Good fitness and stamina are very important, as is ‘sure-footedness’ (the ability to move swiftly and efficiently on a variety of mountain terrain). Some scrambling or lower grade rock climbing experience is essential, with the ability to climb at grade III (British Very Difficult, USA 5.4) in mountain boots as a minimum. Cramponning skills are an advantage but this can be covered within the course. It is most helpful to have done some acclimatisation before the course as this extends the time when the Matterhorn can be attempted.
The right preparation in the UK can greatly increase your chances of success on the Matterhorn. The Lake District and North Wales both offer excellent terrain for Matterhorn training and we are happy to provide this from October to June inclusive (see Lake District Rock Climbing). We find that two or three brief sessions properly spaced out are most effective, with time to work on specific fitness training in between.
This is a sample programme based on a 5-day block of 1:1 guiding. The first part of the week will vary considerably depending on your needs and level of acclimatisation. We adapt the programme to make use of the best weather for our summit day. The programme given below would be suitable for someone with alpine experience but who had not been able to acclimatise before the course
The week starts with a meeting with your guide at 6.45pm at Le Grand Chalet hotel in Leysin. This is a chance for the guide to find out as much as possible about your climbing experience, brief you thoroughly on the plan for the course, sort out any particular equipment requirements and for you to ask any questions that you may have!
After breakfast we start by checking and issuing any personal climbing equipment you may need. We then drive up the Rhone Valley and into the Mattertal, finally branching east into the Saas Valley to reach the village of Saas Grund. We take the chairlift to Hohsaas then walk on to the Trift glacier to practise ice axe and cramponning skills, after which we descend to the Weissmies hut.
Overlooking the hut is an excellent training and acclimatising peak - the Lagginhorn (4010m). We make a pre-dawn start to reach the west ridge, a massive a rocky spur giving good scrambling and short sections of climbing to the summit. After enjoying this magnificent viewpoint we descend by the same route and continue down to the valley by cablecar for a comfortable hotel night.
We drive around to Tasch in the Mattertal and take the train to Zermatt. We'll have time to look around the town, have a coffee and buy some snack food before taking the cable car up to Shwartzsee. This a nice spot for lunch with stunning views of the Matterhorn. Two hours walking takes us to the Hornli hut and a chance to rest while your Guide does a reconnaissance of the first part of the Hornli Ridge, which must be climbed using head torches.
The day starts with a quick breakfast at 3.30am before we go onto the ridge. After passing a steep rock bluff with help from a fixed rope, some ledge-walking gets us to the first couloir. Above this the scrambling is continuous, with nothing harder than grade II if the right route is followed, then the route begins a long rising traverse to the left and up a steep pitch up to the Solvay hut (an emergency bivouac). More steep climbing (grade III-) above this gains The Shoulder, where it is sometimes necessary to put on crampons.
We climb strenuously up the fixed ropes to the summit ice field. Careful cramponning now to the summit - a narrow crest with immense drops on every side. Normally it's too chilly to stop for long, so after photographs and perhaps a quick snack we begin our steady and careful descent, stopping for some proper food by the Solvay hut. The descent from the Solvay seems long and tiring as we have to concentrate all the time, but eventually it ends and we can relax with a drink at the Hornli hut where you can see the ant-sized climbers still on the mountain. Our preference then is to continue on down to the Schwartzsee hotel.
By the time we have had buffet breakfast (not at 3.30am!), the Matterhorn should be fully sunlit and perfect to photograph. Now we can either stroll down to Zermatt or take the cable car to give us more time in town (perhaps visiting the Alpine Museum). If you are returning to Leysin, the train takes us back to our vehicle in Tasch, and from here its on down to the pleasures of the Rhone Valley, which can include a swim and ice cream en route to Leysin. Alternatively, your week can finish in Zermatt and you can spend Friday night there.