In the Beginning: Subtle Means and Engines

Mechanical Advantage #1

Climbing using engineered tools was first documented in 1492 when Charles VII of France ordered his military to ascend Mont Inaccessible as training for sieging feudal castles.  A spectacular and sheer 300m tower flanked on all sides by precipitous limestone cliffs, it was known in the fourteenth century as one of the "Seven Miracles of Dauphiné". Local legends told of angels seen flying along its cliffs at night to keep it inviolate. 

With skilled use of ropes, grappling hooks, and ladders—the "subtilz engins" (in contrast to less subtle means, ie. cannons)—combined with expert route finding ability, the military engineer Antoine deVille led a ten-person expedition to the top, where he was surprised to to discover a beautiful meadow with flowers, birds, and a herd of chamois, which he believed "would never be able to get away".

One of deVille’s team described the ascent as "the most horrible passage...a half a league by a path terrible to look at, and still more terrible to descend".  Now accessible by humans,  the mountain was rechristened Léguille, and is now known as Mont Aiguille. After the ascent, the summit remained unvisited until 1834, when Jean-Pierre-César Liotard climbed the tower, solo and barefoot. 

This first documented mountaineering ascent took place long before mountain climbing was considered recreational exploration, and even though the impetus for the ascent was political, it was a courageous, technical display of vertical prowess.  

NEXT: skip to the rise of metal in the mountains.