Riccardo Cassin 1909-2009

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 07/08/2009
Riccardo Cassin

One of the greatest names in 20th Century mountaineering sadly passed away on the 6th August at his Piani Resinelli home near Lecco in Northern Italy.

Riccardo Cassin was born in San Vito al Tagliameto (Friuli) on the 2nd January 1909 and after the death of his father moved to Lecco to look for a job.

In an early demonstration of his legendary will to succeed, Cassin worked 12-hour days and attended night school, quickly rising through the ranks to become director of an electric plant factory.

His climbing began on the limestone spires of the Grigna above Lecco and soon he was making his own new routes: the 1931 Cassin-dell'Oro Route on the Medale may well be the most climbed limestone route in the entire Alpine chain.

By 1934 it was time to move onto bigger things. In that year he climbed a new grade VI on the South East Face of the Cima Piccolissima di Lavaredo, and with regular partners Mario dell'Oro and Gigi Vitali made the 11th ascent of the Comici on the Cima Grande.

The following year saw him firmly established in the history books with the ascents of two outstanding Dolomite climbs that would become world-famous classics: the South East Pillar of the Torre Trieste and the North Face of the Cima Ovest.

In 1937 he changed his sphere of activity once again and visited the Bregaglia, where he made the historic first ascent of the North East Face of the Piz Badile. This is a route he would repeat on several occasions, the last at the age of 78. He would continue to make many more new routes in this granite playground.

In 1938 he travelled to Courmayeur just a few days after Heckmair and party had climbed the North Face of the Eiger. Crossing the Col du Geant he was 'directed' to the Grandes Jorasses and made the first ascent of the Walker Spur, which together with the Eiger had been one of the 'last great problems in the Alps'.

After the Second World War he began to develop mountaineering equipment and is sometimes thought of as one of the founders of the modern mountaineering industry.

In the 1950s he began his exploration of the world's mountains: from the Karakoram to Alaska, and the Caucasus to the Andes. He was on the Italian reconnaissance expedition to K2, led the expedition that put Bonatti and Mauri on top of Gasherbrum IV, made the first ascent of the now coveted South Face of Denali, and the first ascent of Jirishanca's West Face.

His last major expedition took place in 1975, when with a large team including Gogna, Messner and Piussi he probed the then futuristic South Face of Lhotse. Members of the team reached a height of 7,500m.

Cassin was awarded honorary membership of many of the world’s alpine clubs and will remain, as the late Pavle Kozjek noted, 'a shining example of a wonderful life truly dedicated to climbing'.
 


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