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Sharpen your climbing skills in fresh Alpine air, then climb the Matterhorn


The Matterhorn: Mountaineering in Switzerland

An illustrated itinerary of one of our many travel adventures for gay men, lesbians, and friends.

This information supplements our
shorter Overview of The Matterhorn.




Mountaineering in Switzerland



The Matterhorn. For as long as there have been mountain climbers, the most famous peak in the Alps has drawn them.

For years our popular hiking trip, Edelweiss, has been based here in Zermatt, Switzerland, with the Matterhorn as our constant companion. Now, those who'd like to ascend this mountain, and who have the necessary experience and skills, can do so. Our Matterhorn mountain climbing trip overlaps with one of our Edelweiss trips, but starts 2 days earlier, so you'll have longer to acclimatize. On some days, climbers will be off doing their mountaineering practice while the hikers enjoy the trails. Other days, we'll all hike together: Part of the preparation for this climb is simply getting your legs and lungs in shape.

There don't seem to be a lot of gay rock climbers, as you've probably noticed if you've ever tried to find one as a regular partner. So this trip isn't offered every year; please watch our calendar to see when it will next be available. Weather conditions will affect our schedule each time we're on this trip, and may even prevent an ascent of the Matterhorn. So the following schedule is only an approximation of what you can expect. As every experienced mountaineer knows, the best-laid plans often have to be changed when you're climbing mountains.Back to Top




1: Arrival Day

Your train ride into Zermatt will provide plenty of opportunity for those mountaineering juices to start flowing, as the steep cog railway edges along a river valley, past thundering waterfalls, and under snow-covered mountains.

The track ends in Zermatt, a car-free Swiss village of just 4,000 year-round residents. Our first two nights will be at a hotel in town. Then, we move into comfortable apartments along with the hiking group.

Early arrivals will see other climbers as you walk the streets of Zermatt. The climbing season is short in this part of Switzerland: Conditions are best from mid-July to the end of September. At 6:00 p.m. we meet for a reception and orientation. And then, let's head out for a tasty Swiss dinner!

A short after-dinner walk ascends one of the trails overlooking Zermatt. As the thousands of stars twinkle above, and you gaze down on the lights of our little village, you'll feel a bit of the magic that lies ahead this week.Back to Top



Mountaineering in Switzerland

Matterhorn: Arrival Day



Mountaineering in Switzerland


2: On the Riffelhorn

One of the most distinctive formations in this region is the Riffelhorn, a distinctive rock formation that rises above a glacier. On our first full day here in the Alps, we'll do some rock climbing on the Riffelhorn. It's an opportunity to brush up on your skills, meet our guide, and just have fun.

Technically, the Matterhorn is not a difficult mountain to climb. You won't need the high-performance edging and smearing soles of rock climbing shoes. Rather, you'll wear mountaineering or sturdy hiking boots, and you'll need crampons. If you're accustomed to moving on rocks in climbing shoes, today will let you get accustomed to your boots.

The Gornergrat cog railway takes us up to Riffelhorn Station, 2800 meters above sea level. From there it's a easy walk to the base of Riffelhorn, where we tie into the ropes, and begin our ascent.

Mountaineering has a different pace than rock climbing. The terrain is easier that most vertical rock climbs; but there's farther to go and we've got to move faster. Soon we're on a ledge, high above Gorner Glacier, then ascending an open book corner that takes us to some face climbing, and on to the summit.

We descend with a combination of rappelling and downclimbing. A gay hiking week, also from Alyson Adventures, overlaps with this Matterhorn trip, and we're able to meet up with some of the hikers and walk back to Zermatt together.Back to Top




3: A Trail of Waterfalls

If you fail to summit on the Matterhorn, fatigue is more likely than technical difficulty to be the problem. No climbing practice is scheduled for today. Instead, we recommend some hiking, to help your lungs further acclimatize. Your goal today: Hike from Zermatt to an elevation 1200 meters higher.

A wonderful hiking route for this purpose departs right from Zermatt, taking you in an hour to the hut perched on a cliff ridge right above the town. An hour later you're at Trift, a more remote mountain hut.

This evening, our hiking group arrives. There are more gay and lesbian hikers than climbers in the world, so tonight's dinner will be a much bigger affair.Back to Top



Mountaineering in Switzerland



Mountaineering in Switzerland


4: Schwarzsee

Some of us will probably join the hikers today as they head up to Zmutt, a tiny hamlet just a couple of hours from Zermatt. But we've had three days to get accustomed to this altitude, and they've had only one; in addition, we're eager to push ourselves. (And, honestly, we think we were in better shape to start with -- but let's keep that to ourselves!) So we'll probably take a longer trail to Zmutt, join the group for a light lunch, then try to set a faster pace as we continue hiking up to Schwarzsee, right under the Matterhorn.

From the sunny terrace at Schwarzsee, we can easily spot the mountain hut where we'll spend the night before our ascent along the mountain ridge that juts out at us. Provided we can be distracted from the beer and sausage with which we're replenishing those expended calories.

Some members of our climbing group may prefer to do some rock climbing with each other today. This is one of four open days this week. On each such day you can hike; climb with others in our group; or hire a local guide for further practice or other ascents.Back to Top




5: Crampon Practice

Crampons are a spiked apparatus that straps to the bottom of your climbing books, providing valuable traction on ice. No rocket science here, but some familiarity with crampons is essential before you start using them on the Matterhorn. You may already have some experience with crampons, in which case you're a step ahead. In any case, today, we'll get some crampon practice.

We'll take an aerial tram to Klein Matterhorn, a peak as pyramidal as the Matterhorn itself, but smaller and lower. From there, an all-day excursion takes us either to Pollux, a 4092-meter peak, or the nearby Breithorn, where we'll climb and hike on rock, ice, and snow. We'll also get some dramatic, panoramic views.Back to Top



Mountaineering in Switzerland



Mountaineering in Switzerland


6: A Via Ferrata

You have several choices today. Most climbers will be tempted by the via ferrata that's just outside Zermatt.

A via ferrata -- an iron trail -- is a distinctly European phenomenon. Fear of liability lawsuits would deter anyone from constructing one in the United States. But in Europe, via ferrata are sprinkled through the Alps. These trails follow steep rocky cliffs and gorges, over terrain that's easier than a rock climbing route, but so exposed that one slip would be fatal for anyone who wasn't protection. So protection is provided: steel cables, attached to the rock, to which the climber can attach a sliding carabiner. Steel rods are often sunk into the rock as well, to provide footholds and handholds.

Zermatt's via ferrata takes us right into the gorge above the village. At times, you'll stand on a metal bar, with an 80-foot drop to the raging waters below. There are Tyrolean traverses, sliding across the canyon while suspended from a rope; narrow log bridges, rappels, and a rope swing. At all times, you're securely attached to an anchor or cable, protecting you in case of a fall.

Another option today is to join our hiking group, which is headed up to a mountain lake and the climbers' hut at Fluhalp.

Over the centuries, the Findel glacier has eroded away a piece of the mountainside here. We walk up a grass-covered slope, and at the top find a sharp ridge. Below us lies rubble churned up by the glacier, then the glacier itself, moving far too slowly for the human eye to see, yet powerful enough to wear down mountains.

We can follow this ridge trail for over a mile. Occasionally remnants of a previous trail appear, then disappear off the edge; a new trail has been tracked after the old one crumbled away. The hike back down to Zermatt is equally enjoyable, along a path running through cool pine forests, with a beer stop in a mountain hamlet so tiny, the main street is little more than a widened trail.Back to Top




7: The Matterhorn

Today, the climb begins. This is why you came to Zermatt!You'll probably choose to rest this morning. Browse through town, or visit the Alpine Museum, with relics of early climbers and a scale model of the mountains, showing the most popular ascent routes.

Purists can hike up starting right in Zermatt. It takes a bit over three-hour hours to get to Schwarzsee, over varied and spectacular trails. This hike starts along the banks of the Mattervisp, a milky-white torrent of glacier run-off, and continues through the tiny hamlet of Zmutt, through forest, then up a switchbacked trail to the Schwarzsee Hotel, overlooking a small mountain lake near the base of the Matterhorn.

Most mountaineers, however, begin their ascent of the Matterhorn by taking the aerial tram up to Schwarzsee. From there, a two-hour hike takes us to Hornli Hut, where we'll spend the night.Back to Top



Mountaineering in Switzerland



Mountaineering in Switzerland


8: The Climb Begins

Early next morning, the ascent begins. On the Matterhorn model in the museum, it seemed easy to follow the route to the top. In real life, it's harder. The route zigzags here and there. An obvious chimney can turn out to be a dead end. You quickly understand why a guide makes the ascent safer, and faster.

A horizontal ridge leads from the Hornli Hut to a vertical section, which we ascend with the help of a fixed rope. We're generally following the Hornli Ridge, the northeastern of the four ridges that constitute the pyramidal Matterhorn. Early in the morning, we stay left of the ridge, crossing it a couple of times during the ascent. At 4003 meters we pass the Solvay Hut, once a resting spot, now reserved for emergency use.

With one experienced guide for each of us, we'll move more quickly than a large party could. Snow and ice increase as our altitude increases. Finally, we summit.

Most climbers will reach the peak in four to five hours. The descent will take about the same amount of time.Back to Top




9: Trift Trail; or a Second Chance

Two days are scheduled for the Matterhorn climb. Today, the last full day of the trip, was kept open; this allows us another chance at the peak if weather interfered with our scheduled ascent. If the weather cooperated, today can be used for a well-earned rest. Or join our hiking group on the panoramic Trift trail.

Whichever you do, there's a festive parting dinner awaiting us at Zermatt's best restaurant.Back to Top



Mountaineering in Switzerland



Mountaineering in Switzerland


10: Departure Day

Our trip officially ends after breakfast but, if you've got early connections, you can rise and depart as early as you need to.

A mountaineering experience this intense creates strong bonds and it's sad to say goodbye to new friends. But we'll see each other again on future adventures.Back to Top



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