Mountaineering is the sport of accomplishing or attempting to accomplish climbing to high points in the world’s mountainous regions. Used loosely, mountaineering can refer to walking up to the summit of a low mountain with moderate difficulty. But in its truest sense, mountaineering epitomizes the thrills that come from the daredevilry of testing one’s strength and courage to achieve physical and spiritual satisfaction.
With the towering Alps at its heart, Switzerland has been home to brave mountaineers like the following.
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Born in the canton of Fribourg, Erhard Loretan lived between the years 1959 and 2011. He began mountain climbing at the age of 11 and made his first official expedition in 1980 in the Andes. In 1982, he began climbing peaks 8,000 or more meters above sea level including the deadly Nanga Parbat at 8,126 in the western Himalayas. But the climb that rocked the world of mountaineering was when he and companion climber Jean Troillet made the ascent of Mount Everest at night in 40 hours and without supplementary oxygen.
At the age of 36, Loretan became the third person to climb all 14 eight-thousanders. He climbed 13 of them in 13 years. Then in 1995, he climbed Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas, the most difficult of the eight-thousanders to climb. After climbing Kangchenjunga, he made a return trip to Antarctica to solo-climb a nameless peak he had noticed before. The peak is now named Peak Loretan.
Loretan suffered a family tragedy in 2001 when he shook his infant son to get him to stop crying. This resulted in the infant’s death. He made the decision to disclose his name to the press in order to raise awareness of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) which was largely unknown at the time.
In April 2011, Loretan and his partner fell 200 meters while climbing the Grünhorn in the Swiss Alps. The accident occurred when his partner slipped. A rope was tying the two together. His partner survived the fall with serious injuries, but Loretan died. It was his 52nd birthday.
Ueli Steck was born in Langnau im Emmental in the canton of Bern in 1976. He is best known for being the first mountaineer to solo-climb Annapurna via its South Face, a mountain in north-central Nepal and the world’s tenth-highest mountain at 8,091 meters above sea level.
When he was only 17 years old, Steck achieved the international federation for climbing and mountaineering (UIAA) 9th difficulty rating. At the age of 18, he climbed the Bonatti Pillar in the Mont Blanc massif and the North Face of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps.
Steck also set speed records for climbing the North Face of the Eiger in 3 hours and 54 minutes. He accomplished this in 2007 at the age of 31. The following year, he beat his own record by lowering it to 2 hours 47 minutes 33 seconds. He was the first recipient of the Eiger Award in 2008.
After several more amazing climbs, Steck died on April 30, 2017, while acclimatizing for a climb on the West Ridge of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen.
Matthias Zurbriggen was born in 1856 in Saas-Fee, a mountain resort village in Switzerland. He became famous for climbing peaks throughout the Andes, the Alps, the Himalayas, and New Zealand. His best-known first accent was Aconcagua in Argentina. At 6,961 meters above sea level, it’s the highest mountain in the Americas. He climbed it alone in January 1897 during an expedition led by Edward FitzGerald. Along with England’s Stuart Vines, he made the first ascent of Tupungato during the same expedition.
In March 1895 he made the first ascent of a ridge on Aoraki / Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The ridge is now named Zurbriggen Ridge in his honor. He missed claiming the first ascent of Mount Cook when a party of New Zealand mountaineers made it a few months earlier on Christmas Day in 1894.
Zurbiggen’s fortune dwindled later in life. He lived as a vagrant in Switzerland and hanged himself in Geneva in 1917.
Horace Bénédict de Saussure
Horace Bénédict de Saussure lived between 1740 and 1799. In addition to mountaineering, he was an accomplished Genevan geologist, physicist, and meteorologist. Known as the founder of alpinism and modern meteorology, he built the first successful solar oven. He also developed an improved hygrometer, an instrument used to measure atmospheric humidity.
Saussure was a physics and philosophy professor at the Academy of Geneva. As for mountain climbing, he set out to reach the summit of Mont-Blanc on the side of Val Veny with alpine guide Jean-Laurent Jordaney. He also ascended Mount Buet, a 3,096-meter peak in the Chablais Alps in Haute-Savoie, France. His other notable climbs include the Crammont in 1774 and 1778 and the Roche Michel above the Mont Cenis Pass in 1780.
He died at the age of 59 apparently of natural causes.
Born in Lausanne in 1968, Sophie Lavaud holds Swiss, Canadian, and French citizenship and now lives in Geneva. She formerly worked in the hotel industry and the luxury and cosmetics industry before operating an event management company with her brother. She is now a consultant in external affairs for futura21, a coaching institute.
Sophie spends much of her time mountaineering in the Himalayas. She is the first Swiss and French woman to scale 12 eight-thousander summits. Her conquests include Mount Everest, Shishapangma (central summit), Makalu, Gasherbrum II, Cho Oyu, K2, and Broad Peak Manaslu. In 2019, she summited Annapurna1, Kangchenjunga and Gasherbrum I. She summited Dhaulagiri in 2021and Lhotse in 2022. She is the first Swiss, French, and Canadian woman to make it to the top of Annapurna1 and Kangchenjunga.
The Swiss mountaineer Ernst Reiss was born in 1920 in Davos and died in Basel in 2010 of natural causes at the age of 90. In 1956, Reiss and his companion climber Fritz Luchsinger were the first to successfully summit the 8,516-meter Lhotse, the earth’s fourth-highest mountain. Their colleagues Jürg Marmet and Ernst Schmied were the second to reach the summit, and Dölf Reist and Hansruedi von Gunten reached the summit one day later.
The Swiss mountaineer Fritz Luchsinger was born in St. Gallen in 1921. A training officer in the Swiss army, his ancestor Jacob Geiger emigrated to the USA in 1851. A large number of his offspring reside in Wisconsin’s New Glarus area.
Together with his climbing companion Ernst Reis, Luchsinger is credited with the first ascent of Lhotse, the earth’s fourth-highest mountain on May 8, 1956. He came down with an acute case of appendicitis and had to recuperate at the Tengboche monastery.
In 1983, Luchsinger died of pulmonary edema after attempting to climb Shishapangma, the 14th-highest mountain in the world.
Melchior Anderegg lived between the years 1828 and 1914. A Swiss mountain guide from Zaun, Meiringen, he was the first to conquer the summit of many prominent peaks in the western Alps during what is known as the golden and silver ages of alpinism. Most of Anderegg’s clients were British and included the famous writer and critic Leslie Stephen.
Anderegg climbed with members of the Walker family including Lucy and Horace Walker and with Florence Crauford Grove. A new sculpture has been erected to commemorate the centenary of his near his birthplace in Haslital, Switzerland.
Zermatt native Peter Taugwalder was born in 1820 and died in July 1888. He and his son of the same name were Swiss mountaineers and guides. Both Taugwalders were among seven men that made the first climb of the famous Matterhorn in 1865. Taughwalder, his son, and Edward Whymper were the only survivors.
Taugwalder’s conduct was investigated in relation to the terrible Matterhorn disaster, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, he suffered from accusations by other mountaineers. He gave up work as a guided and emigrated to North America a few years after the accident. He returned to Zermall and died near Schwarzsee.
Born in 1948 in Orsières, Valais, Switzerland Jean Troillet is a professional mountaineer and has had mountain guide qualifications since 1969. When he was 21, he set a record for ascending the Matterhorn in 4 hours and 10 minutes. He has climbed 10 peaks over 8,000 meters all without supplemental oxygen which is the true alpine style.
Troillet climbed Everest in 1986 and, together with Erhard Loretan, set the speed record for the ascent of the North Face at 40 hours to the summit and back. Troillet was also the first to descend from “The Roof of the World” in Asia on a snowboard.