Michel Vaucher, arguably the most famous and most active mountaineer in Switzerland during the late 1950s and 1960s, died yesterday, the 17th November. He was 71
Born in Geneva, Vaucher began his climbing at the nearby, celebrated crag of Salève, where he climbed routes in big boots that are today rated F6a. He quickly moved to the major peaks of the Alps, in 1957 making a four and a half hour ropeless solo ascent of the South Ridge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey (Mt Blanc) and the following year the first ascent of the now classic East Face of the Petit Clocher de Portalet (with Italo Gamboni, who has also just died).
Other new routes in the Mt Blanc Massif include the South West Ridge of the Peigne, which he may well have felt was relatively minor at the time but has since became a great classic. However, probably his most revered new route was the Whymper Spur on the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses in 1964 with Walter Bonatti.
Although he took part in few Himalayan expeditions (one of which was the notorious 1971 International attempt on the South West Face of Everest), his place in the record books is assured: in 1960 he made the first ascent of Dhaulagiri, the penultimate 8,000m peak to succumb. It was in the years following this success that he would team up regularly with some of the greatest names in the history of alpinism, such as Bonatti, Desmaison and Rébuffat.
Vaucher began practicing as a qualified guide in 1964 and would later climb several outstanding routes for the era with clients, eg the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses (1969) and the North Face of the Eiger (1975).
However, he juggled climbing with an academic career and remained a college lecture in Mathematics until retiring in 2001.
The great Lionel Terray once took him as a climbing partner for the award winning film, Etoiles du Midi, after which Vaucher would star in five more mountaineering films, as well as becoming the author of the 100 Best Climbs in the Valais, part of the well-known Rébuffat series.
Many of his best routes in both the Alps and Dolomites were climbed with his wife, Yvette, who was a very capable alpinist in her own right. One of their most notable achievements was the difficult mixed climb of the North Face Direct on the Dent Blanche.
Vaucher’s high standard ascents finished at the end of the 1970s but he continued to climb and cave on a regular basis until quite recently, some of his last trips taking him to the desert areas of Africa.
Thanks to Claude Remy for help in preparing this report
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