Reaching Heaven in the Swiss Alps

Mont Blanc
By Richard Goedeke
Historical Highlights
1808 : The peasant Marie Paradis from Chamonix is the first woman on the summit.
1840 : Marie Couttet and company carry out the first ascent from Grands Mulets over Grand Plateau and Bosses Ridge.
1861 : Melchior Anderegg, J. J. Bennen and Peter Perren with Leslie Stephen and F. F. Tuckett climb today's ordinary route over the Aiguille du Gouter and Bosses Ridge.
1865 : The mighty Brenva Spur is climbed by J. and M. Anderegg with G. S. Matthews, A. W. Moore, and Frank and Horace Walker.
1872 : Jean-Antoine Carrel and J. Fischer with T. S. Kennedy make the first route up the mighty Southwest Face.
1890 : L. and J. Bonin and Achille Ratti (later Pope Pius XI) find today's usual route from the Italian side, along with J. Gadin and A. Proment.
1893 : Emile Rey, Christian Klucker, Cesar Oilier, and the German Paul Gussfeldt (about whom the great Klucker in his memoirs expressed himself not at all flatteringly) carry out the first traverse of the Peuterey Ridge.
1901 : The Brouillard Ridge with northwest approach falls to G. B. and G. F. Gugliermina and Joseph Brocherel.
1911 : On August 9, Brouillard Ridge is climbed direct from Mont Brouillard, by Joseph Knubel, with G. W. Young, H. O. Jones, and K. Blodig (by which ascent Blodig secured the"final victory" in the race for all the peaks at that time declared to be independent 4000ers).
1919 : The Innominata Ridge is conquered by Adolphe and Henri Rey, as well as Adolf Aufdenblatten with S. L. Courtauld and E. G. Oliver.
1927 : T. Graham Brown and F. S. Smythe make the direct route (guideless) on the imposing Brenva Face by the Red Sentinel and a year later also the further left and still more difficult Route Major to the highest saddle in the Alps.
1940 : The first face climb on the Freney side is made by Giusto Gervasutti and P. Bollini di Predosa by their ascent of the right-hand Freney Pillar.
1959 : Reveling in bivouacs, Walter Bonatti and Andrea Oggioni immortalize themselves with the far-left Pilier Rouge on the Pic Luigi Amedeo.
1961 : The most exacting of the well-known Mont Blanc climbs, the Central Pillar of Freney, is climbed by Chris Bonington, Don Whillans, Ian Clough, and Jan Djugloz — a month after the tragic deaths of four fine climbers during the attempt led by Walter, Bonatti, and Pierre Mazeaud.

A glittering dome high above in the deep blue sky, Mont Blanc is the monarch, the highest mountain in the Alps (4807m), in a word the summit in this part of the world. A symbol of scale and height, and a "shy romanticism hiding behind flippant maxims." Just over 200 years ago, alpinism was founded with the first ascent of this peak. The reward of 20 gold thalers offered by the Geneva scientist Horace Benedict De Saussure motivated crystal hunter Jacques Balmat and doctor Michel-Gabriel Paccard, who made the historical ascent on August 8, 1786. They took a route up the Rochers Rouges and the northeast slope. A year later De Saussure himself could enthuse on the summit over the sky's depth of blue and his own quicksilver barometer, lugged up by a porter, which sank so "magnificently low."

The superlatives are certainly justified, especially since the mountain offers an abundance of fantastic, bewitchingly beautiful climbs of all grades of difficulty. People from all over the world attempt the ascent. When le grand beau temps breaks out hundreds are under way to that snow top adorned by innumerable crampon holes — and yellow patches — under the crisscross of the jet trails in the sky above. But not all who start out so enthusiastically come away unharmed. These blameless pale slopes have seen innumerable dramas. Time and again sudden storms bring tragedy — the unaccustomed height and cold lead to exhaustion, which leads to scatterbrained acts. People die of hypothermia, loss of direction in mist and driving snow, delirium, frostbite, crevasse falls, and who knows what else — the annual death toll comes to almost three figures. Today the rescue helicopters of the Gendarmerie des Hautes Montagnes, weather permitting, dexterously and routinely collect up the accident victims and thus many survive who earlier would have died of exposure.

The customary ordinary route is that over the Aiguille du Gouter. Only a few climbers ascend from the far lower Grands Mulets Hut. The same is true of the route from the Italian side. From the Col du Dome onward, all three routes finish up the Bosses Ridge to the highest point.


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