Hasenclever female mountaineer

Eleonore Hasenclever, one of the first female mountaineers

Lucy Walker and Meta Brevoort are often named as the first female mountaineers. But we should think about Eleonore Hasenclever, little known outside of Germany but pioneer as well.

Eleonore Hasenclever was born in the summer of 1880 in Duisburg, near Düsseldorf, in the rich society of the Kingdom of Prussia. Raised in Frankfurt, she then landed in a boarding school for young girls on the shores of Geneva Lake, in Lausanne.

The mountain: a reveal!

During a school trip to Valais, she discovered the mountains close to Zermatt. A reveal. Her words summed up her feelings: “The happiness that the mountain offers to its followers is of a nature apart; you can’t force yourself. It is enough to have known this happiness once to succumb forever to its attraction”. Later, she hired one known as the best guide in the region. Alexandre Burgener, guide of Mummery (among others).

At 19, she climbed with this Valais guide, discovering the mountains. He approached 60 but accepted to pass on his passion and his knowledge. Eleonore learned quickly. In a few ascents, he was surprised by her ease of climbing on the rocks. He then nicknamed her “Gämsli”, i.e. “Tiny Chamois”. It did not take long to climb her first 4,000 and the following ones. Burgener taught her everything he knew. As soon as she could, she left boarding school, put on pants and went to the mountains. Each summer, Hasenclever spent several weeks there. In particular, she climbed the Matterhorn, at a time when it was so little visited. Eight times. And dozens of 4,000 in the Alps, always with Burgener!

The disciple has surpassed the master

In 1909, the disciple surpassed the master. As they descended from their Aiguille Verte ascent, Burgener admitted that he had nothing more to teach her. She then climbed with other teammates and continued her peaks collection. She even guided, as with Johannes Noll whom she trained at the Aiguille des Grands Charmoz. Three years later, she became Eleonore Noll-Hasenclever! It did not change her passion for the summits. She made the first Matterhorn-Dent d’Herens crossing with Welzenbach. At that time, she was one of the few female mountaineers.

The last ascent

During the summer of 1925, an episode will definitively seal the fate of Eleanor. On August 17, with the Munichers Hans Pfann and Hermann Trier, she climbed from Randa to bivouac. The next day at the first hour, they ran to the summit. With an uncertain weather, they reached the summit of Weisshorn, 4.506 meters.

Descending, they were caught in an avalanche. Trier remembered the scene, he has been injured: “I had lost my ice axe but immediately started digging with my hands towards Mrs. Noll, to whom the rope connected me. I quickly reached a foot and pulled. She was shaking her foot but I couldn’t get her out of there. I started scratching like a mole, with my own hands. I managed to reach the belt, but I couldn’t go deeper. My hands were frozen. Mrs. Noll’s signs of life had stopped”. The next day, no less than 14 guides and porters from the valley went up to recover Eleonore’s body and save Hans Pfann, wounded but still alive.

At the dawn of war, she wasn’t in Zermatt’s good books. Local guides accused her of stealing their work. However, her achievements in the mountains put her above these quarrels. When it was time to bury her in the mountaineers cemetery in Zermatt, Swiss guides carried her coffin, with a mournful look, a crown of Edelweiss as farewell. She was then called “the best female mountaineer in the world”. Eleonore just turned 45.

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