A short introduction to the history of mountain guiding

A short introduction to the history of mountain guiding

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

The Alpine Clubs, La Compagnie des Guides, and the Shaping of Nineteenth Century Mountain Guiding

Note: this article has been published (in a slightly different version) in the Alpine Journal of 2015: Van Loocke, K. (2015), The Shaping of Nineteenth Century Mountain Guiding, in: Alpine Journal, The Alpine Club, vol. 119, 273-283. This version is an earlier draft of the article to be found in the Alpine Journal.

Nowadays mountain climbing is immensely popular. Millions of tourists and mountaineers are visiting mountain ranges all over the world each year. According to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) approximately 120 to 170 million people are visiting mountain regions around the world each year, taking up 15 to 20% of the global tourism market, and their number is ever growing.[1] More than six thousand official mountain guides are leading many of these people around the world safely in and on the mountains.[2] A great many of them hire mountain guides to help them climb mountains or to explore mountain regions they otherwise would not dare to do. In a mountain guide they find someone who is capable of leading them safely, and in good company, to those places. But how and why did the profession of mountain guiding began and how did it develop in the course of the nineteenth century? What part played the first alpine associations? How did this profession evolve to become as important and well respected as it is today?

The purpose of this survey is to examine certain aspects of the history of mountain guiding from the end of the eighteenth century until the late nineteenth century.We will investigate the influence of the first alpine associations, in particular the British Alpine Club (in short: Alpine Club) and the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), on the profession of mountain guiding, as well as the influence of mainly, albeit not exclusively, British mountaineers on its development. Especially the Alpine Club, being not directly involved with mountain guiding, is often neglected, or is only rarely mentioned with regard to this subject. We will try to examine whether and how the Alpine Club has left its marks on the development of mountain guiding. Our focus will be on the Western Alps, with special attention to Chamonix in France (before 1792, and between 1815 and 1860 it was part of the kingdom Piedmont-Sardinia), and to a lesser degree Valais (Wallis in German) and the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. The most important period is situated between the 1850s and 1865, better known as the “Golden Age” of mountaineering.

I. In the beginning (...-1821)

For centuries people who needed to cross the Alps hired local inhabitants to lead them safely through this dangerous environment. Most of the time, from the early times in history until far in the nineteenth century, the majority of the people tried to avoid the Alps (and mountain ranges in general). This is not a surprise because many people believed these mountains were inhabited by dragons and other foul creatures. People only crossed the Alps when it was really necessary, for trade or pilgrimage. The almost absolute lack of people who travelled in the Alps for pleasure clearly indicates the aversion most people had towards mountains. As most people tried to avoid the mountains, they remained completely unexplored. Local peasants often explored their surroundings, and occasionally even climbed mountains. However, as they wrote almost nothing about their exploits, the Alps in the Middle Ages and the early modern period remained truly a terra incognita to foreigners.[3] This ignorance had an important effect on those who - occasionally - needed to cross the Alps. Because they were not acquainted with the alpine environment they had to hire local people in order to travel safely through the mountains. Although their knowledge was rather limited, these people knew something about the mountains they lived in, even though they only knew the mountains insofar their profession as a herdsman, lumberjack or hunter led them there.[4] This, however, was not a real problem, as they only rarely had to guide people over more or less known mountain passes.

At the end of the eighteenth century, more people started to find their way to the Alps (in this period mostly to Chamonix). Mainly thanks to the Enlightenment, more and more people changed their point of view concerning mountains: from complete aversion to a more positive attitude. More people started to realize that the mountains were more than a foul and dangerous place, inhabited by dragons and demons, and that the mountains were a place of exquisite beauty, where they could be exposed to, what they called, the sublime. It was thanks to poets, painters and philosophers like Lord Byron, Caspar David Friedrich, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many others, that more people began to like the mountains, not necessarily for climbing them, but rather just for “being” in the mountains. Because of this newfound fascination for the mountains by the wealthy, as well as the more common, middle class people, the Alps became a very interesting region. Apart from the aforementioned artists and thinkers, scientists also played an important role in stimulating mountain tourism. Scientists like Bénédicte de Saussure, Louis Agassiz, James Forbes, or Bernard Studer inadvertently promoted the mountains. In the first place because they went to the mountains themselves, occasionally even to go climbing. In the second place, it was due to their research on glaciology, cartography, botany, and other mountain related scientific subjects, that the Alps became better known to everybody. This way, the Alps gradually lost their status of terra incognita.

Most people who came to Chamonix wanted to take a look at the mighty glaciers, especially the Mer de Glace, the stupendous mountain scenery surrounding Chamonix and the enormous Mont Blanc. Because of the fact that, as in earlier times, tourists were not at all acquainted with mountain hiking, let alone with walking on a glacier, they hired local peasants to guide them towards the mountains and glaciers, and sometimes even on them. It is here that the origins of the profession of mountain guides can be found. These tourists thought local inhabitants had a good knowledge of the mountains they lived in, even though this knowledge was restricted to the expertise they needed for their profession, as a hunter, herdsman or farmer. None the less, it exceeded the knowledge of the tourists and so it was only natural for them to hire these local inhabitants. Local people were mostly happy with these tourists because they stimulated their precarious economical and financial situation. During the first half of the nineteenth century, mountain tourism was concentrated in Chamonix, at the foot of the highest mountain in the Alps, the Mont Blanc. This success meant that Chamonix could take the lead in its development as the capital city of mountaineering. Other important places, mainly in the Berner Oberland or Valais could not catch up with Chamonix until the 1850s and 1860s.

As a result of the growing number of tourists, Chamonix was visited by between two and three thousand tourists annually at the beginning of the nineteenth century, more local people could earn extra wages as some sort of mountain guide.[5] The more challenging tours they provided were those towards (or on) the glaciers. The hardest excursion was the ascent of Mont Blanc, first summited in 1786 by dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard and Jacques Balmat, two local people from Chamonix (the latter hired by Horace Bénédict de Saussure from Geneva). The following year, de Saussure himself ascended Mont Blanc.[6] This ascent meant another boost for tourism in Chamonix, which would eventually lead to the creation of the first professional organization for mountain guides: La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, in 1821.[7]

Maison de la Montagne
Bureau des Guides de Chamonix

II. The first steps towards a more professional approach  (1821-ca. 1855)

On the 24th of July 1821, the local authorities of Chamonix decided to establish what would become the first mountain guides association in the world. The main reason for this was the growing success of mountain tourism. As more and more people travelled towards Chamonix with the purpose of watching the great glaciers surrounding the village or climbing an easy mountain, or, in a rare case, even Mont Blanc, it became clear that the need for decent mountain guides and clear rules grew ever more important. The definitive establishment of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix was triggered by an accident in 1820, better known as the Hamel accident, on the slopes of Mont Blanc where three local guides perished. The accident made it clear that there was an urgent need for clear rules about who was able to act as a mountain guide, a mule driver or a porter, and who was not qualified for any of those tasks. Elsewhere it would take until the 1850s and 1860s, or even later, before similar rules were introduced. In Switzerland, regulations were first implemented by local or regional/cantonal governments. First in Bern in 1856, in 1857 in Valais, followed by other cantons.[8] Around this time we can clearly see that in Chamonix the first steps were taken towards a more professional approach of mountain guiding. An association was established to assure the quality of tourism in Chamonix.

Besides the required qualifications to act as a guide, the Compagnie des Guides also had some important rules. First there was the famous tour de rôle: a rotation system in which all guides had the same opportunity to guide on different excursions, whether on the Mer de Glace, Mont Blanc, l’Aiguille du Midi, or somewhere else. Secondly, the rates of all the trips offered by the Compagnie were fixed. Some of them, especially the ascent of Mont Blanc, were more expensive than others (mostly because they were far more dangerous). This rotation system was installed to give each guide the same opportunities to guide these financially more attractive trips. When a tourist came to Chamonix, he could not choose a guide by himself. It was the Compagnie who assigned him or her one or more guides, depending on the complexity of the trip. Furthermore, the Compagnie des Guides decided on the number of guides a tourist was obliged to hire. Tourists could not choose the number of guides which they thought would be sufficient. Even in 1872 the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix still proclaimed that “for the ascent of Mont Blanc the guide-chef will assign at least three guides, or two guides and a porter per traveler.”[9] An important consequence was that the cost to climb for example Mont Blanc, could increase rapidly and unexpectedly. Finally, the Compagnie had a monopoly in the Chamonix-Mont Blanc region concerning mountain guiding. Foreign guides, particularly Swiss ones, were not allowed to guide tourists or mountaineers within this region.Rules like these were very useful at first, not in the least because they provided equal chances for all guides. Later, especially from the 1850s onwards, this started to change, when the disadvantages of this system started showing up.

In this period the first steps were taken towards a more professional approach of mountain guiding. However, from the beginning until the middle of the nineteenth century, it was still not possible to speak of a true professionalization. This process took place only in the second half of the nineteenth century and not in the least because of the newly established alpine associations and the growing influence and dominance of British mountaineers in the Alps in the 1850s and 1860s. It was mainly due to these British alpinists that the job of mountain guides became increasingly professional. With the help of the British climbing elite, more and more mountain guides were able to develop their climbing skills to a level much higher than it was before, gradually surpassing their predecessors.

Just as in the preceding period, mountain guides were still not “real” mountain guides. They remained farmers or herdsmen who occasionally guided some tourists on smaller mountains, nearby glaciers or on hiking trips. Even the guides who served in the Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix were not full-time guides. They spent only a small, albeit financially important, amount of time in the mountains guiding tourists or climbers. Due to the fact that they did not spend much time climbing, their climbing abilities remained mediocre. But at the same time, they did not feel the need to improve themselves much. Not in the least because they only guided on rather easy excursions. Before the 1850s only a few tougher mountains were climbed, like Mont Blanc (1786), the Jungfrau (1811), Finsteraarhorn (1812), Zermatter Breithorn (1813), Lauteraarhorn (1842) or Piz Bernina (1850). Between 1786 and 1854 only thirteen 4000 meter peaks were climbed.[10] Most mountain guides did not undertake tougher climbs. Just a handful of guides got the opportunity to climb loftier, more technical mountains. Therefore, most guides did not feel the need to improve themselves too much, or to put a large amount of time and energy in improving their skills, especially because they had a lot of other work to do. It was only later, when more mountaineers came, that many guides wanted to improve themselves, and at the same time, received more opportunities to do so.

In this period most guides had another purpose besides leading their clients on mountains, hikes or glaciers. Most tourists saw their guides more like servants than independent and socially equal mountain guides. The main activities for mountain guides in this period were carrying the luggage of the tourists; carrying all the food, drinks, and materials; cutting steps in snow or ice, cooking and supporting their clients - which sometimes even went as far as carrying them. Tourists, especially those from the aristocracy and the upper middle class, wanted to hike or climb in comfort. This was one of the reasons why the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix decided that for most tours they offered, the tourist had to take more than one guide. Only later, when more and more tougher climbs were offered, this altered gradually.[11] This situation, with a rather limited professionalization, continued until the 1850s. From then onwards things changed rapidly. It was the start of the “Golden Age” of mountaineering, the time during which mostly British mountaineers dominated the Alps. According to most historians this golden age started in 1855, the year of the first ascent of the Dufourspitze (with 4634 meter the highest mountain in Switzerland) by Charles Hudson, Christopher and James G. Smyth, John Birkbeck, Edward. J. Stevenson, and their mountain guides Ulrich Lauener, and Johann and Matthias Zumtaugwald. Others let it often start with the first British ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854 by Sir Alfred Wills, while the establishment of the Alpine Club in 1857 might also be used as a starting date. The First ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 traditionally  marks the end of this “Golden Age.”

In memory of Michel Croz
In memory of Michel Croz

A final important function of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, and other mountain guiding associations, was social insurance. As it became clear that mountain guiding was a potentially dangerous profession, local authorities, first in Chamonix and later elsewhere, saw the need to create some sort of social insurance in order to support injured or sick mountain guides and the families of the perished ones.[12] Later, other associations, and from the 1860s the different alpine clubs, would take over this duty.[13] Despite good intentions, this social insurance did not work splendidly. Most guides remained uninsured and in most cases, for those who were insured, the compensation was not sufficient for a decent living. It was even worse for families who had lost their breadwinner. Throughout the nineteenth century most of these families largely depended on charity coming from other mountaineers. To redress this problem a British mountaineer came up with the idea, written in the Alpine Journal, to start a fund “to give aid in sickness, or a small pension when quite unable to work? [...] I believe that many a tourist would rejoice, on quitting the mountain districts, to leave behind him a thank offering for restored health and energy […].”[14]In Chamonix social insurance for mountain guides was introduced much earlier than elsewhere, but even here this did not always work out as well as people wanted. Only at the end of the nineteenth century, especially from the 1880s onwards, it underwent a positive evolution.[15] However, one has to keep in mind that this social insurance for mountain guides was organized a long time before a similar system was organized for most people - especially common workers - elsewhere in Europe. Also, the examples of British mountaineers willing to support their mountain guides (or their families) when they could not practice their profession, show “there is a bond of union between the guide and his employer which seems to remove the former in some degree from his ordinary sphere. Dangers and difficulties shared, and the exchange of thoughts and opinions, which must result from days and sometimes weeks of companionship, wonderfully diminish, for the time, at least, the gulf that exists, socially, between them.[16]

Alpine associations did what they could to get mountain guides insured, but, as this was not obliged, most guides did not get themselves insured. In Switzerland approximately only one hundred guides were insured during the 1870s. Even towards the end of the nineteenth century only about three to four hundred mountain guides got themselves insured. Even though the exact number of Swiss mountain guides in this period is unknown, we know that these several hundred insured guides were only a minority, as several members of the Alpine Club and SAC frequently referred to the low number of insured guides.[17] This was much to the concern of these associations, who tried to convince mountain guides to take such an insurance: “Hopefully, this accident will remind mountain guides again of the holy duty, to take care of themselves and their families at times and to accept the hand we offer them to do so. […] there we are counting on the effective support of the sections; it is evident, mountain guides, through direct personal instructions and encouragement, will, most likely, be encouraged to participate, in their own best interests, in the insurance.”[18] The Alpine Club was equally concerned about the lack of insured mountain guides. They did not address their concerns directly towards the mountain guides themselves, but instead they urged other alpine associations to “promote among the guides in their respective territories a habit of effecting insurances against death or accident, and if they would persuade respectable insurance offices to offer them suitable advantages.”[19] However, in case of a tragic accident, most alpine associations, supported the families of the perished guides, even though this kind of support undermined many of the efforts of the alpine clubs to persuade guides to take an insurance.[20] Fortunately, during the nineteenth century the number of insured mountain guides rose continually, even though many guides remained uninsured. This would only improve more rapidly after the establishment of several local and regional mountain guides associations at the end of that century and during the first half of the twentieth century.

III. When the British came (ca. 1855-1870) 

From the 1850s onwards ever more British alpinists found their way to the Alps. Rather quickly and for several reasons these British climbers gained (between ca. 1855 and 1865) a dominant position in the Alps (table 1 and 2). This inflow of British alpinists would have some major consequences on mountaineering in general, but more specifically, they had a large influence on the profession of mountain guides. This British dominance was, however, restricted to the Western Alps. The Eastern Alps were less frequented by British tourists or mountaineers.[21] More alpinists came to the Alps to attack (successfully) almost all still unclimbed mountains. Between 1854 and 1865, thirty-one 4000m peaks were first ascended by British mountaineers and their guides.[22] Only four 4000m peaks were first climbed by mountaineers of other nations. Not only new mountains were climbed, but mountains who had been scaled before were climbed again, and often repeatedly. Between 1852 and 1857 Mont Blanc was climbed by sixty-four parties, of which sixty were British. Before 1850 Mont Blanc was scaled only thirty-three times.[23] In 1865, thirty-one out of thirty-five mountaineers who stood on top of Mont Blanc were British.[24] This period, between 1855 and 1865, would become known as the “Golden Age” of mountaineering. This British supremacy has been expressed very well by the Swiss Gottlieb Studer, co-founder of the Swiss Alpine Club:

“Yes, this want for adventurous traveling has become almost a fashion trend and the dauntless Albions serve as a bright example to other nations. It’s almost impossible for a Swiss to climb a glacier pass or a mountaintop, which he thought was previously untrodden or unclimbed, without hearing from his guide, he has already guided an Englishman there.”[25]

In this period there were many French, Swiss, Austrian,… mountaineers and tourists travelling and climbing in the Alps as well. Many British mountaineers however, were enthusiastic writers, and their books and articles were read across Europe, contributing to the image of mountaineering as something dominated by the British.

But how could this British presence in the Alps have influenced the development of mountain guiding? What part did the alpine associations play? Mountaineers exercised influence on mountain guiding in multiple ways. First of all, mountaineers who wanted to climb peaks previously untrodden, stimulated many mountain guides to improve themselves and to develop their climbing, and their human and moral capacities. In order to keep guiding those mountaineers, many guides had to start climbing on a level much higher than before. If they did not, they would risk losing their clients, which in turn would affect their financial situation quite deeply. Thanks to those mountaineers they were able to earn more money, which was very welcome in many poor alpine valleys. Leading mountaineers on first ascents or on loftier mountains brought in even more money. For most part of the nineteenth century people always climbed with guides, even if the climbing skills of guides barely exceeded those of their clients. In this period, most guides learnt climbing while they were in the mountains with their clients.

Secondly, the establishment of the Alpine Club in 1857 influenced the professionalization of mountain guiding profoundly, be it rather indirectly. The British Alpine Club was the first association for mountaineers. The idea for its establishment first came from William Matthews in 1857.[26] The club was not directly linked to any mountain guides, but it was the example for other alpine clubs which were founded in the Alps in the decades after 1857. The Austrian Alpine Club in 1862 (Österreichischer Alpenverein (OAV)), the Swiss Alpine Club in 1863 (Schweizer Alpen-club/Club Alpin Suisse (SAC/CAS))[27], also in 1863, the Italian Alpine Club (Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)), the German Alpine Club (Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV)) in 1869 and the French (Club Alpin Français (CAF)) in 1874. These Associations were based on the Alpine Club, be it with one major difference: they were linked to mountain guiding.[28] Gradually they would start to organize the profession of mountain guides, by organizing mountain guide courses in order to assure the qualities of the guides,[29] by working with official mountain guide qualifications (certificates) granted after passing these courses, by handing over Führerbücher/ Livrets de guides to licensed guides (as a way to check on guides) (cf. infra), by drafting rules of conduct or by offering forms of insurance for guides. Rules of conduct were drafted for guides as well as tourists in order to protect both against misbehaviour. These rules are a clear indicator of the differences that often existed between mountaineers and guides. Differences in social background (mostly - upper - middle class mountaineers as opposed to lower class mountain guides)[30] were not always easily put aside. With these rules alpine associations tried to shape the behavior of mountain guides to their standards. This, however, did not stand in the way of many hearty relations between guides and clients.[31]

The Alpine Club on the other hand, influenced the professionalization of mountain guides mainly in an indirect manner. Due to their presence in the Alps, their often extensive writing about mountaineering, and by urging other alpine associations and even regional authorities to improve the profession of mountain guiding continually. Unlike the alpine associations located within the Alps, they had no official connection with mountain guiding and therefore they could not shape this profession directly. In order to obtain their goals, they had to collaborate with other alpine associations, not in the least with the Swiss Alpine Club. Only this way could they have a real impact on mountain guiding.[32]

In Switzerland, from the 1850s and 1860s, the Cantonal authorities were to a large extent responsible for the organization  and control of mountain guides. They handed out certificates to future mountain guides. Sometimes there were different certificates for different sorts of guides. In most places there were three types of guides: mountain guides, mule drivers and porters or porteurs à chaise.[33] Furthermore, they made sure mountain guides had the right qualifications to exercise their profession and they were responsible for regularly checking this up. They drafted rules of conduct for guides and their clients, and they set rates for mountain excursions, climbs and hikes and they decided on the minimum number of porters a tourist had to hire when he wanted to be carried.[34] These regulations often differed (slightly) between the different cantons. The Swiss Alpine Club, after its establishment in 1863, took some responsibilities towards mountain guides, offering mountain guide courses (offered by sections of the SAC) and trying to get as many guides as possible insured (from the 1870s onwards), which proved to be a hard task (cf. supra).[35] Only from the 1870s and 1880s onwards local mountain guides associations were established in Switzerland and elsewhere in the Alps. It would even take until the beginning of the twentieth century before regional/cantonal mountain guides associations were established.[36] In Switzerland, cantonal associations were only established at the beginning of the twentieth century in Valais, Bern, Graubunden, and Uri (founded between 1904 and 1909). A National mountain guides associations (SBV, Schweizer Bergführer Verband) was established in 1942, followed by the SNGM (Syndicat National des Guides de Montagne) in France in 1946. Similar associations were founded in 1966 in Austria (VÖBS, Verband der Österreichischen Berg- und Schiführer) and 1968 in Germany (VDBS, Verband Deutscher Berg- und Skiführer). One of their main purposes, besides improving and promoting mountain guiding, was - and is - to look after the interests of the affiliated guides. The interests of alpine associations and those of mountain guides did not always correspond with each other. By organizing themselves, mountain guides were able to look better after their own interests.[37]

The Alpine Club had another effect on the professionalization of mountain guiding: it was thanks to such associations that mountaineering became better known and more widely accepted. Although the Alpine Club was a very small association with only a few members (table 3), it had a major impact on the number of (British) people travelling to the Alps. The Alpine Club and many of its members were gifted writers. They wrote plenty of books and journals about the Alps and mountaineering, which gave many people the final stimulus to actually go to the Alps. In 1830 around 3000 tourists visited Chamonix, compared to 1500 at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1865 this number increased to almost 12.000, of which one in three was British or Irish.[38] A look at numbers of members of different alpine associations confirms the increasing flow of tourists and mountaineers to the Alps (table 3). This increasing number of tourists and mountaineers gave mountain guiding a boost. More people coming to the Alps meant an increasing demand for mountain guides. In Chamonix, the number of guides rose from 46 in 1821 to 156 in 1845, to 298 in 1898. In Switzerland we can assume a similar increase in the number of mountain guides. This can be deduced from the growing number of tourists in the Alps and members of the different alpine associations during the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as the increasing number of insured mountain guides in Switzerland. Due to the lack of mountain guides associations in the Alps during the nineteenth century, hardly any official numbers were registered before the turn of the century, which makes it very difficult to give an exact number. Besides mountain guides, many other people found their way into tourism, whether as a hotel manager, a restaurant keeper, a mule driver or a porter. At first this development did not have a very positive effect on the qualities of many mountain guides:

“It must be admitted that the enormous increase in the number of travelers has tended to lower the moral scale of the guides as a class. It is desirable the cantonal authorities would require each guide to furnish himself with a legal certificate of his character and qualifications, and that the names of these certificated guides, with tariffs of charges, be exhibited on the walls of the hotels; by these means the traveler would be exposed to no risk in his selection, whilst the standard of the men generally would rise to its former level.”[39]

The professionalization of mountain guiding was taking shape these days, but it was far from perfect. There are enough examples of climbers who hired mistakenly bad, misbehaving or incompetent guides. Around this time there was a huge gap between the level of mountain guiding in the well-known districts like Zermatt, Grindelwald, or Chamonix and lesser-known districts like the Dauphiné, the Val d’Hérens or the Val d’Aosta. The reason for the early success of Chamonix, Zermatt or Grindelwald can to a large extent be traced back to their surroundings. The presence of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn or the Massif of the Wetterhorn - Eiger - Jungfrau gave these villages a huge advantage over others. These mountains, because of their height, distinct shape and majesty, or their stupendous view, attracted more tourists than any other mountain or village in the Alps could hope for. As more tourists went to these districts, they were able to or they needed to develop at a faster rate than other districts, no matter how beautiful or pristine these might be. As a consequence, mountain guiding developed slower in these less visited regions, as the need to develop was less urgent because of the smaller number of tourists.

Mid-nineteenth century travel stories, guidebooks or diaries of mountaineers often refer to the low quality of mountain guiding (and tourism in general) in these regions:  “We had taken a guide from La Bérarde [Dauphiné], and the man, as is common in those parts, was almost useless.”[40] Or: “Anyone, however, meditating an assault on the Premiero peaks [South Tirol] must either go alone or bring guides from more satisfactory districts.”[41] But even in the more developed regions not all guides were as good as one would hope, even in Chamonix: “But we had bad guides, who, as we had found the day before, were afraid of any glacier they were not familiar with [...] Despite our remonstrances, they insisted upon conducting us by a route full of peril, across the vast tract of boulders and débris.”[42] Also in Switzerland: “The most singular characteristic of my guides was, perhaps, their conversational power. [… ] I may as well say at once that I found one of them, Johann Zügler, to be a good mountaineer. Of the others, the less said the better.”[43] These people were not only criticizing the technical abilities of guides, but also their behavior and moral capacities. Remarks about, for example, the often excessive drinking by mountain guides are frequently encountered in alpine journals, diaries, and travel books written during the 1860s and 1870s.  Change came after the establishment of the different alpine associations. The certificates Baedecker speaks of were introduced, tariffs were fixed, trainings were offered, and mountain guiding became more and more professionalized. As a consequence, more tourists and mountaineers had the possibility to hire competent guides (concerning their climbing skills as well as their moral capacities).

People who wanted to hire a guide in Chamonix simply had to go to the office of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, where a guide would be assigned to them. This could as well be done by mail. Elsewhere in the Alps, the process of hiring a guide was somewhat different - at least until the creation of local mountain guide offices. This did not happen everywhere, and many guides, even today, work independently. They were not united in such associations as in Chamonix. In order to attract clients, they would assemble each day in front of the church, town hall or hotels. Many appointments were fixed in advance. On the one hand because tourists or mountaineers knew the guide they wanted to hire, most often because they had been out on excursions before. On the other hand, more experienced, skilled or even famous guides were often booked in advance because they were well known and widely respected. The alpine associations and their members had a hand in this by writing and speaking about their experiences with mountain guides. This way mountaineers could recommend or discourage people or fellow members to hire certain guides, thus strengthening the reputation of many excellent ones. In time, many more experienced guides could create a regular clientele. For young and inexperienced guides, it was often difficult to attract clients. They waited outside hotels or at stations, with their Führerbücher in hand, hoping to convince tourists to hire them. Young guides who were related to elder, more famous guides, or whose family owned or worked in hotels had a great advantage. Hotel managers with related guides often recommended clients to hire them instead of other guides.[44]

Criticism on guides from less developed districts in the Alps was not exceptional. In time, due to the efforts of the alpine clubs and the increasing influx of tourists and mountaineers, this would change gradually. More surprisingly perhaps is the frequent complaining about Chamonix guides and the Compagnie des Guides. The reasons for their critique can be found in the rules of the Compagnie, with which many mountaineers and alpine associations did not agree at all.[45] A great number of the “elite” mountaineers had problems with the rotation system. Especially when they wanted to make longer excursions or when they wanted to climb loftier and tougher mountains, they wanted someone they knew and trusted, or at least someone they had heard of.In Chamonix this was not possible. Instead of doing it himself, it was the Compagnie who would assign one or more guides to the mountaineer. This rule often caused frustration on the latter’s part. Even on a higher level these irritations were noticeable.[46] In the 1870s, under pressure of both the Alpine Club and SAC - which even addressed this issue (and others) to the regional government in Annecy and the French Ministry of the Interior - the Compagnie would eventually, be it reluctantly, abolish this rotation system, at least partially, and only in 1879 when they stated: “travellers are free in the choice of their guides; when they don’t have a preference, guides will offer their services based on the rotation system.”[47] The Alpine Club had only one objection to these terms: “that in those cases in which the traveller shall express no preference, it shall be the duty of the chief guide to recommend the guides most suitable for the expedition proposed.” [48] In the 1860s, there were already some exceptions to this rule. Members of the Alpine Club and other experienced mountaineers could choose their own guides as well as the number they considered necessary.[49]

A great advantage of the rotation system was that it created equality among mountain guides. It had, however, one major disadvantage: it often created incompetent guides, or less competent guides were assigned to excursions they were not suited for. Not all those guides were completely inept, but they often lacked the required skills on certain types of terrain. Some guides prefer climbing on ice or snow, while others prefer rocks. Due to the rotation system, guides could not choose their clients, nor could the client choose the guide(s) he thought best fitted for the job. When a client wanted to go rock climbing it was perfectly possible that he would get a snow and ice specialist whose rock climbing skills were insufficient. This tour de rôle often frustrated the client as well as the guide himself: “Were they [the guides] all equally excellent, this [rotation system] would not be a great hardship, but the contrary is the fact: and none grumble at the system so much as the really first-rate guides of whom there are plenty at Chamonix, who find themselves put on a level with men scarcely more fit for their duties than so many railway porters.”[50] Many first rate mountain guides could often only undertake easier excursions. Because of this rotation system they did not have the possibility to develop their mountaineering skills in the way many Swiss guides could, because the latter were not hampered by such restrictions. In addition, if everyone had the same opportunities to guide on tougher or easier tours, why would one invest in trying to improve? On the other hand, less competent guides where often assigned to tougher excursions, that way endangering themselves, their clients and the image of mountain guiding in general. An arrangement of mountain guides into different classes, “the first should contain the names of those qualified for expeditions of real difficulty ; the second of those suited to ordinary glacier expeditions: and the third of those capable of only easy work,” was one of the demands of the Alpine Club and SAC to tackle this issue.[51] This categorization would never be implemented. The abolishment of the rotation system, as well as better and stricter courses to become a mountain guide made this categorization redundant. Because of this, it should not surprise us that mountaineers or the Alpine Club often spoke badly of La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. This also explains why the Alpine Club and SAC wanted to abolish the rotation system.

Another source of frustration for many mountaineers, as well as for the alpine associations and mountain guides from other districts was the monopoly on mountain guiding of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix in the Chamonix-Mont Blanc region. Before the 1860s, guides who were not affiliated with the Compagnie were not allowed to guide anyone in the region. For many mountaineers this meant that, when they wanted to scale mountains in the Mont Blanc region with their, for example, Swiss guide(s) they were not allowed and they were obliged to hire local guides. Only later this rule was made less strict and after ca. 1860 foreign guides were allowed, although often reluctantly, as this example shows very clearly: “Furious on hearing about the ascent made by “outsiders” [Edward Whymper, Christian Almer and Franz Biner] on their much tried mountain [Aiguille Verte (4221m)]. They refused to believe it, and when Whymper’s party descended to the village three gendarmes had to be summoned to quell a near riot.”[52] An extra reason for contesting this monopoly, by individual climbers and by the Alpine Club and SAC, was the fact that the Compagnie offered only a small, not very challenging number of excursions and climbs. From the 1850s onwards, more climbers attempted to climb tougher mountains and this rule made it impossible to climb such mountains in the Chamonix district. Besides, local guides did not have opportunities to improve their climbing skills by climbing new mountains as these were not included in the program of the Compagnie.[53] Therefore, their skills remained rather limited and their knowledge on other mountain ranges was almost non-existent. Mountain guides in Chamonix who really wanted to excel in their profession had no other option than to oppose these rules and the Compagnie in general, like for example Michel Croz and Auguste Balmat. They acknowledged that the only way to improve themselves and to close the gap between them and many Swiss guides, was to ignore these rules. Only then something could be done against “the dead level of mediocrity” which was so characteristic of many Chamonix guides. Sir Alfred Wills, third president of the Alpine Club, was even more harsh towards the Compagnie when he wrote “that the whole valley of Chamonix is a dark gulf of incompetence, sordidness, and prejudice, and that a notice ought to be placed round the glaciers, “Closed for want of guide.””[54]

The growing influx of tourists in Chamonix from the 1850s onwards also had its effect.[55] An increased demand for mountain guides combined with lax admission requirements, about which the Alpine Club was equally critical, only intensified the existing problems concerning the quality of mountain guiding in Chamonix. They claimed several Chamonix guides did not meet the requirements to become a mountain guide. Many candidates had not accomplished the required ascents, but still became mountain guides, even showing false certificates of ascents they supposedly made to tourists. After these allegations by the Alpine Club in the 1870s, the regulations to become a guide at the Compagnie had been tightened.[56] An important consequence of all this was that the lead regarding mountain guiding, the Compagnie had established in earlier years was now strongly diminishing. More and more Swiss guides took the lead when it came to mountaineering skills, which meant that an increasing number of alpinists and tourists went to Switzerland instead of going to Chamonix, the old capital of mountaineering. Thanks to the efforts of the Swiss Alpine Club and the Alpine Club, alterations were made to the - often outdated - regulations of the Compagnie: the partial abolishment of the rotation system, and of the rules about the number of guides one had to hire, or the introduction of tougher rules for admission to become a mountain guide.[57] From then on the relation between La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, and the Alpine Club and SAC improved considerably.

The danger of hiring incompetent guides did not only exist in Chamonix. On the contrary, as it has been discussed earlier, most districts in the Alps had their bad or incompetent guides or even impostors. To avert the danger of hiring incompetent guides, measures were taken by the Alpine Club, as well as by the other alpine associations and local governments. The mountain guide courses and mountain guide certificates mentioned above, but also the Führerbücher were means to fight these problems.

These Führerbücher were booklets, kept by mountain guides, in which clients had to write down their experiences with their guides. When a client wanted to hire a guide, he could always consult these booklets in order to decide whether this particular guide had the right capacities for him (climbing skills as well as moral capacities). Mountain guides were obliged to have them always at hand.[58] These booklets and an official mountain guide certificate were a necessity, as during the main part of the nineteenth century there were many impostors who claimed to be guides, but who were in fact highly incompetent, thus endangering not only their clients but the image of mountain guides in general as well. At the same time these booklets made it increasingly difficult for incompetent guides to keep guiding tourists in and through the Alps, which, in time, lead to a general improvement of mountain guiding.

In Britain, the Alpine Club tried to do the same by making lists of guides. These lists were kept by the Alpine Club and members could write down their experiences with a particular mountain guide. When somebody else had the intention of hiring a certain guide he could consult these lists first to make sure his choice of a particular guide was the right one. Many of those notes were stereotypical descriptions of mountain guides, often praising their perseverance, courage or physical strength. Even though most of these descriptions were very stereotypical, motivations or comments from fellow mountaineers could prevent climbers or tourists from hiring incompetent mountain guides as well as help guides to make a career. The same can be said of many notes in the aforementioned Fürhrerbücher[59] The Swiss Alpine Club likewise published in its annual journal a non-exhaustive list of guides, classified by district, with the ascents accomplished during the last year.[60]

IV. Remarks

Despite all the criticism on the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix one should not forget its importance and influence on mountain guiding. Notwithstanding its flaws, this guiding association was the first of its kind and it had a major impact on the development of mountain guides in the Alps and beyond. Criticism from mountaineers and alpine associations, not in the least the Alpine Club, helped the Compagnie and other similar associations develop and grow. In addition, problems with incompetent guides were not restricted to Chamonix. On the contrary: in comparison to many other districts in the Alps, especially the less developed or visited ones, like the Dauphiné, Val d’Aosta, South Tyrol, or Val d’Hérens, the average mountain guide at Chamonix was better skilled.

Furthermore, most tourists and mountaineers who came to Chamonix, did not encounter any problems with their Chamonix guides, nor with the rules of the Compagnie des Guides, “and it is but justice to say that, as a body, the Chamouni [sic] guides are a very respectable and trustworthy set of men, and that the best amongst them have few rivals in all the qualities that make a first-rate mountaineer.”[61]

Criticism rather came from experienced mountaineers, who wanted to do more than visit the Mer de Glace or Jardin de Talèfre. In their opinion guides needed to excel in their profession. Many guides did not meet the requirements these elite mountaineers set, even though they were perfectly capable of leading tourists on less challenging tours. Elite mountaineers were, however, most heard, and their criticism often overshadowed the positive remarks given by pleased clients. This might have led to an overly negative view on the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, and mountain guiding in general, but this did not do justice to all mountain guides. At the same time, this criticism had a positive effect, as it urged mountain guides associations and the associated guides to improve and professionalize continually. Most guides in the nineteenth century remained, however, guides on easy excursions, mule drivers, or porters. Many of the well-known mountain guides started their mountaineering career in one of those professions [62]

This situation changed firmly during the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Due to better and stricter regulations, it became harder to obtain an official mountain guiding certificate or permit. For example, before being admitted to a mountain guide course it was necessary to present a record of mountaineering achievements.[63] This was a reason why many future guides started their career as a porter or mule driver, in order to gain mountaineering experience. Due to stricter regulations and better courses most mountain guides became increasingly professional and competent at mountain climbing. In comparison to today’s courses, these were not on the same level; but when compared to the middle of the nineteenth century, it was a massive improvement. Due to these changes the average mountain guide at the beginning of the twentieth century was more competent to guide tourists and mountaineers in the mountains than his counterpart from the middle of the nineteenth century.

During most of the nineteenth century most mountaineers climbed with mountain guides. Guideless climbing was at that time almost “not done.” There are several examples of mountaineers who climbed without guides, but guideless climbing was not a widespread, let alone generally accepted, phenomenon. It did occur, but it would take until the 1880s and 1890s, before it became more widespread, especially in the Eastern Alps where more and more Austrian and German climbers started to climb without guides - not in the least because they did not have the money to hire guides. Before the 1880s there was some sort of taboo on guideless climbing. Those people who actually climbed without guides did not get much sympathy from other climbers, nor from mountain guides and local inhabitants. The Parker Brothers experienced this when they set off for the Matterhorn “without an encouraging word from anyone, on an enterprise apparently regarded by others of a rash or dubious nature.”[64]

Many mountaineers were clear on this matter: climbing mountains meant hiring competent mountain guides, even on minor excursions. An important reason for this necessity was “that practical knowledge which long residence among the mountains can alone impart, and in the possession of which our best English climbers fall far behind their guides.”[65] Not surprisingly guideless climbing could not count on much sympathy from tourists and mountaineers, nor from mountain guides. Even later, when guideless climbing became more established, many, especially British, mountaineers and mountain guides kept condemning this new sort of climbing.[66]

V. Conclusion

Between the guides hired by the early tourists at the end of the eighteenth century and the mountain guides who were active between the 1860s and 1880s there was an enormous gap. These first guides were still more herdsmen or hunters than mountain guides, with only limited mountaineering skills. Only several decades later things started to change when, around the middle of the nineteenth century, more and more tourists, and mountaineers started to visit the Alps. They urged the existing mountain guides to improve themselves in order to attract tourists and alpinists, thus expanding their often precarious revenues. This growing demand for mountain guides  made it clear that there was a need to find  a way to guarantee that different sorts of mountain guides had the right skills, abilities and capacities to guide tourists and mountaineers in the mountains.

In the 1860s the different alpine associations were established, the Alpine Club being the example for many others. These associations, often in collaboration with regional/cantonal authorities, increasingly strengthened their grip on the profession of mountain guiding which meant a real boost for its professionalization. On the one hand they started to organize courses for mountain guides, they handed out Führerbücher and certificates, they set rates for excursions and ascents as well as rules of conduct for guides. On the other hand they reported mischief and fraud and they criticized the policy of certain mountain guides associations in order to stimulate them to improve their services. Especially the Alpine Club influenced mountain guiding in such an indirect way. They often assisted other alpine associations in dealing with several issues they thought necessary in order to improve the profession of mountain guiding. Even though the Alpine Club is often neglected in regard to mountain guiding, they did have an impact on the profession of mountain guiding. Their urge to reshape La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix in the 1860s and 1870s is a perfect example of how they altered the outlook of mountain guiding. This process was far from finished at the time this historical overview ends. Not only the alpine associations and local or regional governments influenced the development of mountain guiding, but mountaineers themselves, by their numbers or by their skills and urge to try and explore the Alps and climb all major mountains, encouraged many mountain guides to improve themselves and stirred up many guiding associations to professionalize continually. This process continued during the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century. It was vastly influenced by some major changes occurring since the end of the nineteenth century. First of all, there was the growing number of guideless climbers, and secondly the number of long engagements diminished strongly. Especially during the “Golden Age” of mountaineering many mountaineers engaged one or more mountain guides for longer periods of time. Engagements of several weeks were not an exception. The third and last important change was the beginning of skiing. For the first time mountain guides could perform their profession all year round and not just during the summer months. These and other changes altered the outlook of mountain guiding profoundly.


Table 1

Table 2, ascents on Mont Blanc by nationality

Table 3, numbers of members of European alpine associations
Table 3, numbers of members of European alpine associations


[1] Ester Kruk, Two Decades of Mountain Tourism in ICIMOD, 1989-2009  (2010), 4.

[2] In 2012 there were 5986 official IFMGA (International federation of mountain guides associations) mountain guides. IFMGA “is the only organisation that represents the profession of the mountain guides worldwide.” There are, however, several national mountain guides associations around the world, which are not affiliated with the IFMGA. Worldwide, consequently, there are much more mountain guides than those 5986, most of which are active in Europe and North America. International Federation of Mountain Guides (2012), 2.

[3]Reto Furter, Urbanisierung – Transitverkehr – Bädetourismus – Alpinismus. Indikatoren zum Hintergrund des Alpendiskurses 15. Bis 19. Jahrhundert (Chur, 2005), 147-148.

[4] Anneliese Gidl, Die Städter Entdecken die Alpen (Vienna, 2007), 17; Martin Scharfe, Berg-Sucht: eine Kulturgeschichte des Frühen Alpinismus 1750-1850 (Vienna, 2007), 34.

[5] Fabrizio Bartaletti, What Role Do the Alps Play Within World Tourism? (2008).

http://alpsknowhow.cipra.org/background_topics/alps_and_tourism/alps_and_tourism_chapter_introduction.html (accessed 15 February 2014).

[6] Horace-Bénédict De Saussure, Voyages Dans les Alpes: Précédes d’un Essai Sur l’Histoire Naturelle des Environs de Genève vol. 4 (Neuchâtel, 1803), 474.

[7] Created in 1821 and ratified by the Sardinian Government in 1823.

[8] Andrea Hungerbühler, Könige der Alpen: Zur Kultur des Bergführeberufs (Bielefield, 2013), 76. 

[9] “Règlement des guides de Chamonix,” Bulletin du C.A.F. 2 (1879): 59-62.; John Ball, A guide to the Western Alps (London, 1866), 194.

[10]Furter, Urbanisierung – Transitverkehr – Bädetourismus – Alpinismus, 109-148; Daniel Anker, Come nacque l’alpinismo. Dall’esplorazione delle Alpi alla fondazione dei Club Alpini (1786–1874): Erstbesteigungen in den Schweizer Alpen 1740-1850 (Varallo, 2014), 1-3.

[11] H. Rousseau, Règlement et Tarif de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix (Annecy, 1879), 37; Gesetz, Reglement & Tarif für den Fürherdienst im Canton Valais (Lausanne, 1870), 13.

[12] Musée Alpin, Création de la compagnie des Guides (Chamonix), 1.

[13] Gidl, Die Städter Entdecken die Alpen, 166.

[14] H., “Personation of a Guide,” The Alpine Journal 1 (1864): 44-45. Many examples of charity on behalf of mountaineers and alpine associations can be found in journals of most alpine associations.

[15] Gidl, Die Städter Entdecken die Alpen, 166; Douglas W. Freshfield, “Alpine Notes: Insurance for guides,” The Alpine Journal 9 (1880): 49; William A.B. Coolidge, “Alpine Notes,” The Alpine Journal 10 (1882): 278-279.

[16] H., “Personation of a Guide,” 44-45.

[17] Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub, vol. 11-33, 1875-1897.

[18] J.E. Grob, “Chronik,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 22 (1887): 495.

[19] Douglas W. Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes: Insurance for guides,” 49.

[20]Ibid., 49.

[21]Furter, Urbanisierung – Transitverkehr – Bädetourismus – Alpinismus, 141.

[22]Between 1851 and 1900 around one thousand mountains were first ascended in the Alps. Approximately 350 of those were completed by British climbers (one hundred between 1861 and 1867). Ibid., 141. 

[23]Peter Grupp, Faszination Berg: die Geschichte des Alpinismus (Keulen, 2008), 59.

[24] Paul Guichonnet, “La Saison Touristique de 1865 à Chamonix,” Revue de géographie alpine 32, no. 4 (1944): 604-605.

[25] Grupp, Faszination Berg, 59.

[26] Letters relating to formation of Alpine Club: 1857-1858, Alpine Club Archives, 1922/B65.

[27]These alpine associations were founded after the example of the Alpine Club, which the founders tell themselves.  A. ROTH, “Chronik des Club,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 1 (1864): 3.

[28] M. Ulrich, “Statuten des Schweizer Alpenclub,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 6 (1870): 565.; Direction Centrale, “Rapport Annuel de la Direction Centrale,” Annuaire du Club Alpin Français 1 (1875): 483-485.

[29] In Switzerland mountain guides courses were organised by sections of the Swiss Alpine Club, and not on a national level. SAC, however, did support these sections financially when they organised such courses (mostly not more than one each year). Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub, vol. 11-33, 1875-1897.

[30] Peter H. Hansen, “Albert Smith, the Alpine Club, and the Invention of Mountaineering in Mid-Victorian Britain,”The Journal of British Studies 34, no. 3 (July, 1995): 310; C. S. Bennet, The Golden Age of Mountaineering: 1850-1870, 1950, 1922/C146, Alpine Club Archives; Rousseau, Règlement et Tarif de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, 5-26; Abel Lemercier, “Le Règlement des Guides de Chamonix,” Bulletin du C.A.F. 8 (1885): 291-293; Gesetz, Reglement & Tarif für den Fürherdienst im Canton Valais, 3-22.

[31] Andrea Hungerbühler, “Vom ‘Ignoranten’ zum Idealschweizer,” in Helvetia Club: 150 Jahre Schweizer Alpen-Club SAC, ed. Daniel Anker (Bern, 2013): 82-85.

[32]Douglas W. Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes,” The Alpine Journal 6 (1874): 312.

[33]Gesetz, Reglement & Tarif für den Führerdienst im Canton Valais, Article 1; Rousseau, Règlement et Tarif de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, 24.

[34] Rousseau, Règlement et Tarif de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, 13-14; Gesetz, Reglement & Tarif für den Führerdienst im Canton Valais, Article 17; 22.

[35] M. Ulrich, “Chronik,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 6 (1870): 547.; M. Ulrich, “Statuten des Schweizer Alpenclub,” 565;  J.E. Grob, “Chronik,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 20 (1884): 549-550; J.E. Grob, “Chronik,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 23 (1888): 646.

[36] F.A. Monnier, “Rapport du Comité Central,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 32 (1897) : 402.; Hungerbühler, Könige der Alpen, 84-89.

[37] Hungerbühler, Könige der Alpen, 442.

[38] Guichonnet, “La Saison Touristique de 1865 à Chamonix,” 603-604.

[39] Karl Baedeker, Switzerland with the Neighbouring Lakes of Northern Italy, Savoy and the Adjacent Districts of

Piedmint, Lombardy and the Tyrol. Handbook for Travellers (London, 1863), XXIX.

[40] Thomas G. Bonney, The Alpine Regions of Switzerland (Cambridge, 1868), 177.

[41] Leslie Stephen, The Playground of Europe (San Rafael, California, 2007 (first published in 1871)), 175.

[42] Alfred Wills, Wandering Among the High Alps (London, 1858), 85.

[43]Stephen, The Playground of Europe, 3.

[44] Heidi Lanz and Liliane De Meester, Ulrich Inderbinen: Ich Bin so Alt wie das Jahrhundert (Visp, 1996), 126.

[45] Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes” (1874), 312.

[46] Chaubet, Histoire de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, 76-79; Freshfield (ed), “Alpine Notes” (1874), 306-315.

[47] M. Ulrich, “Die Sektionen,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 6 (1870): 553-554; Centralcomité des Schweizer Alpenclub, “Elfter Geschäftsbericht des Centralcomité des Schweizer Alpenclub,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 10 (1875): 664-665; Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes” (1874), 311; Douglas W. Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes,” The Alpine Journal, no. 7 (1876): 42-43; “Règlement des Guides de Chamonix,” 59-62; Douglas W. Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes,” The Alpine Journal 9 (1880): 308.

[48] Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes” (1876), 42.

[49]Ball, A Guide to the Western Alps, 194.

[50] Ronald W. Clark, The Early Alpine Guides (London, 1949), 74.

[51] Centralcomité des Schweizer Alpenclub, “Elfter Geschäftsbericht des Centralcomité des Schweizer Alpenclub,” 664-665; Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes” (1874), 314.

[52] Braham Trevor, When the Alps Cast Their Spell: Mountaineers of the Alpine Golden Age (Glasgow, 2004), 150.

[53]Wills, Wandering Among the High Alps, 57.

[54] Clark, The Early Alpine Guides, 79; Freshfield, “Alpine Notes,” (1874): 312.

[55] Guichonnet, La Saison Touristique de 1865 à Chamonix, 603-608; Baedeker, Switzerland with the Neighbouring Lakes of Northern Italy, Savoy and the Adjacent Districts of Piedmont, Lombardy and the Tyrol, XXIX.

[56]Chaubet, Histoire de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, 77-78; Freshfield, “Alpine Notes” (1874), 311.

[57] Douglas W. Freshfield (ed.), “Alpine Notes” (1880), 308; “Règlement des guides de Chamonix,” 59-62. 

[58]Gesetz, Reglement & Tarif für den Fürherdienst im Canton Valais, 15

[59] List of Guides, c. 1866, Alpine Club Archives, 1922/C88.

[60]A. ROTH, “Gletscherführer,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 1 (1864): 572-581.; SAC, “Gletscherführer,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub 2 (1865): 529-542.

[61]Ball, A guide to the Western Alps, 193-194.

[62] Lanz and De Meester, Ulrich Inderbinen, 117

[63]“Règlement des guides de Chamonix,” 60.

[64]Trevor, When the Alps Cast their Spell, 168.

[65]Tyndall, New Fragments (London, 1892), 457.

[66] William A.B. Coolidge, The Alps in Nature and History (London, 1908), 327.


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Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-8 of 8

JanG - Nov 12, 2014 9:33 pm - Voted 10/10

Very Comprehensive Overview

Congratulations for a very well-written historical account of the early years of guiding. It was very interesting to read about the early restrictions in Chamonix to "out of town" guides if they attempted to come with clients to climb. You might be surprised that such restrictions have been in force at the end of the 20th century in the US, at least for climbs of Mt Rainier.

At the time of our climb in 1999, we were told that we could not bring a guide to climb the normal route. Climbing parties had to use the guides provided by Rainier Mountaineering (RMI) which had the monopoly for guiding. Moreover, we were also required to take a one-day compulsory snow & ice course prior to the climb. I should point out that the guides who were assigned to us were very experienced!



KoenVl - Nov 14, 2014 11:33 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Very Comprehensive Overview

Thanks a lot for the nice comment!
I am indeed suprised by these restrictions on Mt. Rainier. Are these still applied today?

chugach mtn boy

chugach mtn boy - Nov 18, 2014 12:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Additional reference

I'd encourage you to include a reference to the Mazibrada article in the January 2013 issue of Mountain Pro, from which some sentences/phrases of your article seem to have been taken, verbatim (well, unless you ARE in fact Andrew Mazibrada yourself!).


KoenVl - Nov 18, 2014 1:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Additional reference

Thank you for this remark. However, I'm not going to include a reference to this article, because I've never read this article untill now. Therefore, it is impossible that I've taken phrases or sentences from mr. Mazibrada's article.

My article is an updated version of an article I published on SP in 2011 or 2012 (I'm not quite sure anymore). Some sentences are indeed more or less exactly the same, but as these sentences were already in my previous article (long before mr. Mazibrada's article in 2013), it's impossible for me to have copied them. Perhaps it is even the other way round (which, perhaps I might ask him).
Best regards, Koen

chugach mtn boy

chugach mtn boy - Nov 18, 2014 5:05 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Additional reference

Ahhh, fair enough, then. Those parallels were too close to be a coincidence, so I would say Mr. M has been up to no good. I didn't realize you had a prior article.


KoenVl - Nov 19, 2014 3:30 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Additional reference

Yes, I had. Earlier this year I had removed the previous article as I was reworking it in order to get it published (at which, untill now, I have not yet succeeded, that's also the reason why I posted it back here on SP).But it's a good thing you mentioned this, thank you!

nbrunori - Jan 7, 2019 11:54 am - Hasn't voted

I guess a little mistake

Thanks for your aticle, it is fantastic!
On the part that says: "Tourists could not choose the number of guides which they thought would be sufficient. Even in 1872 the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix still proclaimed that “for the ascent of Mont Blanc the guide-chef will assign at least three guides, or two guides and a porter per traveler.”[9]"
I red the original text (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t9t156v14;view=1up;seq=363) and the year is not 1872 but it is 1862.
It is not pretty clear for me and may be I got a mistake.
Please comfirm who is right.
(sorry for my english is not good)


KoenVl - Jan 9, 2019 2:36 am - Hasn't voted

Re: I guess a little mistake

Thanks, really glad you like the article!
About your remark, you are correct. However, and this can explain the confusion, not every one was able to choose the number of guides he/she wanted to hire. For 'normal' mountaineers/tourists the number of guides was fixed (even after 1879 according to the rules of the Compagnie des guides : art. 33), which is also indicated in the book of John Ball (edition 1870) on page 194.

Only for those who could prove their extensive experience in mountaineering exceptions were possible ('Members of the Alpine Club are exempted from all restrictions ...' Ball, page 194), and a few years later the choice of how many guides to take was made free for every one, but it was the tourist's responsability if he decided to take less guides than recommended by the Compagnie, and the Compagnie or the guide was always able to refuse (Règlement et Tarifs de la Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, 1879, art. 34).

I hope this answers your question?

Kind regards,

Viewing: 1-8 of 8