The Ones Who Came Before
Alpinism was born with the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786, and from that point on mountaineering chronicles consisted of little more than lists of climbers who first conquered the highest summits. But alongside the official accounts, there’s a history of a very different kind. It’s not about records, but nature and people – the valley dwellers and the changes wrought by developments in the world beyond their remote idylls. The first gentlemen-travellers and early naturalists would never have made it to the mountaintops without the help of the local shepherds and farmers. In the 1920s, workers’ associations discovered the Alps as a playground in the school of social reform, and during the Nazi regime alpine guides reinvented themselves as border crossing agents using their specialist geographical knowledge to smuggle refugees to safety. After 1968 the rebel Reinhold Messner turned the concept of alpinism on its head, and in our day environmental activists, conservationists and ecologists have introduced a new understanding of the Alpine habitat.