Climbing the Matterhorn via Liongrat (aka Lion Ridge, the Italian Ridge and Southwest Ridge)
If you are reading this it’s probably safe to say that at some stage of your life, you’ve had some burning desire to bag the Matterhorn. Yeah, me too. As my mom aptly put it – “Who would ever have thought that my little girl someday would be climbing the real Matterhorn, you always did love Disneyland and especially Minnie Mouse.” So it’s no big surprise to anyone, including mumsie, that I would climb the Matterhorn given the opportunity. That opportunity presented itself while entertaining a friend visiting from the United States and a fortuitous weather window.
There are multiple ways to ascend the Matterhorn in the summer, with the two most popular being the Hornli Ridge (AD- with III+) from the wallet raping Zermatt, Switzerland and the Lion Ridge (AD with III+) from the more affordable Cervinia, Italy. The Hornli Ridge had a reputation for being slightly less demanding and significantly more crowded than the Lion Ridge and so after doing a Pro vs Con mental table we set off to ascend the Matterhornvia Lion Ridge (also referred to as Liongrat, Southwest Ridge or Italian Ridge). Seeing that this was somewhat of a smash and grab for us, we spent the night in Cervinia, Italy (around 2000m, 6500′ elevation) to help acclimatize. The next morning we set off to climb the Matterhorn arriving at the cable car station at a leisurely 0915, after a casual coffee and a gluttonous feast on peanut butter and nutella sandwiches in the parking lot.
The cable car delivered us to Plan Maison (2548m, 8359′) where the fun started. The hiking and climbing was pretty straight forward and by 14:45 we were following the aroma of human feces and urine to the Carrel Hut (3835m, 12582′) where climbers were lounging on the patio observing the arriving climbers and basking in the unseasonably awesome weather. At this point of the Matterhorn adventure, the hut was more interesting than anything else we had encountered so far. Curious to scope out my first European mountain hut, I peaked my head inside for a self guided tour.
The Carrel Hut is composed of three rooms, not counting the “toilet” room, more on that later. The first room is a kitchen area with a few tables and benches and some hot plates with gas. To the left of the kitchen is a room solely for guides and to the right is the bunk room. The bunk room is literally rows of bunk beds with an attic of additional mattresses. Once you overcome the stench of moldy farts you flashback to a visual of a bad public service announcement – the bunk room is busting at its seams with hungry climbers staring up at you with empty glares, asserting ownership of the bed they have parked their bum on. Thankful I packed my sleeping bag and pad and even more thankful for clear skies and reasonably warm temps, we opted to sleep on the patio with the best views in the house. This became somewhat of a tourist attraction for guided parties and we will proudly be featured in photo albums for their loved ones to flip through for years to come.
And now for more on that shitter. On the patio, you will find the WC which houses the most fecally decorated hole in the ground you’ve ever appreciated. This technologically advanced ‘toilet’ is nothing more than a hole that enables you to privately relieve yourself of excrement along the side of a mountain without feeling like a complete degenerate – assuming smearing your crap alongside a mountain and leaving it there is only ok if no one sees you do it. Make a mental note – do not melt that snow for water.
After a few hours of sleep we set off for the summit at 2:45 with slightly lighter packs, leaving our sleeping accouterments behind at the hut. With headlamps illuminating our way, we tried to beat the line of guided parties. Within the first five minutes of leaving the hut, we snapped into alert mode sans coffee when we encountered big chains hanging from a 2m overhang indicating the route. We pawed up the ice cold chains and took note – the climbing from here on up was to be a bit more demanding.
We encountered some route finding difficulties below the Grande Corde that set us back 30 min, just in time to queue us up with those guided parties we tried so hard to avoid. This is when the climbing became interesting. A circus act featuring tons of guided parties haphazardly ascending the Matterhorn.
By the time we reached the summit around 8:00 am, all three of us were doomed to grumpiness. We snapped a few obligatory shots and then started our descent down the Matterhorn via Liongrat.
The time consuming descent back to the Carrel Hut involved a series of rappels and roped down climbing. We took a little break at the Carrel Hut around 15:00 to repack our packs and rub our feet after the 12+ hours of climbing we had already done. We reached the Abruzzi Hut at 19:00 and since the cable car at Plan Maison closed at 16:15, we were left with an additional 500m to descend by foot rather than a quick and easy cable car ride to the parking lot.
At 21:20, after nearly 20 hours of hiking and climbing, we reached our pizza and beer chariot in the Funivie parking lot. We quickly dropped our packs in the car and ventured in to Cervinia to seek out a hard earned pizza and at least one beer. Dirty and smelly beyond what could be construed as socially acceptable, we dined amongst some classy peeps gorging on the reality of what we just accomplished – we climbed the Matterhorn.
Was it everything we dreamed of? No, not quite. The crowds of aggressive and exhausted parties, fixed ropes, a surplus of littered crap stained toilet paper and loads of frozen piss ensuring you slip on route definitely took a lot away from the alpine climbing experience. Though I do fear this is not unique amongst famous, large mountains. While the Matterhorn’s character is affected by the fixed ropes and crowds, it is still an impressive mountain demanding stamina and comfort with exposed climbing and it couldn’t have been that horrible if I am already making plans to ascend it again (via the North Face).
Since photos tell a better story than words (well, my ramblings at least), here’s the whole shabam:
The Climb – Day One
Plan Maison -> Carrel Hut (5 hours)
- Cervinia Cable Car (2000m) -> Plan Maison (2548m)
HOURS OF OPERATION: 0715-1630 ∙ 8EUR/PP (10,50EUR roundtrip) ∙ Funivie, 11021 Breuil-Cervinia AO, Italy
- Plan Maison -> Abruzzi hut (2802m)
Head up and left from the cable car towards the Matterhorn, following yellow trail markers
- Abruzzi hut -> Carrel’s Cross (2902m)
Hike over loose rock and a narrow trail
- Carrel’s Cross -> Carrel Hut (3835m)
Continue over loose rock to base of Chimney (grade II), climb chimney. Climb easy slabs and ledges below the Monte Leone. From below the Monte Leone traverse right to reach Colle del Leone at base of Lion Ridge (a lot of people tie in here). Climb first part to Carrel hut – first 100m on solid rock (II-III) to base of a steep wall (6b). Climb the steep wall (there is a fixed line).
- SLEEP: CARREL HUT / 15€ (put in box on the wall if a guide doesn’t collect it) / Managed by: Societa Guide del Cervinio +39 0166948149
The Climb – Day Two
Carrel Hut -> Summit (5 hours), Summit -> Carrel Hut (7 hours), Carrel Hut -> Abruzzi Hut (4 hours)
- Carrel Hut -> Great Tower
Behind hut, follow fixed lines to facilitate route finding. Gaining the ridge becomes a little more challenging and confusing, choosing the path of least resistance up works well
- Great Tower -> Tyndall Summit (4240 m)
Traverse some easy rock section on right (south) side below Hahnenkamm (ridge with several towers) and go up ridge (route finding difficult in dark) to tyndall seil (fixed 30m rope hanging in a corner). Climb (grade IV) fixed rope to reach crest of Lion ridge. Follow the crest to Tyndall peak summit (4240m). There are fixed bolts to clip in the rope while climbing.
- Tyndall Peak -> Italian Summit -> Swiss Summit (4478m)
Follow horizontal ridge ~200m to the “Enjambee” (some downclimbing) then climb a looser rockwall (somewhat icy and involving technical climbing). After icy part, rock becomes more solid and follow fixed ropes leading to Jordan “Stairs”. Take rope ladder up slightly overhung section of wall. Continue to Italian Summit with Swiss summit just a quick trek along the summit ridge.
- Italian Summit -> Descent via Liongrat
Quick Reference Guide
Location: Breuil-Cervinia, Italy
Guidebook: Valais Alps West by Linsey Griffin
To Hire a Guide or not: There are many routes ascending the Matterhorn, with Liongrat and Horli Ridge being the “easiest”. All ways up require a high level of competency with technical climbing at high elevations on extremely exposed and loose terrain. If you are not an experienced climber, I recommend contacting a local guide to increase your chances of success on the Matterhorn.
Società Guide del Cervino,
Via Circonvallazione 2,
11021 Breuil-Cervinia (AO),
Tel. (+39) 016-694-8169
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
When to Climb: Summer, usually from July to September. Always check with the local guide office (above) for updated weather conditions on the mountain.
- Group Equipment: rope, set of nuts, set of larger hexes (BD 7-11) and some alpine draws
- Mountaineering boots
- Mountaineering ice axe
- Harness with PAS, 2 locking carabiners, and atc
- Headlamp w/fresh batteries
- Warm, windproof top and bottom
- Waterproof top and bottom layers
- Fleece gloves and medium gloves
- 2L water (can melt snow at Carrel Hut)
- Snacks and Food