The Matterhorn has four faces, facing the four compass points, with the north and south faces meeting to form a short east-west summit ridge. The faces are steep, and only small patches of snow and ice cling to them; regular avalanches send the snow down to accumulate on the glaciers at the base of each face. The H?rnli ridge of the northeast (in the center of the view from Zermatt) is the usual climbing route. The North face is one of the six great north faces of the Alps, first climbed in 1931 by brothers Franz and Toni Schmid.
The Matterhorn was the last major mountain of the Alps to be climbed, not because of its technical difficulty, but because of the fear it inspired in early mountaineers. The first serious attempts began around 1858, mostly from the Italian side, but despite appearances, the southern routes are harder, and parties repeatedly found themselves on difficult slippery rock and had to turn back.
East face of the Matterhorn reflected in the Riffelsee.It was not until 14 July 1865, after several failed attempts and some nationalistically motivated backstabbing, that the party of Edward Whymper, Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, and Douglas Hadow, with Michel Croz and the two Peter Taugwalders (father and son) tried the H?rnli route and found it considerably easier than expected. On on the descent Hadow slipped, knocking Croz off his feet, and dragging Hudson and Douglas with him. All seven were tied together and would no doubt have been killed, but the rope broke, sending the lower four to their deaths on the Matterhorn Glacier 1,400 m below. The bodies of all but Douglas were later found, and are buried in the Zermatt churchyard.