Snowboard Aurelie Gonin.jpg Copyright The ExplorersSnowboard, montagne, ascension
©Snowboard, montagne, ascension|The Explorers / Aurelie Gonin

In the footsteps of famous mountaineers in the Southern French Alps

Do you see yourself alone at the top of a mountain, surrounded by mountain ranges stretching majestically as far as the eye can see? Mountaineers will tell you that there is no other feeling like it. These heroes of the mountains have decided to dedicate their lives to conquering the peaks, and even sometimes achieving the unimaginable!

The Alps, the cradle of mountaineering

Not a recent discipline

What is at the top of this mountain? Men have surely been asking this question for tens of thousands of years. But it has only been a few centuries since they dared to venture into the heights, giving birth to mountaineering.

The mountains were once a symbol of mystery and taboos, like the sea, but nowadays mountains and mountaineering go hand in hand. 1786 marks the birth of this discipline, when two men managed to climb Mont-Blanc. Conquests and experiments were to follow on the mountain peaks. The mountains became a sort of playground, an exceptional place to live in and mountaineering is now a recognized sport.

Want to give it a try? First, you need to find a mountain guide. Get in touch with the High Mountain Guides Bureau near your vacation spot. You will also need a helmet, a climbing harness, a rope, good mountaineering boots, and in some cases, ice picks and crampons.

Edward Whymper at the top of the Barre des Écrins

A historical climb to an altitude of 4,102 metres

On June 25th 1864, the British mountaineer Edward Whymper went down in the history of mountaineering when he made the first climb of the Barre des Écrins, a real feat as this is the second highest peak in France after Mont-Blanc. Edward Whymper did not climb alone. He was in good company. The British mountaineers Horace Walker and Adolphus Warburton, and the mountain guides Michel Croz and Christian Almer were also part of the team. Together, they launched into the adventure and crossed the Massif des Écrins to reach their goal: to climb to the top of the famous Barre des Écrins. It’s best not to suffer from vertigo if you want to climb this mountain whose summit is at 4,102 metres! You’re a seasoned mountaineer? You too can try rising to the challenge with a specialised guide. A guaranteed adrenalin boost!

Victor de Cessole, an explorer from the Alpes-Maritimes among the pioneers

A keen mountaineer to conquer the mountains

Do you know the story of the famous mountaineer Victor de Cessole ? He started mountaineering at the age of 30 following advice from his doctor who recommended an open-air activity A 30-year old man and who fell in love with the mountains. A figure of mountaineering, photographer and story-teller, the Comte Victor de Cessole from Nice left his mark in the Alpes-Maritimes and largely contributed to the conquest of new 90 summits and 120 routes! A keen mountaineer, he also took part in the sharing of mountaineering knowledge and methods. Always ready to rise to a challenge, Victor de Cessole was also the first man to reach the mythical peak of the Corno Stella, nicknamed the “Inaccessible Rock”.

Lionel Daudet and Mont Ross

An iconic figure of mountaineering

Mountaineer Lionel Daudet has climbed quite a few peaks all over the world! A true man of the mountains and a keen mountaineer since childhood who lives near Briançon, he has devoted his life to conquering Alpine peaks. There is one climb in particular: Mont Ross, on the Grande Terre island of the Kerguelen archipelago, in 2006. Lionel Daudet rose at the time to the challenge of climbing not one, but two peaks, Petit Ross and Grand Ross which are narrowly separated by a very steep ridge. As a famous mountaineer, he has been awarded twice the Piolet d’Or, the highest distinction in the world where mountaineering is concerned. If you’re looking for a book about mountaineering, Lionel will take you off on his adventures in his three books: La Montagne Intérieure, Versant Océan and Le tour de la France exactement.

Mont Viso, a solitary giant

And a first ascent with disputed origins

Standing at an altitude of 3,841 meters, Mont Viso is located in Italy, just a few kilometers as the crow flies from the French border. It dominates the Cottian Alps and is visible from many passes, valleys, and peaks in the Queyras region.

The first ascent of Mont Viso took place on August 30, 1861, and was accomplished by William Mathews, Frederick William Jacomb, Michel Croz, and Jean-Baptiste Croz. The feat was repeated a year later on July 4, 1862, by Francis Fox Tuckett and the guides Michel Croz, Peter Perren, and Bartolomeo Peyrot Pellice. The summit was first conquered by Italians in 1863. This ascent by Quintino Sella and the guides from Val Varaita was a foundational moment for the establishment of the Italian Alpine Club by Quintino Sella. However, recent research suggests that the summit may have been climbed in the 18th and 19th centuries as part of topographic surveys conducted by the military.

Today, several routes allow you to ascend Mont Viso. Prefer hiking over mountaineering? The Tour du Mont Viso is a multi-stage trek with nights in refuges or lodges.


Your turn!

We hope these mountaineering adventures have inspired you to reach for the heights and go beyond. And it’s only normal: outdoor lovers and thrill seekers simply can’t resist a good mountain! If you would like to enjoy an introduction to mountaineering and experience the adventure for yourself, you’ll find many specialist guides here ready and willing to lead you up the slopes in all safety. Because although mountaineering is fascinating, it must never be taken lightly. So, it’s very important – if not vital – to be thoroughly prepared and accompanied by a pro. If you are keen to follow in the footsteps (or almost) of Edouard Whymper, the “Bureau des Guides des Écrins” hosts 3-day introductions to mountaineering in Écrins National Park. If you’re particularly drawn to the Queyras Regional Nature Reserve, you can get in touch with the “Bureau des Guides du Queyras” – they are very active in the development and supervision of mountain sports. On the other side of the Écrins mountain range, Champsaur-Valgaudemar is another great mountaineering destination. Their “Bureau des Guides” offers a variety of iconic routes, including Les Rouies. Last but not least, the Ubaye and Mercantour areas are also magical venues for budding mountaineers, home to plenty of welcoming professionals keen to share their passion!