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mountain climbing

Famous Ascents

Almost all the famous ascents have involved rock and ice climbing. The first significant achievements in mountain climbing were the ascents of Mont Blanc made by Jacques Balmat and Michel G. Paccard (1786) and by Horace B. de Saussure (1787). The ascent of other Alpine peaks, including the Ortles (1804), Jungfrau (1811), Finsteraarhorn (1812), and Mont Pelvou (1848) soon followed, and much useful information was gathered by geologists and topographers.

Modern mountain climbing may be dated from the ascent of Switzerland's Wetterhorn (1854). This feat was followed by a decade in which the popularity of mountain climbing grew tremendously, sparking the founding (1858) of the Alpine Club, in London, and the launching (1863) of its publication, the Alpine Journal. An elite class of professional guides soon established itself, and techniques for snow, ice, and rock climbing were developed to the point where highly hazardous ascents were possible for the experienced. This so-called golden age of mountain climbing came to an end with the conquest of the Matterhorn, the last of the great Alpine mountains, by Edward Whymper (1865).

As the Alps became familiar, climbers ventured to other mountainous areas. The English Lake District, Wales, and the Scottish Highlands offered climbing challenges of all degrees of difficulty. William C. Slingsby led the way to the Norwegian mountains; Douglas W. Freshfield was one of the pioneer climbers in the Caucasus, soon followed by Albert F. Mummery. In Africa, Kilimanjaro (1889) and Mt. Kenya (1899) were climbed; the duke of the Abruzzi explored the Ruwenzori group in 1906. In the United States, Grand Teton in the Teton Range was climbed in 1872. In the 1860s and 70s Clarence King and John Muir ranged through the Sierra Nevada. In Alaska, Mt. St. Elias was climbed by the duke of the Abruzzi in 1897; Mt. Blackburn and Mt. McKinley were ascended in 1912 and 1913, respectively. In South America, Whymper climbed Chimborazo (1880) and Aconcagua and Tupungato (both: 1897). Gongga (Minya Konka), in China, was climbed in 1932.

The most challenging of all have proved to be the mountain systems of the Himalayas. Conway of Allington explored the Karakorum range in 1892; in 1895 J. Norman Collie, C. G. Bruce, Geoffrey Hastings, and Albert Mummery attempted Nanga Parbat, but the effort was given up after Mummery's disappearance on the mountain's western face. It was not until 58 years later that Nanga Parbat was climbed by Herman Buhl. In 1950, Maurice Herzog scaled Annapurna. The three towering giants—Mt. Everest, K2 (Mt. Godwin-Austen), and Mt. Kanchenjunga—were conquered in the 1950s: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to ascend Everest, the world's tallest mountain, in 1953; an Italian team led by Ardito Desio climbed K2 in 1954; and in 1955 a British expedition led by Charles Evans surmounted Kanchenjunga. With the Chinese claim of an ascent of Gosainthan in 1964, the world's ten tallest mountains, all in the Himalayas, were finally conquered. Two other notable events in mountaineering were the scaling (1961) of the south face of Mt. McKinley and the winter ascent (1961) of the north wall of the Eiger in the Alps.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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