Tribute to Gaston Rebuffat


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Ice climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 14, 2007 - 06:59pm PT

Glace, Neige, et Roc has to be one of my favorite mountaineering books of all time. I wish I could post some of its superb photos here.

From the American Alpine Journal:

In Memoriam
Gaston Rebuffat, longtime Honorary Member of the American Alpine Club
and Officer of the French Legion of Honor, died of cancer, in Paris, on May 3 1,
1985, at the age of 64.
His climbing career spanned half a century and during his lifetime in-
fluenced two generations of mountaineers in France and around the world. From
the dawn of mountaineering to the present day, there have been few alpinists to
match Rebuffat’s total contribution as a climber. guide, teacher, author, moun-
taineering historian, film-maker and photographer, and lecturer. Through these
varied activities over four decades, he created a new world public for mountain-
eering. Non-climbers, as well as climbers, responded strongly to the virile sim-
plicity of his personal precepts: the companionship of the rope; the joy and
mystery of the dialogue between climber and mountain; his preference for
difficulty over risk; and valuing the high mountain world as a mineral garden, a
precious gift to be enjoyed and carefully preserved by all.
Gaston began climbing at 14, in the Calanques near his native Marseille,
scrambling up high cliffs that fall sheer into the sea. He continued on Mont
Sainte-Victoire, the huge limestone formation in Provence so often painted by
Cezanne. During World War II, he graduated from the French training program
Jeunesse et Montagne, and in 1946. despite being an “outsider”, was accepted
in the Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix. He was a key member of the first
climbing expedition to break through the X000-meter barrier. This was the 1950
French expedition to Annapuma, the highest peak in the world climbed at that
By the end of his life, Rebuffat had made over 1200 climbs officially
classified as “difficile” or “tres difficile”, including many first ascents in the
Mont Blanc massif. He was the first (and probably the only) guide to lead clients
up all six of the major north faces of the Alps: The Eiger, the Walker Spur of the
Grandes Jorasses, the Matterhorn, the Cima Grande di Lavaredo, the Drus and
the Piz Badile. He often said his reward was the smile in his clients’ eyes when
they reached the summit.
His own climbing style was elegant and precise, and his tall, angular figure
-even on a distant wall or spire-was unmistakable for its distinctive grace,
sureness, and the Jacquard sweater which was his hallmark. Up close, his thin
face, his metallic glance, and his grin conveyed both modesty and a fierce will.
Rebuffat combined a mastery of modem climbing techniques with a roman-
tic concept of the mountains rooted in the 19th century pioneers he so admired.
His descriptions of ascents were never burdened with logistical trivia. He pre-
ferred to speak in more philosophical, even poetic, terms of what mountains do
for man rather than what men do to mountains. Perhaps his basic attitude toward
the mountain environment might be termed passionate prudence; “lucidity” was
a word he often used in writing of climbing. He felt the mountains should be
open to everyone, and that each was free to learn the rules his own way. He
therefore neither espoused nor disparaged solo or speed climbing, but he openly
deplored the competitiveness that led to the nationalistic planting of summit
Gaston Rebuffat was an extraordinary human being. He was not only a
happy family man but also completely self-made. He had no formal education
beyond high school, yet he became a foremost mountaineering writer. He was
for many years editor of the alpinism column in the Paris daily, Le Monde,
directed a mountaineering book series for the major French publisher, Denoel,
and with his son Joel, established a publishing house of his own in Geneva. He
wrote twenty mountaineering works which were translated into many languages
and reached millions of readers. There are probably few climbers today who
have not read one of his works, seen his stunning climbing photographs, or
heard him narrate his prize-winning mountain films such as Etoiles et Tempe^tes,
Entre Terre et Ciel, and Les Horizons Gagne’s .
In some far-off time and place, outer space dwellers may one day marvel at
the photograph sealed in the first American space probe, where Rebuffat’s linear
figure, on an aiguille silhouetted against Mont Blanc, symbolizes the soaring
human spirit as nothing else could.
Gaston Rebuffat, guide, friend, and for many the archetypal mountaineer,
has gone on ahead. His life reminds us that “The struggle alone toward the
summits is enough to fill man’s heart.” The words are from Albert Camus, but
the concept is pure Rebuffat.

Mountain climber
Nov 14, 2007 - 07:08pm PT
Starlight and Storm. A classic that hepled change my life. One of several "phantom Mentors".

Social climber
Newport, OR
Nov 14, 2007 - 07:13pm PT
I thought he was Bad-Ass also!
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 14, 2007 - 07:19pm PT
I saw him speak in Vancouver, in spring 1971, just when I was starting to climb. I don't remember much about it, and didn't really know who he was, but my father wanted to go. His presentation seemed fairly poetic. A few weeks later, we saw Royal Robbins speak.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Nov 14, 2007 - 07:24pm PT
Gaston got me into the sport. I found a copy of On Snow and Rock in the attic when I was a kid. I guess my dad bought it in the 50's so he could learn. That second shot that you posted, that was the one. that got me.

Starlight and Storm is great, but On Snow and Rock is the best. That's the one where he shows us how to climb off widths by pulling them apart, hence the "Gaston" move. A few little details aside the book is still relevant, one piece of advice I can quote off the top of my head since I'm at work. Pertaining to packing a rucksack...."weight is my enemy but at the same time I must not forget anything."

Annapurna is a classic book, and you can read between the lines to see how bad ass Gaston was on that mountain.


Social climber
kennewick, wa
Nov 14, 2007 - 07:25pm PT
This was one of my all time faves....

Used to draw pics of this when I was a kid.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Nov 14, 2007 - 08:06pm PT
In a somewhat ironic end to an incredible career Rebuffat died of breast cancer.

'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Nov 14, 2007 - 08:44pm PT
Can someone post the famous photo of him doing the "Gaston" move?
Jonny D

Social climber
Lost Angelez, Kalifornia
Nov 14, 2007 - 09:02pm PT
one of my childhood heroes. i had the pleasure to meet him on a lecture in new york about a year before he passed on, he was very passionate about conservation in the mountains and in particular mont blanc.

Big Wall climber
arlington, va
Nov 14, 2007 - 11:15pm PT
I was a sophmore at Bend high school and was in the library working on a history project, and got soooo busted for having On Snow and Rock hidden inside my history book. My history teacher was a real D#@k and had no sense of humor when I told him I was reading history! That guy was truly an inspiration.

Nov 14, 2007 - 11:19pm PT
I read "Starlight and Storm" over and over. Here is a taste...

To succeed in scaling the great north faces, the pioneers had to climb for two or three days and spend at least one night clinging to the face. Nowadays, despite our knowledge of the routes, you still very often have to bivouac on some of them. But this is no drawback. At the end of the day the mountaineer looks for a ledge, lays down his sack, hammers in a piton and attaches himself to it. After the hard, acrobatic effort of the climb he is lost—like the poet—in contemplation, but to a greater degree than the poet he can be a part of the hills around. The man who bivouacs becomes one with the mountain. On his bed of stone, leaning against the great wall, facing the empty space which has become his friend, he watches the sun fade over the horizon on his left, while on his right the sky spreads its mantle of stars. At first he is wakeful, then, if he can, he sleeps, then wakes again, watches the stars and sleeps again, then at last he stays awake and watches. On his right the sun will return, having made its great voyage below this shield of scattered diamonds. The man who climbs only in good weather, starting from huts and never bivouacking, appreciates the splendor of the mountains but not their mystery, the dark of their night, the depth of the sky above. I know enthusiastic lads who flee the city at week-ends to the Forest of Fontainebleu or the Calanques. On Sunday they climb, but beforehand, on the Saturday evening, they bivouac. Theirs is the taste for nature and the universe. On the other hand, some mountaineers are proud of having done all their climbs without bivouac. How much they have missed! And the same applies to those who only enjoy rock-climbing, or only the ice climbs, only the ridges or the faces. We should refuse none of the thousand and one joys that the mountains offers us at every turn. We should brush nothing aside, set no restrictions. We should experience hunger and thirst, be able to go fast, but also know how to go slowly and to contemplate. Variety is the spice of life. —Gaston Rebuffat, "Starlight and Storm"



Ice climber
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 14, 2007 - 11:47pm PT
Speaking of Rebuffat on bivouacs, I read in his book Glace Neige et Roc how he was aid climbing once when nightfall caught up to him, and he ended up spending the entire night standing up in his etriers! He wrote that he tried sitting in them, but they cut off the circulation to his legs so he had to stand. THAT must have been a loooooong night...
I remember trying to finish the Nipple pitch on Zodiac, about 30 feet short of the belay, when night fell. My headlamp for some reason wouldn't work, and in the increasing darkness I actually thought that I'd have to "pull a Gaston" for the night in my aiders. Luckily there was just enough moonlight that came out to sorta see the crack and my gear...phew.

Trad climber
Nov 15, 2007 - 12:11am PT

What a bad ass. Where is his pro?

Big Wall climber
San Luis Obispo CA
Nov 15, 2007 - 12:13am PT
Can someone post the famous photo of him doing the "Gaston" move?

There's a bunch of OW moves depicted in the aforementioned book, "On Ice, and Snow, and Rock", including the Gaston.

"Rabbit Foot" was was on of the greats, and that book is FULL of great photos. I still have it, but I don't have a scanner. Somebody else will have to post the photo here.

What a bad ass. Where is his pro?

In his mind, his experience and his nerve.

That photo also appears in On Ice and Snow and Rock. There's another amazing photo, a panorama of his going 60-80 feet up a 3-foot chimney, no pro, with the rope hanging down in space. When I finally got to the Alcove on El Cap, and looked at the Spire Chimney, I thought of that photo, shuddered, and thanked God our route, Bermuda Dunes, went up the corner system to the right of the Spire instead.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Nov 15, 2007 - 12:18am PT
When I was just starting out I used to look at those pictures and wonder how it was that he ran he rope all the way out on every single climb. Most of those shots are posed but they captured something poetic and sparked my imagination.

And Gaston's Dudly Do-right posture was also something.


Trad climber
Nov 15, 2007 - 12:32am PT
I read his book in the Poway High School Library until I knew every page before I turned to it. For someone starting out in the mid-70s, his Lyle Lovett-esque hairdo, big boots, and thick sweater always struck me as strange. I mean, the rest of us were wearing painter's pants, t-shirts, bandanas, and stuff, and then there was this guy Gaston. I was in awe of him then, and I still am.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 15, 2007 - 12:56am PT
The Brits used to nickname him "Ghastly Rubberface", pretending to sneer at his Gallic elegance. Secretly they probably envied him for his grace and success.

Social climber
No Ut
Nov 15, 2007 - 01:57am PT
"Action and contemplation - never one without the other."
-Gaston Rebbufat


beneath the valley of ultravegans
Nov 15, 2007 - 09:19am PT
That sweater was all the pro he needed. Gaston was the Suave!

Trad climber
Nov 15, 2007 - 10:05am PT
Kind of like wearing a "cable-knit crash pad." Way ahead of his time.
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