Image: Juan Rubiano
Edward Whymper was born in London, England as the second of eleven children. He learned and practiced wood-engraving starting at very young age. In order to draw scenery pictures for a London publisher in the central and western Alps, Whymper began exploring the scenery quite often. His works included an unsuccessful an illustration of an attempt to ascend Mont Pelvoux. Only one year later, Whymper eventually managed the mountain as one of the first of numerous expeditions which threw much light on the topography of an area at that time very imperfectly mapped. While standing on top of Mont Pelvoux, Whymper noticed that it was overtopped by a neighbouring peak, the Barre des Écrins, which was climbed by Whymper along with Horace Walker, A. W. Moore and guides Christian Almer senior and junior in 1864. In the following years, Whymper successfully finished expeditions in the Mont Blanc massif and the Pennine Alps.
drawn by Gustave Doré
However, a difficult part was still in front of Whymper and his team: the descent. Even though the men climbed down with great care, only one man moving at a time, one of them slipped and fell on Croz, who was in front of him. Croz, who was unprepared, was unable to withstand the shock. Both fell and pulled down the others. On hearing Croz' shout Whymper and his team member Taugwalder stood very firm but the rope broke. Whymper could only watch them slide down the slope, falling from rock to rock and finally disappearing over the edge of the precipice. After the catastrophe, the remaining men were able to secure themselves and continue the descent until reaching a safer place. They searched for traces that might lead to their companions, but stayed unsuccessful. On 15 July, 1865 they reached Zermatt. One day later, a rescue team left in order to recover the men's bodies, but only three were found.
After the accident, Edward Whymper had to answer numerous questions and was accused of having betrayed his companions and the guide Peter Taugwalder was accused, tried, and acquitted. Many accused him to have cut the rope between him and Lord Francis Douglas to save his life. As the catastrophe was very present in the world's media, Queen Victoria even considered banning climbing to all British citizens but decided, after consultation, not to forbid mountaineering.
At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture titled 'Life at Top' by Kenton Cool at the University of Leeds.
References and Further Reading:
- Matterhorn Photo Story
- Blueplaque commemorates Matterhorn climber Edward Whymper
- Cliffhanger at the Top of the World
- "Because it's there" - George Mallory and Mount Everest
- All articles related to adventure