Edward Whymper

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Whymper as a young man

Edward Whymper (born April 27, 1840 in London , † September 16, 1911 in Chamonix , France ) was a British mountaineer . He gained fame in particular through the first ascent of the Matterhorn and the Chimborazo .


The first ascent, illustration by Gustave Doré , 1865
Memorial plaque at the Hotel Monte Rosa in Zermatt
The crash, portrayal by Gustave Doré
Edward Whymper's answers 12, 13 and 14 of the related interrogation of July 1865, clerk Donat Andenmatten

Whymper was born into a poor family and experienced a youth with little future prospects. The publisher Thomas Longman from London discovered his talent for drawing and sent him to the Alps as an illustrator . It was here that Whymper became interested in mountaineering . Already in 1864 he caused a sensation with the first ascent of Barre des Écrins , the Aiguille d'Argentiere and the Mont Dolent and 1865 with the first ascent of the Aiguille Verte and Grandes Jorasses His place (Pointe Whymper) in early summer 1865. in the history of mountaineers found he followed with the first ascent of the Matterhorn .

He achieved the first ascent of the 4478  m high mountain on July 14, 1865. The route he chose led from Zermatt over the Hörnligrat to the summit and is largely congruent with today's normal route. In addition to Whymper, the successful rope team also included his compatriots Lord Francis Douglas , Reverend Charles Hudson and Robert Hadow as well as mountain guides Michel Croz from Chamonix , Peter Taugwalder and his son of the same name from Zermatt. They prevailed in a duel against Jean-Antoine Carrel , who at the same time tried to climb the Lion Ridge from Breuil in Italy .

As the rope team descended, four men fell to their deaths over the north face. The 18-year-old Hadow, who was still relatively inexperienced in the high mountains, slipped, fell on Michel Croz and pulled Charles Hudson and Lord Francis Douglas with him. The rope that connected the falling and the survivors was actually an aged rope, which was only supposed to serve as a reserve; when Taugwalder tried to hold the falling, the rope broke due to the sudden tension. Edward Whymper, father and son Taugwalder returned safely to Zermatt. State Councilor Joseph Anton Clemenz carried out the following criminal investigation. The allegation that Whymper cut the rope could not be confirmed.

Whymper followed up the memories of the accident:

“Every night, do you understand, I see my comrades of the Matterhorn slipping on their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, in perfect order at equal distances - Croz the guide, first, then Hadow, then Hudson, and lastly Douglas. Yes, I shall always see them ... "

"Every night, you see, I see my comrades from the Matterhorn sliding onto their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, perfectly evenly spaced - Croz the leader first, then Hadow, then Hudson, and finally Douglas. Yes, I will always see you ... "

With the ascent of the Matterhorn, the time of the great first ascent and the so-called golden age of alpinism ends . On August 22, 1874, Edward Whymper climbed the Hörnligrat and thus the Matterhorn for the second and last time in his life under the guidance of Josef Marie Lochmatter from St. Niklaus .

In 1880 Edward Whymper was the first to climb the 6310 meter high Andean volcano Chimborazo in Ecuador. He used the physiological reactions of his own body as a kind of scientific laboratory to research human resilience under changing environmental conditions. From the 5000 meter high refuge named after Whymper, several routes of varying difficulty still lead to the Ecuador or Whymper main summit.

Then he devoted himself to writing and dealt with altitude physiology. In 1901 he ran advertising for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the Rocky Mountains with mountain guides Josef Pollinger from St. Niklaus , Christian Klucker from Engadin, Christian Kaufmann from Grindelwald and Josef Bossonney from Chamonix . The company carried out a total of 15 first ascents. In 1904 Whymper initiated the first ascent of Crowsnest Mountain in the "Rockies". Shunned as an outsider, Whymper died of a stroke in his locked room at the Grand Hotel Couttet in Chamonix in 1911 and was buried in the local Cimetiere Biollay de Chamonix - Mont Blanc.

The second highest peak of the Grandes Jorasses (Pointe Whymper) and the Whymper Couloir on the Aiguille Verte still bear his name . In addition, the Whymper Spur in Antarctica is named after him. Since 1894 he was a member ( Fellow ) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh .

Cinematic and literary reception

  • The duel for the first ascent of the Matterhorn was filmed. Directed by Nunzio Malasomma , a silent film of the same name was created in 1928 based on the factual novel Der Kampf ums Matterhorn by Carl Haensel, which was published in the same year .
  • In 1937 Luis Trenker made the film Der Berg ruft .
  • James Ramsey Ullman processed the events of the first ascent in his 1954 novel Rudi der Bergführer ( Banner in the Sky ). In it, however, he took some poetic liberties from the actual process and changed the names of those involved. The book was in 1959 by Ken Annakin , entitled The Third Man in the Mountain ( one third on the Mountain filmed). Michael Rennie , James MacArthur , Janet Munro , James Donald and Herbert Lom played the main roles in this Walt Disney production .
  • On the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, German-speaking Swiss television showed the documentary Bitter Victory: The Matterhorn Story by Gaudenz Meili in 1965 . Edward Whymper's conquest of the Matterhorn is filmed using contemporary documents, documents, sketches (many of them by Whymper himself) and image material from archives at home and abroad.
  • In June 2018, SRF DOK showed the documentary film Death on the Matterhorn for the first time - The tragic story of the first ascent , which reconstructs the events of the time.

Mountain guide museum and mountain guide monument

In the mountain guide museum in St. Niklaus Dorf , the topic of art and alpinism or, as part of the connection between St. Niklaus mountain guides and contemporary painters , is discussed . a. Edward Whymper was also recognized. The mountain guide monument honors u. a. Edward Whymper as a guest of the St. Niklaus mountain guides and the Matterhorn Museum in Zermatt provides information about the first ascent of the Matterhorn.

Works (selection)

As a writer

As an illustrator

Drawings (selection)


  • Frank Smythe : Edward Whymper. A life as a mountaineer and researcher. Hallwag, Bern 1940.
  • Walter Unsworth: Matterhorn Man. The life and adventures of Edward Whymper . Gollancz, London 1965.
  • Ian Smith: Shadow of the Matterhorn. The life of Edward Whymper. Carreg, Ross-on-Wye 2011, ISBN 978-0-9563163-1-8 .
  • Reinhold Messner : Crash of the sky. S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 2015, ISBN 978-3-10-002424-4 .

Web links

Commons : Edward Whymper  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Emil Henry: Triumph and Tragedy: The Life of Edward Whymper . Matador, Leicester 2011, ISBN 978-1-84876-578-8 , chapter 14.
  2. Christian Imboden: Mountains: Profession, Vocation, Fate. Rotten Verlag , Visp, 2013, ISBN 3-907624-48-3 , p. 179 ff .: Das Matterhorn
  3. Michael S. Reidy: Mountaineering, Masculinity, and the Male Body in Mid-Victorian Britain . In: Erika Lorraine Milam and Robert A. Nye (Eds.): Scientific Masculinities . Chicago University Press, Chicago 2015, pp. 158-181, here 174-176 .
  4. Christian Imboden: Mountains: Profession, Vocation, Fate. Rotten Verlag, Visp, 2013, ISBN 3-907624-48-3 , p. 96 ff .: Josef Pollinger (1873–1943)
  5. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed April 22, 2020 .
  6. Gaudenz Meilli: Bitter Victory: The Story Matterhorn. SRF, 1965, archived from the original on April 2, 2015 ; accessed on February 22, 2016 (video streaming not available).
  7. Gieri Venzin, Tilman Remme: death on the Matterhorn - The tragic story of the first ascent. (Video on YouTube, 1:30 hours) SRF DOK, 2015, accessed on January 5, 2020 .
  8. Mountain Guide Museum, Burgerstube, Table 7 Art and Alpinism , Zaniglaser Mountain Guide Association, St. Niklaus 2000