HORNLIHUTTE HIKE ‘MATTERHORN BASE CAMP’ IN ZERMATT
The Hornlihutte (Hornli Hut) is the most common base camp for the Matterhorn climb. However, hiking to Hornlihutte is a great hike 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 a base camp for some and a summit for others.
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 hike difficulty for Hornlihutte was medium. From Schwarzsee to the start of the ridge you are on a red and white marked trail that is quite simple, although even on that trail there are rocky sections and a few drop-offs although nothing dramatic. Once up on the ridge it is a blue and white alpine trail. This means stop walking if you aren’t up for a bit of a challenge. There was nothing extreme on the trail but you can expect drop-offs, a few ladders and a little bit of clambering up rocks. Any time the rocks were hard to climb, there were metal pegs, ropes or chains to guide you. I didn’t find any moments on this trail to be very dangerous if you are calm with heights and use the helping chains and ropes provided. I hope that helps you decide if this hike is for you. Refer to my photos below for examples of the drop-offs and ladders.
Hike Incline: 967m total climb with over 1500m of decline (if you go back down to Zermatt main street)
HOW TO GET TO HORNLIHUTTE HIKING TRAIL
Hornlihutte hike starts at Schwarszee. You could hike from Zermatt but there isn’t too much to see on the way (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 cost of the cable car ticket to Schwarzsee from Zermatt is $32 for an adult or 50% off that fee if you have a Swiss Travel Pass or the Swiss Half Card. I have used both and still have my Swiss Half Card and highly suggest purchasing it if you are in Switzerland for any more than 3 days. It will save you money even with just 3 days of travel in Switzerland even though it is a yearly pass! You can book your ticket online in advance on the official site here.
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 HIKING TO HORNLIHUTTE THE ‘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. Anyway… I digress.
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 no 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 its an alpine trail compared to the red and white color, which means 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 tha 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.