Winter Gornergrat nostalgisch

The first winter expedition to the Gornergrat

Story 83

Until 1927, Zermatt would go into deep hibernation: when the last evening train of the summer timetable disappeared into the valley on 31 October, rail traffic between Visp and Zermatt came to a standstill for six months due to the danger of avalanches. The first group expedition to the Gornergrat in winter in January 1883 is therefore a memorable event. 

In January 1883, 19 members of the Geneva section of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) were the first group to venture to Zermatt to reach the Gornergrat in winter. The book “Zermatt – Dorf und Kurort im Spiegel einer Familie” (“Zermatt – Family Memories of a Village and Spa Town”), available in German, includes memories of the event from expedition participant Dr Eduard Seiler. 

“A ray of summer” 

The visitors from Geneva were received in Visp and transported from St. Niklaus to Zermatt in eleven sledges. The next day, led by mountain guides Peter and Josef Taugwalder, the party made the ascent to the Riffelhaus through deep snow. Due to the risk of avalanches, however, the route varied from the norm and went via the Gorner Glacier and Rotenboden.  

The expedition was so special for the people of Zermatt that the pastor at the time concluded his speech over dinner with the words: 

“For the people of Zermatt, in the midst of their hard work, your presence has been a ray of summer.” (Pastor J. Bürcher) 

The halo of the Matterhorn 

This event was also reported on in the newspapers of the time, with reports such as: 

In Zermatt, the courageous tourists encountered a huge mass of snow that made it impossible for them to climb the Gornergrat by the normal route, but they still managed to […]. They were rewarded with an incomparable view; the sun was glorious, and in the evening they enjoyed astonishing light effects and a spectacular colouring of the mountains and sky that you would normally never see in summer; the whole Matterhorn had a fiery, red glittering halo.
From “Le Bien public,” 25 January 1883, “La Liberté,” 28 January 1883 and “Le National Suisse,” 26 January 1883.

Inspiration for further winter expeditions 

The visit of the Geneva Section was so inspiring that four years later the first winter ascents of the Mettelhorn took place, followed by the Breithorn the following year.  

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