Thursday 31 July 2014

One hundred and fifty years

Image from
Next year, in July 2015, the Chamonix valley will begin a series of celebrations marking 150 years since 1865, and paying tribute to one of the most remarkable periods in modern history: the Golden Age of Alpinism.

During this period, which lasted from roughly 1854 to the 14th of July, 1865, the Alps were thoroughly explored by sportsmen for the first time. Before the mid 1850s, people climbed for pleasure in the Alps, but the focus of attention was firmly on Mont Blanc and the majority of ascents were still being made for scientific reasons. That changed, however, when a new wave of leisured travellers (many from Britain) began scaling unclimbed Alpine peaks purely for the adventure.

Fifty-eight first ascents were made in the Alps between 1854 and 1865. Facilities in most Alpine valleys were still spartan. Climbing equipment was extremely rudimentary, consisting of nailed boots, hawser-laid rope, and long ice axes used to hew steps in the ice. Despite this, there were few serious accidents — until the 14th of July 1865.

On that fateful day, Edward Whymper and his companions finally made the first ascent of the Matterhorn after a determined campaign lasting many years with many failed attempts. The expedition famously ended in tragedy and cast a gloomy cloud over the sport of mountaineering for a long time afterwards. It marked the end of the carefree, joyous years of Alpinism.

Chamonix has always been the international centre of mountaineering, and it sounds like the celebrations will be something special to behold. Exhibitions, conferences, readings, performances, and much more are scheduled for July 2015. It appears that a retro ascent of Aiguille Verte is also being planned!

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