Magazine article Geographical
Edward Whymper (1840-1911): Mountaineer, Writer and Artist, Best Known for Making the First Successful Ascent of the Matterhorn, Improving the Aneroid Barometer and Studying Altitude Sickness
What was his background?
Edward Whymper was born in London in April 1840. The son of an artist, he was privately educated before going on to train as a wood engraver. He became interested in mountaineering in 1860 having been commissioned to sketch the central and western Alps and duly packed himself off to Switzerland. The following year, he climbed Mount Pelvoux. Subsequent mountaineering endeavours included the first ascent of the Pointe de Ecrins, in 1864, at that time the highest peak in the French Alps before Mont Blanc became a French possession. Whymper climbed throughout the Alps during the early 1860s and managed many first ascents.
Why is he famous?
He is best known for making the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn, in 1865. Although the peak had been deemed unclimbable by local experts, Whymper and his rivals weren't deterred from making repeated attempts to climb it during the early 1860s. Initially, they approached via the southwestern, or Italian, ridge and Whymper made six failed attempts. His breakthrough came when he started from Zermatt, Switzerland, in the east. From the ground, the route looked impossible, but Whymper decided it was just an illusion and went ahead anyway. To his delight, he was proved right and, with six others, reached the summit on 14 July 1865. However, disaster struck on the way down when four of his party fell to their deaths. Whymper and the remaining two were only saved because the rope tying the group together broke before they could be dragged after the others. In Zermatt, there was some controversy as to whether the rope had been cut in order to save the remaining three. This accusation was later refuted by an official inquest. …