Hervè Barmasse: Soul of a Matterhorn

by Riccardo Castellaro

Desnivel Hervé Portrait ©ScarpaThose who’ve personally met Hervé, understand how much the mountains can change those who genuinely and profoundly live the mountain experience. It molds character, mutates prospectives, and offers new opportunities. He saw the potential of these opportunities and stroke while the iron was hot. He was born in 1977 in Aosta Valley, and raised near the Matterhorn, the Alps guide had always been the profession passed down from father to son  in his family. However Hervé throughout the years spontaneously chose to approach this sector, and it became not only a job for him, but also a life style.

Starting from his early adolescence, he was a promising ski athlete, he soon became a pro skier but had to promptly interrupt his career due to a terrible accident which occured during one of his races. After a long period of difficult rehabilitation sessions his father, one cold October morning, put his backpack on his shoulders and guided the young Hervé to the peak of the Matterhorn. The climb towards the top of the Matterhorn, which many have experienced, has a metaphorical comparison to life, it represents a metaphor of struggles, risks, and satisfactions that all of us inevitably experience, each one of us in a different way.

“At the time I wouldn’t have imagined that because of the mountains, I would’ve experienced some of the most important moments of my life” Hervé writes on the site that tells his story.

“That day I was thinking about walking, trying not to trip, and trying to keep up with my father. That day on the Matterhorn, however, subconsciously I decided what my future was going to be.”

Summit of Matterhorn, Hervé Barmasse selfie credits Hervé Barmasse

Summit of Matterhorn, Hervé Barmasse selfie credits Hervé Barmasse

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People all over the world who have a chance to meet him during one of the conferences featuring him, can taste what those words truly mean. These words describe an admirable and strong person, capable of great deeds, and passionate about the mountains.

La Montagna Dentro - Hervé BarmasseWe asked him to talk to us about his latest book, entitled “La montagna dentro” (Heart of a Mountaineer), edited by Laterza.

“In the last few years, many editors offered to write books with me, a request which, for a person who isn’t a writer, is quite a difficult task, but the 150th anniversary of the Matterhorn’s first climb pushed me to accept the challenge; starting therefore this project where I wanted to underline the humanistic and personal side of the mountaineer, leaving aside the technique and tasks. I wanted to talk about the man, the person behind the climbs, and to focus on the moments of his life that pushed him to become a mountaineer: the book traces my life, my skiing career, my family and my life in Valtournenche; this book is perfect even for those who are new to the mountains, it’s main focus is the Matterhorn, “my mountain”.

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“A mountaineer has almost the feeling that he is the mountain herself.”

In this edition there are some photos, one of which is the picture of his first winter climb on the Matterhorn. The caption of that photo talks about that from that forth, he started looking at the mountains differently, with the eyes of a climber, and not with those of a skier. In relation to this Hervé says:

HerveBarmasse“Those who ski quickly “glide” above the mountain’s snowy coating, and in just a few minutes they are able to travel thousands of kilometers on the slope, they miss the details, the shades, the delicate balance that surrounds nature and consequently us. They don’t have times to perceive all of this, because they are absorbed in their bubble of technique, and that concentration is needed to express the concept of velocity and agility through our movements. A mountaineer, on the other hand, has almost the feeling that he is the mountain herself. His pace is slower, more reflective, we usually take breaks not only to relax but also to comprehend that imaginary line follows the folds of the rocks and ice, the track is unbound and dismantled and it guides us to the top only if we take our time to listen and understand it. These two different approaches of “trust”, although completely different from one another, does not mean one is better the other”.

To love the mountains means to want to communicate their meaning the best way possible, to those who have never approached it or only have in a, touristic, superficial way. This is the sense Hervé wants to give to the meetings he arranges for youngsters at schools that promote alpinism and the mountains.

“In alpinism, medals and titles don’t exist, but what does exist is human and interior growth that remains outside of the numeral logic our modern society uses to distinguish successful people from the outsiders. In the mountains you don’t lose or win, you experience your own climbs, through your own sensations, you beat your own standards, comparing your own limits with yourself, the mountain becomes a school of values, and the outcomes are always positive for everyone”.

The world of mountaineering and mountaineers has inevitably mutated in the last decades. A lot of transformations occurred due to new techniques and technologies, new discoveries and new intuitions inserted in the sector. Positive and negative evolutions certainly modified the way to “go to the mountains”.

“Maybe, in comparison to the past, there is less attention given to the essence and content of what we communicate about our activity and the mountain culture. The logic is business oriented, giving immediate success, but using this train of thought, a risk emerges for the mountaineer’s “image” for the future. Especially the one of the Alps guide, whom is the “expert of the mountains”. Fortunately I see that the new generation, young adult younger than 20 y/o, have the desire to create, and not copy, because the greatest resource humanity has is diversity, a way of interpreting the same path trying to leave your own trace but without forgetting about our traditions, our past, and our origins

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To be a professional mountaineer like Hervé, brings with itself risks that, for those who truly love this type of activity so much to have turned it into a profession, are put into consideration and accepted.

During our interview we had many instances where we ranted and chatted randomly and got carried away until we finally confronted the matter of “accidents”, here is when we understood that nothing, not even the most sensitive and difficult moments are able to dent the vigorous character of this mountaineer, and therefore the only possible question we could ask to conclude our journey into understanding Hervé Bermasse was: What are you plans for the near and relatively distant future?

“I would like to focus my attention yet again on the Matterhorn, as peak symbol of the Alps: after the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Matterhorn’s first climb are over, I believe this mountain has still much to give to the alpinism world. Not necessarily nor only through new excursions done on it but also through the Matterhorn’s cultural and historical sense, even though technical goals are always fascinating. After that, I would like to focus on foreign countries, I have some ideas and projects for the next 10 years. I would like to do alpinist climbs in search for something new and testing my limits, in an attempt to avoid repeating myself, trying to reach a new romantic and inspiring mountain”.

 Summary of Hervé Bermasse

Professional mountaineer and business consultant for the outdoor sector
National Instructor of the Alpine Guides in 2007 and Alpine Guide since 2000.
Professional mountaineer [GIA` DETTO]
Global Team The North Face Athlete
Technician for mountain rescue
Ski and Snowboard expert
Federal coach for ski mountaineering
Film director for “Linea Continua” and “Non cosi` Lontano”
Author of the book “La montagna dentro – Heart of a Mountaineer”
Author, photographic director, and co-producer of the film “Cervino, la montagna del mondo” direction of Nicolo` Bongiorno

Photographer of Publications for the main mountain magazines such as Alpinist, Desnivel, Meridiani, Montagne, Alpin, Alp, Campo, Base, Gory.

Hervé Bermasse portrait“You cannot conquer the mountains, they allow you to get to know them, to climb them, and to undergo the task to do so; by yourself, by rope team, in one way or during the winter, because they need man’s companionship. And if you are sensitive and lucky enough, maybe they will be the ones to take away something from you, your time, dreams, heart, and they will give great emotions in return.”