Edward Whymper

Edward Whymper

Edward Whymper (April 27, 1840–September 16, 1911), was a British illustrator, climber and explorer best known for the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. On the descent, four members of the party were killed.

Early life

Whymper was born in London on April 27 1840 to Josiah Wood Whymper and Elizabeth Claridge being the second of eleven children. He was trained to be a wood-engraver at an early age. In 1860, he made extensive forays into the central and western Alps to produce a series of commissioned alpine scenery sketches.

Among the objects of this tour was the illustration of an unsuccessful attempt made by Professor Bonney's party to ascend Mont Pelvoux, at that time believed to be the highest peak of the Dauphiné Alps.

Whymper successfully completed the ascent of Mont Pelvoux in 1861, the first of a series of expeditions that threw much light on the topography of an area at that time very imperfectly mapped.

From the summit of Mont Pelvoux, Whymper discovered that it was overtopped by a neighboring peak, subsequently named the Barre des Écrins, which, before the annexation of Savoy added Mont Blanc to the possessions of France, was the highest point in the French Alps.

Whymper climbed the Barre des Écrins in 1864 with Horace Walker, A. W. Moore and guides Christian Almer senior and junior.

The years 1861 to 1865 were filled with a number of new expeditions in the Mont Blanc massif and the Pennine Alps, among them the first ascents of the Aiguille d'Argentière and Mont Dolent in 1864, and the Aiguille Verte, the Grand Cornier and "Pointe Whymper" on the Grandes Jorasses in 1865.

That year he also made the first crossing of the Moming Pass. According to his own words, his only failure was on the west ridge of the Dent d'Hérens in 1863. 'This was the only mountain in the Alps that I have essayed to ascend, that has not, sooner or later, fallen to me. Our failure was mortifying . . .' Quoted in Dumler, Helmut and Willi P. Burkhardt, "The High Mountains of the Alps", London: Diadem, 1994, p. 157

The Matterhorn

Professor John Tyndall and Whymper emulated each other in determined attempts to reach the summit of the Matterhorn by the south-western, or Italian, ridge.

In 1865 Whymper, who had failed eight times already, attempted unsuccessfully to climb a couloir on the south-east face with Michel Croz. After Croz left for a prior engagement with Charles Hudson, Whymper failed to secure the services of Val Tournanche guide Jean Antoine Carrel, and instead planned on trying the eastern face with Lord Francis Douglas and the two Zermatt guides, Peter Taugwalder father and son.

Whymper was convinced that its precipitous appearance when viewed from Zermatt was an optical illusion, and that the dip of the strata, which on the Italian side formed a continuous series of overhangs, should make the opposite side a natural staircase.

This party of four was joined by Hudson and Croz, and the inexperienced Douglas Hadow. Their attempt by what is now the normal route, the Hörnli ridge, met with success on July 14 1865, only days before an Italian party.

However, on the descent, four members of the party (Croz, Douglas, Hadow and Hudson) slipped and were killed, the rope between them and the three surviving members of the party snapped as they slid.

A controversy ensued as to whether the rope had actually been cut, but a formal investigation could not find any proof. The account of his attempts on the Matterhorn occupies the greater part of his book, "Scrambles amongst the Alps" (1871), in which the illustrations are engraved by Whymper himself. The accident haunted Whymper:

"Every night, do you understand, I see my comrades of the Matterhorn slipping on their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, in perfect order at equal distances—Croz the guide, first, then Hadow, then Hudson, and lastly Douglas. Yes, I shall always see them…"

Exploration in Greenland

Whymper's 1865 campaign had been planned to test his route-finding skills in preparation for an expedition to Greenland in 1867.

The exploration in Greenland resulted in an important collection of fossil plants, which were described by Professor Heer and deposited in the British Museum.

Whymper's report was published in the report of the British Association of 1869.

Though hampered by a lack of supplies and an epidemic among the local people, he proved that the interior could be explored by the use of suitably constructed sledges, and thus contributed an important advance to Arctic exploration.

Another expedition in 1872 was devoted to a survey of the coastline.

outh American exploration

Whymper next organized an expedition to Ecuador, designed primarily to collect data for the study of altitude sickness and the effect of reduced pressure on the human body.

His chief guide was Jean-Antoine Carrel, who later died from exhaustion on the Matterhorn after bringing his employers into safety through a snowstorm.

During 1880, Whymper made two ascents of Chimborazo (6,267m), also claiming the first ascent. He spent a night on the summit of Cotopaxi and made first ascents of half a dozen other great peaks.

In 1892, he published the results of his journey in a volume entitled "Travels amongst the Great Andes of the Equator".

His observations on altitude sickness led him to conclude that it was caused by a reduction in atmospheric pressure, which lessens the value of inhaled air, and by expansion of the air or gas within the body, causing pressure upon the internal organs. The effects produced by gas expansion may be temporary and dissipate when equilibrium has been restored between the internal and external pressure.

The publication of his work was recognized on the part of the Royal Geographical Society by the award of the Patron's medal.

His experiences in South America having convinced him of certain serious errors in the readings of aneroid barometers at high altitudes, he published a work entitled "How to Use the Aneroid Barometer" and succeeded in introducing important improvements in their construction.

He afterwards published two guide books to Zermatt and Chamonix.

Canadian Rockies

In the early 1900's, Wympher visited the Canadian Rockies several times and made arrangements with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to promote the Canadian Rockies and the railway in his talks in Europe and Asia.

In exchange, the CPR agreed to pay transportation costs for himself and his four guides. In 1901, Whymper and his four guides made the first ascents of Mount Whymper and Stanley Peak in the Vermillion Pass area of the Canadian Rockies.

On September 16 1911, Whymper died at the age of 71, shortly after another climb in the Alps. He refused medical attention to the point of very death by locking his hotel door.

He is buried in Chamonix, France.


When not climbing, Whymper pursued his profession as an engraver of illustrations for books and periodicals. Among the books he illustrated was his fellow-mountaineer Florence Crauford Grove's "The Frosty Caucasus" (1875) [Grove, Florence Crauford, "The Frosty Caucasus: an account of a walk through part of the Range and of an ascent of Elbruz in the summer of 1874" (London, Longmans, Green & Co, 1875, 341 pp.)]


::::::::::Edward Whymper, "Scrambles Amongst the Alps"


*Edward Whymper, "Scrambles Amongst the Alps", ISBN 0-7922-6923-3
*Edward Whymper, "The Ascent of the Matterhorn", ISBN 1-903933-17-X
*Edward Whymper, "Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator", ISBN 1-904466-24-9
*Frank S Smyth, "Edward Whymper", Hodder and Stoughton, 1940

External links

* [http://www.peakfinder.com/people.asp?PersonsName=Whymper%2C+Edward Edward Whymper on Peakfinder]
*Peter H. Hansen, ‘Whymper, Edward (1840–1911)’, [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36884 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography] , Oxford University Press, 2004
* cite book
title=Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator
author=Edward Whymper

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