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Increased use of guides cuts Matterhorn deaths

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons
23:01 CEST+02:00
The Matterhorn remains a dangerous mountain but the number of accidents on the iconic Swiss peak is declining because of a greater appreciation of the risks by climbers, officials say.

Zurich daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) noted that fatalities have remained stable for the past four years on the 4,478-metre mountain, which has claimed a total of 450 lives.

Three people died scaling the Matterhorn last summer, while the annual death toll since 2010 has ranged from one to three, the newspaper said in an online report published on Sunday.

In the 1990s, an average of eight people died climbing the distinctive rock pyramid on the Swiss-Italian border, near Zermatt in the canton of Valais.

Over the past decade, an average of six climbers a year have perished on the peak, one of the tallest mountains in the Alps.

The number of rescue missions has also declined, with Air Zermatt dispatching its helicopters just 15 times to the Matterhorn this year, saving 14 people in the process, NZZ said.

In recent years, 20 missions a year were the rule, while in 2011 there were 30, involving rescues of 55 climbers.

Kurt Lauber, warden of the Hörnlihutte, a climbers' hut at the base of the mountain, said awareness of the Matterhorn’s risks has grown.

“The mountain was formerly often underestimated,” Lauber told NZZ.

But that has changed, he said.

Twenty years ago, half the people climbing the mountain went up without a guide, while this year only a fifth do so, the NZZ said.

“Pathfinding on the Matterhorn is the biggest challenge,” Lauber is quoted as saying.

Inexperienced climbers who do not know the right route endanger not only themselves but also other climbers who my be confronted by falling rocks.

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Lauber said many of the mountain’s recent victims are climbers from Eastern Europe who could not afford a guide or a night in the hut, preferring to overnight in a tent before setting off for the summit.

Plans call for a ban by 2016 on camping near the Hörnlihutte, at 3,260 metres above sea level, for environmental protection, as well as safety reasons, Lauber told NZZ.

Fewer fatal accidents have also been reported this year in the Swiss Alps in general, although final figures have yet to be tabulated, the newspaper said.

It quoted Ueli Mosimann, of the Swiss Alpine Club attributing the “favourable trend”, with media reporting about the dangers in the mountains increasing awareness among visitors.

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