The pioneers of the Maritime Alps
Alpine explorers in the Southern Alps
...at times the love affairs between people and these mountains can be desperate and private, faithful and tenacious. So, to understand mountaineering in Cuneo you have to love or at least understand the terrain where these people played out their adventures: the Maritime Alps.
Gian Piero Motti, Storia dell'alpinismo
Despite having been crossed everywhich way by traders, smugglers, pilgrims and troops, the Maritime Alps were, for a long time, of no mountaineering interest. Probably because they are off the beaten track and have no 4000 metre peaks, the Maritime Alps were discovered relatively late by climbers compared with other parts of the Alps. The first sorties were, again, linked to the Savoy household: His Majesty's cartographers were simply looking for high points for their trigonometric measurements.
At the end of the nineteenth century, when the beau monde of Piedmont discovered alpine tourism in the spas and country breaks, English, American and Austrian climbers such as Freshfield, Coolidge, Purtscheller, were the first start exploring these mountains as mountaineers. It is in this period, in 1879 to be precise, that Coolidge reaches the highest point in the Maritime Alps, the South Peak of Argentera.
Esplorazione alpinistica/2 (5 foto)
The end of the century saw the arrival on the scene of one of the most assiduous explorers of the Maritime Alps, the Niçois noble Victor Spitalieri de Cessole who in August 1903, with the guides Ghigo and Plent, reached the top of Corno Stella, until then considered completely inaccessible. From this point on, a period began where new routes were opened on walls, ridges and snow gullies by climbers such as Ellena, Soria, Vernet (in the 1930s),and Campia, Guderzo (in the 1940s and 1950s).
The objective was not only to conquer a virgin summit, but to find a logical line to climb, elegant and often very difficult. The rest is modern history, far from the idea of "exploring", but none the less fascinating. Most of the activity is centred on Corno Stella, and in France, Cougourde: the protaginists are names of a certain calibre, Patrick Bérhault, Vincenzo Ravaschietto, Alessandro Gogna, Fulvio Scotto and Gianni Calcagno.