Lionel Terray (Grenoble 1921–Vercors 1965)
Lionel Terray and his age
In the second post-war period the French mountaineering, which had previously played quite a secondary part, without participating in the run to the conquest of the great North walls and in the roaring Sixth Grade’s epos, really lived one of its best historic moments.
In that age a group of young transalpine alpinists, greatly motivated and free from the rhetoric and nationalism which had characterized the European mountaineering during the pre-war times, “rode the wave”, realizing important undertakings in the Alps, in Himalaya, Patagonia and Peruvian Cordillera Blanca. Among them Lionel Terray, between 1945 and 1965, year of his premature death, quickly became an outstanding protagonist, bringing great prestige to the French mountaineering. He was one of the greatest alpinists in that age and a model which inspired a whole generation of mountaineers, but not only: history tells us, through his behavior during some definite events, as Annapurna Expedition in the year 1950, that he also was a true mountain’s hero. In 1957 he took part in the great rescue of four climbers trapped on the Eiger North Face, among them the italians Corti and Longhi, enterprise told by Jack Olsen in the book "To climb up to Hell", in which his technical skill and human qualities are widely put into relief.
The title of his best-seller “Les conquerants de l’inutile” (“Conquistadors of the useless”), a book published in 1961, still nowadays is one of the most glamorous way to define the mountaineering; notwithstanding had become Alpine Guide, Lionel absolutely maintained that "the true mountaineer’s worth is inherent to its gratuitousness": this one is the main Terray’s ideal as well explained in his book’s title. As the same Lionel wrote: "My life has been nothing but a long and difficult balance race between the free action through which i pursued ideals of my youth and a kind of honorable prostitution which assured me the daily bread".
History and main undertakingsLionel Terray was born of good family on July 25th 1921 in Grenoble, a town situated at the foot of the French Alps, and he was still a child when he started to climb and ski. He was not yet thirteen years old when he took on for the first time the role of the rope's leader. Fever peaks never left him. In the beginning of the II World War Lionel joined the organization “Jeunesse et Montagne”, where he perfected his technique and befriended with Gaston Rebuffat. Afterwards he was an active participant in the alpine war against Germany, serving in the “Stéphane Company” in Haute-Maurienne on the French-Italian border. After the German surrender, Lionel moved to Chamonix, where he met Louis Lachenal, becoming instructor of skiing and mountaineering guide and joining the prestigious "Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix". Soon he became one of the best mountaineers and alpine guides in Chamonix, famous for his quick ascents, often roped with Lachenal, of some of the most challenging faces in the Alps, like Walker Spur on Grandes Jorasses, Aiguille Noire de Peuterey South ridge, Badile North-East face and the first repetion of Eiger North face. Naturally, the two young mountaineers were selected to participate to the Annapurna French expedition in Nepal in 1950. The first 8000s ever climbed by the man had been won, but the price payed was very high: Herzog and Lachenal, the summiters, reported serious frostbite. Lionel Terray remained at Camp V with Gaston Rébuffat, helping him and the other companions to save their skin.
From Annapurna Terray brings a nickname found by Sherpas: the "Strong Man". After the dramatic adventure on Annapurna, Rebuffat left the high level mountaineering and dedicated himself to the Alpine Guide’s profession and to the climbing’s divulgation, becoming an appreciated mountain’s writer and director, while Lachenal was compelled to leave the mountaineering. Terray on the contrary in the following years continues his brilliant career, climbing peaks around the world. He achieved some of the most memorable Himalayan and Andean undertakings of that period.
In 1952 he climbed with Guido Magnone the difficult Fitz Roy in Patagonia. The same year, he made the first of Huantsan in Peru with two Dutch geologists. Two years later, during a reconnaissance in Nepal in preparation for an expedition to Makalu scheduled next year, with Lionel with Jean Couzy, both Annapurna veterans, climbed Chomo Lonzo 7804 m in first ascent. In 1955 as expected, Terray returned to Makalu with a heavy team consisting of the best climbers of the moment. Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy are the first to reach the summit of the fifth mountain in the world, the other six members of the team follows. It was one of the most brilliant victories in the history of 8000s conquest.
1942-1943 Terray makes his first climbs in the Mont Blanc group, often roped with Gaston Rebuffat
1944-1945 Terray takes part in the alpine war against Germany
1946 – Grandes Jorasses Walker Spur, climbing a new variant, with Louis Lachenal
1947 – Eiger North Face with Louis Lachenal
1950 – Terray takes part in Annapurna French Expedition (Nepal) with his friends Louis Lachenal and Gaston Rebuffat; two members are getting to the summit, the first 8000 meters peak ever climbed. During the tragic descent Terray, with the Sherpa Adjiba, had a prominent part to help Lachenal, Rebuffat and Herzog seriously frozen.
1952 – Fitz Roy 1st ascent with Guido Magnone (2-2-1952); Nevado Huantsan m. 6359 (Cordillera Blanca, Perù);
1954 – During the Makalu recovery expedition he realizes the 1st ascent of Chomo Lonzo m. 7790 (Nepal)
1955 – Makalu French Expedition (Nepal); Lionel climbs the Makalu m. 8490, the fifth highest summit on earth (15-5-1955), roped with Jean Couzy.
1956 – Cordillera Blanca: Chacraraju Oeste (m. 6112) 1st ascent climbing the extreme North-East face (31-7-1956); this peak was named “the impossible peak” because of its extreme technical difficulties. During the same expedition Terray realizes the Taulliraju (m. 5840) 1st ascent climbing the North face (18-8-1956); this superb peak had not seen anyone else for twenty years
1957 - Terray is one of the main participants in the great attempt to rescue four mountaineers trapped on the Eiger North face.
1959 – Jannu French Expedition (Nepal); the ascent stops 300 m. before the summit.
1962 - Lionel leads a new expedition to the Jannu m. 7710 (Nepal) and realizes the 1st ascent (29-4-1962) 1964 - Mount Huntington m. 3731 1st ascent (Alaska)
1965 - Terray dies in the Vercors, south of Grenoble, during a rock climb’s accident on "Fissure en Arc de Cercle", Gerbier, on 19 September 1965, with his companion Marc Martinetti. His grave is situated in Chamonix.
Lionel's spirit of mountaineeringTwo small "anecdotes" about him by Ericvola
Of all the great alpinists of this era, Lionel was the nicest, the most generous and the most unselfish one. Here are two small "anecdotes" about him.
First, a tiny one but which happened to me: in 1962, just 20, I went to climb the Walker spur, but as my friends thought my equipmment was too poor for a climb then considered as one of the greatest, they took me to Lionel to borrow some and particularly an "elephant foot" for our bivouac. When I took it back to Lionel it was punctured with a number of holes made by my crampons! But instead of getting angry, he congratulated me for having completed the ascent and offered me a drink.
The 2nd one happened on Annapurna.
After the bivouac in the crevasse they fell into during the descent, when Louis Lachenal his pal, whose frostbitten feet he had massaged all night long, tried to put back his shoes, he couldn't as they were frozen stiff and his feet too swollen. Lionel then gave him his shoes, two sizes larger and put Louis's ones two sizes smaller! Imagine doing that and at around 8000 m high. For Lionel his climbing pals were like brothers and all mountaineers were his pals.
As we say of him in France, Lionel was a 'Seigneur'. The equivalent in English would be: Lionel was the essence of the 'spirit of mountaineering'.