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Women of the Matterhorn: First Ascents

Many names have been made famous by scaling the Matterhorn, but it’s not just men who have reached the summit of this magnificent mountain.

We look at the trailblazing women of the Matterhorn, including:

  • First Female attempt (1867)
  • First Woman to climb the Matterhorn (1871)
  • First All-female Ascent of the Matterhorn (1932)
  • First Female Ascent of the North Face (1965)
  • First Solo Female Ascent of the North Face (1993)
  • First Female Wingsuit flight from the Matterhorn (2014)

First ever ascent in 1865

The Matterhorn has captured the imagination of climbers since the 19th Century during a period of intense mountaineering competition in the Alps.

After many attempts in the preceding years, it was finally summited by Whymper from the Swiss side, followed by Carrel’s Italian team just three days later.

Since these pioneers and their first ascents, there have been thousands of successful attempts by men and women.

Viewing the Matterhorn sometimes enough

For the vast majority just getting to Zermatt to look at the mystical Matterhorn is an achievement enough.

Some may travel on the Gornergrat mountain railway to get a better look. In winter, most will put on skis or a snowboard and ride the slopes in its shadow.

Women of the Matterhorn

The First Female attempt (1867)

Just two years after the first successful ascent, the family name of Carrel once again attempted a ‘first’ on the Matterhorn.

This time, in 1867, Félicitié Carrel attempted to be the first woman to climb the peak.

Disappointingly for her, she was forced to abandon her mission 350m from the summit.

She was wearing a crinoline petticoat under her dress, which got caught by high winds and flew over her head. Although her father managed to free her, the risk of being blown off the mountain completely was too high and she had to abandon the climb.

It’s not something modern climbers have to cope with, but for her troubles, the ridge was named after her and and is now known as the Col Félicitié.

The Col Félicitié was named after her

The First Woman to climb the Matterhorn (1871)

Ultimately the race to become the first female to the summit of the Matterhorn became a competition between British mountaineer Lucy Walker and the American climber Meta Brevoort.

Walker already had a handful of famous mountaineering firsts, including the first woman to the top of the Eiger and the Wetterhorn, as well as the first ascent of the Balmhorn.

Brevoort was also looking for the climb that would make her name, but when Walker learned her rival was attempting to summit, she scrambled a team, which included her father, and secured the prize on 22 July 1871.

By the time Walker died she had completed 98 expeditions, who only started climbing when her doctor suggested it to help with her rheumatism.

According to the book ‘Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild’ by Demet Güzey, Walker operated on a diet of ‘sponge cake and champagne’!

Lucy Walker seated next to her father Frank Walker (1871)

Meta Brevoort second woman to summit

Brevoort followed and successfully reached the top on 05 September of the same year.

While second woman to the top, Brevoort did become the first to cross the mountain by climbing up the Hörnligrat ridge and down the Liongrat.

In contrast to Walker and earlier female climbers, Brevoort later broke with tradition and wore trousers while climbing.

Marguerite ‘Meta’ Brevoort with guides Christian Almer and Ulrich Almer (to her right) and her nephew W. A. B. Coolidge (to her left). Taken c. 1874

The First All-female Ascent of the Matterhorn (1932)

Before 1932 all the women who had summited the mountain had done it in partnership with male mountaineers.

However, on 13 August 1932, Miriam O’Brien Underhill and Alice Damensme put themselves in the record books as the first all-female team to stand at the top of the Matterhorn.

Knowing that if they followed the hut full of men up the final stage, they would potentially be denied their claim, they concocted a plan that would see the refuge run out of hot water for tea in the morning after they had had theirs.

This gave them a head start on the gentlemen that allowed the female team to be served first and guaranteed their claim wouldn’t be questioned.

#HappyBirthday to Miriam O’Brien Underhill, pioneering mountain climber and feminist, born #OnThisDay in 1898. Underhill…

Posted by National Women's History Museum on Friday, 22 July 2016

First Female ascent of the North Face of the Matterhorn (1965)

The formidable North Face of the Matterhorn is a legend among climbers. It was nearly sixty years after the first ascent that the north face route was successfully completed in 1931.

In 1965 Yvette Vaucher joined a list of elite climbers as she successfully navigated the face to become the first female to reach the top via this route.

She was soon to be followed into the Matterhorn hall of fame by an all-female Japanese duo, Michiko Imai and Yoshiko Wakayama, in 1967.

Imai went on to achieve similar success on other north faces and pioneering routes.

First Solo Female Ascent of the North Face (1993)

Over the years the North Face has become a famous climb for solo adventures.

In 1993, mountaineer Alison Hargreaves – during a challenge to be the first person to climb the six hardest alpine north faces in one season – also became the first female to solo the Matterhorn north face.

The north face

First Female Wingsuit flight from the Matterhorn (2014)

Just when you thought there might be no more ‘firsts’ left, the Swiss adventurer Geraldine Fasnacht had the honour of being the first person to throw herself of the top the 4478m mountain in a wingsuit.

Serviced accommodation in Zermatt

If you want to marvel at the splendour of the Matterhorn mountain and wonder what it might be like at the top, you can do it happily from the town of Zermatt.

We have a range of accommodation including serviced chalets and apartments with views of this special mountain.

To find out more, give our team a call on +41 79 247 15 88

Views of the Matterhorn from Chalet Ulysse

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