The Breithorn – An Easy Climb in the Alps

As the traveller journeys up the valley of the Mattertal from the Rhone Valley towards Zermatt, he or she will become aware of a great peak adorned with permanent snow that stands like a white sentinel at the head of the valley, being in view for much of its length. Those not interested in such things should perhaps have gone to Benidorm instead but those who are will see that the approach to Zermatt is watched over not by the Matterhorn – which only comes into view at the head of the valley – but by the Breithorn.

The mountain is situated astride the Swiss-Italian frontier on the main ridge of the Pennine Alps between Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. At 4164m or 13662 feet it is of considerable height but is by no means the highest of the Zermatt area. The Breithorn’s chief claim to fame is that it is considered one of the easiest 4000 metre peaks in the Alps to climb due in no small part to the Klein Matterhorn cable car – Europe’s highest – which terminates nearby.

The difficulty is graded Alpine PD- (peu difficile) with the slight technical grade given apparently because of the ice slope just below the summit though in the perfect conditions I experienced there was nothing hard about it. Some hikers do make the ascent alone though it’s not advisable as there are crevasses in the glacier crossed en route to the peak.

Trockener Steg

The Klein Matterhorn gondola passes 3000 metres just above Trockener Steg

The Breithorn

The Breithorn (4164m) viewed from the summit of Klein Matterhorn (3883m)

Plateau Rosa

The route starts at 3817m where we exit the gondola station onto the Plateau Rosa

On a cool bright morning in early summer I made the ascent with a guide from the Zermatt Alpin Center who run daily group trips to the summit – weather permitting that is and the adventure began with the gondola ride to over 3800m at the Klein Matterhorn station.

The view from Klein Matterhorn itself is well worth going up for though we were going still higher. It was below -5 C and yet the Sun was hot as we set off across the dazzling white snow of the Plateau Rosa. The day was one of exceptional clarity with mountains maybe 100 miles distant as crystal clear as those across the valley.

Moving in a line and roped together, we headed around to the left and across the snow towards a distant looking spot where the guide said we’d have a rest. I would have had one by now I think, but the pace though quick wasn’t actually too bad.

In a surprisingly short space of time we reached the rest spot where the tracks in the snow curved around more to the left. It had been fairly flat until now but ahead the slope rose up, steepening the higher you got. At this point we put on crampons and leaving our walking poles in a pile in the snow, set off again towards the peak. Italy was behind with its craggy mountains and deep valleys spread out below us. All around was the silent world of ice and snow stretching along the ridge towards Monte Rosa’s numerous summits.

The slope steepened as we progressed higher in long zig zags, firstly with the slope up to our right and facing the Klein Matterhorn, now below us and then with Italy to our right and Castor, Pollux and Monte Rosa in front. It was hard going, easier if you could keep a rhythm, but fun all the same. A final stop below the steepest part saw us almost level with the spiky peak of Pollux which is 4092m.

   “Nearly up” I said, relieved, to the chap in front who confirmed with his GPS that we were at 4050m. Only 100m or so to go. On up the steepest part without difficulty, and we were above the cornice overhanging the northern cliffs you can see from below. Our guide made sure we took extra care here though you couldn’t really tell that we were above a 1000m drop as it was hidden by the slope. Not, on the whole, a particularly good place to fall though!

Breathlessly up a snowy cone, the top of the ridge to my left and then – the sharp white peaks of the Bernese Oberland stood in a line beyond the hazy depths of the Rhone Valley nearly 12000 feet below. Closer at hand were the dappled greens of Zermatt’s valley at our feet. The Matterhorn, unfamiliar from this angle, rose up to just above our level and back out across Italian airspace there stood 2 prominent white summits resembling icebergs floating on the lowland haze – Mont Blanc and the Gran Paradiso.

The ridge was narrow, but wide enough to walk along. To the south, the steep snow slope we’d just come up while to the north, a fearsome drop to the Monte Rosa Glacier. We took photos while our guide pointed out most of the peaks we could see. In the east the ridge dropped down and over the Breithorn’s subsidiary summits before rising again to Castor and Pollux then rising to the Himalayan looking Liskamm and Monte Rosa. Far to the east over the top of the Allalinhorn, could be seen the far off snows of Bernina on the eastern rim of Switzerland.

I borrowed an axe to scoop out a seat in the snow and had lunch at 4164 metres looking out across Italy. Our return was much faster and easier being downhill and we were soon back in a line quickly approaching the Klein Matterhorn station to the clicking of Japanese cameras. They’d been following our progress across the glacier as though watching the peloton finishing a stage in the Tour de France – all in all a good day out.

More hikes in Switzerland on my Alpine Trails blog

Castor and Pollux

The peaks of Castor (4223m) and Pollux (4092m) from the rest stop

Matterhorn from Breithorn

Looking back along the ridge from the summit to the Matterhorn (4478m)

North to the Bernese Oberland

Looking north along the Mattertal from the summit to the Bernese Oberland peaks

Mont Blanc from the Breithorn

The Italian side of the peak with Cervinia below and Mont Blanc in the distance

About Pete Buckley

Hi I'm Pete and I'm a UK based outdoor enthusiast, part time writer and photographer. My work includes action adventure novel The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk as well as a couple of travel stories recounting firstly a campervan adventure around New Zealand and then a week on foot in the Swiss Alps, hiking from the Eiger to the Matterhorn. The subject of these pages is predominantly hiking in the English Lake District (which is near where I live), North Wales and the Scottish Highlands as well as cycling; from rides with the kids to trail riding in the Highlands of Scotland and other wonderful places... Thanks for visiting.
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18 Responses to The Breithorn – An Easy Climb in the Alps

  1. Wow, incredible pictures. I love that view to the north… it looks like it goes on forever.


  2. seo secrets says:

    I am often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information.


  3. LensScaper says:

    Great post about one of my favourite peaks in the Zermatt area. I must have climbed this at least 6 times, sometimes traversing over to/from the Central summit, usually solo. I’ll be out there in 2 weeks on a week’s ski trip – really looking forward to getting back to this fantastic resort.


  4. Mike says:

    If you were only going up to one place, would you take the cable car to Klein Matterhorn or ride the train to Jungfrau?

    Is it possible for anyone to walk to the Monch hut from the Jungfrau or is that too difficult for someone with no equipment?


  5. Pete Buckley says:

    It’s hard to answer the first one as they’re both pretty awesome trips. The hike to the Monchsjoch Hut from Jungfraujoch is not difficult at all. It’s a short glacier trek and you’ll want hiking boots and a warm jacket but you don’t need axe, crampons etc. The route is a marked path over the glacier and is crevasse free as long as you stay on the path – there are crevasses off the path!

    It goes from 3450m to 3650m or 12000 feet so the altitude is very noticeable but the gradient is easy. There’s a description and photos on another of my posts A Hike from the Top of Europe


  6. Pete Buckley says:

    Forgot to mention there – the Breithorn too is an easy climb from Klein Matterhorn but for this a guide is advisable. – or at least a climbing partner on a rope. This route itself is not difficult but does cross a crevassed glacier en route to the summit so not advisable as a solo climb.


  7. Tony says:

    I also climbed the Breithorn – but I walked up from Zermatt to the Theodolhut the day before then Got up at 5 and walked up the Glacier reaching the top around Midday.
    Seeing large numbers of people pile out the cable car and walk to the top in all their latest fashion Alpine gear was rather like seeing people get out the train at the top of Snowdon and walk up the final slope to the top.
    It was my Sons first Alpine peak and and the first time he had worn crampons – was a good safe place to learn alpine techniques AND complete a 4,000m peak in the process.


  8. link says:

    Hey! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the outstanding work!|


  9. Elissaveta says:

    Hi Pete, I arrived on your blog while researching some info on Breithorn and I’m glad I did. My mum and I are frequent hikers but we have never hiked in snow. Would you recommend ascending the Breithorn from the Glacier Paradise or would it require some alpine hiking experience beforehand? it is worth pointing out we don’t have crampons. I am so, so excited but maybe it’s not quite for us yet… Would love to hear your insight! Thanks 🙂


    • Pete Buckley says:

      Hi and thanks for getting in touch. The route I took has no difficulty to speak of but there are crevasses on the glacier hidden by the snow so it is essential to be roped up to avoid falling down one of these. We saw no sign of them but it can happen and it’s not worth the risk. The guides office in Zermatt offer daily group ascents with all the equipment available to hire which was what I did. Crampons are recommended too – these I hired from the guides. It’s not hard but if you’ve never hiked in snow I would definitely recommend one of these group tours. It’s a really great trip and the views are beyond awesome! Another tip – before going up to 4000m hike up to 3000m or so – plenty of high level trails around Zermatt – and you’ll find the altitude easier going. I did the Oberrothorn the day before but there are several. That trip’s at have a great trip!


      • heidi says:

        hi, i’m traveling to the area end of October- beginning November and I’d love to hear about other 1-3 hour hikes in the region that will be accessible during this time of year. I’m going to try for the Breithorn as well as the Oberrothorn– depending on weather conditions.


      • Pete Buckley says:

        In decent weather conditions both are easy ascents for their height and a guide for the Breithorn id only needed for the glacier crossing. I would imagine the Oberrothorn would be snow covered by then but again if you’re equipped it’s very easy for a peak over 11000ft high. Others there are the Mettelhorn (2nd highest trekking peak) the Hohtalligrat (an awesome walk from Gornergrat) or the hike to the Hornli Hut on the Matterhorn. I have a few hikes in Switzerland at Alpine Trails Have a good trip it’s a nice area.


      • heidi says:

        thank you so much

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: 10 Most Impressive Aerial Lifts Worldwide – Outdoors Obsession

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