Portfolio: Images D’Escalades, 1940s Alpine Climbing

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “The avalanche doesn’t know you’re an expert”? Credit goes to Andre Roch, for many years the head of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, who uttered those words after being caught in several slides. In North America, Roch probably is better known for being the architect of Aspen Mountain. Hired in the mid-1930s, he laid out the trails on Ajax and is the “Roch” in the well-known Roch Cup race.

Roch was much more than a skier and snow geek, though — he had legitimate mountaineering and high-alpine skills. The son of a physician and adventurer, he was born near Geneva in 1906 and introduced to the mountain playgrounds at an early age. In 1927, he won the slalom and downhill in the Student Olympics, and beginning in 1931 began putting up first ascents throughout the Alps. In 1952, at the age of 45, which at the time was considered near-ancient, he was part of the Swiss expedition to Mt. Everest that put two climbers within 650 feet of the summit (Tenzing Norgay and Raymond Lambert) and traced the route that would be used successfully just a year later by Edmund Hillary and Norgay. Roch himself made it to the South Col at 25,850 feet.

This collection of photos dates to the mid-1940s and comes from Roch’s book, Images D’Escalades, which was scanned by Mister Crew. They depict a world of rock and ice that has changed dramatically for climbers in the 75 or so years since Roch shot them. Nailed boots, pitons, and hemp ropes were the order of the day, and even though they might have been state of the art at the time they brought their own set of dangers, a fact that Roch learned all too tragically in 1962 when his daughter died in a climbing fall — the rope connecting them broke.

Despite the many objective perils where Roch lived and worked, he climbed until late in life, including a Himalayan jaunt at age 84, and eventually passed away at 96 in 2002. Images D’Escalades isn’t easy to find, but at last check there was a first edition in very good shape available at Chessler Books for $15.

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