Lionel Terray (Grenoble 1921–Vercors 1965)
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 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, but not only: as a matter of fact history tells us, through his behavior during some definite events, as Annapurna Expedition, that he also was a true mountain’s hero.
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 is the main Terray’s ideal as well explained in his book’s title. As Lionel same wrote, all his life was a long and delicate balance’s competition between his pure youthful ideal and the Alpine Guide’s profession, which got to him the bread.
History and main undertakings
Lionel 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. In the beginning of the II World War Lionel served one’s apprenticeship inside “Jeunesse et Montagne”, where he made friends with Gaston Rebuffat, and he was an active participant in the alpine war against Germany, serving in the “Stéphane Company”. Soon he moved to Chamonix, where he met Louis Lachenal; after the war he became Ski Instructor and 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, Pizzo Badile North-East face and Eiger North face.After the unlucky Annapurna’s adventure Rebuffat left the high level’s 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 achieved some of the most memorable Himalayan and Andean undertakings of that period. In 1957 Terray was one of the main participants in the great attempt to rescue four mountaineers, among them the italian Corti and Longhi, trapped on the Eiger North face. This mission forms the subject of Jack Olsen's book “The Climb Up To Hell”, in which Terray has a particular mention in reason of his bravery and skill.
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 19 September 1965, with his companion Marc Martinetti. His grave is 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'.