August 9, 2021
Mont Blanc Was First Climbed an Astonishing 235 Years Ago This Week
Mont Blanc stands an abrupt 15,777 feet above sea level, on the border of France and Italy. It’s the highest peak in Western Europe, and the 11th most prominent mountain on the planet. On August 8, 1786, Jacques Balmat, a mountain guide, and Michel Paccard, a scientist interested in recording barometric pressure readings on the summit, became the first people—at least according to historical records—to reach the mountain’s peak (who knows what pre-historic people of the Chamonix Valley could have accomplished). At the time, Paccard, and others, believed Mont Blanc was the highest summit in the Alps, but it had yet to be proven. As such, there was a sizable financial reward awaiting the first to summit the mountain, sponsored by a local scientist who’d tried and failed the climb numerous times. Or climbed.
Balmat and Paccard, amid numerous suitors competing for the reward, made it to the top, carrying one three-meter-long pole between them as their only climbing equipment. They reached the summit after pulling themselves upward by some 8,000 feet, then returning in the same day.
Paccard had spent three years, at least, observing the mountain through a telescope, and testing several routes, abandoning all of them until he settled on an approach through the Valley of Snow. Balmat provided logistical help and climbing knowledge, though both men were accomplished mountain hikers.
Explorer’s Web has a great summary of their climb, which you can read here.
Photo: S Migaj