Image: Peter Bromley (Unsplash)

While researching SALT of the EARTH, I visited the Matterthal valley.

Might as well continue to Zermatt, I thought, and have a look at the Matterhorn. Nothing could have prepared me for this mountain. When I looked up in awe, I shed tears.

Standing at 4478 metres (or 14,692 feet), the Matterhorn is one of the best known symbols of Switzerland. In fact, part of it is situated in Italy, where it is known as Monte Cervino. A geographical phenomenon formed from a landmass collision, the distinctive snow-covered pyramid has four defined sides, each facing a point of the compass.

What better icon for Swiss chocolatiers Toblerone to use as their logo?

An artist used its sheer surface as a projection screen for international flags during the pandemic, as a show of solidarity between Switzerland and the world.

At its foot lies the town of Zermatt, attracting climbers, skiers, tourists (and thunderstruck authors) to gasp at this towering presence.

The mountain’s fame first spread in the late 19th century, after a succession of defeated climbers failed to reach the summit and the mountain grew shrouded in myth and superstition.

Image: Morgan Thompson (Unsplash)

All that changed on July 14, 1865. Edmund Whymper was one of many competing climbers in the golden age of Alpinism determined to conquer the Matterhorn. The majority of his efforts had begun from the Italian approach of Lion’s Ridge with equally eager adventurer Jean-Antoine Carrel. On this occasion, Whymper chose to tackle the peak from the Hörnli Ridge.

The party included two Swiss guides (Taugwalder Sr. & Jr.), French mountaineer Michel Croz and three Englishmen. Favourable conditions prevailed and they achieved the summit. Only then did they realise no one had brought a flag.

However, celebrations were premature. On their descent, tragedy struck. One man slipped, dragging three more men to their deaths. The rope linked to the others broke, meaning Whymper and the Taugwalders survived. You can still see that significant piece of rope in Zermatt’s Matterhorn Museum.

The story shocked the world, but did not deter committed Alpinists. Two days later, on 16 July 1865, Whymper’s competitor Carrel made the ascent with Jean-Baptiste Bich. Lucy Walker claimed the title of first woman to achieve the summit in July 1871, beating her American rival, Meta Brevoort (remember that name – she’ll be back).

Since Whymper’s bittersweet accomplishment, over 500 people have died trying to scale Switzerland’s most famous (but not its highest) peak. Unpredictable, proud and majestic, it offers perspective and engenders visceral admiration for the natural world.

Once seen, never forgotten. But I’ve certainly no plans to climb the thing.

Image: Emanuele Dellepiane (Unsplash)


SALT of the EARTH is available to preorder now

Publication Dates:

6 October (English)

20 October (German)

    1 Response to "The Mighty Matterhorn"

    • Ruby Rutishauser Knapp

      Thank you that was very interesting my dad was Swiss but never told us anything Switzerland I have been their and loved it

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