Zermatt & the Matterhorn
Located in the German-speaking canton of Valais in Switzerland, the town of Zermatt lies at 1620m (5312ft) above sea-level and at the foot Switzerland’s highest peaks. Because of the town’s location, it is totally blocked off from automotive transport with the only way in being by train, or electric mini buses. Situated in south-west of the country, the town is only 10km (6.2mi) from the Theodul Pass which links Switzerland with Italy.
The town sits in the Mattertal, or the Matter Valley, which is one of the lateral branches of the Rhône river. Because of this, it is almost completely surrounded by the high mountains of the Pennine Alps. These include:
Monte Rosa – 4634m (15203ft) and Switzerland’s highest peak
Dom – 4545m (14911ft)
Liskamm – 4527m (14852ft)
Weisshorn – 4505m (14780ft)
Matterhorn – 4478m (14692ft)
Zermatt’s name derives from the German word “matten” which means alpine meadows. The name didn’t appear in maps until 1495, and then it was Zur Matte or “on the meadow” which later became Zermatt.
Today Zermatt is a famed mountaineering and ski resort, until the mid 19th century however it was small isolated agricultural community. Many of the facilities that we see today were constructed after the first, and tragic, ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. The English mountaineer, Edward Whymper led the expedition which included 4 other climbers along with two Swiss guides. All seven made the summit on 14thJuly but tragedy followed on the descent. One of the climbers, Douglas Hadow, slipped and dragged three other climbers with him 4000ft to their deaths. Only Whymper and the two Swiss guides returned safely. The incident caused incredible controversy with many claiming Whymper cut the rope below to ensure he wasn’t dragged down with the others. After a long and detailed enquiry, no evidence was found and they were acquitted of any wrong doing. A large part concentrated on the actual rope, where it was discovered had broken and not been cut. The actual rope, still exists and is in the Matterhorn museum in Zermatt.