The Matterhorn is a classic peak, a sharp, isolated rock pyramid with steep narrow ridges jutting from surrounding glaciers. The town of Zermatt, nestled beneath the mountain's north face, is a mountaineering Mecca. One of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world, the Matterhorn's every ridge and face have been scaled, and there are now fixed ropes, ladders, and huts along the normal routes to the summit. Don't let these props, however, provide false security, because much of the climb still requires a great deal of technical expertise, and its death rate is one of the highest in the world. One of the largest dangers on the Matterhorn is its popularity, since large numbers of climbers ascending simultaneously guarantees that meeting and overtaking maneuvers will be required, and increases the likelihood that rocks will be dislodged onto lower climbers.
Edward Whymper and party's first ascent of the mountain ended in tragedy, as Douglas Hadow, Lord Francis Douglas, and the guide Michel Croz all fell to their deaths on the descent. It was the English which made the resort of Zermatt popular with tourists. Here they came hiring locals as guides to guide them towards and often up their chosen mountain. Zermatt is surrounded by many 4000 metre mountains, and these were all climbed during the 'Golden Age' of mountaineering around 1850. The Matterhorn stood aloof for many years after repeated attempts from both Italy and Switzerland. The ascent of this mountain became a symbol of national pride, and wherever it was first climbed from (either Cervinia in Italy, or Zermatt in Switzerland), would reap the benefits from the tourist trade.
There are now many routes to the summit of the Matterhorn, the most easiest being the first ascent route: Hornli Ridge (AD), and the Lion Ridge (AD+). However these grades would be much harder were it not for long sections of fixed ropes and ladders to enable local guides to get their clients up as quickly as possible. Away from the popular 'Voie Normalles' the experienced climber may tackle classic routes such as the Zmutt and Furggen Ridges (D), while even more experienced climbers can test their skills on the North Face (ED1).
Today the Matterhorn remains a significant challenge that should never be underestimated by climbers.