Many consider the era of 1854 to 865 to be the Golden Age of Mountaineering. It was during this time that Edward Whymper, the undisputed king of early climbing, made first ascents of dozens upon dozens of mountains, including the iconic rocky crags of the Matterhorn and the ice encrusted double-summit of Ecuador's Chimborazo.
Triumph and Tragedy: The Life of Edward Whymper by Emil Henry is an engaging historical read that brings one back to the beginning of alpinism. In some ways, the book is standard biographical fare, it chronicles Whymper's life while exploring his motivations. But there is something more to the narrative than this. When the story takes us into the mountains, the biographical elements begin to fall away and we feel like we are on the flanks of major peaks in the Alps or in the Andes. Along with the story of a Victorian climber stuck in a stuffy society of ladies in corsettes and gentlemen in stiff suits, there is another story, a story of one who is seeking out true adventure on the highest mountains accessible to man at the time... It is an amazing tale and an amazing exploration of an extraordinary man.
This continuing death toll on the Matterhorn since the end of the Golden Age -- despite the many advances in climbing equipment, weather forcasting and communications technology -- is a foreful reminder of the skill and courage of the mountaineers who first conquered the Alps all on their own.