died on The Horn, and the average now is three to four a year. On the 150th anniversary of the first summit, July 14, 2015, the mountain was closed to climbing out of respect to all those who lost their lives on its face.


11. The oldest person to climb The Horn was Zermatt mountain guide Ulrich Inderbinen, who made his 371st and final summit in his 90th year.

12. Humans aren’t the only outdoor enthusiasts who love the Matterhorn. Approximately 1,000 marmots live in the Zermatt area. 

All six episodes of The Horn are available now at or via the Red Bull TV app

Radio Times holidays:

Switzerland, the Matterhorn & the Glacier ExpressThree of the country's best railway journeys are included in this tour: the Centovalli Railway carries you through a “hundred valleys” to lakeside Locarno, with deep ravines, chestnut forests and tiny villages all around you. The legendary ‘Glacier Express’ will transport you 120 kilometres past stunning mountain scenery, waterfalls, ravines and rivers. Whilst the UNESCO World Heritage railway of the Bernina Express will take you through St Moritz and some of Europe's highest and wildest mountain scenery across the border to Italy. But this tour also takes us into the seductive arms of Italy... to Lake Maggiore, and the charming lakeside resort of Stresa, where you can walk in the footsteps of Europe’s 19th century aristocracy who first crossed the border to experience their first taste of Italy in the days of the ‘Grand Tour’. Click here for the full itinerary and to book.


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