Monthly Archives: October 2014

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.