Edward Whymper (London, England, April 27, 1840 – Chamonix, France, September 16, 1911) was an English mountaineer, explorer, author, and illustrator. Whymper is most famous for his exploration of the Alps and for being the first man to climb the Matterhorn in 1865. In 1880, he ventured on an ambitious expedition to Ecuador with a specific interest in studying the effects of altitude sickness and reduced pressure on the human body. Guided by the experienced Italian mountaineer Jean-Antoine Carrel, Whymper ascended several of Ecuador’s volcanoes, including the Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, making him the first to do so. Beyond the mountaineering feats, his exploration of Ecuador’s mountains resulted in “Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator” (1891), a significant publication that offered deep insights into high-altitude physiology, the diverse biodiversity, and the breathtaking landscapes of the Andes.
Edward Whymper: Mountain Explorer and Pioneer in Travel Literature
Edward Whymper was born on April 27, 1840, in London, England, into a family of artists and engravers. He followed in his father’s footsteps, embarking on a career as an illustrator. However, his passion for the outdoors led him to the mountains, marking the beginning of a storied mountaineering career.
A Passion for Mountaineering
Whymper began his mountaineering journey in the Alps in the 1860s, where he climbed many unexplored and daunting peaks. Among his most famous exploits is the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, a feat marred by tragedy as four members of his party lost their lives during the descent. Whymper documented this expedition in his renowned work “Scrambles Amongst the Alps,” providing a raw and compelling account of his mountaineering experiences.
The Ecuador Expedition
In 1880, Whymper organized an expedition to Ecuador, primarily to collect data for the study of altitude sickness and the effects of reduced pressure on the human body. His chief guide for this trip was Jean-Antoine Carrel, a seasoned mountaineer who had previously accompanied him on his Matterhorn ascent. During his time in Ecuador, Whymper climbed several significant peaks, including making the first ascent of Chimborazo and spending a night on the summit of Cotopaxi.
The Ecuador expedition greatly influenced Whymper’s writing. His book “Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator” (1891) was a culmination of his observations and experiences during the journey. In addition to providing an intimate account of his climbing adventures, the book offered groundbreaking insights into high-altitude physiology, a topic not extensively explored until then.
Whymper’s other notable literary work, “How to Use the Aneroid Barometer,” stemmed from his experiences in Ecuador. His observations about significant discrepancies in aneroid barometer readings at high altitudes led him to develop important improvements in their construction.
Edward Whymper died in Chamonix, France on September 16, 1911. At the time of his death, he was 71 years old. His passing marked the end of a prolific career that not only included his groundbreaking mountaineering achievements but also his works as an author and illustrator, contributing significantly to the understanding and appreciation of mountainous regions. His vivid descriptions, meticulous scientific observations, and unflinching depiction of his expeditions’ perils and thrills have not only enlightened readers but also inspired future generations of explorers and mountaineers.
- Scrambles Amongst the Alps: In the Years 1860–69 (London: John Murray, 1871)
- Winter Pictures: By Poet and Artist (London: Religious Tract Society, 1875)
- The Ascent of the Matterhorn (London: John Murray, 1880)
- How to Use the Aneroid Barometer (London: John Murray, 1881)
- Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator (London: John Murray, 1891)
- Chamonix and the Range of Mont Blanc: A Guide (London: John Murray, 1896)
- The Valley of Zermatt and the Matterhorn: A Guide (London: John Murray, 1897)
- The Apprenticeship of a Mountaineer: Edward Whymper’s London Diary, 1855–1859 (London: London Record Society, 2008. Edited by Ian Smith)
As an artist he did the illustrations for the following book
Among the Tibetans by Isabella L. Bird (1894)