Little Bits of History

High up

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 8, 2012

Map of approaches to the summit of Mont Blanc

August 8, 1786: Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard are the first to climb Mont Blanc. The mountain lies on the border between France and Italy. Mont Blanc is the French name and Monte Bianco is the Italian name for the peak. Both names mean “White Mountain” and it is the highest point in the Alps. This distinction also means the 15,774 foot high mountain is the highest point in Western Europe and the European Union. It is the 11th highest peak in the world.

The highest peak in the world is Mount Everest which wasn’t successfully scaled until 1953. There are two styles of mountaineering – Expedition Climbing and Alpine Climbing. The latter is named for the Alps and is consistent with climbs taken in medium-sized glaciated mountains such as the Alps or Rocky Mountains. While loosely based on the altitude of the climb, it also refers to the terrain of the ascent as well as the time it takes. Alpine climbs usually are “light and fast” and the goal is to reach the summit in a single push.

Jacques Balmat was a Savoyard mountain guide born in the Kingdom of Sardinia. He was from the Chamonix valley in what is France today and collected crystals and hunted chamois, a goat-antelope species of the region. Twenty-five years earlier, Horace-Benedict de Saussure offered a reward to the first man to climb Mont Blanc. Balmat collected the reward, the next year he took Saussure and 17 others to the peak.

Michel-Gabriel Paccard was a doctor and scientist. He wanted to reach the top of the mountain for scientific purposes. He made several attempts prior to his success on this date. Their trip was made without what we today would consider necessary equipment – like ropes and ice axes. They did bring along scientific instruments. Paccard made it to the peak and managed to take the measurements he sought.

This man, robust, resolute, this crystal hunter who, as it turns out, possesses an extraordinary mountaineering sense, an unerring instinct for the crevasses and seracs of the glaciers … Gaston Rebuffat on Balmat’s climbing abilities

Theirs was an astounding achievement of courage and determination, one of the greatest in the annals of mountaineering. It was accomplished by men who were not only on unexplored ground but on a route that all the guides believed to be impossible. – Eric Shipton

The ascent itself was magnificent; an amazing feat of endurance and sustained courage, carried through by these two men only, unroped and without ice axes, heavily burdened with scientific equipment and with long iron-pointed batons. The fortunate weather and a moon alone ensured their return alive. – C. Douglas Milner

Like Saussure a devotee of the natural sciences, he has a dream: to carry a barometer to the summit and take a reading there. An excellent mountaineer, he has already made several attempts. – Gaston Rebuffet on Paccard prior to this day

Also on this day:

Great Train Robbery – Another One – In 1963, another train is robbed.
Around the World – In 1929, the first Zeppelin began a trip around the world.
Inhumanity – In 1938, construction began on Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

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