Albert Frederick Mummery, the man who dared Nanga Parbat

Albert Frederick Mummery, the man who dared Nanga Parbat

Page Type: Article
Activities: Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Ice Climbing, Big Wall


Simone Moro and Alì Sadpara after Nanga Parbat first winter ascent
Cover of SportWeek: Simone Moro and Alì Sadpara after Nanga Parbat first winter ascent

Last February Nanga Parbat has worldwide taken the lion's share on the front pages of mountaineering chronicles in reason of the successful first winter ascent by an Italian-Spanish-Pakistani team. Nanga Parbat, after 28 failed attempts, had remained one of the two 8000s, being K2 the second one, never climbed in wintertime.
This article deals with the outstanding figure of the first man on earth that in 1895, over a century ago, attempted the first ascent of this majestic mountain by an extraordinary light-weight endeavour. A concept must be clear before start talking about Albert Frederick Mummery (10 September 1855, Dover, UK - 24 August 1895, Nanga Parbat, Pakistan): as already realized he was a veritable forerunner of modern mountaineering, in fact his views about climb were absolutely in advance if compared to his time, the late Nineteenth, and his cutting-edge climbing concepts really anticipated the Twentieth century. He is reputed as “the father of modern Mountaineering". He was innovative not only for being one of the first mountaineers to break with the tradition of guided climbing and to show its feasibility in practice, for example in the year 1894 on the Brenva Spur, but also a striking forerunner in expanding his horizons and engaging himself absolutely ahead of its time: he considered the highest mountains on earth as a possible new and ambitious goal.

Albert Frederick Mummery
Albert Frederick Mummery

The Naked SunriseNanga Parbat from Fairy Meadows - ph. Eleutheros

Mostly known as the first man in history who planned and attempted to climb a 8000s, actually was one of the greatest mountaineers of all time: previously he had realized many varied challenging climbs on the Alps and also carried out a couple of expeditions in the Caucasus, in 1888 and in 1890, during which he summited Dykh-Tau 5198 m. Mummery is also remembered for his ethics, staunch supporter of the great value of a honest confrontation between man and mountain: he was among the first ones to support the need of climbing without artificial means, only counting on what he himself called "fair means”. He wrote "the art of mountaineering is to improve the talent at the height of peaks by fair means".

The ascents on the Alps and the Caucasus

Swiss Alpine Guide Alexander Burgener
Alexander Burgener

After the death of father, Albert and his brother William were sent to the Alps for a holiday. There, as Albert later wrote in his famous book "My Climbs in the Alps and the Caucasus", "the crags of Via Mala and the snows of the Theodule raised a passion within me, which has grown with my years, and has to no small extent moulded my life and thought."
His first ascent on the Alps dates back to 1871, when he climbed Matterhorn, just at fifteen. The first phase of his activities (1879-1890) took place with the great Swiss alpine guide Alexander Burgener (1845–1910), author of the first ascent of many peaks and new routes in the Western Alps.
Together with Mummery, he made the first ascent of the Zmuttgrat on Matterhorn on 1879, Grands Charmoz and Aiguille du Grépon (1881). With another British alpinist, Clinton Thomas Dent, he made the first ascent of the Lenzspitze and the Grand Dru. He was killed by an avalanche on 8 July 1910, near the Berglihütte in the Bernese Alps.


The famous  Mummery crack  on Grepòn
The famous "Mummery crack" on Grepòn


Grandes Jorasses on the left and Grands Charmoz (on the right) coming out the sea of clouds
Grands Charmoz (on the right) coming out the sea of clouds


Dente del Gigante seen from Aiguille du Midi
Dente del Gigante seen from Aiguille du Midi

Mummery and Burgener formed a strong team, realizing different challenging ascents on the Alps, but Mummery was innovative also in this and from 1892 onwards he was one of the first mountaineers to climb without a guide. At the end of the Nineteenth century the stunning granite peaks of Aiguilles de Chamonix, although representing an irresistible appeal, had not yet been taken into account by the climbers of that era, as deemed extremely difficult. Mummery and Burgener conceived to climb, and succeeded, some of these “impossible needles”: Aiguille des Grands Charmoz (with Benedikt Venetz), Aiguille Verte along the Charpoua side (without crampons) and a few days later the inviolate and stunning Grépon 3482 m, the alpine climb which made Mummery most famous in reason of its boldness and its difficulty, considered as the greatest rock climbing realized until then. Mummery celebrated with a bottle of champagne on the summit and also this significant particular reveals his personality and his propensity to cut ties with the previous dramatic conception of mountaineering. Mummery repeated this latter climb in 1893, without guides. Between 1879 and 1880 Mummery and Burgener realized the first ascent of the unattempted Zmuttgrat on Matterhorn and the steep Northern Lion gully. Again on Matterhorn Mummery also attempted the unclimbed Furggen Ridge with Benedikt Venetz, diverting only in the last part on normal route (Hörnli ridge). The most significant episode about Mummery’s ethics happened in 1880: Mummery and Burgener planned to climb Deant du Gèant, another remarkable and stunning spire, still waiting to be climbed for the first time. They started the ascent, but they stopped their attempt in front of a granite slab, too smooth to be won in free climbing; on that circumstance Mummery left in place a bottle containing a message which said: “impossible by fair means”.

Mummery's Mountaineering without guides

Grepòn and Aiguille Verte marked the end of the first stage and a real turning point in Mummery mountaineering career. After his expeditions on Caucasus unexplored peaks (first ascent to Dyhtau, 5203 m, with the guide Heinrich Zurflüh), he returned to the Alps and Monte Bianco. Mummery’s magnetic personality attracted about him a talented group of climbers; the great skill acquired allowed him to climb with some English friends mountaineers as Geoffrey Hastings, John Normann Collie and William Cecil Slingsby, freeing themselves from the need to be roped in with the guides.

Les Aiguilles de Chamonix, Mummery s favourite action-groundLes Aiguilles de Chamonix, one of Mummery's favourite action-grounds

It was not a position, rather he maintained friendly relations with Burgener, but a form of freedom and independence in mountaineering practice. It was the beginning of Mummery’s “golden period”, during which he realized some challenging climbs and first ascents without guides in the years 1892, 1893 and 1894, leading his friends on several main routes of the Alps. The first ascent of Dent du Requin and Aiguille du Plan West wall and are some of these latter. In 1893 he succeeded in Matterhorn crossing with his wife and several friends. 1894 is the last year of his alpine climbs, with the first ascent without guides of Brenva Spur on Monte Bianco.


Cervino/Matterhorn (4478 m)Cervino/Matterhorn seen from Breithorn - ph. Antonio Giani
Le Mont Blanc (4811m)Mont Blanc and Brenva wall- ph. Antonio Giani


Nanga Parbat adventure

Nanga Parbat map

In the Caucasus Mummery had understood the fascination of distant lands and great unexplored mountains. So on 1895, june 20th he decided to leave to the Himalayas, with the aim to climb a 8000er. The choice falls on one of the most difficult and dangerous, Nanga Parbat (8125 m), the ninth highest mountain on earth and the second one in Pakistan, called “the naked mountain” in reason of its secluded position from the adjacent chain of Karakorum, not far to the North-East.
The challenge, carried out in a way which several years later would be called “alpine style”, was far too much ahead of its time (the first Eight thousander, Annapurna, was conquered only in the year 1950) and absolutely disproportionate both for the gear, the acknowledge and the techniques of the time, both for the choice of climbing with a team reduced to a minimum. Only six men to challenge a gigantic mountain, which at the time you knew less than nothing of, with extenuating approaches: Mummery with three other British mountaineers, John Normann Collie, Geoffrey Hastings and Charles Bruce and two porters Gurkhas Raghobir Thapa and Gaman Singh. After having approached along the immense Rupal side, the team crossed towards the complex Diamir side and reached the altitude of almost 6100 meters (20,000 ft) along what is now called "Mummery Rib". He gave up and while Collie, Bruce and Hastings abandoned for signs of high altitude sickness, on August 24th Mummery walked around the mountain looking for new possibilities, doing a further attempt only with the porters between the secondary peaks of Nanga Parbat II and Ganalo Peak, with the intention of then rejoin companions on Rakhiot side, but the three men disappeared, probably victim of an avalanche in an effort to overcome the Diama Col and move to the Rakhiot glacier. Nanga Parbat will be climbed from that side only fifty-eight years later, while the Rupal Face even will wait seventy-five years.


Nanga Parbat as seen from Fairy MeadowsNanga Parbat as seen from Fairy Meadows - ph. Afzal
Nanga Parbat (8125-M)Nanga Parbat 8125 m -ph. Afzal


Mummery's first ascents

1879: Matterhorn-Cervino, Zmutt Ridge
1880: Cervino, canalone nord del Colle del Leone
1881: Aiguille Verte from Charpoua Glacier
1881: Aiguille du Grépon
1882: Aiguille des Grands Charmoz
1890: Dych-Tau (Caucaso)
1892: Aiguille des Grands Charmoz (first ascent without guides)
1893: Dent du Requin
1894: Monte Bianco, sperone della Brenva (first ascent without guides)


"My Climbs in the Alps and the Caucasus" - Albert Frederick Mummery

"Albert Frederick Mummery" - Spiro Dalla Porta Xidias, Torino, Ed. Nordpress

"Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage: the lonely challenge" - Hermann Buhl

"The naked mountain", Reinhold Messner - Published in English in 2003. Story of the first ascent of Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face in June 1970, and the subsequent death of Gunther Messner on the descent down the Diamir Face.

"Nanga Parbat the killer mountain" - Karl Herrligkoffer

External links

Albert Mummery the father of modern Mountaineering

Albert Frederick Mummery l'inventore dello stile alpino

Mummery Albert Frederick - Treccani


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-6 of 6

DrJonnie - Mar 28, 2016 7:26 am - Voted 10/10

A fine homage

well written Silvia,

a concise and illuminating snapshot about one of the true pioneers of alpinism.



Silvia Mazzani

Silvia Mazzani - Mar 28, 2016 9:00 am - Hasn't voted

Re: A fine homage

I have always greatly admired the character and recent events on Nanga gave me the push to write about him.
Thanks Johnnie for appreciate!

Woodie Hopper

Woodie Hopper - Apr 7, 2016 4:27 pm - Voted 10/10

Super article

I enjoyed reading your very interesting article: I even learned something today!

Well done and thank you!


Silvia Mazzani

Silvia Mazzani - Apr 8, 2016 11:56 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Super article

Thanks also to you, Woodie, for appreciating.
The drafting of this article has been also for me a good opportunity to learn something more about this amazing explorer!


markhallam - Apr 9, 2016 1:13 pm - Voted 10/10

Great piece Sylvia!

This is a very worthy article to join quite a large collection of important bits of mountaineering history on SP now. I saw Nanga Parbat in 1987 and looked up to the summit 6000m above me - not many places you can look at such a great height difference. It made a big impression and your article really brings out what an extraordinary pioneer Mummery was to have tackled such a mountain, decades ahead of his time.
best wishes, Mark

Silvia Mazzani

Silvia Mazzani - Apr 10, 2016 1:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great piece Sylvia!

Thanks for appreciating, Mark!

Viewing: 1-6 of 6