The Hornlihutte (Hornli Hut) is the most common base camp for the Matterhorn climb. However, the Hornlihutte hike is a great adventure in its own right as I found out. I took the cable car to Schwarzsee and hiked up to Hornlihutte for sunset and then hiked all the way back down to Zermatt town in the dusk and then the dark for a total journey of 16 kilometers. At an altitude of 3,260 meters, the hut is the preferred Matterhorn base camp for climbers and alpinists.
HORNLIHUTTE: MATTERHORN BASE CAMP
The Hornlihutte Hike in Zermatt, also known as the Matterhorn Base Camp trail, is a thrilling journey that captures the spirit of alpine exploration. Nestled at an impressive altitude of 3,260 meters, the Hornlihutte serves as the last stop for mountaineers before they make their final ascent to the summit of the legendary Matterhorn. This hike presents a fascinating mix of rugged beauty, alpine wilderness, and the echoes of mountaineering history. As hikers traverse the rocky terrain and navigate the winding trails, they are rewarded with unrivaled views of the iconic Matterhorn and the surrounding Swiss Alps. The Hornlihutte Hike is more than a trail; it’s a gateway to one of the world’s most awe-inspiring mountainous panoramas.
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HORNLIHUTTE HIKE DETAILS
- Hike Distance: Schwarzsee to Hornlihutte is 4km with 715 meters of incline. Obviously, you have to come back down to Schwarzsee so that is a minimum of 8km. However, if you go for sunset or miss the last 4:30 pm cable car, you will need to walk all the way back to Zermatt. My total hike distance with the walk back to Zermatt main street was 16.68km.
- Hike Duration: Schwarzsee to Honlihutte should take about 1.5 hours maximum. My entire journey came out to 4 hours with the walk back to Zermatt main street.
- Hike Difficulty: The Hornlihutte hike had a medium difficulty level. The trail from Schwarzsee to the beginning of the ridge was marked with red and white and was fairly simple, but there were some rocky areas and a few drop-offs along the way. However, these were not too drastic. Upon reaching the ridge, the trail became an alpine one marked with blue and white. This trail might pose a challenge to some, so it’s best to stop if you’re not up for it. There were no extreme obstacles on the trail, but you could expect some drop-offs, a few ladders, and some rock climbing. Whenever the rocks were tough to climb, there were metal pegs, ropes, or chains to assist you. I didn’t encounter any particularly dangerous moments on this trail, as long as you’re comfortable with heights and use the chains and ropes provided.
- Hike Incline: 967m total climb with over 1500m of decline (if you go back down to Zermatt main street)
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HOW TO GET TO HORNLIHUTTE HIKING TRAIL
The Hornlihutte hike starts at Schwarszee for most people. You could hike from Zermatt but there isn’t too much to see on the way up (compared to the view at the top) but don’t let that stop you. To get to Schwarszee to start the hike you will need to ride the cable car from the Zermatt Bergbahn. The last cable car down is 4:30 pm so either be back at Schwarzsee by then or you are walking down.
The cable cars are open every day from 8:30 to 4:30 but you can check here on the website to double-check the updated timings.
The map below shows the pin for your starting and finishing point, the Zermatt Bergbahnen AG. You can purchase your tickets for the cable car here but do be warned there are some long lines for the first few cable cars of the day so arriving half an hour early is not a bad idea if you want to be among the first up on the trails.
I’ve put my GPX map at the bottom of this post so you can see the exact details and directions of the path I took, which for all purposes should be very similar to what you want to take also.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE HORNLIHUTTE HIKE ‘MATTERHORN BASECAMP’
My journey began at the Zermatt Berbahn, where I was a little surprised at the $32 price of the ticket just for a one-way route up to Schwarzsee. I thought it was pricey compared to some of the cable cars around Switzerland. Luckily, I have my Swiss Half-Pass, which means I get 50% off for the entire year after paying a $180 fee at the beginning of my trip.
The hike begins at Schwarzsee, which is actually a nice lake giving some great reflections in the right lighting. Already at this point, you will cross paths with climbers who are either en route to the Matterhorn climb or have finished and are coming down. You can’t miss them as they have helmets, rope and all sorts of gear.
The Hornlihutte is the base camp for the Matterhorn climb up the Hornli Ridge, which is the most common route for climbers. You can either stay overnight or do the climb all in one day. I can’t give much information about the actual climb as I have no idea about climbing or what’s involved, but it’s good to be around the crowds and feel the buzz of all the climbers. It’s kind of like when I’m in Hawaii and can’t surf but it’s still an incredible atmosphere.
The hike begins by taking you past my favorite Valais sheep. They are the fluffiest guys in the world, so fluffy in fact, that you cannot see their eyes. They love it when you pat them and will keep coming back for more attention.
The trail itself winds up a small cliff on its way to the start of the Hornli Ridge. It’s the same route in reverse for the end of the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, which I’d done on my first day in Zermatt. From Schwarszee to Hornli Ridge there isn’t too much to take note of other than a rocky path.
The views are, of course, incredible but that is to be expected in Zermatt. You know it is only going to get better as you climb the ridge so it’s not the time to stop and admire at this point.
At the bottom of the Hornli Ridge, you will find a blue sign pointing up the ridge to the Hornlihutte. The blue color means it is an alpine trail compared to the red and white color, which would mean it’s a basic hiking trail. This trail is rated T4 difficulty and as I mentioned in the hike details above involved some stairs, ladders, and a bit of rock scrambling but nothing too dangerous.
The blue sign leads you up the left side of the ridge before you climb up and over to the right side of the ridge. From here you will get your first glance at the Matterhorn Glacier, which sits just beneath the horn itself. The drop-offs by now have become a little steeper and there is less room for error but the trail is wide, flat and it’s hard to find trouble. You will find ladders, chains and, ropes in the final moments of the ascent to help you stay on track.
The total ascent is around 850 meters, so by the time you reach the top you will by looking back down the ridge with a sense of accomplishment. However, you won’t feel like a champion sitting at the Hornlihutte as the real climbers gear up to climb the mighty Matterhorn.
You can buy food, use the restrooms and even stay the night at Hornlihutte. It honestly wouldn’t be the worst idea even if you aren’t climbing the Matterhorn. Sunset and sunrise from Hornlihutte would be an epic experience in Zermatt. If you want more information about Hornlihutte you can check room prices, availability and all the details on their website here.
I went beyond the hut and waited for sunset, watching the last climbers descend the final section of the Matterhorn. I looked up at the Hornli Ridge and tried to imagine being one of the tiny humans up there. Maybe next year.
As the sun began to fade and the colors in the sky started to release some vibrant pinks, I ripped out the camera and the drone to snap some shots of the Hornlihutte and the Hornli Ridge in all of their glory. The sunset was incredible with a cloud right above Matterhorn turning bright orange. It almost made the Matterhorn look like a volcano or as if it was on fire!
It’s important to note that the last cable car down from Schwarzsee leaves at 4:30 pm. That means I had signed myself up for a long walk back down to my hostel in Zermatt. The sunset was worth it. I made sure to be down and off the ridge before it got dark just to be safe.
However, by the time I’d reached Schwarzsee, it was completely dark and I was using my head-torch to guide the way down through the grass.
The trail down isn’t well defined in some parts, especially in the dark but it is marked on Maps.me and Google maps so just keep checking that you don’t go off track. About halfway down you will reach a gravel path that has a million and one switchbacks as it guides you down the steep hill. It wasn’t the most exhilarating descent of my life but seeing the lights come on in the town of Zermatt while being all alone on a random hill in the dark way above it all was pretty surreal.
The total hiking time for me was four hours but that didn’t include my 1.5-hour spell at the Hornlihutte.
MY HORNLIHUTTE HIKING MAP
I’ve attached my GPX map below, which you can download here for use on your Garmin, smartwatch, or another app.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HORNLIHUTTE
- Strategic Location: The Hornlihutte is situated on the northeast ridge of the Matterhorn, commonly referred to as the Hörnli ridge. Its unique location makes it a primary base for climbers targeting the summit of the Matterhorn via the most popular route.
- High Elevation: At an elevation of about 3,260 meters (10,700 feet), the Hornlihutte is one of the highest mountain huts in the Swiss Alps. The thin air at this altitude can present challenges to those not yet acclimated.
- Peak of Activity: The busiest period for the Hornlihutte is during the climbing season in summer, specifically July and August. During this time, the hut often operates at full capacity.
- Limited Capacity: Hornlihutte, as of 2021, can accommodate around 130 guests in dormitory-style accommodations. This limited capacity often results in the hut being fully booked during peak climbing season.
- Environmental Responsibility: Due to its remote location, the Hornlihutte follows strict environmental guidelines. Water is a precious resource at this altitude, with supplies being obtained from melted snow or delivered by helicopter.
- Historic Significance: The Hornlihutte has witnessed countless attempts to conquer the Matterhorn since its construction in the 19th century. The Hörnli ridge route that passes the hut was the one used by the first successful summit team in 1865.
- Renovation: The hut underwent a significant renovation in 2015 in preparation for the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. It was closed for nearly a year during the renovation work.
- Emergency Rescue: The Hornlihutte plays a crucial role in Matterhorn climbs not just as a rest point, but also as a base for potential rescue operations. In the event of emergencies, professional mountain rescuers can reach injured climbers from the hut.
- No Wi-Fi: The Hornlihutte provides a true mountain experience by not offering Wi-Fi. This is done intentionally to encourage climbers to interact and share experiences.
- Night Sky: Due to its high altitude and remote location, the Hornlihutte offers climbers an unspoiled view of the night sky, making it a fantastic spot for stargazing.
SWISS TRAVEL PASS or HALF-FARE CARD
OPTION 1: Buy the Swiss Half Fare Card: Switzerland trains, buses, and cable cars are EXPENSIVE! I found the best way to get around cheaply was to buy the Swiss Half-Fare Card before I arrived. It gives you 50% off every regular train, bus, and even many cable cars. It only costs $150 USD but pays itself off in just a few days with many train tickets in Switzerland costing close to $100 alone. If you are staying for more than 5 days, I suggest buying the Swiss Half-Fare Card.
OPTION 2: Buy the Swiss Travel Pass: The second option is to get the Swiss Travel Pass, which gives you unlimited train, bus, and (many) cable car rides but it’s pretty expensive at around $100 USD per day so if you don’t travel each day it isn’t worth it.
OPTION 3: Buy the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass: The final (BEST) option is to get the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass, which allows you to buy 8 days’ worth of transit but you can choose the night before if you want to activate the next day. That way you don’t need to travel every day to get your money’s worth, you can just activate the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass on the days when you are doing sizeable transits. My advice is to book the Swiss Half-Fare Card or the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass in advance before your trip so it’s ready to go when you arrive.
MY SWITZERLAND HIKING GUIDES
I spent 100 days hiking in Switzerland and created a guide for different regions around the country. You can click on one of my Switzerland hiking guides below to help you plan your trip.
- The Complete Guide: 50 AWESOME HIKES IN IN SWITZERLAND
- The Via Ferrata Guide: 4 EPIC SWITZERLAND VIA FERRATA COURSES
- Lauterbrunnen Guide: 10 AWESOME HIKES NEAR LAUTERBRUNNEN
- Interlaken Guide: 15 AWESOME HIKES IN INTERLAKEN
- Grindelwald Guide: 12 AWESOME HIKES NEAR GRINDELWALD:
- Mürren Guide: 7 AWESOME HIKES IN MURREN
- Appenzell Guide: 9 AWESOME HIKES NEAR APPENZELL
- Chur Guide: 7 AWESOME HIKES NEAR CHUR