CELEBRATION OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF MOUNTAINEERING AND ITS HERITAGE
The Golden Age of mountaineering reached its climax in 1865 and
was immortalized by 65 first ascents across the Alps from Mont-Blanc
to the Dolomites.
Seven first ascents were made in the Mont-Blanc Massif, and not
least the Grandes Jorasses, the Aiguille Verte and the remarkable
Brenva spur which opened a new and difficult route on Mont-Blanc,
heralding the beginning of a new climbing era.
From June to September 2015, the Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley
honoured the guides, alpinists and photo- graphers of the Golden
Age through a rich programme of exhibitions, events and excursions.
ALPINISM AND GUIDECRAFT
During the Golden Age of Alpinism, mountaineers and their guides
travelled the length and breadth of the Alps, covering immense distances
on foot, crossing new passes and conquering virgin summits. Then,
as now, Chamonix was a vibrant base camp! Many lifelong bonds developed
between the pioneers and their outstanding guides : Alfred Wills
and Auguste Balmat, Edward Whymper and Michel Croz, Douglas Freshfield
and François Devouassoud, Adolphus Moore and Jakob Anderegg….
This celebration is as much about friendship as endeavour.
MICHEL CROZ: 1830-1865
In 1859, Michel Croz was in the very front rank of guides then available
for difficult mountain excursions. His list of first ascents was
most impressive and his campaigns with Whymper in 1864 and 1865,
prior to the terrible accident on the Matterhorn remain in the annals
of mountaineering. Whymper said of Croz “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”.
In 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. Whymper
is best known for his will to conquer the Matterhorn, perhaps considered
as the greatest prize of the Golden Age. His 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.
On 14th July 1865, victory on the much coveted Matterhorn rapidly
turned to tragedy with the terrible accident that marked the end
of a heroic and carefree period. Three Englishmen and Chamonix guide
Michel Croz lost their lives when the rope broke on the descent.
The Matterhorn tragedy provoked public outcry at the perceived folly
of mountaineering and led to calls for it to be banned. Yet the
disaster also increased interest in the new sport!
THE ALPINE CLUB
From the 1850’s, a small elite of British mountaineering enthusiasts,
spent their summer holidays “scrambling in the Alps”!
The names of E.S. Kennedy, John Ball, Leslie Stephen, Judge A Wills,
W Mathews, Tyndall and Tuckett are closely associated with this
period. In 1857 they founded the World’s first Alpine Club.
Members were encouraged to describe their climbs and to immortalise
alpine landscapes. Today, the Alpine Club Library possesses the
most comprehensive collection of mountaineering literature and a
remarkable collection of paintings, engravings and photographs.