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Matterhorn Glacier Paradise - Is it Worth the Trip?
A trip to the highest cable car station in Europe (3,883 metres) – now that just has to be on your bucket list? Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is an alpine wonderland of panoramic views, ice carvings and the best views you can get of the majestic Matterhorn – and it is really easy to make it happen …
How to Make it Happen - Start in Zermatt
The highest 3S cableway in the world operates between Trockener Steg and the Klein Matterhorn, which is where Matterhorn Glacier Paradiseis located. It’s really easy to get to there from Zermatt. We spent a couple of days there (see previous post) and saved this trip for our second day when the weather was at its best.
It is such a waste to make this trip on a dull day?! Check the weather before you go:
The only way to get to the Klein Matterhorn summit is by cable cars – there are no hiking trails as it is always covered in snow. Start your trip from Zermatt Bergbahnen Station at the Southern end of Zermatt. Your trip to the top of Klein Matterhorn will take 30 minutes (plus a bit of waiting time in between changes). It really is a comfortable way to do it – compare it to the effort required to climb all the way up there?
There is no need to buy a ticket in advance and all major credit cards are accepted both at the main stations and the ticket machines at the stations you pass en route.
The gondola ride to Furi takes just 5 minutes.
At Furi, change for Schwarszee, which is an 8 minute ride. The cable cars keep running all day in Summer, so you can easily get off at Schwarszee and take some photos if you like then hop back on again for the next leg to Trockener Steg. In just 9 minutes, you will be ready to board the futuristic Matterhorn Glacier Ride for the final 8 minute thrilling ride up to the summit of the Klein Matterhorn.
Focus on Swiss efficiency as the wind tips your cable car gently to and fro and whistles around you as you glide over the glaciers. Be prepared for your ears to pop! It really is the way to get to the summit in luxury – even the seats are heated. I am quite happy to say that – on this occasion – I chose NOT to climb – just to put my feet up, relax and enjoy what is undoubtedly a very spectacular ride.
The cheapest way to make the trip is to buy a single ticket to Trockner Steg and a return to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise which will cost you about about £50 with a Swiss Travel Half Fare Card.
The hike back down takes at least 5 hours, but gives you a unique view of the mountain scenery you just can’t get any other way. If you decide it’s too much or find it is taking you longer than you thought (maybe because of all the photo stops you can’t resist?!), you can easily shorten the descent by buying a single ticket at either Schwarszee or Furi back down to Zermatt.
There is plenty to see at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, so if you want to make sure you have enough time to walk back down, be sure to make an early start (eg 8am on the first cable car). Also – keep in mind when the last cable cars leave as your day progresses.
Check timetables before you travel – they change between Winter and Summer and also close in Spring and Autumn for maintenance. Early morning is by far the best time to make the trip as the clouds tend to move in during the day.
There are 6 Crystal VIP cable cars on the Matterhorn Glacier Ride. They have a glass floor and Swarovski crystals on the outside and a separate entrance. My view was that they are an unnecessary expense – the ordinary ride (including the heated seats!) is quite thrilling enough. However, if you are the sort that likes big, romantic gestures, then you might just be tempted to book the VIP experience..I wonder if anyone has ever “popped the question” whilst travelling aboard the Crystal Ride?
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise - What Will I See There?
Once you get to the top, there is a lot to see and do. We spent a couple of hours enjoying ourselves up there, so make sure you allow enough time.
The Viewing Platform
The Viewing Platform is really the highlight of the trip to the summit. At an altitude of 3,883 meters, you have a 360° view over the Alps.
In all, you can see 38 mountain peaks and 16 glaciers from the Viewing Platform and 3 countries: Switzerland, Italy, and France. On a clear day, you can pick out Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau to the north and Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, to the east.
You get a truly breathtaking view of the Matterhorn from up here too, though you might not recognise it at first as you are approaching it from a slightly different angle. You can also see Breithorn summit, which it is possible for mountain hikers (with some experience) to climb to.
Your cable car ticket includes entry to Glacier Palace where you can see stunning ice sculptures, walk inside a glacier crevice and even slide down an ice chute – if you are brave enough? (Go on – Just Do It!).
There is a cinema lounge where you can sit in a semi circle of cute brightly coloured bucket chairs and watch a series of entertaining short films about mountain climbing and the alpine world.
The small museum situated at the summit is also well worth taking the time to explore. You can discover all sorts of interesting information there – see Fascinating Facts below.
You can also take a virtual reality trip across the glaciers with VR goggles. They were out of order when we visited though, unfortunately, so I can’t tell you what that was like.
Peak Restaurant and Shop - Give it a Miss
Unless you are really desperate for something to eat/drink or to splash the cash on a tacky, overpriced souvenir, I would definitely give the Peak Restaurant and shop a miss. The food there is – as you might expect – not great and very expensive. To add insult to injury, the only toilets are there and cost 2 CHF – credit cards not accepted. So if this bothers you, make sure you go before you get on the cable car for the final ascent!
Fascinating Facts - Matterhorn Trivia
- The Matterhorn’s summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe.
- At altitudes of 3,000 – 4,000 m a person’s physical performance is reduced to about 55 to 85 percent of normal. Imagine how hard that must have made it to climb the Matterhorn!
- Water begins to simmer at around 87 °C. Pasta therefore takes around twice as long to cook up in the high Alps. So it’s not easy to keep yourself fed and watered up at these heights either.
- At high altitude, temperatures fall by around 6.5°C per 1000 metres – so the average temperature on the Klein Matterhorn is 26°C below that at sea level.
- Currently over 75% of the 200 km pistes in Zermatt are covered with artificial snow or pass over glaciers. Zermatt has low rainfall and a lot of sunny days, so artificial snowmaking facilities are necessary to be able to guarantee snow and to protect the ground. The amount of water used is a tiny fraction of the overall total rainfall in the Matter Valley, i.e. barely measurable.
- The rocks in the area around the Matterhorn once formed the ocean floor of the Piemont Ocean, which was metamorphosed during the formation of the Alps. So – the ground around the Matterhorn was once part of the African continent!
- The Mattenhorn grows by a millimetre a year.
- Until 1865, the Matterhorn was considered to be un-conquerable. After many failed attempts, British climber Edward Whymper finally reached the summit via the Hörnli ridge. During the descent, however, four of the seven mountaineers fell to their deaths. There were allegations that Whymper and his guide cut the rope to prevent themselves from meeting the same fate as their colleagues, but the subsequent enquiry eventually cleared his name.
- The Matterhorn is one of the deadliest mountains in the world. over 500 people have died whilst attempting its summit since the 1865 ascent, with an average of about 12 deaths each year.
- There is a mountaineer’s graveyard in Zermatt which holds the recovered remains of some of the unidentified corpses buried under the epitaph “I chose to climb”.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise - The Descent
The steep downhill descent needs careful navigation – there are many loose rocks and gravel en route. Walking boots and poles are really useful. It’s much colder at the summit than it is down at Zermatt, so make sure you have plenty of layers and something to keep hands and feet warm. The weather is very changeable too, so don’t go without a waterproof – even the it is a fine day at the base.
Having said all that, walking down gives you a unique perspective on the alpine landscape that you just can’t get any other way. Travelling slowly on foot – at high altitude – makes you really appreciate the effort taken by those first climbers – and by all those who worked on making the highest cable car station in Europe a reality and the wonders of Glacier Mountain Paradise accessible to ordinary people – not just to mountain climbers.
Flora and Fauna
In July and August, the mountain sides are covered with tiny, exquisitely formed alpine flowers which tuck themselves firmly into gravel filled crevices and hold on tight, shivering in the chilly mountain winds. Look out for bright blue gentians, tiny pale blue forget-me-nots, cushions of moss campion, intricate alpine toadflax and – of course – the elusive edelweiss that everyone longs to see.
If mountain flowers excite you, maybe consider taking a guided flower walk?
Glad I Packed
- Walking Boots
- Walking Poles
- Waterproof Jacket
- Hat & Gloves
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise - Final Reflections
For Mark Twain, the vastness of the glacial world puts the importance of mankind into perspective: “A man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by.” (Mark Twain, 1878)
The Matterhorn is a spectacular natural wonder. As the Peace Pillar you pass on the long descent back to Zermatt reminds us, peace is also the peak of human achievement?
“The inner experience of peace is the highest necessity of man”
If you are looking for peace and solitude, then walking alone in the high Alps around matterhorn Glacier Paradise is certainly a good place to start your search.