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Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Riccardo Cassin – mountaineer

Long life of partisan who was fascinated by mountains


Riccardo Cassin developed a fascination with mountains as a boy
Riccardo Cassin developed a fascination
with mountains as a boy
The climber and war hero Riccardo Cassin was born on this day in 1909 at San Vito al Tagliamento in Friuli.

Despite his daring mountain ascents and his brave conduct against the Germans during the Second World War, he was to live past the age of 100.

By the age of four, Cassin had lost his father, who was killed in a mining accident in Canada. He left school when he was 12 to work for a blacksmith but moved to Lecco when he was 17 to work at a steel plant.

Cassin was to become fascinated by the mountains that tower over the lakes of Lecco, Como and Garda and he started climbing with a group known as the Ragni di Lecco - the Spiders of Lecco.

In 1934 he made his first ascent of the smallest of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolimites. The following year, after repeating another climber’s route on the north west face of the Civetta, he climbed the south eastern ridge of the Trieste Tower and established a new route on the north face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo.

In 1937 Cassin made his first climb on the granite of the Western Alps. Over the course of three days he made the first ascent of the north east face of Piz Badile in the Val Bregaglia in Switzerland. Two of the climbers accompanying him died of exhaustion and exposure on the descent.

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, where Cassin embarked on some of his earliest climbing challenges
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, where Cassin embarked on some
of his earliest climbing challenges
This is known today as the Cassin Route, or Via Cassin and he confirmed his mountaineering prowess by climbing the route again at the age of 78.

His most celebrated first ascent was the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif in 1938, which was universally acknowledged as the toughest Alpine challenge. Even though Cassin knew little about the area before going there he reached the summit and made a successful descent during a violent storm.

Cassin made a total of 2,500 ascents, of which more than 100 were first ascents.

During the Second World War, Cassin fought on the side of the Italian partisans against the Germans. In 1945 along with another partisan he attempted to stop a group of Germans escaping along an alpine pass into Germany. His comrade was shot dead by them but Cassin survived and was later decorated for his heroic actions.

Cassin was supposed to have been part of the Italian expedition that made the first ascent of K2 in the Karakoram, having sketched the route and done all the organisation.  But the expedition leader left him out after sending Cassin for a medical examination in Rome where he was told he had cardiac problems.

The Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif, where Cassin scaled the Walker Spur
The Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc
massif, where Cassin scaled the Walker Spur
Cassin realised the expedition leader had felt threatened by his experience and from then on he organised and led expeditions himself, such as the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV in the Karakorum range and an ascent of Jirishanca in the Andes.

In 1961 he led a successful ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska. The ridge was later named Cassin Ridge in his honour and he received a telegram of congratulations from President Kennedy.

Cassin began designing and producing mountaineering equipment in the 1940s and formed a limited company in 1967. In 1997 the CAMP company bought the Cassin trademark from him.

Cassin wrote two books about climbing and received two honours from the Italian Republic. He became Grand’Ufficiale dell Ordine al merito in 1980 and Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al merito in 1999.

The book, Riccardo Cassin: Cento volti di un grande alpinista, was produced for his 100th birthday, containing 100 testimonials from people who had been associated with him, including President Kennedy.

Cassin died in August 2009, more than seven months after his 100th birthday, in Piano dei Resinelli, Lecco.

The main square - Piazza del Popolo - in San Vito al Tagliamento
The main square - Piazza del Popolo - in
San Vito al Tagliamento
Travel tip:

San Vito al Tagliamento, where Riccardo Cassin was born, is a medieval town in the province of Pordenone in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, about 80 kilometres northwest of Trieste . It still has three towers of its medieval walls and a Duomo with a triptych by Andrea Bellunello. Mussolini’s brother, Arnaldo, taught there for several years and his nephew, Vito, also lived and worked there.

Lago di Lecco
Lago di Lecco
Travel tip:

Lecco, where Riccardo Cassin eventually settled, lies at the end of the south eastern branch of Lago di Como, which is known as Lago di Lecco. The Bergamo Alps rise to the north and east of the lake. The writer Alessandro Manzoni lived there for part of his life and based his famous novel, I promessi sposi, there.  


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