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.

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.