Category Archives: Alpinists and Guides

British heritage in Chamonix for ten glorious months !

From June 29th  to November 2nd 2015 and from December 19th 2015 to April 17th 2016, a unique opportunity to discover British Mountaineering and cultural heritage in Chamonix Mont-Blanc

Treasures of the Alpine Club – Newsletter

For the first time in history,  the Treasures of the Alpine Club are being exhibited on the continent and indeed Chamonix is privileged to host this unique display of Alpine art and documentation.

Not only can visitors discover over 50 works by 36 nineteenth century artists, but a ground floor display describes and illustrates the genesis of mountaineering, a sporting and cultural activity which was born in the Chamonix Valley over 200 years ago.

Find out more about why the British played such a major role in the development of Alpine literature, art and exploration. Indeed it was an Englishman, Wyndham, who first named the Mer de Glace,  a Scot, Forbes, who drew the first map of this same glacier and an Irishman, Adams-Reilly who was the first to map the entire Mont-Blanc Massif during the Golden Age of Mountaineering.

During this period, the British conquered 31 of the 39 major summits across the Alps and the majority of these summits are immortalized in the magnificent collection of paintings at the Alpine Museum.

Michel Croz 1830 -1865

“Prince of guides”

“Places where you and I would toil and sweat and yet be freezing cold, were bagatelles to him and it was only when he got above the range of ordinary mortals, and was required to employ his magnificent strength and to draw upon his unsurpassed knowledge of ice and snow, that he could be said to be really and truly happy”  Edward Whymper

Michel Croz © Musée Alpin Chamonix

Michel Croz © Musée Alpin Chamonix

Michel Croz lived in the village of le Tour in the Chamonix Valley. He was a peasant farmer, shoemaker and guide. He lived and died for the latter.

From 1859 he was in the very front rank of guides then available for difficult mountain excursions. William Mathews, one of the founding members of the Alpine Club, climbed with Croz between 1859 and 1863 and together they made many first ascents: The Grande Casse (Croz cut 1100 steps in the ice with his axe), Mont Viso, Castor, Mont Pourri…

Mathew’s was in awe of Croz’  prodigious strength and skills and recommended him highly to Whymper. Croz’ subsequent campaigns, primarily with Whymper, in 1864 and 1865, prior to the terrible accident on the Matterhorn remain in the annals of mountaineering.

1864 :

Michel Croz - gravure de Whymper

Michel Croz – gravure de Whymper

* First crossing of la Brèche de la Meije with Edward Whymper, Horace Walker, Adolphus Moore and the guide Christian Almer
* First crossing of the  Col de la Pilatte
* Col du Triolet with Michel Payot and Edward Whymper and Adams Reilly
* Aiguille d’Argentière
* Aiguilles de Tré la Tête
* Mont Dolent

1865 :
* First ascent of the Dent Blanche
* First ascent of the Grandes Jorasses with Edward Whymper, Christian Almer and Franz Biener
*First crossing of the Col Dolent avec Edward Whimper and Christian Almer
* First ascent of l’arête du Moine (Aiguille Verte) with Charles Hudson and Thomas Stuart Kennedy (gb)
* First ascent of the Matterhorn with E. Whymper, C. Hudson, Lord Douglas, D. Hadow and the Taugwalder guides (father and son)

The inscription on his memorial stone in the churchyard at Zermatt reads “bears honourable testimony to his rectitude, his courage and his devotion”.

Christian Almer, the famous Oberland guide

001858PM-2Christian Almer 1826-1898

As a young shepherd in Grindelwald, Almer famously tried to beat the Englishman Alfred Wills to  the Wetterhorn (3692m), carrying a fir tree which he intended to plant on the summit for the glory of Switzerland. Justice Wills and his Chamonix guide Auguste Balmat, somewhat annoyed, hailed this audacious shepherd to join their party and they made the ascent together! Thereafter Almer climbed with many Victorian pioneers. His countless first ascents include the Monch and the Eiger in the Bernese Alps, the Barre des Ecrins in the Dauphiné Alps, and the Aiguille Verte and Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc Massif. Edward Whymper made many first ascents with Almer and Chamonix guide Michel Croz in 1864 and 1865. Whymper congratulated himself on having united such masterful guides, who worked so admirably together, despite the fact that they did not speak the same language!

Almer’s skills were later sought after for oversea’s expeditions, but his wife refused to allow him to depart because “taking a boat was far too dangerous”! To celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary, the couple climbed the Wetterhorn together!

Besides his nimble feet and tough constitution, it was Almer’s character – a blend of cordial simplicity and probity – that won him many admirers.

Douglas Freshfield & François Devouassoud, a Golden Age partnership!

 

François Devouassoud 1831-1905

Born in Chamonix, François Devouassoud joined the Compagnie des Guides as early as 1849. Amongst those who sought his services in the Alps were Freshfield, W. A. B. Coolidge, FF Tuckett, Horace Walker, Adolphus Moore and CC Tucker.  In 1865 in the course of a campaign through the Dolomites, the Tyrolese and the Graubundan Alps, with Freshfield and Tuckett, 23 new expeditions were made, including several  first ascents!

He was the doyen of the pioneers who have set out at different times for the Caucasus, the Himalayas, New Zealand, or the Andes. Freshfield said of him “François makes a science of the use of the rope; no axe cuts more commodious steps in an ice-wall ; he has a natural gift for topography  and has acquired the facility of an educated man in the use of large-scale maps” “It was mainly due to his skill and endurance that we succeeded at the first attempt in climbing and crossing Kazbek and the south-eastern peak of Elbruz in the Caucasus”.  “Devouassoud has proved himself imperturbable, whether asked to ride through the Hauran on an Arab steed, to walk between a double row of Suanetian daggers, or to ford swollen rivers in a Russian post-cart”. He did however have a distinct disliking of Red Indians!

 

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F. Devouassoud (centre back)  D. Freshfield (centre front)

 

Douglas Freshfield 1845-1934

Considered one of the greatest mountain explorers, Douglas Freshfield travelled and climbed in almost every part of the world, from the Alps and the Pyrenees to Japan and North America. He achieved his first new Alpine route, the Monte Nero, in 1861, at the height of the Golden Age, climbing with most of the great alpinists of his era, and was still exploring 60 years later, making a visit to the US rockies in 1920. But he is most famous for his three expeditions to the Caucasus and a circumnavigation of Kanchenjunga. The latter expedition became a powerful impetus for Himalayan exploration, thanks in part to the stunning photographs taken by the Italian Vittorio Sella, and maps drawn up by the British geologist Edmund Garwood. On his deathbed, Freshfield requested the presence of his faithful guide and companion, although Francois Devouassoud had been dead 30 years.

Jean-Franck Charlet, a local guide – Vertical Magazine

Vertical Magazine has published a superb special issue dedicated to the Golden Age of Alpinism and its legacy 150 years later. Portraits of guides, alpinists, legendary climbs and lasting friendships. Discover an interview with guide and instructor Jean-Franck Charlet, descendant of a prestigious line of Alpine Guides from Argentière : Guide’s portrait

The feat of the year : the Brenva Spur – Vertical Magazine

Adolphus Moore: author of the Alps in 1864

Adolphus Moore: author of “The Alps in 1864″

Vertical Magazine has published a superb special issue dedicated to the Golden Age of Alpinism and its legacy 150 years later. Portraits of guides, alpinists, legendary climbs and lasting friendships.

One of the most remarkable and indeed difficult climbs of the year, was the Brenva Spur on Mont Blanc. This climb was pioneered by Adolphus Warburton Moore and leading guides Melchior and Jakob Anderegg : The spur of the year

Edward Whymper 1840 – 1911

Whymper autoportraitIn 1860, at the age of 20, Whymper’s skill as an engraver won him a commission to visit the Alps, where he met illustrious members of the Alpine Club and was inspired by their tales.

In 1861, Whymper successfully completed the ascent of Mont Pelvoux, the first of a series of expeditions that threw much light on the topography of an area at that time very imperfectly mapped. From the summit of Mont Pelvoux, Whymper discovered that it was overtopped by a neighbouring peak, subsequently named the Barre des Écrins. Whymper made the first ascent of this summit in 1864 with Horace Walker, Adolphus Moore and guides Michel Croz (Chamonix) and Christian Almer (Grindelwald).

The years 1861 to 1865 were filled with a number of new expeditions in the Mont Blanc massif and the Pennine Alps, among them the first ascents of the Aiguille d’Argentière and Mont Dolent in 1864, and the Aiguille Verte, the Grand Cornier and Pointe Whymper on the Grandes DSC00450Jorasses in 1865. That year he also made the first crossing of the Moming Pass.  As a result of his Alpine experience he designed a tent that came to be known as the “Whymper tent” and tents based on his design were still being manufactured 100 years later,

Whymper is best known for his ambition to conquer the Matterhorn, perhaps the greatest prize of the Golden Age. The euphoria of this first ascent, led by Chamonix guide Michel Croz, on 14th July 1865 was shortlived! The partie’s successful climb was so swiftly followed by a disastrous fall that killed four of Whymper’s companions, defining his future life  and changing the course of mountaineering.

« Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step ; and from the beginning, think well what may be the end » Edward Whyper

Whymper’s memoir, “Scrambles Amongst the Alps” is regarded as one of the classics of climbing history.

Whymper’s “scrambles” in South America and Greenland are lesser known, but he never ceased exploring.  His sketches, engravings and later photography made a tremendous contribution to mountain art and knowledge. Whymper died in Chamonix in 1911 and is buried in Chamonix’s cemetary.