The History of Mountaineering
These days, mountaineering is a popular pursuit but it hasn’t always been the case. Before the 18th century, there aren’t many recorded accounts of people venturing up mountains for the sheer pleasure or for the challenge. Instead, journeying up a mountain tended to be more of a spiritual pursuit (sometimes to establish a shrine). Later on, the popularity of venturing into the mountains grew, but even then this initial surge was sparked more by the rise of science and a desire to take measurements or conduct experiments. Mountaineering for pleasure would take a little longer to come to the fore.
Who was the first mountaineer?
As proud as we are of our position within the Cairngorms National Park and of the Cairngorms mountain range that give it its name, we have to admit that the origins of mountaineering for pleasure seem to lie in the Alps.
In the sense that we now understand that term, the first mountaineer may well have been Horace-Bénédict de Saussure. Then again, what he actually did in 1760 was to look upon Mont Blanc and decide that he would be responsible for it being scaled rather than scaling it himself. As such, perhaps the honour should be split between Michel-Gabriel Paccard and his porter, Jacques Balmat. Paccard was a local doctor who, with Balmat in 1786, was able to claim the prize money that de Saussure had put up for whoever would be the first to scale Europe’s highest mountain. In a strange twist, Saussure himself scaled Mont Blanc a year later. Had he done so in the first 25 years of his prize being offered, he could have saved himself some money!
What was the Golden Age of Alpinism?
In the 1850s, many British adventurers began to develop an interest in scaling the peaks of the Alps, accompanied by French or Swiss guides. The high point (no pun intended…) of this ‘Golden Age of Alpinism’ is seen as 1865, when a team of climbers led by the English artist Edward Whymper managed to become the first people to scale the Matterhorn. This was Whymper’s 9th attempt at scaling the mountain and he was finally to be successful. Sadly though, four of the party were killed by an accident on their descent of the mountain. Whymper and the other two members of the expedition survived.
When did climbing in the Cairngorms become popular?
Though the Cairngorms are now rightly recognised as a premier climbing destination, things weren’t always this way. Climbing in the region only really became popular after World War II. Before that, the area had been underused for recreational climbing due to both the remote location and the fact that the terrain had been perceived as being made up of “unsound and vegetated rock”.*
In actual fact, the Cairngorms are a fantastic location for climbers to explore. This was something that was appreciated as far back as 1907 by Harold Raeburn, a climber from Edinburgh who founded the Scottish Mountaineering Club. It was in that year that he scaled Shelter Stone Crag by a difficult route that has come to bear his name, Raeburn’s Buttress.
In the 1950s, Aberdeenshire became a hotbed for young enthusiastic climbers and many of them chose to explore the Cairngorms. The popularity of ascending the area’s peaks continued to grow into the 1960s, helped by the improved transport links brought about by the transformation of the Cairngorms into a ski resort.
How can you enjoy climbing in the Cairngorms area today?
As well as the majestic Cairngorm Mountains themselves, visitors to the area can also make use of Hilton Coylumbridge Hotel’s fantastic climbing walls, located at our own Outdoor Discovery Coylumbridge. Our main wall offers four different grades of climb so it’s great for climbers of all ability levels. As well as that, we even have a portable climbing wall which can be used for anything from children’s parties to corporate team-building events.
You may also like to pay a visit to Treezone, the aerial adventure course that can be found on the Rothiemurchus Estate. Ideal for kids or adults, it offers all manner of adventurous activities from scramble nets to gap jumps!
Where can you relax after a hard day’s climbing and adventuring?
We may be biased, but we think that our location in the heart of the wonderful Cairngorms National Park, our fantastic facilities and our friendly and welcoming staff all make Hilton Coylumbridge Hotel the perfect base for you. To find out more or to book your fantastic climbing break now, please contact us. We offer discounts on advanced purchases so please don’t delay, book early to save.