The Matterhorn Gears Up For 150th Celebrations

14 May 2015

I once spent a rather jolly afternoon in the Swiss Alps trying to catch a trout.

There were a couple of unusual aspects to this event, the first being that I had never fished before.

The second was that, despite appearing to be standing on the edge of a well-stocked fish farm, my Swiss companion Stefan and I weren't attracting any nibbles.

All around us keen anglers were reeling them in, Swiss fathers were joyously sharing the moment with their sons, solitary types were hooking and then re-releasing what appeared to be the same fish over and over and there we were, standing empty-handed, looking far more likely to catch a cold than our dinner.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Stefan felt a nibble. "Quick, grab the net!" he exclaimed, only for my frozen Australian hands to knock it clumsily into the water.

Instinctively, I rolled up my sleeve and reached down into the murky depths. That's when I made the not-so-startling discovery that lakes in the Swiss Alps are very cold indeed.

I scooped up the net – and the fish – somehow avoided losing my arm to frostbite on the car ride up into the mountains and ended up dining on home-cooked trout at Stefan's chalet on the distant outskirts of Zermatt.

 Zermatt lies at the foot of the Matterhorn (Getty)

Despite the mishap, or perhaps because of it, I look back on the time I've spent in the Swiss Alps with fondness.

I'm sure I won't be the only one doing so over the coming months, with the Matterhorn set to celebrate 150 years since it was ascended for the first time on July 14th, 1865.

Switzerland's tallest mountain stands an impressive 4,478-metres tall, making it one of the highest peaks in the Swiss Alps and indeed all of Europe.

I've been near-enough to the top, although I had things slightly easier than the original mountaineers as I simply caught the Gornergrat railway high up into the hills.

The rack railway – one of Europe's highest – will be busier than usual this Summer with Switzerland Tourism announcing a raft of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the first ascent.

An open-air theatre showcasing The Matterhorn Story, guided tours of the village and the Zermatt Folklore Festival will anchor the celebrations, with the Jubilee Week festivities from July 10th to 18th including the re-opening of a refurbished Hörnli Hut from which intrepid climbers begin their ascent of the mountain.

Fear not if your primary reason for visiting the Swiss Alps is to ski or snowboard, since the Matterhorn's high altitude ensures coverage all year round.

Even if the snow is naturally firmer and fresher in Winter, there are still plenty of things to do in the Swiss Alps during the warmer months; including hiking, mountain biking and simply taking in the resplendent alpine scenery.

 The sun sets on Gornergrat (Getty)

I saw a mountain goat on my trip up to Gornergrat, although that was only after the ever-patient Stefan spent several minutes explaining that the deftly-camouflaged mammal I was staring at was not, in fact, a rock with eyes.

Meanwhile, the Klein Matterhorn cable car, which connects the smaller of the Matterhorn peaks with Zermatt via Furi and Trockener Steg, offers sweeping views over the picturesque mountain scenery below.

It's a far cry from the hardships endured by the men who made the first ascent of the Matterhorn, with the climb ending in tragedy when four members of the party slipped and were killed after hurtling down the north face.

The mountaineers' cemetery in Zermatt is a moving reminder of the difficulties encountered by those who first sought a passage through the Alps, while the Matterhorn Museum – Zermatlantis offers a comprehensive look into the lives of the pioneers who first called this isolated landscape home.

It all adds up to offer an enthralling experience in one of Europe's most spectacular natural settings.

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Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.