1865 – 2015.
This is the true story of the most adventurous
and incredible feat Italian mountaineering.
Let’s start the story by removing any reasonable doubt: this year Valtourneche and Italy is celebrating the conquest of Cervino, which happened exactly 150 years ago. It was one forty-five that Friday 14th of July 1865 when the English mountaineer Edward Whymper and his guide, who had started their journey at Zermatt, while climbing the crest of Hornli, stepped foot, for the first time in human history, on the top of the fifth highest mountain in Europe. 4478 meters high. This was a truly remarkable event for Italy, which had only recently been united. The country was used to think of Cervino as an unreachable peak, surrounded by mystery and terrifying legends.
These legends found themselves to be tragically true, after Whymper had an accident. The mountaineer’s rope broke while he, and other mountaineers, where returning to the valley. Three mountaineers and two guides lost their lives on frightful adventure, and still today many questions immerse which only the icy snow of Cervino could answer.
In the meanwhile however, on the other slope, the Italian one, other mountaineers were undertaking the same task. One step at a time, one small move to another, they were determined to reach to the top, but were forced to retreat because of the dangerous weather conditions. This felt like a curse, to which our heroic rope team did not give up. The Italians, under the incitements of engineer Giordano and Abbot Gorret, formed a great team, made of Carrel, Jean-Baptiste Bich, known as Bardolet, Ame` Gorret and Agostino Meynet. They left again on July 16th, after bivouacking to the Gran Torre, on July 17th 1865 they quickly reached the base of Testa del Cervino (Head of Cervino), discovering a way to the northern slope: Jean – Antoine Carrel (known as “The Bersagliere“) and his trusty companion Baptiste Bich reached the peak of Gran Becca, the last mountain of the Alps, with over 4000 meters yet to be climbed.
The Italians don’t worry about those few bitter and ungrateful hours which separate the two tasks: to us, today, is important celebrating the achievement of an Alpine undertaking, which is loved and honored like no other peak in the world.
It’s called Cervino…
…but pronounced Gran Becca!
The name of His Majesty has ancient origins. Long before any climber began lurking onto the cliffs of the beautiful hotel Panorama in the wonderful basin of Cheneil, our roman ancestors already had set their eyes on a valley, which at the time, was full of wood and water because of the nearby forest. For this reason they named, the now Cervino, MONS SILVANUS, in other words Forested mount. The neighboring French, in the “modern” era, then shortened and crippled the epithet to “Serven“.
This valley, which you too have the possibility to visit, was always chosen by Julius Caesar to create the settlement for Augusta Praetoria Salassorum, today called Aosta. In the city many things were left from the Roman bypassing, however this is another story.
Let’s return to clarify the reason today we call this peak Cervino. This is due to one of the first Cartographer of Italy, Monsieru De Saussure, who registered the name of the mount: “Cervin“. Underlining a clear, yet rather wrong, reference of the presence of deer in the area.
And what about Gran Becca? In Patois Valdourtain (the dialect of Val d’Aosta) is means “Great Mountain“, a loving nickname given by the people of Val d’Aosta.
During these days, therefore, do not forget to look at Cervino with a wish of
“happy birthday and…many, many, more to come”.