From the first conquests to the need for ethics
The Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix has been leading the way of mountain enthusiasts for 200 years. From the euphoria of the first conquests, to the questioning of our lifestyle, our guides will tell you the history of the Compagnie, reflecting the challenges of each time. The podcasts are unfortunately only available in French.
La première ascension du Mont Blanc
La Fondation de la Compagnie des Guides
Croz - Whymper et l’âge d’or de l’alpinisme
Drus et Grépon les débuts de l’alpinisme technique
Armand Charlet une icône du grand alpinisme
Terray, Lachenal, Rebuffat l’alpinisme sans limite
Démocratisation et diversification des pratiques
Consumérisme et réchauffement climatique
We often consider that it all began in 1741 when two British explorers developed their fascination with the glaciers in the region, particularly the Mer de Glace. The amount of visitors rapidly increased changing the habitants of the “hamlet” of Chamonix, already hunters and crystal seekers, naturally into local guides.
The Chamonix Guides Company was created in 1821 after an accident in the Mont Blanc where the guides Auguste Tairraz, Pierre Balmat and Pierre Carrier lost their lives. A solidarity fund was set up to help their bereaved families and a principle of equal distribution of work was established: the Relief Fund and the Tour de Rôle were born. The company had 34 members, including Jacques Balmat who achieved the first ascent of the Mont Blanc in 1786.
This period is marked by an influx of rich Anglo-Saxons wanting to discover the high mountains in the valley. The majority of the alpine arc remains to be discovered and the hunt to be the first is in full swing. The 1855-1865 decade is considered "the golden age of mountaineering" because it is unquestionably the most prolific in the history of mountaineering.
Michel Croz and his client Edouard Whymper are certainly one of the most famous pairings of the time. They realized together in 1865 the first ascent of the Aiguille Verte, Grandes Jorasses and Matterhorn where Michel Croz tragically died on the descent..
The opening up to the world
Once the main peaks have been climbed by their normal routes, mountaineers are turning to more technical routes. Little by little, the popularity of the high mountain increases and the first ascents without guides make their appearance. The guiding profession also begins to attract people that are not native to mountain valleys.
In 1930, Roger Frison Roche is the first "foreign" guide to integrate into the Company. Also a writer, his mountain novels still deeply mark the collective imagination. Armand Charlet nicknamed the "Prince of the Guides" remains the emblematic figure of the inter-war period. He accomplished either with his clients or on his own, in particular with Camille Devouassoux, countless climbs including Aiguille Verte ... 100 times!
The adventure without boundaries
Increasingly more technical and complicated, the great climbs of this era were most often done by guides without their clients. Far-away expeditions were becoming more and more frequent. In 1950, Louis Lachenal, achieved with Maurice Herzog, the first ascent of Annapurna, which allowed France to win the race to be the first to reach 8000m. Gaston Rébuffat, Lionel Terray, Gerard Devouassoux, Georges Payot and René Desmaison to name a few were also particularly active in the Alps as well as abroad.
The development of ski lifts in the Chamonix Valley (Aiguille du Midi in 1955 and Grands Montets in 1964) enabled the high mountains to become even more accessible to the masses. The guiding profession nevertheless remained mainly a summer profession and was therefore often combined with another activity.
Thanks to the growth of winter tourism, the guiding profession begins to be exercised all year round, allowing the guides to become mono-active. In parallel with the traditional activities practiced in the high mountains, new activities are developing: trekking, whitewater rafting, canyoning, via ferrata ... In order to meet the evolution of the demand, the Companie des Guides has opened its ranks to mountain leaders and has profoundly restructured its administration.
The guides of the Companie des Guides have remained highly invested in achieving activities which associate technical excellence and exploration. Christophe Profit follows this principle by his solitary ascents and his incredible succession of routes. Thierry Renault and Alain Ghersen are distinguished by their extremely high level and difficult climbing routes. Finally, Jérôme Ruby and Dédé Rhem by their out of the ordinary snowboarding descents.
For over 200 years, the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix has adapted to the challenges of each time. It has played an active part in the writing of mountain history, demonstrating its engagement and imagination.
Today, the Compagnie des Guides is facing climate change, the greatest challenge in its history. More than ever, we are trying to adapt and imagine a new practice to keep offering exceptional adventures in a “World over the top”.