Switzerland celebrates first ascent of Matterhorn
George Mills · 15 Jul 2015, 11:35
Published: 15 Jul 2015 11:35 GMT+02:00
- Severed rope recalls Matterhorn's first ascent (25 May 15)
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- Abba star sings about first Matterhorn ascent (12 Feb 15)
As mountains go, the Matterhorn is pretty close to perfect — a sublime near-pyramid that sits at the head of the valley behind the Swiss village of Zermatt and straddles the Swiss-Italian border.
With its two summits, the 4,478 metre (14,692 ft) "mountain of all mountains" has become an icon of Switzerland — think Toblerone — and a more than handy income stream for the 6,000 or so residents of car-free Zermatt.
The village boasts around 120 hotels and countless holiday apartments, with nearly 3 million overnight stays registered in 2013.
But for all its beauty, the Matterhorn is not a welcoming peak for climbers. Because of its difficulty, it was the last of the famous alpine 4000ers to be conquered — a feat achieved by Englishman Edward Whymper 150 years ago on Tuesday.
The ascent was far from trouble-free. Only three of the seven climbers made it down alive.
And there was controversy too, after claims that local mountain guide Peter Taugwalder cut a rope sending three men to their deaths in order to save his son. A subsequent investigation cleared him.
The ensuing media storm even saw Britain's Queen Victoria consider a ban on mountain climbing — hugely popular among Brits who were largely responsible for opening up climbing routes in the Alps.
Since then, the Matterhorn — or Monte Cervino as it's known in Italian — has claimed the lives of over 500 climbers.
But for Zermatt, the mountain remains a major cash cow and the first expedition was "like winning the lottery" as Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put it recently.
On Tuesday, lamps were placed along the route taken by Whymper and his fellow climbers, with a single red lamp marking the location where things went wrong for the group.
Celebrations continue in Zermatt this week and include special exhibitions, theatre performances and events for children.