Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The King Albert I Memorial Foundation

Registered in 1993 in Zurich, The King Albert I Memorial Foundation is the brainchild of Walter Amstutz, one of the monarch's younger climbing companions. By honoring outstanding achievements in the alpine world, so dear to the King, it honors Albert's memory. The Foundation held its Ninth Award Ceremony in St. Moritz just a few days ago, on August 28, 2010. 

The Foundation's website offers a wealth of interesting information and beautiful photographs of King Albert's mountaineering feats. Here is a summary of his climbing career:
Albert I, King of the Belgians from 1909 until his death in 1934, was an accomplished mountaineer. Through Charles Lefébure, Secretary of the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay, he was influenced in his youth by the mystical attraction which mountains can exert. It was Solvay who in 1916 donated funds for the construction of an emergency shelter situated at 4003 metres on the Hörnli ridge of the Matterhorn which bears his name. The prince started climbing at the age of 31 in 1905. Together with the Saas Fee guide Albert Supersaxo, he made the ascent of Piz Bernina (4048 m), descending afterwards through the Labyrinth, a daring initiation! Having thus overcome his initial reserve, and surely also his fear, he explored a number of classic routes, many in the company of Charles Lefébure and usually with guides. This passion did not fade when, in 1909, Albert I inherited the throne from his uncle Leopold II and became King of the Belgians. But the outbreak of the First World War with its terrible effect on Belgium brought his mountaineering expeditions to a temporary halt. It was during this period that his heroic stand in defending the armed neutrality of his country earned him the title of King Albert the Knight - Koning-Ridder.
Two years after World War I ended the Roi Soldat started climbing again, achieving very difficult ascents in Switzerland and in the Tirol. A biography of the Royal Army and Military History Museum in Brussels describes this second period, which lasted until 1928, when the King accomplished great mountaineering feats, including classic routes in the Aiguilles de Chamonix, the Central Alps and the Dolomites. This was followed by a third stage, which lasted until his death. Following the trend of the times, he placed increased emphasis on guideless climbing. During this period, in 1929, the King had received an invitation to attend the Anglo-Swiss Universities Ski Competition - the world's oldest team downhill ski race held in Mürren - as guest of honour. It was there that he met Walter Amstutz, who won the race that year. The two men, although 27 years apart in age, soon became close climbing companions.
There is also an impressive bibliography dealing with Albert's life and death. I encourage everyone to take a look!

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