Ok so it is not a tall at the Matterhorn or even the Mettlehorn and there is never any ice on it in summer and you can take a train to it, but if you have never climbed on alpine rock before and would like to practice a bit before you try you luck on the Dufourspitze then this is the spot for you. This peak sits only a few hundred meters from the Rotenboden station of the Gornergrat Railway so it is quite accessible.
This little peak has a character of its own, from the station looking at the west and north ridge it appears to be rather a timid little outcropping that is totally dwarfed by surrounded by the giants of Zermatt, particularly the Matterhron that sits across the valley from it.
Small and timid it may look from the station one need only hop over to the east side of the valley to see the true nature of this little horn. The view from the east shows off the dramatic south ridge and the rather substantial east wall which I would guess to be some 300~500m in height.
Generally speaking this is a good sideshow peak that is usually in good weather when the higher peaks are clouded over. The peak is mostly used as a rock climbing training area, as it is one of the places the local guides take beginners in the summer months. From what I could see there were plenty of bolted sport climbs, a few top-rope sections and what looked like a few good crack lines for us “trad” types. I found the rock on the west and north face to be quite solid while on the east and south ridge it was rater broken and loose in places. The really fun part for me was the east face with it large amount of exposure and loose rock, reminded me of climbing in the Canadian Rockies.
The summit can easily be reached with simple but exposed scrambling up the steps of the east ridge or any number of alpine rock climbs up the east or north face, the west ridge is also a great little climb, quite easy with great exposure on one side and an easy retreat on the other. This is the route I took to go down and was most pleased.
I imagine that most of the south wall climbs start by first traversing around the peak as the base of the south wall sits high on top of large skree pile which would be quite the slog to go up.
Tom Fralich has kindly passed on to me an overview of the climbing routes on this peak so here it is for your enjoyment.
The Riffelhorn has a number of nice routes that can be climbed easily in about half a day from Zermatt. Several of these are described in the Alpine Club guidebook by Swindin and Fleming and are summarized below.
1) Ordinary Route (F, 1 hr, 100m) -- This route essentially climbs the east ridge, but avoids the steep sections by keeping to terraces slightly below the ridge crest on its north side. The details of the route can be found in the guidebook.
2) Skyline - East Ridge (AD+, Rock to UIAA IV, 1 hr, 100m) -- This route follows the east ridge along its crest, climbing each of the steep sections directly. Reach the foot of the ridge by an obvious path from Rotenboden. Climb the first steep section directly and continue along the crest to reach a 4m slab. Climb this (IV) to reach the bottom of the Second Step. Climb up (slanting left) and then continue along the ridge, climbing a number of small steps directly to reach the final steep section (Third Step). Climb this step directly on slabby terrain (III+) or use the crack at its center (III) to reach the east summit. Note that the dihedral at the left side of the Third Step is part of the Thermometer Couloir route.
3) Gletscher Couloir (AD, Rock to UIAA III, 1.5 hr, 70m) -- This route climbs the left (westernmost) of two steep couloirs located on the south side of the peak between the east and west summits. The start of the route can be reached most easily by first climbing to the west summit (by the Ordinary Route) and then downclimbing or rapelling down the south side of the peak to reach the start of the couloir. From the west summit, descend 40m down slabs slanting slightly east to reach a terrace. Continue down a short dihedral to reach another terrace, and then 20m further down yet another dihedral to a grassy patch. Descend an additional 25m in the dihedral (now much easier) to reach a third terrace. Traverse into the Gletscher Couloir from the terrace and climb two pitches of UIAA III rock in the couloir to the final 10m chimney.
4) Biner Couloir (ED1, Rock to UIAA VI, 1.5hr, 70m) -- This is the second of two steep couloirs on the south side of the peak. It lies to the right of the Gletscher Couloir and is approached in the same manner, by descending from the west summit. The climb is rated ED1 because of the unprotected crux overhang (VI) on the final pitch. Descend to the "third terrace" as for the Gletscher Couloir, but then continue down to a second grassy patch before traversing right into the couloir. Climb the couloir (III) to a terrace below the big overhang and then climb through this (VI) to reach easier ground and the summit ridge.
5) Kante (D, Rock to UIAA IV, 1.5 hr, 60m) -- This route ascends the steep rib separating the Gletscher and Biner couloirs. Rappel or downclimb to reach the start of the Gletscher Couloir (see above) and then descend a further 10m in the couloir itself. Begin climbing on the right side of the rib to reach a detached block 10m up and belay. Climb 8m more and then traverse onto the crest of the rib. Continue up the crest for 30m (IV) to a small ledge (belay possible) and then into a short dihedral which leads to a terrace. Climb the last 10m on the crest (III) to reach the summit.
6) Thermometer Couloir (D, Rock to UIAA IV, 1 hr, 70m) -- A third couloir on the south side of the peak best approached by traversing around from the start of the East Ridge. The couloir starts as a dihedral with a narrow crack which is climbed for 25m to a niche (III+, fixed pins). Then climb another 25m on the right side of the dihedral (III+) to reach a second niche. Locate a steep chimney 10m above and climb this (IV) to reach the easy dihedral of the left side of the Third Step of the East Ridge. Climb this, or continue as for Skyline - East Ridge (see above).
7) Central Dihedral - North Face (AD+, Rock to UIAA III+, 2.5 hrs, 150m) -- This route climbs the prominent dihedral on the north side of the peak above the Riffelsee to finish just right of the east summit. The route is described in detail on the Central Dihedral route page (see also Route Photo).
In addition to this small selection, the south side of the peak offers many additional routes and variations. The bulletin board at the campsite in Zermatt has a nice topo showing all the major routes on the south side with the difficulty of individual pitches clearly marked. The Alpine Center can also provide information about routes on the Riffelhorn.
Take Gornergrat Mountain Railway and get of at the Rotenboden or Riffelberg (a little 15min walk from here) stations it is right in front of you can't miss it.
For more information on getting to Zermatt check out the "Getting There" section of the Monta Rosa Hut Post.
Do have some respect for the local guides and climbing instructors and if all possiable let them have a route if they ask. It is only out of politness as thier livelyhood depends on having happy customers. There are lots of routes about just ask the guide/instructor for an alternative.
When To Climb
It look to me that one could climb there any time of the year but I imagine the west face would see little the sun in the winter and be quite chilly.
Camping is allowed anywere. Most people try to hide out of site of the hotel at the base of the North ridge where the ground is flatter and dryer.
The area is a sheep pasture in summer so the ground water is not fit for drinking.
For a local weather report try
as well there is a web cam at Gornergrat that looks directly at the peak
Have you ever passed an outcropping of rock in the middle of a glacier and wondered what it looked like underneath?
The Riffelhorn is a good example of one of these rocks (we in Canada call them Nunataks). At one time there were two toungs of the glaicer passing on either side of this peak giving it is stepped north ridge its two broken walls and its long south ridge.
It is, by the way, by strict geomorphology definitions not a Horn at all as is not surrounded and was not formed by cirques.
Most times of the year the area is awash with Japanese tourists and they love to photograph the climbers on the peak.
Occasionally one wants to get a better shot of the climber or the Mattehorn and tries to get to the top. According to a chap I chatted with they usually get stuck after the first step of the east ridge and have to be helped down or worse they drop rocks on the climbers below as the putter about in the lose stuff on top.
When I was there I did have one follow me most of the way to the top until I started to traverse out over the south face and he was a little put off by the 400m drop to the glacier below and did not follow anymore.