Little Bits of History

Grand Combin

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 30, 2014
Grand Combin routes

Grand Combin routes

July 30, 1859: Grand Combin is conquered. The 14,154 foot high mountain is part of the Pennine Alps located in Switzerland. It is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and is a large glaciated massif (an uplifted piece of the Earth’s crust) which has several summits – three of them over 4000 meters (13,000 feet). The first to make an attempt to climb was Gottlieb Studer of Berne who reached the Combin de Corbassiere with the help of guild Joseph-Benjamin Felley on August 14, 1851. More attempts were made and the first four parties reached only minor summits. The first complete ascent was made on this date by Charles Sainte-Claire Deville with Daniel, Emmanuel and Gaspard Balleys, and Basile Dorsaz.

Many ancient cultures created superstitious stories around mountains, giving them sacred places in their societies. Because they were closer to the sky, it was assumed this was where the gods might live. An example would be Mount Olympus. During the Enlightenment, scientific curiosity overtook religious reverence and mountains were climbed in order to learn more about the world we all inhabit. In 1741, Richard Pococke and William Windham visited Chamonix where several peaks are now tourist attractions with cable cars ascending to the peaks at 12,605 feet for Aiguille du Midi and Pointe Helbronner at 11,358 feet. In 1760, Swiss scientist Horace Saussure offered a reward to the first person to ascend Mont Blanc in France. It took 22 years before someone claimed the prize.

In the early 1800s many of the alpine peaks were conquered by scientists seeking more information. The shift changed from scientific endeavors to sporting triumphs by mid-century. Sir Alfred Wills ascended Wetterhorn in 1854 and made mountaineering fashionable, especially to the British. The Golden Age of alpinism began with the formation of the Alpine Club in 1857. Many prominent people began climbing mountains for fun, although some also carried out scientific experiments. The sport became more competitive and greater challenges were sought out. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was done in 1865 with Edward Whymper leading the party. Four of their party fell to their deaths which was the death knell to the golden age.

The focus shifted from the Alps to other European mountain ranges and eventually to other continents as well. Climbing the peaks in the US led to climbing South American mountains when Whymper once again scaled a mountain in the Andes, Chimborazo (20,564 feet). By the end of the 1800s most of the highest peaks in the Americas had been scaled. The last frontier loomed in central Asia. The Himalayas are a range of high peaks, which simply begged to be climbed. It took years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tanzing Norgay finally reached the top of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. Enthusiasts continue to find the thrill of ascent, the conquering of the top of the world, to be an worthwhile pursuit. Today, there is a body of professional guides, equipment, and fixed guidelines to be followed. It remains one of the most dangerous activities in the world.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. – John Muir

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. – Edmund Hillary

You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional. – Mark Udall

Highest of heights, I climb this mountain and feel one with the rock and grit and solitude echoing back at me. – Bradley Chicho

Also on this day: Where Did He Go? – In 1975, Jimmy Hoffa disappears.
Follow the Money – In 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was signed into law.
Exterminated – In 2003, the last old style Volkswagen Beetle rolls off the assembly line.
House of Burgesses – In 1619, the legislative body first convened.

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