Climbing the Matterhorn: Speed Record Smashed

See video of Dani Arnold's record-setting climb of the peak's perilous north face.
By Josh Sampiero

The Matterhorn is one of the world’s most iconic and most recognized peaks. Straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy, it's one of the three great north faces of the Alps, its jagged edges tracing to a sharp point in the sky.

While laypeople may only know it from the packaging of Toblerone chocolate bars, the peak has an illustrious history, particularly the stunning north face. Another milestone has now been entered into its timeline, as Swiss mountaineer Dani Arnold has set a blazingly fast new record on the route, reaching the summit in only 1 hour 46 minutes, shaving a full 10 minutes off Ueli Steck's record, set in 2009. See highlights of the climb in the video above.

The peak was first summited in 1865 by Brit Edward Whymper in an expedition fraught with tragedy, but the north face was not conquered until 1931. Brothers Franz and Toni Schmid were the first to complete the north face climb, a challenging mix of rock and ice.

It's considered to be one of the riskiest climbs in the Alps. In fact, the Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in Europe, with over 500 alpinists believed to have died on the mountain.

Dani Arnold scales the Matterhorn, as seen from a helicopter
Dani moves quickly through challenging terrain © Christian Gisi/Mammut

Nevertheless, over the years the peak has been the site of some incredible climbs. Here's a look at some of the most noteworthy leading up to Arnold's record.

1931: Franz and Toni Schmid, two days

Although the climb took them two days, it should be noted that the brothers rode their bikes from Munich, hundreds of miles away, to get there — and upon completing the climb, rode their bikes back again.

1969: Jean Troillet, 4 hours, 10 minutes

The Swiss-Canadian mountaineer (who would later be the first person to snowboard off Everest) set the bar high with his speed ascent of just over four hours. He was only 21 years old at the time.

2009: Ueli Steck, 1 hour, 56 minutes

Troillet's record was whittled away until 2009, when Ueli Steck put up a seemingly insurmountable time: 1 hour and 56 minutes, solo, up the north face, via the a slight variation from the Schmid route.

Dani moves quickly over rock and ice
Approaching the summit... © Christian Gisi/Mammut

This summer, in the year of the 150th anniversary of the first climb, Dani Arnold broke that record by 10 minutes. What did it take? Sure-footedness, confidence, training and of course a lot of time in the mountains.

“To complete a challenge like this, you really need to be in the mountains every day,” says Arnold.

The most surprising thing about Arnold’s record is that he wasn’t sure he would make it. In fact, he almost turned back. “I didn’t have a good feeling at the start,” he says. “But then I got into a rhythm.”

And what a rhythm it was. He kept that pace despite portions of the climb that had less snow than he would have liked, forcing him onto the rock and increasing his exposure.

Dani Arnold catches a breath at the top the Matterhorn
Victory and... exhaustion © Christian Gisi/Mammut

But equipped with just his ice axes and crampons to give him grip on the terrain, Arnold moved quickly and confidently, eventually making his way to the summit. The visibly exhausted climber took a moment to reflect on the achievement there — after he caught his breath, of course.

Sitting at 14,692 feet above sea level, the mountaineer could proclaim: "Doing this in the year of the Matterhorn anniversary. ... I'm really happy."

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