(Post#1 Mont Aiguille)
The year of the Mont Aiguille ascent (1492) was a pivotal time in western civilisation: early years of The Renaissance, the recent Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, and the "discovery" of the new world by Columbus. Leonardo invented, Machiavelli studied the brutal aspects of power and influence, and Erasmus wrote “In Praise of Folly”, establishing the humanist view. New recorded western history began and much of old history became forgotten or ignored.
For the next few hundred years after 1492, very few of high peaks were known to have been climbed, and even major passes were infrequently visited. Many believed dragons lived in the high Alps; in the early 1700’s, the noted scientist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer created and published a classification system of dragon types in the Alps based on the many "eyewitness" sightings of dragons. His famous discoveries of large dinosaur fossils in the geologic layers did nothing to dispel the myths.
In 1991, melting glaciers revealed a mummified man on a cold and exposed 3,210m pass between Austria and Italy. 5000 years before, Ötzi the Iceman died en route, his body preserved in the ice with all his accoutrements. He carried a 60cm copper tipped axe which has often been interpreted as a weapon, but indeed would be an aid if crossing icy passes in the alps. This short ice tool could now be seen as the first modern short ice axe. He wore insulated clothing, and it is possible that his well made boots could be fitted with snowshoe type platforms.
There are other artefacts evidencing the use of tools for ascent in pre-western-history. Glen Rink and I found a large wooden cam placed in a very challenging (an eight metre section of overhanging 5.9 rock climbing) crack on an Hisatsinom Grand Canyon exit route. The “Anasazi” were masters of ascending slabs and overhangs using a combination of bold skill, carved steps, ladders and ropes.
(Footnote: The Histasinom is the Hopi name for the more commonly known "Anasazi", which is thought to be a Navajo term for "ancient enemy".)
Other early cultures also provide evidence of difficult ascent, and perhaps a whole book could be written on ancient archaeological climbing evidence around the world. However, the evolution of technological climbs that involve the invention and deployment of modern tools and materials and which lead to efficient and safer method of climbing big walls really began in the late 19th century, after most of the major peaks of the world were climbed or attempted.
(Next post: the “modern era”, tools used for first ascent of Mont Blanc, 1786)
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