The Matterhorn is perhaps the most familiar mountain in the European Alps. On the border between Switzerland and Italy, it towers over the Swiss village of Zermatt and the Italian village Breuil-Cervinia in the Val Tournanche. The mountain derives its name from the German words matt, meaning valley or meadow, and horn, which means peak.
The Matterhorn has four faces, facing the four compass points, with the north and south faces meeting to form a short east-west summit ridge. The faces are steep, and only small patches of snow and ice cling to them; regular avalanches send the snow down to accumulate on the glaciers at the base of each face. The Hörnli ridge of the northeast (in the center of the view from Zermatt) is the usual climbing route.
The Matterhorn was climbed later than most of the main mountains of the Alps, not because of its technical difficulty, but because of the fear it inspired in early mountaineers. The first serious attempts began around 1857, mostly from the Italian side; but despite appearances, the southern routes are harder, and parties repeatedly found themselves on difficult rock and had to turn back.
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