H  O  T  O  S        T  O  R  I  E  S       O  C  I  O       O  N  D  R  O  Z 


Fun history fact: Cleopatra (30 B.C.) is closer to our present time (moonlanding, computers, large scale environmental destruction, Berlin wall, cheese printers...) than to the times of Ancient Egypt with the pyramid of Giza.

What does it have to do with climbing? Nothing. I'll try to make up for it:



Scaling a rock for honey, jumping on an elephant to impress your crush, escaping up a tree for that rooster you made angry, or coming down one into the savannah.. Climbing history doesn't begin on some place where they have a touristic information plate, one that has a nice sounding date carved into it.

And however influential the emergence of alpinism in the west, slowly emerging in the 18th century Alps, it must be emphasized that the stories of the Alps don't start there. Ötzi the Iceman died above 3.200m (elevation) around 5.300 years ago. That's during the Neolithic, a time of early agricultural tribes, 1.200 years before the writing of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Organised climbing and mountaineering has a preserved history in the east, from Russia to Japan, as well as in South-America, Africa.. There are anthropological and archaeological accounts of isolated climbing peoples (yes that's the exceptional plural) like the Twa (A few 10.000 around Virunga), Alshariqi (five families in Oman), Anasazi (collapsed), Korowai (3.000 remaining on Papua), Kulung (150.000 in Nepal), Tellem (collapsed), Sherpa (500.000 in Tibet),...

Yet on this page we focus on a series of random illustrative Euro-American-centric climbing feats and innovations as they have been key in the evolution leading to our current climbing opportunities.

1988. Catherine Destivelle climbs past rock burials of the Tellem people in Mali in West-Africa.



1899. Cliff dwellers in the Mesa Verde in the American southwest, by Thomas Moran.

1904. Colonists in Canyon de Chelly on Navajo tribal lands in Arizona, by Edward Curtis.



West - prelude

1804. The Passage of Mount St Gothard (seen) from the centre of Teufels Broch, watercolour by J. M. W. Turner, London-based painter.
Documented western climbing history on Wikipedia starts off in 1492, with Antoine de Ville ascending Mont Aiguille in the Vercors in the southeast of France. Several climbing histories on the net derive from wikipedia and take this as an intro.


1492. 23 years ago a Spanish union emerged out of Isabella's and Ferdinand's marriage. Now the Reconquista over Al-Andalus is finally over. The queen and king definitively fund Colombus' daring westbourn expedition to the Indies: an adventure that's theoretically sound since many years already, but which in implementation is still deemed a lunatic impracticable undertaking. The neighbouring King Charles VIII hears about the Genoan explorer being underway, when he himself is on a pilgrimage through the Dauphiné mountains. So in June the king promises riches to the first one to successfully get on top of the Mont Aiguille (Mont Inaccessible). Just weeks later the top is reached by a guy named Antoine. In october the Santa María reaches Guanahani.

Can't count how often I got the story of Colombus from someone older. Always it was like no one believed him but he was a daring and cunning entrepreneur. It tells so much of our narratives today, where billionaires marketing themselves are worshipped. Self-made man who only made the illusion of their superego themselves. The true story of Colombus is that science knew it all along, and many people believed it, it's just that nobody believed you could do something with the knowledge of science. And a coalition of many actors made it possible: shipdesigners, court advisors,... Colombus used the opportunity for his private benefit and he brought sickness and disease.

"It stands, Inaccessible." Drawing by Claude-François Menestrier, 1701.


But there are more 'old' documented climbs. In the first century A.D. Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia writes about the Macedonian siege of the Sogdian Rock in 328 B.C. And in 1350 the Florenzian poet Petrarca reports on his ascent of Mount Ventoux in the Baronnies in the southeast of France. The moment Petrarca comes down, the southern Renaissance starts.




The west, before, was spearpointed by the northern Renaissance in cities within the Holy Roman Empire, with Antwerp thriving (1400's-1585), but then historians saw increased political instability and an end to the northern Renaissance.

Amsterdam took over the lead of thriving cities, transcending empires and spiking up domestic (world's first) mass literacy (unseen levels of 50% and later 82%), slave trade, colonialism (1588-1672) 'till they were overwhelmed by the English and French empires.

Soon after it were London and the British (created by the Treaty of Union in 1705) who slowly emerged to the foreground of the west, and eventually to large parts of the world stage. On their island they got the Industrial (r)Evolution started and a railroad network grew out of nothing (the World's first cars would only be produced in 1888 by German Karl Benz, and extensive car roads would take half a century more).

Some non-aristocratics started to find more opportunities for leisure, like touring through Europe. More and more people could pursue exceptional professions like scientist. And clearly several organised sports gained momentum.


1820. British explorations in for instance North-Africa. Such work of adventurers will soon be abused for geopolitics and exploitation of people and nature.

1848, a year of hunger, aka Springtime of the peoples. Map of (politically unstable) Europe, showing a.o. student revolts in thriving cities. Central states will grow even stronger and people will be made into religiously identifying with the larger governing state: Italy will be invented in 1861 and Germany will be forcibly made into one autonomous nation-state in 1871, on the go taking off the hybrid region Alsace-Lorraine from France in the umpteenth tug-of-war about these lands. On one hand the whole powerpolitics is a d*ck move, on the other hand it makes up for the terribly bloody splintering of central-Europe in the ruthless 1618-1648 civil wars that shocked Europe, making UK and France benefit afterwards. After the unification young Germany will thrive and lead the second revolutionary wave of industrialisation and innovation.




1774, time of the Enlightenment, 12 years before the first ascent of Mont Blanc. Finsteraargletscher et Finsteraarhorn, by Swiss Caspar Wolf.

1796. Bern highlands, by Tyrolean Joseph Anton Koch.

1803. An Avalanche in the Alps by English-French Philip James de Loutherbourg.

1822. Rocky Landscape in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains (soon an early climbing site), by Caspar David Friedrich from Swedish Pomerania (the Baltic coast now part of Germany).

1840's. Wetterhorn in Grindelwald, painted by Swiss Alexandre Calame.

1850. Schulkinder am Ammergauer Kofel, by Bavarian Carl Spitzweg.

1851. Pic du Midi d'Ossau in the Pyrenees, painted by the British Clarkson Stanfield.


1850's. Wetterhorn in wintery Grindelwald. French painter Gabriel Loppé, combining ice axe and paintbrush, and the first foreigner to be accepted in the pivotal 1857-founded London Alpine Club.


1860. Königssee near Berchtesgaden, by the West-Flemish Jean François Xavier Roffiaen.




1849. Aiguilles Charmoz, by John Ruskin (at that time also a very early photographer, see Matterhorn).


1856. Aiguille Blaitière, by John Ruskin.


1861. A party climbs Mont Blanc's foot (still 2000m under the top), by Auguste-Rosalie Bisson, on collodion (which just like daguerreotypes still requires the photographer to carry a lot of equipment (tent, darkroom,...) and demand perfect skills and patience.


1896. Glacier du Géant, by Gabriel Loppé.


1928. Aerial photo of the Drus in Chamonix.


1944. Gaston Rébuffat on the Pic du Roc, by George Tairraz.


2004. Aiguille du Midi.


2008. The caption on the commercial stock photo site claims: "Drus, Aiguille Verte and the ridge leading down to le Cardinal." though in fact this is the Blaitière and its close neighbours. If you feel like selling stock photos of mountain tops, you can check the peaks you've seen by using strong mountain maps like Mapcarta and Fatmap.


2018. Dent du Requin.



Drawing of climbers in the Mont-Blanc range.



West - 1860-...


1860: It's the time Darwin publishes Origin of species. Since a few years Chamonix-village (French Alps) flourishes with British scientists and writers, heading into the high mountains with local Swiss and French guides. One of the mountain pioneers is physicist John Tyndall, scientifically theorizing the greenhouse effect for the first time, and acknowledging the worldwide role of CO2.

The British nation is booming in large-scale industries, transport, communication, colonialism by divide and conquer (planting seeds for conflict the coming centuries), cultural hegemony (here I am even writing in their language), science, anthropology (recognizing different people) replacing ethnology, institutionalized ignorance towards these foreign people, education and literacy, new animal cruelty (but also the British Parliament passes the first national animal protection legislation in 1822 (though newspapers show people had been concerned about animal welfare long before)), new types of leisure like football and Grand Tours (tourism avant-la-lettre) and also... mountain exploring. There is interest from a certain (wealthy) public.

1861: Travel agent Thomas Cook kicks off tourism industry promising spectacular alps. Hand in hand go railways, railway tunnels, hotels/resorts, casinos, guide bureaus,...


1867. A train is blocked by mountain weather at the Brenner pass (between Innsbruck and Bolzano).


1857-1902. Community-based (well.. Wikipedia) reconstruction of first mountain clubs showing the rapid increase in organised alpinism.


London-born Edward Whymper grows up with ten siblings and now graduates as a woodengraver, like his father before him. He travels to the Alps for commissioned drawings, but he doesn't stick to his job. Zooming in on him five years later — five years of mountains — we find him on fire in Chamonix, where organised alpinism sprung from in 1786 with Paccard and Balmat (two locals) reaching the top of Mt Blanc. Now in June 1865, 79 years after the advent of alpinism, Whymper makes his way up Pointe Whymper on the Grandes Jorasses, a thrilling point not reached before. A month later he will climb an iconic mountain that will draw the world's attention for numerous reasons...




1849. Matterhorn/Cervin/Cervino from the Riffelsee, daguerréotype by John Ruskin.


1865. Portrait of Edward Whymper.


1865: Several local guides and/or British mountaineers have worked a way up the highest peaks in Europe looking for the least severe route (normal route). Matterhorn is yet unclimbed, though Italian guide Jean-Antoine Carrel and British Edward Whymper each undertook a multitude of noteworthy explorations and attempts. Now, in July, Whymper and Carrel will climb together, they cancel, then the stories diverge. Anyway, it escalates into a race. Whymper bets on the Hörnli ridge while the Italian guide sticks with the Lion ridge on the Italian side where we speak of Monte Cervino.


Matterhorn from the west (from Col d'Hérens). Photo by Vittorio Sella who relied on more instant cameras invented in 1888 by Kodak.
  • Carrel's SW Lion ridge shows its prominent buttress.
  • On the left you see the NW Zmutt ridge.
  • Yet Matterhorn is mostly known from its Zermatt side (not visible), looking straight up Whymper's NE Hörnli ridge.
  • Also not visible: the SE Furgg ridge.

Both will succeed to reach the top with their party. But it is Whymper's descent that will make it in the newspapers all because of one step of one of the British in the team. It starts on descent, down the Hörnli ridge. For one hour already they've been going down, each man in turn carefully puts a foot to help themselves cautiously downwards.

The one most down, Croz (had his own peak on Jorasses named after him already), will assist his first follower for a moment, so he puts away the axe, turns his back.. but in this instance his follower somehow slips and takes him with him, as well as the two next ones. Father Taugwalder is next but he stops himself by throwing the rope around a block. With the sudden halt the manila rope snaps in two, and so does the cordée. Four glide down trying to stop. Father Taugwalder can do nothing than to see the four being taken away, after he just saved the last two followers: his son and Whymper.

It will haunt them and their careers for years to come. It instantly ruins Taugwalder's guiding career.

Carrel's reputation is unspoiled. He will guide lots of mountaineers safe up and down the Cervino. Whymper publishes a book on his mediatized ascent: Scrambles amongst the Alps. Despite the mediatized rivalry, Whymper and Carrel undiminishedly join forces to explore the mountains in team upon times. Whymper also collaborates with Horace Walker and he designs a tent that will inspire models for at least 100 years to come. Whymper continues finding ways up never-visited mountains like Barre des Ecrins, Aiguille d'Argentière,....

In the next 100 years, partly as a result of her popularity, Matterhorn will swallow more than 500 other lives. (Mont Blanc – even more marketed into a symbol, accessible and hikable – counts around 16x more casualties in its brief history of climbing.)

Someone on the internet stitched helicopter photos to show a glimpse of the Hörnli ridge, Matterhorn's normal route, today with fixed ropes and marks to stay on path, away from bad loose rock.


It's not clear where the four men fell but it's somewhere around the middle of which you see a part here. The indication shows a little shoulder on the Hörnli ridge where the Solvay Bivouac Hut stands since 1917, 50 years after Whymper's ascent. It's a gift from the Belgian industrial inventor-entrepreneur Ernest Solvay, who was also a mountaineer (as most of Belgium's high-society in that time), and who moreover became famous for organizing the iconic congress with Einstein and a lot of other big names in the natural sciences back then.

Hadow (aka Lord Douglas) fell first. Others went down with him.
Book with illustrations by Whymper.
Book written and illustrated by Whymper, commemorating the fall (left) and showing the southeast Italian side of Cervino (right).


Days after the incident newspapers report on the Matterhorn incident with fresh illustrations by Gustave Doré.


Gaston Rebuffat talked of "a cloud of rocks held together by ice." in his book Cervin cime exemplaire published in 1965 (first English edition two years later).


1876 is the time Renoir painted this bal near Montmartre in Paris.

1878: Mark Twain, iconic American writer, visits Zermatt and writes about his stay in the busy climber hotspot two years later, publishing "A TRAMP ABROAD, Part 6":

Think of a monument a mile high,
standing on a pedestal two miles high!
This is what the Matterhorn is—a monument.
Its office, henceforth, for all time,
will be to keep watch and ward over
the secret resting-place of the young Lord Douglas,
who, in 1865, was precipitated from the summit
over a precipice four thousand feet high,
and never seen again.

No man ever had such a monument as this before;
the most imposing of the world's other monuments
are but atoms compared to it; and they will perish,
and their places will pass from memory,
but this will remain. [...]

guides, with the ropes and axes
and other implements of their fearful calling
slung about their persons,
roosted in a long line upon a stone wall
in front of the hotel, and waited for customers; [...]

sun-burnt climbers, in mountaineering costume,
and followed by their guides and porters,
arrived from time to time, from breakneck expeditions
among the peaks and glaciers of the High Alps;


1879. Fourteen years later Edward Theodore Compton paints Cervino. That year Lucy Walker ascents the famous peak.
In 1879, fourteen years after Whymper and Carrel's first ascent, the English Albert Mummery reaches Matterhorn via the Zmuttridge, today a seldom-repeated ridge of difficulty. At that time making it yourself hard is considered unconventional in the alpine community. On alpine adventures Mummery is often teaming up with his wife Mary Petherick, who in turn is friends with alpinist Lily Bristow. Back to Mummery: together with Burgener he will later reach the top of Aiguille Grépon via the Mummery crack which is shown above, drawn in 1895 (this is the year Mummery died trying to reach the top of Nanga Parbat, soon to be known as the man-eater).

The Furggen (SE) ridge, even more difficult. Photo from the 1940's (collected by André Roch), first ascent from 1911 by Mario Piacenza, Jean-Joseph Carrel* and Giuseppe Gaspard.

*: Not to be confused with Jean-Antoine Carrel from the Lion ridge who had already died at 62 from exhaustion after saving his clients on an alpine tour.





1874. Notice the mountain dress code. Remark on the far left 57-year old Mary Taylor, close friend of writer Charlotte Brönte.

1875: Isabella Straton is the first to reach Pointe Isabelle (formerly Aiguille de Triolet), which she manages from le glacier des Courtes.

1876: Chamonix guide Jean-Esteril Charlet ends up in an emergency situation, quickly inventing a rappel with a double rope. Weeks later the newfound technique makes him (and partner-in-crime Isabella Straton) confident to scramble up wintery Mont Blanc. The couple soon dares their way up a series of unclimbed lines. Twenty years later they marry, take each other's name and get two sons. Fastforward to WOI in 1915: one of the sons dies send out to fight someone or -thing, nobody knows why exactly they're fighting but there is an enemy they say and while meanest murderers get a jury and a trial these innocent people are thrown to the lions, forced to become murderers yet considered heroes in a game of war-eager higher military officials.


1888. Kids from the mountain village in the Alps, by Vittorio Sella.



In 1906 American Oliver Perry-Smith free climbs the Teufelsturm in the Elbsandstein, posing a 'psychological difficulty'.



In 1909 Vittorio Sella publishes a photobook full of barely known mountains. Left is Marble Peak and right the Chogori (both along the Baltoro glacier among the many glaciers in the Karakoram).

Early 20th century: The available materials are still limited to manila (static) rope, a skyhook with a rope attached and axes. But the knowledge of metal has increased a lot lately.

  • The first pitons (iron spikes with rings) are wielded to be hammered into cracks in the rock. They can be used by attaching a little piece of rope, making it loop through the ring and the long climbing rope that they have wrapped around their torso.
  • Manila ropes get stronger and allow mini lead falls and tension traversing.
  • Every alpinist seems to add improvements to the lightweight silk bivouac tents.
  • In 1910 Otto Herzog introduces the carabiner to climbing (inspired by a steel one he saw at the fire brigade). It is pear-shaped (just like today).
  • Hans Fiechtl comes up with pitons in one piece, rather than spikes with a ring attached.
  • Depending on the terrain and line specific gear can be craft to support the climb.


1910: 18-year old medicine student Hans Dülfer invents the Dülfersitz rappel. It may not compare yet to the comfortable hang-all-day abseil techniques that develop in the 1970's and which we inherit, but it is a big step forward. Hans finds routes to many tops and is known for often solving sequences by layback climbing. In Belgium this technique is still commonly referred to as dulferen. Around his 23th birthday, may 1915, Hans Dülfer is send out to fight some people he has nothing to do with at the Second Battle of Artois (so the story goes). He is at the other side from Estrel-Straton's son. Near Arras, close to the Belgian border and far from his Dolomites he is killed by people who could maybe have been climbing with him in the Dolomites, but now are his executioners. Two years later 283.000 men will die on the same war front, the front not having changed much, and not changing after either.



Paul Preuss.


1911-1913: Paul Preuss lives in Vienna and makes it on mountain vacations following the baron his mother tutors. In Munich he makes a PhD in botanical studies and explores the heights of the Wilder Kaizer, where he advocates free climbing and opposes the aid-addicted mountaineering world. Paul favors the idea of using gear only as life-backup, not for climbing.

Rudolf Fehrmann opposes the artifical climbing too and writes rules of free climbing. His home region, Elbsandstein (Saxony Germany), quickly becomes a unique free climbing paradise. Elbsandstein still has a very strong tradition and ethique, even reinforced in the National park regulations. Chalk is forbidden, toproping is frowned upon, access is only allowed for alone standing towers, hardware protection and climbing when wet are both of the devil, but boosting a climber on your shoulder is ok.

More on free climbing in this period is easiest to find in writings on the Dolomites and the English Lake District. The guys and girls we're talking about were as if they were surrounded by hikers telling them they need a stick, but they don't listen, throw it away and skip over boulders and creeks. Some like Preuss even skipped on the protection and free solo'ed. Or Paul went buildering in Münich in-between his tedious university studies. Soon after Preuss falls while soloing (joining the macabre Club 27).



WOI (Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 september 1916, where Canadians advancing from Belgium 'invented' the tank)




1918. The Alps by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

1919. Tinzenhorn (aka Corn da Tinizong) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

One of the early races in the Alps, attracting lots of locals, a few tourists and the first cars.
1922: The Klausenpass race brings cars to the Alps. In 1929 and 1930 the famous Bernina Gran Turismo hill climb is held. Slowly the car (still an unicum) is allowed on several Alpine roads: the Swiss Graubünden region for instance lifts the ban on cars in 1929. All this allows the elite to bring their brand new machines and spike up tourism. In the 1960's, circuit racing is banned in Switzerland for a long while.


On the left an original poster. In the middle a similar event later in the deeper south (Monaco). On the right a contemporary poster.

1925. Sunday in the Alps, the scene at the well, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (in 1937 six hundred of his paintings are destroyed by the nazis).
1927: The first rock drill and expansion bolts;



1927. Ascent of the Dent du Géant by the SW Face on the Burgener Slabs,
45 years after the route was opened.

1930. A woman climbing in her home region, Wachau, Austria. No one would expect the horrors ten years later. My grandfather would be in the region as a prisoner-of-war in a Stalag camp in nearby Krems. Condroz climbing pioneer Xavier de Grunne, operating from the underground resistance, will be captured and killed like millions of others.


1930. Schweizer Bergsee mit Wolken, by Emil Nolde.

1930: The popularity of the (cycling) Tour de France quickly goes up which makes the Alps and Pyrenees star in many newspaper headlines each summer. The following pictures are from the Tour of 1937. The main picture shows Gino Bartali attacking on the Col de Vars (near Guillestre) striding to Briançon. He will win that tour. There are none from 1940-1946. Bartali will be smuggling messages for the resistance. In 1948 Bartali wins the tour again 11 years after his first win.


1932: Six years earlier dancer Leni Riefenstahl starred in Der Heilige Berg of Arnold Franck. Three more mountain films follow of this director with an important acting role for Leni Riefenstahl. Now in 1932 she becomes a producer and director herself of a mountain film with herself in the lead role: Das Blaue Licht (The Blue Light) tells a climber's legend. After release the Nazi Party leader Hitler appoints her as videographer for his party's propaganda in Nuremburg. In 1933 the Reichstag is set on fire, lots of effort is made to blame communists. Despite having a minority in parliament Hitler manages to install a legal dictatorship for his party for 4 years, build on false promises to the centre party. In 1934 internal opposition is sabered down with liquidations of the SA. From his position external opposition is further oppressed and a whole propaganda campaign is rolled out, for which Leni Riefenstahl again makes a film in Nuremburg promised that after this one she will not have to do one again: Triumph des Willens. This is known as the Nuremberg rallies trilogy. Though the political idea behind it is sordid, these films are very important in film history, together with her consecutive filming of the Olympics in Berlin in 1936. In 1938 Hitler takes over control of the army by compromising two top officials they blamed of scandals, backed by false witnesses. Later that year the Kristallnacht unfolds, a pogrom against Jews by the SA.


1930. Comici in via Comici-Salvadori, Torre del Diavolo, Dolomites.
1933: Emilio Comici crafts a bunch of unseen gear which is capital to big wall expeditions.. he is one of the first to dare his way up several intimidating steep walls, hammering in lots of pitons, as protection or to aid where freeclimbing is not possible. Plus that way Comici looks for a beautiful instead of an easiest line to the top. He proposes the direttissima idea.

'Heroic Alpinism'. In 1942 the Club Alpino Italiano publishes a book about Emilio Comici who fell to death in 1940 near Vallunga.


Dulfersitz technique.
A peak of Les Périades, with Dent du Géant in the back. From Images d'escalades, by a Swiss man known for his avalanche expertise throughout the world, Roch André (1946).

1933. Ninì Pietrasanta is a nurse and her friend comes back from a climbing accident in the mountains. When he recovers she will join him to watch his back. The duo becomes central in the close-knit Milan climbing community and they climb a.o. with the famous pioneers of alpinism Giusto Gervasutti (falls to death in 1946) and Renato Chabod (a painter and later also senator). She films.

Ninì's footage.

1933. Raffaele Carlesso (left) becomes part of a climbing community in Valdagno. In the middle stands Maria Luisa Orsini who makes several first ascents that year but dies three years later due to a lead fall while climbing (protection was not what it is today). On the right is an unknown person named Carlo Baldi.
1934: Raffaele 'Biri' Carlesso, the unknown contemporary of Emilio Comici and Riccardo Cassin, is neither a professional, nor guide, nor man born in the mountains. He has a full-time job to do, relies on holidays and is not looking for stardom, that's clear. Now he's 26 and he ventures up the unclimbed Torre Trieste's southface by climbing barefoot (climbing shoes didn't exist), considered 6c+ today. He finds many more lines which are considered pieces of art, which would still satisfy modern free climbing standards of today. In 1988 (64 years later) Raffaele succeeds the overhanging Scoiattoli Direct on Torre Grande d'Averau.


Torre Trieste in the Dolomites, with indication of the Carlesso route.


1935. Pierre Allain (left) and Raymond Leininger (right) find a way up Petit Dru (here they are elsewhere in Chamonix with Jean Leininger in the back).
1935: Bleausard Pierre Allain creates a soft-soled climbing shoe. This shoe will be the top edge available material until 1975 when Miguel Gallego starts the development of sticky rubber climbing shoes.


1940. Renato Chabod paints Monte Bianco from the Torino hut.




The Eiger marks the end of the Aletsch megaglacier on the southside. On the other side the Nordwand (aka Mordwand) looms over the green lands of Grindelwald, even showing up in the Lauterbrunnen valley. Visible and schocking, it seduces adventurers to its dark, shivery and sheer 1.700-something meter of ice and rock. From down, safe in the valley, tourists follow every climbing step with telescopes and binoculars, making the north face a theatre in the skies.

1935: Munich-based duo Karl Meringer and Max Sedlmeyer feel ready to be the first ones to show it's possible, to trick their way up, through fear and disbelief. But they get stuck halfway, obscured in clouds. The storm holds them for days and when it's over the audience at the bottom witnesses their remains around the Karl-Max Bivouac, aka the Death Bivouac.


The 1936 team: from left to right: the Austrians Eduard Rainer and Willy Angerer and the Germans Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz.

1936: Toni Kurz and Hinterstoisser, two of Berchtesgaden's finest rock virtuosos (employed as soldiers), cycle all the way to the heart of Switzerland (700km of doubtful roads). Arriving at the foot, they are not the only ones setting up camp. But a climber dies training around the base and five other climbers soon leave, intimidated or informed of worsening weather conditions.

The two Berchtesgadener guys remain together with two Austrians. They still believe in reaching the top, trying a new line. So off they go...

In the beginning it goes very well, they show they are very good in this. They make it up the Rote Fluh wall incredibly fast. Then a blank smooth vertical section, very expo, blocks their way. Hinterstoisser manages to climb up, secures himself with a hemp rope in a hammered-in piton, and then swings very far out, fixing a rope, securing the crossing of the dizzying life-threatening unwelcoming rock. Today fixed ropes are left in place due to the dangers. And still, even despite following the fixed rope with an ascender, it's plain scary to writhe past and up the face. The Hinterstoisser Traverse is real now and makes for an important new puzzle piece to reach higher faster.

But then comes stonefall, injury, an icy bivouac.. the progress is going harder and harder. On the second day the quartet reaches the historic highpoint of 1935, marked by the accompanying corpse. The four acknowledge the bad weather, bad progress and the fact that Angerer needs medical help. They had hoped to walk out from the top via a ridge (on top winning them an olympic medal promised by the Nazi regime), walking down the much gentler normal route on the other side from the north face...

..but they have to give up on that comforting thought. They need to make it down again somehow, but it will be extremely expo, and on top of that the weather seems moved by all evil forces of the world. Upon retreat a tragedy unfolds, written about by Heinrich Harrer (Die Weisse Spinne) and — most noteworthy — made into "The Beckoning Silence" 2007 documentary (fully available here) by Joe Simpson (known for his 1985 battle to survive a failed ice climb on the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, told about in his book Touching The Void).

1937: Nazi media keep on lauding death-defying acts for the pride of the nation, in contrast to most western and Swiss media, not giving in to the sensation, not exciting some vertical gladiators. For instance Swiss Loulou Boulaz is bashed by Swiss journalists after her failed attempt up the wall where she reached an elevation of 2700m (/3970m). American journalists call Eiger-North at that time a stupid venture for the "deranged". Eiger-North is not cool PERIOD. The Swiss alpine community not only speaks of a life-gamble but also of endangerment of rescuers and others. Nonetheless, born in Austria, grown up in Switzerland, Hans Haidegger tries to solo up Eiger North. He would reach the Death Bivouac and never publish anything about it and don't tell but a few people.


Toni Kurz overcomes many obstacles, tangled, being left behind dangling on the rope the whole freezing night, he bites on, rescuers come back near in the day, he manages to cut off his deceased companions and, after the horror night – wet, frozen and frostbitten – he climbs up the rope (god knows how) with once again renewed hope after the Swiss guides reach shouting distance, climbed back up the rope he dangled from, he manages to unravel a leftover piece of rope he recovers, after five strenuous hours, and he makes the individual strands join into a long thin cord that can reach all the way down to the Swiss rescuers who get a little bit closer, they'll give him a real rope to haul up, but the rescuers by accident had dropped a 60m-rope so they give him two 30m ropes to haul up, Toni Kurz has had a long fight, eventually he painstakingly installs an abseil with the given ropes and slowly goes down (the rope around him) holding on for dear life, and he gets closer, so close to rescue after eternities, but one more obstacle shows up, the knot combining the two 30m ropes, he tries to abseil over the knot for hours, tries to make the maillon cross the knot, but in spite. He is salvaged by a team of well prepared German alpinists days later. The western world hears of the tragedy, sad headlines mark the newspapers. The tragedy on top of the tragedy is one of many back then: if Toni survived, being already employed as a soldier at the brink of WOII, he would soon have vapourized in an astronomical death counter and his death would not be considered tragedy, but a victory.


1935-1938. The two attempts and the succesful ascent of the Eiger north face.
  • See how the 1935 and 1936 attempts reach the top of the Bügeleisen (= Flat Iron) but not yet the White Spider.
  • Note how the 1936 team retreats all the way back along their steps until the Hinterstoisser Traverse stops them, as it is frozen now and anyway proves too hard to cross without fixed rope. From this side they can't hang one, no crazy swing possible, so instead the four men, at around the same time hit by an avalanche, go for a desperate abseil to try to come back into their route lower again. This can bring them on just hundreds of meters of a gallery window or an obscure door following a drillhole, both bringing to the Jungfrau railway tunnel (Stollenloch) that the Swiss drilled in 1903 inside the mountain.
1937: Tyrolean Mathias Rebitsch (archaeologist advocating free climbing in the northern limestone Alps) gives it a go with Ludwig Vörg but they retreat. 1938: Heinrich Harrer and Kasparek (the Austria boys) make an attempt and are joined on the face by Bavarian duo Heckmair and (aforementioned) Vörg. Again two Austrians and two Bavarians join forces to climb to the top. Heckmair is the most experienced and will lead(climb) this newborn group through the known terrain with the Hinterstoisser Traverse, the Death Bivouac, and eventually through the never touched and unexplored terrain, finally disappearing in the clouds, being given up by the Swiss spectators and guides, but actually making their way to the top ridge where they'll run and realise they made the first ascent of Eiger-North. The technical difficulty of the Heckmair route is today estimated on diverse parameters. Eiger features way more vertical waterfall ice (WI) but further scores comparably to the Éperon des Abruzzes on Chogori (= Bonatti's normal route on K2). Harrer writes his famous book and raises to fame, with 1997 Hollywood movie "Seven Years in Tibet" dedicated to him).


Heckmair and co pictured on the infamous Hinterstoisser Traverse.


From left to right you can recognise Harrer (the Carinthian), Kasparek (the Viennese/Peilsteiner), Heckmair and Vörg (the two Bavarians). Vörg saved them all at a moment (something Harrer denied for years). He had already aborted a mission earlier to save a mountaineer. He never became as famous as his friend Heckmair as he was already killed a few years later on the first day of Operation Barbarossa when the Germans had to attack the Russians and the worst death counter in human history started.


Indication of the normal route (established by the Heckmair team in 1938).


Excerpt from a topo of eigertopo.com

After 1936's drama at least 58 more people will die on the notorious face, becoming an alpine household term for a dangerous mountain unforgiving towards mistakes,.. A chronology of some consequent climbs:

  • The second ascent of the North Face will take 8 years when Frenchmen Lionel Terray and Louis Lachenal make it up the mountain.
  • A month later three Swiss guides succeed.
  • By 1952 a total of seven teams has scaled the Mordwand.
  • A legendary eighth team joins the statistics: a large improvised collaboration of smaller teams with a.o. Hermann Buhl and Gaston Rébuffat preparing for other big challenges.
  • More ascents of Eiger Nordwand follow.
  • The next year starts a series of fatalities and on top of that a Dutch publisher launches a lawsuit trying to exclusively own the publishing rights of one tragedy.
  • More tragedy..
  • The famous Bonatti tries to be the first solo'er, failing due to the weather,
  • a Swiss guide takes this doubtful (but publicity-generating) title home a month after Bonatti's attempt,
  • There's more rivalry in 1966, now to establish a new route.. but a man dies and the rivalling teams join forces and name the route after the fallen man, giving us the Harlin route (American direct)...
  • In 1968 the Messner brothers open a new route on the face.
  • All the famous names are in the list, along people who have stayed anonymous. Due to the tourist train, but also the tragedies, Eiger gained a lot of general public interest and visibility. The broad public doesn't care about iconic peaks like Jungfrau, Dent Blanche, Finsteraarhorn,.. The Eiger is a brand now, associated with sensation, gladiatorship over skill, courage,.... The mountain doubtfully stars in a flopping 1970's Hollywood movie purely aimed at raising earnings, but in reality raising eyebrows, abusing the Eiger name and the succesful Chinatown (1974) genre.
  • In 1991 Jeff Lowe, chased into bankruptcy and freshly divorced, shortly forming a couple with (now solo-alpinist) Catherine Destivelle, tries to establish a new harder route on the North Face and succeeds after six days solo hardship.

On vimeo you can see Ueli Steck climb a few parts for the video (he was dropped by the helicopter for the sake of reconstructing his climb).


2002. Swiss-based team Stephan Siegrist and Michal Pitelka climb Eiger-North (photo down: the Hinterstoisser Traverse) with equipment and winter clothes from back in 1938 as a tribute to Heckmair and his companions (link).







After WOII there is a short colonial obsession with conquering worldwide tops. The sponsors go knock the door of talented people. There are jobs for them, and they can climb, so, this seems a good time for them, but soon the recruited talents (Men. Women were not invited somehow.) frown upon the siege practices, involving porters and changing the actual mountain into an industrial workplace where an ascent is fabricated. This popularized idea of climbing involves few climbing.

The shortlived era teaches us one thing: If someone starts talking of attacking and conquering the mountain, hold your wallet, slowly step back, and last but not least, make sure to make eye contact so they don't suddenly kill you trying to get some first, fastest or best world record. These types luckily don't know many mountains, but they plague a few famous ones, from Matterhorn, to Mont Blanc, to Disneyland McDoneverest. You can bet you're safe on a mountain which is like around 7.999m high and not 8.000m-something, for instance like the outspoken Gasherbrum IV peak (climbed by Cassin and Bonatti).



In dezelfde periode richtten de grote Europese naties hun kolonisatiedrang op ongezond hoge toppen in de Karakoram en Himalaya. Gaston Rébuffat kreeg de vraag om een verre toppenjacht bij te staan, zoals ook Hermann Buhl en Walter Bonatti. Deze expedities gokten respectievelijk op beruchte menseneters Annapurna, Nanga Parbat en Chhogori (K2).

De drie klommen, artiefden, en verschilden in stijl van de groep. De gezelschappen belegerden de berg met zuurstoffles-gesleur, afval, dragers en prepareerders. Ze bevolen kant-en-klare klettersteigs van manila/nylontouw en ladderparcours.. Precies zoals files van toeristen vandaag doen op enkele bekende bergen met marketingwaarde. Rébuffat, Buhl en Bonatti maakten dodelijke nachten mee door traagheid van de toppenkoortslijders.

Bonatti’s gruwelijke (letterlijk) bloedstollende nacht, afgezonderd boven 8000, bleek later de opzettelijke schuld van een venijnige vrijbuiter, als was die op zoek naar de schat van de Sierra Madre. Ze rekenden erop dat Bonatti zich als prille twintiger makkelijk zou laten doen op de Chhogori (K2). Ervaren pionier en eerder verzetsstrijder Riccardo Cassin was met leugens thuis gehouden. Bonatti de student voorkwam meermaals doden en loodste de goudzoekers door de ‘bottleneck’. (In plaats van er rotsklimmend rond te gaan, zoals de enigen die er eerder al raakten: klimpionier Fritz Wiessner met local, 15 jaar daarvoor, net voor WOII. Fritz blies na deze extra moeilijke crux, 3-4 kilometer boven de vallei, het circus af, vlakbij de top, om zijn bevriende Pakistani-kompaan veilig te kunnen laten afdalen.)


Terug naar ons onderwerp: Marseillaan Gaston lette op een hechte Franse bende (samen met die andere noordwandpionier van toen, Lionel Terray) en zorgde er meermaals voor dat de Franse gladiatoren (die dachten te kunnen vechten tegen hangende seracs) levend thuis geraakten.

31% à 45% doet dat niet (huidig relatief fataliteitencijfer ten opzichte van het aantal mensen die de berg getopt hebben), al is de weg naar de top van Annapurna I intussen uitgebreid doorverteld. De gok is in statistisch opzicht (en statistisch kan je dit bekijken want iedereen is bij grove benadering gelijk voor de willekeur van de seracmuren en lawines) te vergelijken met Russische roulette, waarbij je aan het begin zou zeggen meteen twee keer de trekker over te halen, of als dit al drie keer is gedaan zonder schot, alsof je nu als volgende de trekker overhaalt.


Alleen al in conflictgebied Goma (Congo) riskeren 100-en ondernemende lokale dokters hun leven, terwijl een hoek van de KBF-website zorgvuldig bijhoudt wie de dood riskeerde om eerste Belg te heten die worteltjes luste, op de tweede hoogste berg met een priemgetal in het hoogtecijfer, ten opzichte van het equipotentiaalvlak dat de geoïde vormde van 1980. Met kolom voor al dan niet extra zuurstof. Geen plaats voor Gasherbrum IV met net geen 8000-getal. Geen vermelding voor dragers, ladderhangers of gidsen... (Na de Italianen duurde het 23 jaar tot de volgende expeditie naar de K2, i.e. toen een team Japanners een huurleger optrommelde van 1.500 lokale bewoners.) Bon, that escalated quickly.. L'escalade.

Over Karakoram en Himalaya gesproken: het nieuws gaat dat de sneeuwpanter 't terug beter doet.

Laat dit geen pleidooi zijn voor de latere dichotomie van alpienstijl-expeditiestijl, wanneer bijvoorbeeld Messner en House zich op de borst kloppen dat zij alpiene stijl klimmen. Na de Perestrojka maken ze met lawaai en neerbuigendheid kennis met succesvolle expeditiestijl van Russen, blind voor de evengoed Russische beklimmingen in alpiene stijl. Discussie teveel. Niks zegt dat klimmekes niet kunnen op manieren die de Russische teams om historische redenen geleerd hebben.

Wat wilt hij dan? Een nummertjesjager? Die soloot om na enkele levensgevaarlijke gokken, op diens Wikipediapagina ook een sterftedag te krijgen? Of een David Lama? Die een gigarotswand vrijklimt, maar dit terwijl met tien camera's rond hem die moeten registreren hoe heldhaftig hij Messner nadoet? Tien camera's die allen een lange lijn pitons naar de top hamerden om langs alle kanten op, onder en langs de top te schurken als bromvliegen in de zomer? Voor sensationele flitsende beelden voor een reclamecampagne voor een fabrieksdrankje met op de verpakking een roodgeschilderde koe? En nee niet de sympathieke koe van La Vache Qui Rit. Hier geen opmerkingen over? Maar Odintsov zou naar verluid disrespect hebben voor de berg die hij vond?

De noordwanden die Odintsov op de Russisch aangeleerde manier opende.. Man. Messner is misschien niet de zoals-hij-zich-market straffere man. Geen van Odintsov's comrades liet graag touwen achter op de berg. Bovendien, in de aangeleerde stijl was de regel tegelijk dat mensen in nood verplicht geholpen moeten worden en alles zowiezo afgeblazen bij een ongeval. Ze willen op de top staan met een team en niet met twee vrijbuiters die hun teamleden gaan uitmaken achteraf.

Je kan zelfpromo lezen van klimmers Messner tot Caldwell, maar je kan ook iets minder gesponsorde verhalen lezen van schrijvende klimmers Greg Child, Mark Synnott.. Overigens publiceren The New York Times en The Guardian soms zorgvuldige artikels specifiek over klimmen.



Until the 1930's reaching the mountains is still for a happy few from urban areas. Western Europe didn't go from a dominantly agricultural economy to a service economy in one day. Most of the people work in agriculture or in the more lucrative heavy industries that sprout along rivers from the 1800's onwards. They work 6 days in 7, the seventh day reserved for family or church.


1940's (André Roch's collection). Two men climbing the Dent Blanche north face at the end of the Swiss Evolène valleys, first tried by Miss Maud Cairney and two guides in 1928 to be succesfully ascended by an unknown climbing duo in 1932.

1940's (André Roch's collection). Two men climbing the Aiguille de Chardonnet near Chamonix.
1946: After some working out René Ferlet and Pierre Allain solve a climbing problem as they top out a boulder in Fontainebleau. At the moment it stands out to all other solved problems known in the climbing world. Marie-Rose.


From left to right: Pierre Allain and Jacques Poincenot boulder up Dalle du Baquet while René Ferlet and Guy Poulet solve La Paillon Directe on the Chalumeuse rock at Bas Cuvier in Fontainebleau, 1948. The four bleausards manage unprecedented alpine climbs and join up with stars from the south. In shortfilm A l'assaut de la Tour Eiffel (1947) they scramble up the Eiffel Tower as if they go for a jog.
1947: Hard climbing moves on a rope were not smart. Rope 'till then was static, made of hemp. Someone of 80kg falling one meter? Snap! And if it didn't snap their hips would snap. A rope had lots of functions (lifeline moving up gear; abseil;...) but not to catch lead falls.

But now war is over, polyamid/nylon is developed and the UK navy starts to develop dynamic ropes. Some rock climbing people finetune and add a protection mantle. New possibilities arise and will slowly contest conservative alpine clubs, a (r)evolution propelled by pioneers

  • in the Belgian Condroz: mostly Freyr, Chaleux (Hulsonniaux), Sy, Mozet (bought by Ernest Solvay,...),
  • in Le Saussois in Burgundy,
  • in the Calanques,...
On top of that, soon after, the steel carabiner will be replaced by lightweight aluminium carabiners;

For instance Fritz Wiessner and Bonnie Prudden explore harder free climbing in the Gunks while others explore harder aid (= artifical) climbing.

In Disneyland in California one of the attractions included a 'rock climber'.

1951: 21-year old Bonatti baffles the climbing world by working a 350m way up Le Grand Capucin by its most daunting face sticking out of the ice and snow between Chamonix's sharp mountaintops, he uses all kinds of gear and aids on the gear exceptionally if needed and possible, later the Bonatti-Ghigo route was free climbed wholly (so-called 7a although that doesn't really grasp the difficulty as it cannot be compared to straightforward nicely bolted single pitch sport climbs). The 2005 rockfall destroyed big parts of the line.

Bonatti with photographer Giorgio Lotti.

By 1953 Robert Paragot (top photo, far right) again and again had heightened the difficulty bar for singular hard climb moves by solving infamous Bleau climbing problems. Here he's seen on the yet unclimbed north face of Grand Capucin.
1955: In the southern USA John Gill, studying mathematics, introduces magnesiumchalk in bouldering while solving climbing problems in unheard-of difficulties. He becomes a professor, introduces a new grading system while warning for gradethinking at the same time.


1955. Nancy Bickford Miller in Yosemite in the western Sierra Nevada mountains of Central California.


1958. Bernard «Ben» Poisson in the first ascent of Le Toit de Ben, Val-David, Quebec. At the time the shown aid-style still dominates the stories of hard lengthy climbing.


Fritz Eske (left) and the Königshangel route being climbed by Bernd Arnold.
1965: Königshangel (Elbsandstein) is successfully free climbed by Fritz Eske. Protected by jammed-in balls of rope, Fritz makes it through the overhanging crack, which is considered a new level of tough free climbing at that moment (2 years later Fritz Eske and his team disappear in fog right after the Hinterstoisser Traverse on Eiger-Nordwand, when the mist clears they're all found dead). It takes 17 years and a multitude of tears, 'till Bernd Arnold (the region's barefoot climber, already exploring several new difficulty grades since years) to make the second ascent, surfing on the new vibe in the west (like Frankenjura just over the Iron Curtain). Soon Bern Arnold climbs in the Karakoram with Kurt Albert.





1965. Czech Vilém Heckel in the Hindu Kush (available to people from the Eastern Bloc) and the Elbsandstein.




1968: It's the year of May '68, marking a wind of change in the Western world. Protests in Paris show how a large part of the youth does not take the status quo of their parents and older generations. In Leuven, students take over the library and barricade the doors from the police with books. The University of Leuven becomes Dutch, the French will go 30km south. Many clubs, like the mountain club, are founded. A music scene surges in Leuven. In February 1968 already, musicians have Pink Floyd over in Leuven's Rijschoolstraat, long before they're famous. In the next months albums will be released like The Beatles' Abbey Road, Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut, David Bowie's self-titled second album after his complete flop, Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, in Canada Joni Mitchell's Clouds, Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, CSN&Y's Déjà Vu, The Band's debut, in the USA Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills (Janis Joplin), Deep Purple in Rock,..


Paris pamphlets say "be young and shut up". Also in Leuven there are diverse protests. Against the ignorant democratic (demagogic) majority? Slavery to a certain marketsystem with absurd jobs and decadence dedicated by a nascent consumption society in which consumers need to be given – and get – a highly destructive force on their environment and each other? The statusquo? Against the majority in terms of capital?
1968: Climbing lengths without aiding on gear, i.e. free climbing, already happened despite what many sources may say (e.g. in the Elbsandstein where the lithology barely allows artif (= aid) climbing). Going free has been a steady evolution driven by diverse climbers, it's not a revolution of one celebrated pioneer. In 1968 free climbing systematically starts to be taken to new difficulties in high climbing lines, to an integral non-aid approach, while obsolete gear is being removed in Pfalz, Saussois, the hills around Finale Ligure, the South-French Montagne Sainte-Victoire and Verdon, the New York (Shawan)Gunks, the Australian Grampians, the Tyrolean Dolomites, Oregon's Smith Rock, J(oshua)-Tree, Yosemite (aid-climbing surfing mountaineering Jim 'Bird' Bridwell and the stonemasters from the mid 1970's), Freyr (Claudio Barbier in the 60's), Buoux,...;

Another pic in one of the guidebooks shows the bolting of Eperon Sublime down-up in 1970. On this pic, some months after opening, unknown climber Dennis Lee aids up the route. Free climbing is not yet the standard for such hard routes.
1970. Unknown climbers Jack Charity, Linda and Cinda on basalt in the third pitch of Umbra Link, Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya.
1971. Claudio Barbier at Montenvers, Chamonix (photo by Francis and Jackie (left) Bechet submitted to claudiobarbier.be).
1973. Bev Johnson leads the Great Roof Pitch on the Triple Direct (line starting on the Salathé Wall, crossing the Muir Wall and finishing up the Nose). Together with Sibylle Hechtel she ventured into this big-wall adventure that makes you feel lost in a sea of granite (but you eat an elephant one bite at a time, she said). Together the two reached the top before cams even existed, instead they were secured by stoppers, hexes and pitons.
1973: 19-year old Kurt Albert adopts the free climbing spirit in Frankenjura. Besides teaching math and physics he tries to climb famous aid routes, not aiding, ignoring the gear in the rock. If it eventually worked out he put a red dot in his book or at the rock: 'redpunkt'. Freyr climber Claudio Barbier already painted gear you don't necessarily need yellow but Kurt now refutes gear for exceptional puzzly lines making him become the icon of the new climbing (= gear solely for protection, not for resting or climbing). The redpoint idea (leading without cheating) soon becomes key to climbing. (Side note: Kurt Albert will also manage several alpine and Karakoram outings);

Kurt Albert: "Frei denken, frei klettern, frei sein".

Around 1970. Czech climber Zorka Prachtelová solos down Sfingy in the Elbsandstein.

1973: In Yosemite, climber Yvon Chouinard realises he's making money on forging and selling (by John Salathé improved) pitons which damage the rock so he starts to develop and commercialise the disposable now so-called trad gear (while also seriously optimalising ice climbing gear), although Abalakov already in the 1930's invented camming devices for his own mountaineering (along with his famous ice climbing screw method) and (based on the 1973 cam nut from Greg Lowe) it was an aerospace engineer, a Yosemite climber, Ray Jardine, who by 1978 in a scientific way came up with ingenious 'friends' camming devices (read the story of the first cams, and a climbing partner of Jardine founding Wild Country)... plus Royal Robbins posing the idea of clean trad gear climbing (where possible). In the seventh grade steadily routes were opened.

1977. Shortly after Ron Kauk's first free ascent, Ray Jardine sends too: Separate Reality near Yosemite, one of the hardest sports climbs back then. (Ron himself speaks of 1977 contradicted by Wikipedia and Climbing Away France, well, as long as I get my points on a climbing quiz).
1975: Costa Blanca climber Miguel Gallego joins forces with shoemaker Jesus Garcia Lopez from Villena. The duo develops the sticky rubber we know today.


1979: The new type of shoes is commercialised and sold under brandname Boreal.


1983: Bachar imports the shoes to the US and gradually they will see more improvements (notably when Austrian climber Heinz Mariacher gets involved in development and design).


1979. Unknown climber Dave gives Separate Reality a go.
On another note, speaking of responsable Chouinard: it can be argued whether Chouinard's businesses show an exceptional alternative way for how a corporation can work in a market-society in an economic succesful yet sustainable way for the environment and its employers, or how these businesses are rather just a corporation taking on to another niche, that is the aware consumer needing to be sussed. Patagonia is setting up repair spots (to be awaited how effective they are) which will make them sell less, meanwhile billionaire Chouinard is trying to guard Patagonia's land (as market commodity) as much as possible from brutal corporate interests, trying to stay critical for his own corporations;

Bachar playing the Sax on a campingground in Yosemite. Apparently this was staged for a Nike commercial.
1978: Dingomaniaque (multipitch in Verdon): As far as known to free/aid route equipers 'till then, hand drilled bolts were placed first aiding on lead (or for tradgear-freeclimbers there are no bolts tout court but they have to be more picky in finding rock which allows the style). Now unconventionally Dingomaniaque is drilled while rapelling down. This abseil-equip is another step allowing sports climbing in unseen difficulty grades on unclimbed long steep walls (see the Verdon shortfilm of that time: "La Porte Des Cieux" or the later "Opéra Vertical")...

1982. Geologist Luisa Iovane and Heinz Mariacher explore new hard climbing in the Dolomites. Notice the Mariacher shoes.
1983. Maurizio 'Manolo' Zanolla in Pichenibule in Verdon, photo by Heinz Mariacher. Notice the Mariacher shoes.
1985. Catherine Destivelle frees Verdon multipitch Pichenibule (opened in 1977 and first free ascent in 1980 by Patrick Berhault and weeks after by John Bachar) and then a series of exceptionally hard bolted routes in Buoux. It's not clear which one of those Buoux routes this picture shows.

...though this untraditional way of giving a route to the rock sparks controversy. After a visit to Europe Ron Kauk takes the top down ethos to Yosemite's Camp 4 where Ron gets caught up in a fist fight with John Bachar (Article on Bachar and things like him offering 10.000$ to who could follow him free-soloing for a day.. No one.. He knew.. Nonetheless.. not in the article.. in 1979 Bachar himself refused to climb any longer with Jim 'The Bird' Bridwell after Jim's self-sacrifice to the climbing gods on a first alpine-style ascent of the Fitz Roy (aforementioned Bleausard Poincenot died in the Fitz river during an approach in January 1952), something deemed impossible by even Walter Bonatti, but now done in a storm, from which he miraculously returned in one piece). In the US it will take five more years 'till Alan Watts is the first one there to undertake an abseiling approach (instead of adventurously explore down-up) to open smashingly hard lines, exploring long subtle faces in Smith Rock. Here the strict idea of free climbing gives way for a variant soon to be called sport climbing, allowing rappel-down explorations, more regular bolts, hangdogging and a surge in the difficulties that could be explored;

1995. Ron Kauk on the first ascent of Peace in Tuolumne Meadows, for long an open-standing project of Bachar 'till Kauk eventually bolted the last meters rap-down, once again sparking the two's feud (© Chris Falkenstein).

In the 1980's, all over the Western world, the bar of sport climbing diificulties is rapidly raised with names like Ben Moon, Wolfgang Gülich, Jerry Moffat, Isabelle Patissier, Johnny Dawes (known for his recent no-hands climbing), Arnould 't Kint, Antoine Le Menestrel (also dancer), Catherine Destivelle, Patrick Edlinger, Luisa Iovane, Jean-Baptiste (“JiBé”) Tribout, Patrick Berhault, Marietta Uhden, Scott Franklin, Todd Skinner, Lynn Hill, Kim Carrigan, Peter Croft...

The 1980's are also the Thatcher years, note: deregulation, privatisation and an extremist childish believe in the free market that could be released on society, just like an agressively barking fighter dog can be released on school kids. She got this done in a populist way, with simple thinking. Compare it with the popular questions and standard popular answers Google Ask smacks you in the face with today, that's the face of populism:

  • Who is the first free climber? Answer: Alex Honnold. (actually he is a one of many free solo'ers, a very recent one, who just happens to have released a highly commercial film about it. Free climbing has always existed.)
  • Who are the 5 best climbers ever? Answer: Allex Honnold and then six (they can't count) random people who walked up the Mt Everest. Oh and Sasha DiGiulian, she is one of many climbers but happens to be the most sponsored one as American.
  • Ten questions about Mt Everest, god knows why..
  • How much does Alex Honnold earn? Answer: He is worth 2 million..
That ignorance and caricatural focus on money may really be traced back to the Thatcher 1980's. Where Orwell's book '1984' warned us for Stalin-like communist systems narrowing the vocabulary and understanding of people to think according to the system's rationale, the book just as well warned us for this hegemonic ruthless ideology of 'free market'. Anyway, while Bachar's image was already bought by Nike, more known climbers could soon make money by promoting consumerism through big multinational consumer brands. This has gradually become the norm today.

Making big money was made the highest goal in Western societies, all rest must give way. In this political climate the Alps were rapidly transformed with generic developments denying the original Alps and making the landscape subservient for mass tourism. Later follows a reaction with more natural reserves though most damage was done already.

(Semi-)Protected reserves in the Alps and Carpaths.

Istanbul engineering lecturer Uğur Uluocak exploring the Dolomites and hard climbing.

1991: Wolfgang Güllich had been on the forefront (together with the aforementioned Kurt Albert (see 1973), Jerry Moffat, Ben Moon, unknown Freyr warrior Arnould 't Kint..) of taking sports climbing from dreaming from 8a in 1980 to 8c+ to the end of the 1980's. Then in 1991 Wolfgang sends Action Directe in Frankenjura, Germany. The route is remarkably of a distinctive unknown difficulty and the ninth French grade is proposed. Today the repeat list of this climb, despite popular interest, is still very limited. A year after Wolfgang Güllich, Alexander Huber, sends OM which will later by the climbing community be brought down to 8c+..

1992. Alexander Huber sends Om close to his home in Berchtesgadener Alpen.

One year later Fred Nicole sends Bain de Sang in Swiss Pompaples. Another year later Alexander Huber sends La Rambla in Siurana, Spain and Weisse Rose in Schleierwasserfall, Austria. In the latter, two years later, he will send Open Air, later generally considered as 9a+ instead of 9a. In the meantime in 1995 and 1997 French Fred Rouhling also appears on the scene sending unseen hard lengthy boulder problems (article on the controversial and perhaps misunderstood Fred), but – in his remote obscure town near Bordeaux – not many climbers go try his problem and can confirm. It is until 2001 that Chris Sharma sends the immediately confirmed 9a+ Biographie in Céüse and until 2012 that a woman, Josune Bereziartu, climbs 9a (aforementioned Sang du Loup). In 2013 Belgian Murielle Sarkany is the fourth woman to climb a 9a-grade route and by 2015 Belgian Anak Verhoeven is the ninth girl. Recently Anak climbed a 9a+ and then opened a new 9a+. Meanwhile sport climbing grades have expanded to 9b+ with one 9c, with the recent female ascent of 9b by Angela Eiter.

Josune Bereziartu is one of the climbers who finds routes for which the French grade doesn't know what to say so far.
1993: In 31 pitches Lynn Hill (after removing another aid piton in her way) manages to free climb the integral Nose line on El Capitan in Yosemite, something which was considered far too hard 'till then to be possible for any man or woman. A bit later she did it again but within one day. 'Till today the 31-pitch monster has only known 2 full free lead repeats, one of which is by Tommy Caldwell, the climber who over the course of two years (2014) found on El Capitan an impossible line on The Dawn Wall (aka the unclimbed eastface of El Cap).

Lynn Hill. Up: 1993. Freeing the Nose. Down: 1970's. Technical slab climbing on granite (by unofficial Stonemasters leader Jim 'The Bird' Bridwell).

In 1997 Arnaud Petit and Stefanie Bodet open La Voie Petit on the east face of Grand Capucin in the mountains of Chamonix. They foresee trad protection with exception of the hardest pitches where they go on to equip the 400m multipitch route with pitons and bolts. In 2005 Alexander Huber (above) frees it with soon other climbers following, like Caroline Ciavaldini.

2003. Environmentalist, rock climber, news anchor, caver... Hayatullah Khan Durrani shows Pakistan how to climb.


2009. Brothers Pou open and free Orbayu on Urriellu limestone peak Naranjo de Bulnes. Two years later our Freyr brother Nicolas Favresse repeats the route. In 2016 Edu Marin (photo) and retired father Fransesco Marin free the route a year after they freed Panorama on one of the Tre cime di Lavaredo peaks.

2016. Michaela Kiersch sends Golden Ticket at the Chocolate Factory crag in Red River Gorge.





Climbing against commercialism.

You don't need to wear a t-shirt of that one brand to belong here.

Climbing brought together escapees of sordid ideals and barren urban lands left by commercial powers. But like the skating community in the 80's and 90's, climbing is recently being forcefully adopted by a series of exchangeable brands, and appropriated by consumerist lifestylers the experience industry creates, bringing their ghettoblaster and entitled attitude to the rocks.

Commercial climbing media are pushing us to focus on rankings and grades more than we wanted to. Sure grades are cool and we like to push them. Sure it is interesting to know which community grade someone’s project is, to grasp the difficulty better. But what the f*** has this still got to do with our climbing?:

What the f*** is a 5.12-climber? A V7-climber? Or a 7a-climber? An evolutionary stage of some Pokémon? Would (reluctant) V-grade-inventor John 'Verm' Sherman still have a clue what happened here? I'd like to see an article that goes something like "How I went from a grade-worshipping consumer to a climber in 6 months" .

Numbers are holy. Numbers are taken out of science and applied on everyday life, as if you would take apples out of desserts and start to put them in pastas, on pizzas, on bread, in wine, in soup (maybe soup works).

Commercial interests – eying climbing – not only instigate grade-fetishism, but also prioritize consumerism and ignorance over rock site protection, environmental care, and community support. Several stories showed influencers and their sponsors being very out of touch with the community.. They are not worthy of influencing.. What are they influencing us towards?


Whom's bread you eat whom's word you speak. The highest bidder. The corporate brands.

Tiger and bear may be strong, but wolf doesn’t play in the circus.