(Written by Jerzy Porebski; translation from original Polish text by Bob A. Schelfhout Aubertijn) It sometimes happens in life that people manage to discover what no one has yet discovered. At times they discover what others have already discovered and it even happens they discover what is obvious to others. Obvious to others is not always obvious to all, hence my interest in the company Grivel and its current owners, Gioachino and Betta Gobbi. So I went to visit with them and that's how this text came about.
It turns out that there is much in common between forging, blacksmiths, explorers, climbers, mountain guides and business, all of which are combined in mountain culture. This story and these people enchanted me because it is the history and present of passion, vision, persistence, informed choices and unique culture.
A blacksmith named Grivel
In the year 1818 a blacksmith named Grivel, from a family of German origin, came to Courmayeur in the Gressoney Valley and in this small farming village began the production of agricultural tools. The exploration of Mt. Blanc previously began from Chamonix and in 1786 Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard became the first to make a successful ascent. During the Napoleonic Wars and the revolutionary turmoil the interest in the Alps diminished and only in the forties of the nineteenth century wealthy Brits began to come to Courmayeur who, at that time, were very interested in exploring the world.
Need for climbing shoes, crampons and axes
Climbing shoes were needed to facilitate the movement on rock and ice and the local blacksmith brothers Grivel addressed to those needs. They produced mountain boots with steel nails in the leather soles. Crystal seekers were sent to them with orders for the first axes. The production of the brothers had a huge impact on the dissemination of tourism and mountaineering and it is difficult to imagine doing this without their "tools" and actually in this way their tool business started.
In 1909 the English engineer Oskar Eckenstein urges Henry Grivel to produce modern crampons, whose appearance resembles today's contemporary design. Eckenstein worked for the British rail and proposed the production out of cut rail tracks resistant to extreme temperatures.
In 1929, Henry's son Laurent designs modern 12-point crampons with two front teeth for climbing ice. In 1936 Amato, Laurent's younger brother, started using nickel-chromium-molybdenum-steel to produce a new generation of crampons that only weighed 360g a pair. These crampons have been used in the first climbs on Mount Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga.
During our last call, Kurt Diemberger also admitted that he used Grivel crampons and ice axes in the first ascents of Broad Peak (1957) and Dhaulagiri (1960). He could not remember whether it was the only "official" expedition equipment that was used.
Grivel in the history of mountaineering
It is not only important who is using Grivel equipment but it's hardware is always innovative and widely available, which has affected the exploration of the Alps, the Himalayas and other mountains, in developing tourism, travel and extreme climbing and so it is indelibly inscribed in the history of mountaineering.
In the Museo Nazionale della Montagna in Turin there is a display showing the development of crampons and ice axes. On an artificial snow and ice hill the difference is shown between shoes studded with nails versus modern ultra-lightweights with crampons and ice axes, all which have been made by Grivel. This is obviously not the end of the Grivel history but now I move on to something completely different and will come back to it later.
The father of ski-alpinism
In the year 1914 in Pavi, the "flatlander" Toni Gobbi was called the father of ski-mountaineering. He was trained as a lawyer and during his military service as an instructor at the Military School of Mountaineering he fell in love with the beautiful Romildzie and remained in Courmayeur.
Toni Gobbi was famous for his professional approach to everything he did, and he devoted himself to the guidance and popularized it by combining this with skiing; in effect he became the "father of ski-alpinism".
It's hard to imagine now but, in the '40s and '50s of the twentieth century, Alpine guides in the Summer focused on climbing and in the Winter taught people how to ski. As the head of the organization of local tourist guides, from the region level to the "Consorzio Nazionale Guide e Portatori", he consistently introduced alpine ski for training and guiding everyday life, a situation which remains to this day.
He was also very active mountaineer since the early '40s. His most famous achievement was the first ascent of the North-East Face of the Grand Pilier d'Angle, together with Walter Bonatti in 1957. The second ascent of the Grand Pillar corner was made by the Polish climbers Andrzej Zawada, Jerzy Warteresiewicz, Ryszard Zawadzki and Gerard Małaczyński in 1965. In 1949, he opened a sports shop "Gobbi di Courmayeur" which represented the central meeting place for guides and clients. The shop today is in the hands of the son of Gioachino Gobbi.
Despite the precautions that characterized him, Toni Gobbi was killed in an avalanche with his friends March 18, 1970 on Sassopiatto at the age of 56 years. A plaque was placed at this site of the tragedy.
I look at what I wrote and it has nothing to do with the 7 pages of achievements and positions of Toni Gobbi. Well, finally we found "Il Padre della Scialpinismo". We are no win an era of rapidly developing ski-touring one could think that this has come from out of nowhere, but that's incorrect; the father of this was Toni Gobbi, who popularized winter climbing in Courmayeur, the Alps and, later, also on the other mountains of the world.
Gobbi and Grivel
Time to combine the two threads; Grivel and Toni Gobbi. This link is the son of Toni, Gioachino I already mentioned above. He is a man of extraordinary culture, strongly tied to the mountain traditions and not capable to live without mountains.
In the 60s and 70s the growing market gave rise to many modern competitive businesses and Grivel threatened to fall. Gioachino bought Grivel in 1983. In the last 30 years he built a new fully solar-powered manufacturing facility with an area of 1300 m2. To retain the highest quality of products, all crampons, axes, ski sticks and walking sticks are produced in Nus near Courmayeur.
He and his wife, Betta, feel very responsible for the entire heritage of Grivel and Toni. Mountain culture for them is as important as their production. They publish books and posters, sponsor events, and created a museum devoted to Grivel, seem posters, they are simply in love with the mountains.
We are happy to talk about similar problems of societies living in the mountains, regardless of country or continent. I think that meeting them is my great happiness. It turns out that, in the current highly commercial times, you can effectively run a business without forgetting the 200 years of tradition, develop it and even caress it. Gioachino knows and understands the mountains, even when they took his father, but cannot imagine a life without them. So I remember his thought:
"The mountains are completely ignoring people, they totally do not care about them, they are like a mirror, when you are in the mountains there you will see the real you".
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