The Zinalrothorn, a great alternative to the Matterhorn

Written by Olly Allen
17th October 2016
Alpine Mountaineering, alpine climbing, climbing in Switzerland
The Zinalrothorn - a great alternative to the Matterhorn

The Zinalrothorn spectacularly rears up at the head of the Zinal valley. The firm gneiss makes it an excellent peak with exciting exposed climbing. Access to the peak is a real adventure not made easier by lifts thus its full challenge is preserved.

Range: Swiss Valais
Mountain: Zinalrothorn
Height: 4221m
Route: Traverse N ridge SE ridge 
Length: Hut Climb 1700m Summit Climb 1050m
Grade: AD+
Descent: Either N ridge or SE ridge.
Guidebook: The 4000m Peaks of the Alps (Alpine Club and Martin Moran, July 2007) 
Map: Swiss Map LKS 5006 1:50000 Matterhorn Mischabel
Valley base:Zinal or Zermatt

Approach: From Zermatt walk up the gorge to the well sign posted Trift Hotel (2337m). Cross the easy angled pastures to Triftsee (2579m). Then follow a twisting path up a moraine ridge to the foot of the glacier. The SAC Rothorn hut (3178m) is situated in front of the rock spur Eseltschuggen (5Hrs)

Route Summary

I have described ascending the SE ridge and descending the N to the Montet hut. From the Rothorn hut head up the W side of the Rothorn glacier and look out for a gully/chimney splitting the rock wall and allowing access to the snow ramp above. Climb this (loose) and the mixed slopes above to gain the ridge. Head n along the ridge up rock and snow to reach point 3786m. Move up the narrowing ride on rock then snow to point 3912. Climb some steep rock steps below the Kanzelgrat traversing left towards the snowy gully below the Gabel. Climb the gully watch out for stone fall (can be climbed on the rock to the left where some rappel points are located). 

Climb a series of steep walls and then the ridge proper. Then look out for an obvious cleft that leads down and left then cross a steep wall to the Biner slabs. Climb the crack in the slab (hard when icy). Make an airy traverse left (W) and turn the Kanzel on the right following the ridge to the summit.

Descending the N ridge is airy and exciting. It pretty much sticks on the ridge with a few deviations onto the E side higher up (rappel in descent). Mid-way where the ridge flattens there are some wild 'A Chaval' traverses and narrow gendarmes. Below this you follow the W side of the ridge (bolts to protect traverse) then back onto the easier and more broken lower sections. Descent ontothe glacier and Montet hut is pretty straightforward.

If you undertake the traverse you will need to return to your valley base. This can be done by bus and train or you can ascend/descend the Trifthorn. If you decide on the Trifthorn don't underestimate the day! (The guidebook makes out its an easy stroll with a bit of AD-) Its rather loose in places (gully descending to the Rothorn glacier on the Rothorn hut side). The glacier from the Montet hut up the S side is given F+ but there can be large crevasses and a steep 60 degree 100m ice step to negotiate. This depends on the year but be prepared for adventure!

Best tactics for an ascent: A single 50m rope, rack 6 quickdraws, wires 3-10, cams 1,2,3. The ascent can be made from either Zinal or Zermatt. I find going up the N ridge and descending the SE ridge is easier as a lot of the fixed gear is designed for this. It is well equipped either way. Beware of fresh snow or considerable verglass which makes the route a mixed mission beyond most folk!

What makes it so special: After spending years climbing and guiding many of the 4000m peaks, the Rothorn sticks out as a favourite. Compared to the more famed surrounding peaks the rock is of really excellent quality. It involves some solid technical climbing and affords un paralleled views across the Valais. Its a big adventure from start to finish without being mobbed by crowds. Some of the pinnacles on the N ridge add food for thought!


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