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France Gives a Hero His Due for 1st Conquest of Europe's Highest Peak
[Home Edition]
Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Los Angeles, Calif.
Author: Meisler, Stanley
Date: Aug 9, 1986
Start Page: 6
Section: 1; Foreign Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

In 1832, when [Michel-Gabriel Paccard] was dead and [Jacques Balmat] in his 70s, Alexandre Dumas Sr., the author of "The Three Musketeers" and other extraordinarily popular French novels, appeared to destroy the reputation of Paccard forever by publishing an account of a meeting with Balmat in Chamonix. In those days, Chamonix, which is now on the Italian border, was a part of the Italian state of Piedmont, and the King of Piedmont had granted Balmat the right to carry the name "Balmat-Mont Blanc."

Balmat, whom Dumas called "the Christopher Columbus of the Alps," said that Paccard had weakened so much during their assault on the mountain that Balmat had left him behind while climbing to the summit alone. After reaching the top, Balmat went on, he climbed down again to a listless Paccard on the slopes and dragged him up to the top.

That account was so devastating that Paccard's reputation remained without much honor until now. Chamonix had monuments to both [Horace-Benedict de Saussure] and Balmat but not to the courageous doctor. In the 20th Century, however, historians, sifting through a good deal of evidence, including signed documents left behind by Balmat, concluded that Paccard did reach the top of the summit on his own strength that day 200 years ago, probably a step ahead of Balmat.

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