Mountaineering is the fusion between man and the mountain, the full sense of freedom and the challenge with oneself in reaching the summit, overcoming one’s own limits. Conquest.
Mountaineering, from the etymology of the word Alps refers to the first attempts to climb the main and highest peaks. It is the discipline practiced in the high mountains based on overcoming one’s limits and adversities related to climbing the summit. The ascent can take place on: Rock, ice or snow, or mixed routes.
ORIGINS OF ALPINISM
The alpine area populated since prehistoric times and the human presence testified by archaeological finds at much higher altitudes than the valley floor. It is belived that the first inhabitants of the Alps used to go up the mountain by hunting or farming.
The first feats of the past (referring to the pioneers of an archaic mountaineering) described by Greek and Roman historians as: Herodotus, Sallustio and Livio, tell the deeds of the first ascents to peaks such as Mont Ventoux (1909m) in 1336 or the 3538m high Rocciamelone mountain , companies that were formidable for the time.
Among the various exploits of the “alpine prehistory” in 1492 is that of Mount Auguille (2085m) on the orders of Charles VIII is one of the best known. Led by a military expert where religious and local workers participated to erect 3 crosses and a votive chapel on the summit.
Up to 1700 the climbing of the great peaks represented sporadic events as they lacked resources of interest. The great mountains remained unknown terrain for many years.
THE ASCENT OF THE MAIN PEAKS OF THE ALPS
Traditionally, the birth of mountaineering is marked on 8 August 1786, the day of the first ascent of Mont Blanc. The push to carry out the ascent made by the Geneva scientist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure but the ascent was carried out by the doctor Michel Gabriel Paccard and by the crystal seeker Jacques Balmat from Chamonix.
The initial reasons intended to reach the top of the main peaks were for scientific purposes, in fact, they wanted to measure pressure and temperature as well as explore environments that were still unknown at the time.
The ascent to the Alpine peaks soon accompanied by the taste for discovery as an extension of Alpine tourism practiced in particular by the British and Germans. In the first half of the nineteenth century, all the main peaks of the Alps were climbed for the first time, including:
Grossglockner – 1800
Punta Giordani (Monte Rosa) – 1801
Ortles – 1804
Jungfrau – 1811
Bernina – 1829
Pelmo – 1857
Monviso – 1861
Grandes Jorasses – 1865
Marmolada – 1864
Matterhorn – 1865
The period of climbing the peaks for scientific purposes ideally ends on 14 July 1865 with the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
If the ascent of Mont Blanc had been to some extent aroused by scientific interest and discovery, the feat of the Englishman Edward Whymper contains the ingredients that will characterize modern mountaineering: the challenge as an end in itself with a mountain of great attraction, aesthetics, the competition between different groups and nationalities, the tragedy of a fatal accident (during the descent four of the seven members of the consortium lost their lives) and the subsequent controversies.
BIRTH OF THE FIRST ALPINE CLUBS
In the same period the first mountaineering associations were born:
Alpine Club (English) in 1857
Österreichischer Alpenverein (Austrian) in 1862
Italian Alpine Club (CAI) in 1863
Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV) in 1869
Society of Tridentini Mountaineers (S.A.T.) in 1872
French Alpine Club in 1874
Friulian Alpine Society (SAF) in 1874
If the events that are imprinted on history are the tip of the iceberg of a deeper substratum, it is not difficult to support the thesis of a French primacy in the construction of the foundations of modern mountaineering.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the new mountaineering movement took the name of “Nuovo Mattino”, from the title of an article by Gian Piero Motti in the Rivista della Montagna. The methods and purposes of the classic climbers began to be questioned and challenged with the idea of conquering by means of the classic routes, to be repeated with established techniques and methodologies. The idea of the movement was to base mountaineering on the discovery of freedom, the taste for transgression, rejecting the mountaineering culture of the summit at all costs, shelters, boots, CAI, guides, and deprecating the exploitation environment of the mountains.
Through specific methods of physical and psychic training, technical innovations often imported from the United States (the first pioneers of free climbing) it was possible to overcome difficulties that then seemed insurmountable : it is the period in which smooth-soled shoes are started to be used, in which free climbing is developed.
After the seventies and eighties, the “Nuovo Mattino” movment will fade with its contradictions, leaving only “standardized” in innovation.
Worthy of mention are the great descents from the north faces of Mont Blanc by the great French snowboarder Marco Siffredi, who, following in the footsteps of Jean-Marc Boivin, was the first snowboarder to solo the Nant Blanc face (over 50º of slope). .
Mountaineering in the third millennium has taken on an increasingly sporting connotation, with mountaineers-athletes capable of great physical performance (routes made at speed, concatenations of several itineraries in a single day) or techniques (very high degrees of difficulty in climbing, extreme descents with skis) also assisted by the most modern and advanced training techniques and mountaineering technologies.
At the same time we are witnessing a diffusion of mountaineering practices even outside the professionals of the sector, that is simple enthusiasts and amateurs, to the point of pushing in some cases mountaineering itself towards real forms of mass sports or sports tourism, often underestimating risks and personal limits.
ASCENT AND DIFFICULTY TECHNIQUES
Mountaineering based on overcoming the difficulties arising from ascension.
These related to the obstacles of the terrain (vertical walls, narrow ridges, etc.) or the environment itself (high altitude, conditions of atmospheric variability, etc.).
The difficulties vary according to the season in which you face the climb and the type of environment you decide to tackle.
Sometimes climbing techniques are necessary by climbing routes, other times fully equipped routes such as “via ferrata” are used.
Climb in a summer environment
The difficulties posed by the summer environment at low altitudes are mainly due to the overcoming of vertical obstacles (walls) of rock. The techniques applied to overcome these difficulties are those of climbing, free or aid. In particular, it ranges from advancement techniques in consortium, each constituting the insurance of the other, to the use of the insurance chain, rest stops or anchor points.
Ascent in a winter environment
In winter, the low temperatures and the presence of snow and ice pose different difficulties to the mountaineer from those posed by the summer environment (often in winter the new difficulties add to those typical of the summer environment). Special clothing used to cope with cold temperatures, while for technical difficulties (progression on snow and ice climbing) it is necessary to use special tools, such as one or two ice axes, crampons and ice screws. On ground consisting of vertical ice, the techniques used on icefalls are applied. Some routes allow all or part of the use of techniques typical of ski mountaineering.
Mountaineering often involves reaching high altitudes. Here the low temperatures due to the altitude mean that the environment is very similar to the winter one even in summer, while the winter characteristics are more pronounced in the cold season. Added to this is greater atmospheric variability and the presence of physiological disturbances due to high altitudes.
The altitude can be classified according to the physiological effects observed on the human body:
- 0-500 m, near sea level: atmospheric changes are imperceptible to humans and have no effect on human physiology.
- 500-2000 m, low altitude: atmospheric changes are noticeable, but there are no significant disadvantages. In elite athletes, a reduction in performance observed above 1500 m.
- 2000-3000 m, medium altitude: environmental changes become evident and the appearance of disturbances from altitude observed after a few hours of stay. Physical performance decreases progressively but restored with acclimatization.
- 3000-5500 m, high altitude: a large number of subjects suffer from altitude disturbances, even severe ones. Physical performance reduced after proper acclimatization.
- 5500 m, extreme altitude: due to the extreme conditions and the appearance of disturbances from high altitudes, permanent human presence is not possible above 5500 meters.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
To know which ascension (route) he can tackle based on his technical skills and physical preparation, the mountaineer needs to know the difficulty of the route itself, in order not to run into the danger of finding oneself on ground that it is unable to face without being able to go back. The operation of assigning a grade to a route called quoting or grading. It is carried out by the first ascenders and repeaters of the route. Given the difficulty of classifying the routes only for objective data, the routes graded by comparing them with known, reference routes, for which there is a broad consensus of their degree of difficulty. However, it may happen that subjective data (e.g. for example the ability of the mountaineer or the habit of moving in a certain environment) and objective but variable factors (for example weather conditions or snow).
The various disciplines of mountaineering and climbing use different scales of difficulty and depending on the country (Europe, United States) there may be different scales:
- Mountaineering difficulty: it is a scale of difficulty of French origin which describes the overall length, difficulty and aspect of the route. The grade expressed with the letters F, PD, AD, D, TD, ED, and ABO.
- free climbing: the most used difficulty scales are the UIAA one, expressed by a Roman numeral ranging from I to XI and the French one, expressed by a digit (3 – 9) followed by a letter (a – c). The “+” symbol is also used for intermediate degrees. There are also other scales such as that of the United States, England or Australia.
- Artificial climbing: a scale of six grades increasing from A0 to A5 (plus a seventh apart) used based on the difficulty and quantity of artificial tools used.
- Ice climbing: the Canadian scale is used, which expresses both environmental and technical difficulty, and one called WI, Water Ice, which goes from WI1 to WI7.
- Mixed climbing: using a scale of difficulty called M, Mixed ranging from M1 to M13.
Mountaineering ascents generally include a phase called “approach”, which includes the path taken up to the first point where mountaineering difficulties are encountered. The approach path is therefore of an excursion type, and follows the same scale of difficulty used in hiking:
- T, tourist: itineraries with obvious paths, on small roads, mule tracks or easy paths, generally below 2000 meters. They require some knowledge of the mountain environment and physical preparation for walking.
- And, hiking: Itineraries that take place on paths or tracks that are not always easy to find, or even at higher altitudes. Sometimes exposed, on grassy or detrital slopes, on snowy stretches, with not demanding aided passages, etc. They require a sense of direction and knowledge of the mountains, as well as suitable footwear and equipment.
- EE, for expert hikers: Itineraries involving single rocky passages that are easy to climb, crossing snowy canals, aerial and exposed sections, passages on treacherous terrain, etc. They require adequate equipment and preparation, mountain experience, sure-footedness and no dizziness.
The EE grade, considered the limit of hiking activity, in some cases tends to coincide with the F grade of the mountaineering scale, although in general the routes classified as mountaineering require greater effort and familiarity in moving on unmarked routes. However, there are also ascents to peaks along paths or ascent routes judged to have hiking and non-mountaineering difficulties, typically on more modest peaks, often grassy with no or reduced presence of rock.