Learning mountaineering on the Alps' easiest 4000 meter peaks
The Breithorn, Allalinhorn and Strahlhorn offer easy ascents
START: Breithorn: Zermatt / Allalinhorn & Strahlhorn: Saas Fee.
FINISH: Breithorn: Zermatt / Allalinhorn & Strahlhorn: Saas Fee.
EFFORT: F to PD-
People love nice, even numbers that come in groups. They serve as a foundation for lists. People also love lists. In the Alps, there are 82 summits higher than 4000 meters. Meet your next potential to do list!
Given that doing them takes a lot of time, they better be good. And, they are. If you're new to climbing and have an interest in experiencing the Alps' alpine zone, you need to know which 4000 meter peaks are going to be the friendliest for your skill level. We'll present the easiest options but must remind you, they are easy in the best conditions, when everything goes right and your fitness level is up to the task.
If you're new to climbing, or don't have any Alps experience, check in at our Alps Education pages to get an idea of what to expect when climbing in the Alps.
4000 meters in the Alps is not the same as 4000 meters (13,123 feet) in America's lower 48. The height may be the same, but unless you're in the Pacific Northwest, what you'll encounter is pretty different. The Alps are going to require skills to get you through crevassed zones, around serac falls, and possibly navigating in white outs on massive, and dangerous, glaciers. Add in rapidly changing weather and you have some variables you need to know how to work with.
Inexperienced climbers should not venture off on their own to tackle these peaks without some serious time learning what it takes to safely get up and down big mountains in the Alps. Our partners at Bergpunkt.ch offer an Intro to 4000 Meter Peaks course that we reviewed here. The three mountains we detail here are what are done during the course because they are three of the easiest 4000 meters peaks in the Alps, and made easier thanks to trams getting you up high for your start.
If you have experience and knowledge on glaciers, have sufficient climbing skills, and understand how to move through the alpine landscape, then we recommend these three peaks to kick off your 4000 meter peak objective. And if you don't, then check in with Bergpunkt to learn all the necessary skills.
Heading for the main summit of the Breithorn on the half traverse.
Climbing the Breithorn (4164m)
The Breithorn is one of the peaks towering over Zermatt that you think, "No way, that thing is massive." And it is, when seen from the north. But it's south side is a different story altogether. From the south, the overall relief of the mountain, from the high plateau you access from the Kleine Matterhorn Tram, is less than 400 meters. And, it's up a gently rising snow slope to the summit ridge. You're still on a glacier, and there are some crevasses and a bergschrund, but overall, it's an easy walk.
If you'd like to make the climb slightly more difficult, you can leave the normal route just as it steepens from the plateau and head more east towards point 4156 on the summit ridge. This route is only slightly steeper and gains the ridge further east of the main summit. Instead of gaining the summit from the west side, you'll traverse more ridgeline from the east. This section of ridge is very exposed and a fall would be fatal.
Both routes require ice axe and crampon technique, glacier travel knowledge, and route finding skills. Do not assume a track will be in place and as always, be prepared for poor weather and zero visibility.
Grade: Normal Route F / Half Traverse F+
Above the Feejoch at about 3900 meters while climbing the Allalinhorn.
Climbing the Allalinhorn (4027m)
From Saas Fee, the Allalinhorn is part of the high ridgeline towering above town, and like the Breithorn, is a relatively easy walk up a glacier. Also like the Breithorn, it starts with a tram ride, the Mittelallalin, which gets you to 3456 meters.
From the station, you'll traverse through the top of ski pistes cut into the Feegletscher. Once off the pistes you are most certainly in crevassed terrain. As of 2019, a ladder was in place to cross a particularly tricky crevasse. The route moves among crevasses until accessing the ridge west of the summit. Once on the ridge, scramble through some easy rock to the summit.
The Allalinhorn requires ice axe and crampon technique, glacier travel knowledge, and route finding skills. Do not assume a track will be in place and as always, be prepared for poor weather and zero visibility.
Wide open glacier terrain en route to the Strahlhorn.
Climbing the Strahlhorn (4190m)
Of these three easier 4000 meter peaks, the Strahlhorn most closely resembles a classic mountaineering tour. Instead of launching out for the summit from a tram ride, you'll spend the night in the Britannia Hut (3027 meters) and get to experience the dark thirty wake up, zombie breakfast, and then long, headlamp lit walk up a glacier. Of course all this allows you to then experience an Alps sunrise, something always worth the annoying wake up alarm.
The Strahlhorn is also the biggest of the three requiring both significant elevation gain (1400 meters) and a long distance to be covered (17 kilometers). Once again, there's no climbing involved, only lots of walking on glacier.
From the Britannia Hut, you'll actually drop down about 100 meters to the glacier. From there, it's about 6km towards the Adlerpass on low angle snow and ice. Just before the pass, the route heads up a bit steeper, and south, to a wide crest leading to the summit.
The Strahlhorn requires ice axe and crampon technique, glacier travel knowledge, and route finding skills. Do not assume a track will be in place and as always, be prepared for poor weather and zero visibility.
Grade: F for difficulty / PD- for Glacier Travel
A long, beautiful glacier march on the way to the Strahlhorn.
Alps Mountaineering Courses
High mountains, specialized gear, route finding, decision making, weather, and especially glaciers are things to be taken seriously. If you are new to climbing or have little experience in the mountains, a course to teach you the necessary skills is essential. Our partners at Bergpunkt.ch offer complete programs that teach you mountaineering skills while climbing Alps' 4000 meter peaks.
For information on how to book this trip contact: firstname.lastname@example.org