Alpinism is the sport of climbing tall mountains; it’s the practice of difficult mountaineering in its widest sense .
It consists of climbing great walls of rock, ascending to high summits where another class of difficulties are presented: cold, ice, itinerary complications, altitude sickness and meteorological conditions.
Alpinism entails risk, adventure, calculation and also improvisation.
It derives from the imperious necessity of some men in a specific epoch of history. When the far reaches of the planet had already been discovered and explored and nothing else was left unknown except for the highest peaks, some men had the inspiration to adventure in this new realm.
“The tall mountain is a world on top of the world.”
The question of “what is alpinism” is the reason why we have alpinism. It’s the excuse of man to create an adventure that civilization doesn’t need and which contributes absolutely nothing to the progress of science and math or technical investigation.
Of course, expeditions always find some sort of mission. But you can’t take that into account when examining the basis of this activity, which is itself so pure and from which nothing useful results.
The summit of the Matterhorn in 1865, and the events that led up to it, was so amazing that it is generally accepted that this marks the beginning of the alpinism movement.
The date of this first mountainous ascension is the beginning of the new movement, because it is after the Matterhorn, that alpinism began to be practiced, not only for external interest but for the interest in climbing itself.
Since then, mountaineering has grown in the world. Though its character has changed slightly, alpinism still is imbued with the same spirit as when it started.
The techniques and teams has changed slightly, but mankind continues to ascend mountains driven by same sentiments that the pioneering mountaineers had historically.
Now, they are not strategic, scientific or artistic motivations which drive the conquest of each summit. Since the beginning, alpinism in its purest and most absolute form has grown regularly. It is a powerful human impulse. Now there is no reason not to climb; not to live purposefully, not to feel fear in the adventure of life from the ice to the abyss. We have no reason to fear emotion, or the fact of knowing profound happiness or distinct pleasure.
There are many mountains on earth, but the Alps were the only mountains known to ancient European civilization, and they bore the brunt of humans’ first assault on the heights. In the Alps, alpine technique was born; that Alpine impulse that was later extended to other heights and other mountains on earth. This is why alpinism has dominated the eagerness to climb great mountains–be them where they are and be them what they are.
It’s significant that old Europe is the corner of the world where alpinism began. Why the desire to conquer mountains arise in America or in Asia, where enormous summits even more capable of provoking the temptation also existed?
The birth of this singular desire, which only later would be considered a sport, needed to be produced an old civilization; it is the culmination of that civilization. It goes beyond the divisive spirit between communities.
Consider the people and the places by whom and where alpinism began. First, it was practiced by the most economically and socially developed communities: England, Germany, Austria, France and Italy. Later, other countries, whose geography had not even the smallest hill, began to understand the sport as well—or, even if they didn’t understand the sport, they did understand it’s social importance.
After beginning to climb mountains a person begins to acquire different traits. Suffering and danger are more important than the beauty of the tall mountains. Mountains help you to become better, to feel generosity, light, purity and an ideal youth.
Risk is the high price of alpinism. To scale enormous walls, to run through pistes of snow, to immerse yourself in glacial wildernesses: it brings with it both precise and uncertain danger. To follow a great path is a succession of risks that you cannot continue to avoid.
The world of the mountain is a strange, transparent place. Nothing is offered without paying its true price. It’s only in reaching the objective that a climber knows he has truly won. At the summit there is a happiness both new and profound. A constant renewal of the spirit the only fruit of this hard, unfeeling human travail.
Mountaineering is a fruitful experience.
By looking at the inhumane north faces with the idea of claiming it, you already purify yourself a little. Those who don’t feel fear when looking at the mountains is less of a mountaineer, and later won’t experience that unique emotion of having conquered the mountain and the fear that doing so provokes.
Discretion, sincerity, these are characteristics of the true mountaineer. Mountaineering brings to mind the very limited situation of existence.
To understand alpinism you have to understand the alpinist. Understanding a man lets us see his motives, that is, to know what the world means to him. The study of motives brings us to understand how a man will spend his life.
Mountaineering is a way of life and of being happy. For the true alpinist the mountain means a lot in life. The mountain is the true measure of man, and it shows him what absolute necessity is. The mountain molds you, educates you and teaches you. What human activity could be better? The high mountain is a garden in space, in which it is important to know how to test the sky and snow. In this garden it is necessary to know nature and man.
Society needs alpinism. It needs the optimism and the happiness that the mountain engenders. It needs the sanity to believe that not everything in this world is sick. To know that we already have the grand desires and the great works guided by the spirit, which in alpinism is everything.