Golden age of alpinism

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The First Ascent of the Matterhorn, by Gustave Dore. This ascent, by Edward Whymper and party in 1865, traditionally marks the end of the golden age of alpinism. Matterhorn ascent Dore.jpg
The First Ascent of the Matterhorn, by Gustave Doré. This ascent, by Edward Whymper and party in 1865, traditionally marks the end of the golden age of alpinism.

The golden age of alpinism was the decade in mountaineering between Alfred Wills's ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854 [1] and Edward Whymper's ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, during which many major peaks in the Alps saw their first ascents. [2] [3] [4]


Prominent figures

With its beginning slightly predating the formation of the Alpine Club in London in 1857, the golden age was dominated by British alpinists and their Swiss and French guides. Prominent figures of the period include Lord Francis Douglas, Paul Grohmann, Florence Crauford Grove, Charles Hudson, E. S. Kennedy, William Mathews, A. W. Moore, John Ball, Leslie Stephen, Francis Fox Tuckett, John Tyndall, Horace Walker and Edward Whymper. Well-known guides of the era include Christian Almer, Jakob Anderegg, Melchior Anderegg, Johann Joseph Bennen (fr), Peter Bohren, Jean-Antoine Carrel, Michel Croz, Ulrich Kaufmann and Johannes Zumtaugwald. Lucy Walker, sister of Horace, attained some notable firsts during the period, including the first ascent of the Balmhorn (1864), and later several first female ascents.

In the early years of the "golden age", scientific pursuits were intermixed with the sport. More often than not, the mountaineers carried a variety of instruments up the mountain with them to be used for scientific observations. The physicist John Tyndall was the most prominent of the scientists. Among the non-scientist mountaineers, the literary critic Leslie Stephen was the most prominent. In the later years of the "golden age", the non-scientist pure sportsmen came to dominate the London-based Alpine Club and alpine mountaineering overall. [5]

First ascents in the golden age

See also

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The higher region of the Alps were long left to the exclusive attention of the inhabitants of the adjoining valleys, even when Alpine travellers began to visit these valleys. It is reckoned that about 20 glacier passes were certainly known before 1600, about 25 more before 1700, and yet another 20 before 1800; but though the attempt of P.A. Arnod in 1689 to "re-open" the Col du Ceant may be counted as made by a non-native, historical records do not show any further such activities until the last quarter of the 18th century. Nor did it fare much better with the high peaks, though the two earliest recorded ascents were due to non-natives, that of the Rocciamelone in 1358 having been undertaken in fulfilment of a vow, and that of the Mont Aiguille in 1492 by order of Charles VIII of France, in order to destroy its immense reputation for inaccessibility – in 1555 Conrad Gesner did not climb Pilatus proper, but only the grassy mound of the Gnepfstein, the lowest and the most westerly of the seven summits.

Matterhorn Mountain in the Swiss and Italian Alps

The Matterhorn is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the main watershed and border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a large, near-symmetric pyramidal peak in the extended Monte Rosa area of the Pennine Alps, whose summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are split by the Hörnli, Furggen, Leone/Lion, and Zmutt ridges. The mountain overlooks the Swiss town of Zermatt, in the canton of Valais, to the north-east and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Just east of the Matterhorn is Theodul Pass, the main passage between the two valleys on its north and south sides, which has been a trade route since the Roman Era.

Edward Whymper 19th/20th-century English mountaineer

Edward Whymper FRSE was an English mountaineer, explorer, illustrator, and author best known for the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. Four members of his climbing party were killed during the descent. Whymper also made important first ascents on the Mont Blanc massif and in the Pennine Alps, Chimborazo in South America, and the Canadian Rockies. His exploration of Greenland contributed an important advance to Arctic exploration. Whymper wrote several books on mountaineering, including Scrambles Amongst the Alps.

Gaston Rébuffat French alpinist, mountain guide, and author

Gaston Rébuffat was a French alpinist, mountain guide, and author. He is well known as a member of the first expedition to summit Annapurna 1 in 1950 and the first man to climb all six of the great north faces of the Alps. In 1984, he was made an officer in the French Legion of Honour for his service as a mountaineering instructor for the French military. At the age of 64, Gaston Rébuffat died of cancer in Paris, France. The climbing technique Gaston was named after him. A photo of Rébuffat atop the Aiguille du Roc in the French Alps can be found on the Voyager Golden Records.

Aiguille Verte Mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps

The Aiguille Verte, which is French for "Green Needle", is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps.

Charles Hudson (climber) Anglican chaplain and mountain climber

Charles Hudson was an Anglican chaplain and mountain climber from Skillington, Lincolnshire, England.

Lucy Walker (climber) British mountaineer

Lucy Walker (1836–1916) was a British mountaineer and the first woman to climb the Matterhorn.

Melchior Anderegg Swiss mountain guide

Melchior Anderegg, from Zaun, Meiringen, was a Swiss mountain guide and the first ascensionist of many prominent mountains in the western Alps during the golden and silver ages of alpinism. His clients were mostly British, the most famous of whom was Leslie Stephen, the writer, critic and mountaineer; Anderegg also climbed extensively with members of the Walker family, including Horace Walker and Lucy Walker, and with Florence Crauford Grove. His cousin Jakob Anderegg was also a well-known guide.

Sarah Katharine "Katy" Richardson, also referred to as Kathleen Richardson, was a British mountain climber. She made numerous first ascents in the Alps and climbed frequently with her close friend Mary Paillon.

Christian Almer 19th-century Swiss mountaineer

Christian Almer was a Swiss mountain guide and the first ascentionist of many prominent mountains in the western Alps during the golden and silver ages of alpinism. Almer was born and died in Grindelwald, Canton of Bern.

Michel Croz French mountain guide

Michel Auguste Croz was a French mountain guide and the first ascentionist of many mountains in the western Alps during the golden age of alpinism. He is chiefly remembered for his death on the first ascent of the Matterhorn and for his climbing partnership with Edward Whymper.

Adolphus Warburton Moore

Adolphus Warburton Moore (1841–1887) was a British civil servant and mountaineer.

Edward Shirley Kennedy English mountaineer and author

Edward Shirley Kennedy (1817–1898) was an English mountaineer and author, and a founding member of the Alpine Club.

Horace Walker English mountaineer

Horace Walker (1838–1908) was an English mountaineer who made many notable first ascents, including Mount Elbrus and the Grandes Jorasses.

Florence Crauford Grove was an English mountaineer and author, sometimes known as F. Crauford Grove. He led the first expedition to ascend the higher summit of Mount Elbrus and was at one time president of the Alpine Club.

John Percy Farrar English soldier and mountaineer

Captain John Percy Farrar, also known as Percy Farrar and as J. P. Farrar, was an English soldier and mountaineer. He was President of the Alpine Club from 1917 to 1919 and a member of the Mount Everest Committee. Farrar's obituary in The Times stated that he 'was known by repute to every one interested in mountaineering in England and on the Continent, and his personal friends at home and abroad were legion'.

The silver age of alpinism is the name given in the United Kingdom to the era in mountaineering that began after Edward Whymper and party's ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 and ended with W. W. Graham and party's ascent of the Dent du Géant in 1882.

Jakob Anderegg Swiss mountain guide

Jakob Anderegg was a Swiss mountain guide and the first ascensionist of many prominent mountains in the western Alps during the golden and silver ages of alpinism. Jakob Anderegg made the first ascent of the following peaks or routes:

Thomas Middlemore English mountaineer

Thomas Middlemore was an English mountaineer who made multiple first ascents during the silver age of alpinism. His audacity earned him a reputation as the enfant terrible within the Alpine Club. He was also the head of the Middlemores Saddles leather goods company in Birmingham, England, after the retirement of his father, William Middlemore, in 1881. Thomas Middlemore had taken over the management of the company in 1868 and established a bicycle saddle factory in Coventry.

Henri Cordier (mountaineer) French mountaineer

Henri Cordier or Henry Cordier was a French mountaineer. In his short two-year career, he became the first Frenchman to reach the level of the English members of the Alpine Club, in the silver age of alpinism in the second half of the 19th century, which was dominated by the development of mountaineering in the Alps. With some of the Alpine Club's mountain guides and mountaineers, he led significant first ascents in the Mont Blanc massif and in the Dauphiné Alps.


  1. Though Wills thought he had made a first ascent, the Wetterhorn had been climbed in 1844, and his was the fourth ascent. However, mountaineering became fashionable in Britain after the barrister's climb.
  2. "The Matterhorn: Edward Whymper and the Golden Age of Mountaineering | Britannica Blog". 2010-07-14. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  3. Scott, Doug (1974). Big wall climbing - Doug K. Scott - Google Books. ISBN   978-0-19-519767-9 . Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  4. "EUROPE | Alpine expedition goes online". BBC News. 2001-09-04. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  5. Claire Eliane Engel (1950), A History of Mountaineering in the Alps, chapter VII.