Alpinism's Golden Age

Alpinism's Golden Age

Dispatch by Delano Lavigne
Photos by Robert Brodey and Jimmy Martinello

Much like the Vedas call the devout to the shores of the Ganges River and the Quran inspires Hajj to Mecca, the European Alps encourage, if not demand, even the least pious of mountain enthusiasts to make a pilgrimage to the hallowed mountains.

That is why I am here, along with Jimmy Martinello, Robert Brodey and Andrew Sheppard. Each of us has come for different reasons, but all of us are connected by the magnetic energy of these mountains.

Delano and Andrew in Switzerland
Andrew and Delano en route 
 

For centuries people from all walks of life have come to the Alps, especially here in Zermatt, Switzerland to enjoy healing mountain air and unparalleled mountains vistas. People have also been coming here to witness the exploits of a particular tribe of mountain visitors: alpinists (a.k.a mountaineers or climbers).

The Alps are where mountaineering (alpinism as it is more commonly referred to in Europe) was born.

During the European Enlightenment, a renewed curiosity into the natural world led to a new age of exploration and, in turn, mountain adventure. Beginning in the mid to late 1700’s alpinism began to take hold in Europe and slowly but surely the tall, formerly believed to be unreachable peaks of Chamonix and the surrounding ranges were being climbed.

Historial Swiss Climber
Throwback alpinist gear
Photo by Jimmy Martinello
 

The first majour alpine ascent was the successful summiting of France’s Mont Blanc by Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard in 1786. But the Golden Age of alpinism really kicks off in the 1800’s and lasts for about 65 years, until the epic ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. And it is because of that ascent that we have come together in Switzerland. We are here to explore the history of that climb and discover the modern culture that celebrates that famed and tragic ascent.

It is going to be an epic journey, taking us across the Swiss Alps, through town and country and hopefully into the heart of Matterhorn history.


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