|About UIAA||Members||Standards||Olympic Movement||Sponsors & Partners|
Italian Alpine Club pays tribute to Riccardo Cassin
01 Sep 2009
Riccardo Cassin, one of the greatest mountaineers of the 20th century, died on August 6 at age 100.
The Italian climber started building a reputation as an accomplished alpinist in the 1930s, scaling peaks in the Alps with relatively crude equipment by today’s standard.
His career, spanning more than six decades, is that of legend. He made roughly 2,500 climbs, more than 100 of them first ascents. Some of those are still considered classic routes.
Most famously, he tackled in 1938 with a group from his hometown of Leco the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc Massif, considered the most difficult challenge in the Alps.
Decades later he led a five-man team on a first ascent of the south wall of Mount McKinley in Alaska. The route is now called Cassin Ridge.
And as he aged, he hardly slowed. At 85, he scaled Luna Nascente in Val di Mello, Itlay.
Mountaineer Giovanni Rossi, who served three terms as president of Club Alpino Italiano’s elite group of climbers, Club Alpino Accademico, recently composed a eulogy remembering his good friend. It’s a glimpse into understanding Cassin’s style and tenacity in the mountains.
The UIAA is publishing Rossi’s eulogy in full, to commemorate Cassin and his accomplishments.
Eulogy for Riccardo Cassin
In writing about Riccardo Cassin for mountaineers of more recent generations one runs the risk of indulging in repetition or lavish rhetoric. But many of them have vague notions about the mountaineering of the Cassin era and may be inclined to underestimate it. This thought inspired Georges Livanos to choose as the subtitle for his biography of Cassin (1983) “Il était une fois le sixième degré” as if it had been a fabulous, today almost incredible age.
To avoid any temptation of rhetoric I shall confine myself mainly to technical evaluations, and begin by quoting Giusto Gervasutti. When he had been anticipated by Cassin’s party on the northern buttress of the Walker Spur (1938), he commented: “For Cassin climbing is the means to the end, he aims at the end point, he has very clear ideas, for him the goal is the enterprise… He is the man who, once the purpose has been fixed, does not go back… There are more brilliant climbers, but his list of ascents does not bear comparison…”.
Not only the great ascents of Cassin, but even the first repeat ascents became famous. They occurred during the first years after the second World War (1945-1949): Gaston Rébuffat at the Walker Spur and Pizzo Badile, Guglielmo Del Vecchio at the Piccolissima di Lavaredo (the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo had been repeated immediately after the first ascent), Gino Soldà at the Torre Trieste, Georges Livanos at the Aiguille de Leschaux, were all astonished by the level of difficulty as well as by the purity of style of the ascents. On the Badile northeast face, Rébuffat was impressed by the power of intuition of Cassin in finding the line of least resistance, and even more by his strength of mind in ignoring, in spite of a terrible storm, an easier way out and traversing with greater difficulty to a direct exit to the summit.
Cassin was a leader in the Italian mountaineering environment, and particularly so in the locality of his town, Lecco. The success of the Italian expedition to Gasherbrum IV was due to his leadership and to the ability of his best disciple Carlo Mauri, who reached the summit with Walter Bonatti (1958). Cassin was also the leader of the victorious expeditions of the Ragni di Lecco to the McKinley south ridge (1961) and Jirishanca west face (1969) (in both cases all members reached the summit!).
The best way of remembering Riccardo Cassin is by the last lines of his biography by Livanos: “As long as mountaineers will exist, they will always evoke the face of the invincible conqueror who has never gone back, who has always looked ahead, with eyes which could challenge all the strength of nature, or reflect all the goodness of man, a glance to make a hole in the stones, or as sweet and astonished as the eyes of a child…”.