Lionel Terray, one of the finest climbers of our time
Lionel Terray

Lionel Terray, a legendary figure in the world of mountaineering, left an indelible mark on the history of climbing. Born on July 25, 1921, in Grenoble, France, Terray’s life was defined by his passion for the mountains and his unparalleled climbing skills.

The climber Lionel Terray is widely considered to be among the best of our time. His participation in the ascent of five major peaks in the Himalaya and five in the Andes, as well as the second ascent of the Eiger North Face, and numerous more climbs of the highest class, have been among the most notable accomplishments of his career. His career as a climbing guide has allowed him to bring a great number of people, both male and female, to the world of beauty and adventure that he has spent his entire life in. Even in the event that the narration was as uninteresting as the Pas de Calais, his story would still be worth reading. Conquistadors of the Useless, on the other hand, is not at all like that. M. Terray possesses a mind that is powerful, unique, and authentic. In addition to being interested with technical accomplishments, he is also preoccupied with ecstasy and pain. Despite being a determined professional writer, he writes with the enthusiasm of an amateur. He is able to handle both success and failure with ease.

Both the ascent of the Eiger and the French expedition that climbed Annapurna in 1950, which was the first of the big Himalayan summits to be scaled by man, are considered to be the two most significant events in his life and the cornerstones of his book. His constant companion on the great climbs was Louis Lachenal, a queer, passionate, and brilliant man who survived the desperate triumph on Annapurna, mutilated by frostbite, to die irrelevantly in an accidental fall into a hidden crevasse while skiing. In both cases, he was associated with Louis Lachenal, who was perhaps the most remarkable of his contemporaries from the French school. Terray continued his life of dedication with a sobering enthusiasm, and it is possible that his first ascent of Chacraraju in Peru, which is located in a region where the Golden Age of mountaineering has not yet come to an end, was the pinnacle of his career as a climber. If this and his first ascents on Makalu and Fitzroy are written in a more concise manner than Annapurna and Eiger, there is a reason for this: the former were outstanding feats of climbing, while the latter were the more significant adventures of the soul.

Besides these major expeditions, there are some striking reflective or descriptive passages – his impressions of French Canada, for instance, or his thoughts on the guide’s profession, or the account early in the book of a curious “sideshow” in the later stages of the war, when he fought with an irregular French force which harassed the Germans on the Italian frontier; it must have been one of the very few campaigns fought above the snowline. Geoffrey Sutton has done an excellent job of being the translator of this book. It makes a slight reference to its title. The term “Conquistadors” is really drawn from his achievements in Peru, although the term “the Useless” is an overly ironic expression. On the other hand, M. Terray could reference old Attewell, a bowler from Nottinghamshire, who was having a contentious conversation with young Neville Cardus about the role that cricket plays in the economy. Attewell said, “After all, we produce nowt.” Totally pointless! There are two of the most admirable glosses that man has on the universe: cricket and mountaineering.

Early Life and Career:

Terray’s journey into the world of mountaineering began at a young age. He honed his skills in the French Alps, where he quickly established himself as one of the most talented climbers of his generation. Despite the disruptions caused by World War II, Terray continued to pursue his passion for climbing, even using his skills in mountain combat against Germany during the war.

Mountaineering Achievements:

Terray’s climbing resume is nothing short of impressive. Known for his speed and daring ascents, he conquered some of the most challenging peaks in the Alps, including the Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses, the south face of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, and the north face of the Eiger. Alongside his climbing partner Louis Lachenal, Terray shattered previous speed records and set new standards for alpine climbing.

One of Terray’s most notable expeditions was Maurice Herzog’s 1950 Annapurna expedition. While he did not reach the summit himself, Terray played a crucial role in aiding Herzog and Lachenal down from the mountain, both of whom suffered severe frostbite. Despite the challenges they faced, the expedition garnered widespread acclaim and Herzog’s subsequent book, “Annapurna,” became a bestseller.

Terray’s mountaineering adventures extended far beyond the Alps. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he embarked on several groundbreaking expeditions in Peru and Nepal, making numerous first ascents, including the formidable Jannu peak in Nepal.


Terray’s legacy as a mountaineer and adventurer continues to inspire climbers around the world. His memoir, “Conquistadors of the Useless,” offers a glimpse into his extraordinary life and the profound impact of his adventures. Despite his tragic death on a rock climb in the Vercors in 1965, Terray’s spirit lives on in the hearts of those who dare to dream of reaching new heights.

From the traffic circle named in his honour in Chamonix to his final resting place in France, Lionel Terray’s contributions to the world of mountaineering will forever be remembered as a testament to the human spirit’s unyielding quest for adventure and exploration.

Notable Expeditions

Here is the list of principal expeditions undertaken by Lionel Terray:

  1. 1942: First ascent of the west side of Aiguille Purtcheller.
  2. 1944: First ascent of the east-northeast spur of the Pain de Sucre. Also, the first ascent on the north face of the Aiguille des Pélerins and the north of the Peuterey lap with Maurice Herzog.
  3. 1946: Ascended the spur north of the Droites with Louis Lachenal in eight hours. Also, conquered the north face of Grandes Jorasses.
  4. 1947: Completed the third ascent of the north face of Aiguille Verte. Became the second person to climb the northern face of the Eiger with Lachenal.
  5. 1950: Participated in the expedition to Annapurna, the first 8000-meter mountain successfully climbed. While Terray did not summit, he played a crucial rescue role.
  6. 1952: Achieved the first ascent of Fitz Roy (3,405m) in Patagonia. Also, climbed to Aconcagua (6,960m).
  7. 1954: Conducted a reconnoiter of Makalu in Tibet. Additionally, made the first ascents of subsidiary summits Kangchungtse and Chomo Lonzo (7,804m).
  8. 1955: Led an expedition to Makalu, reaching the summit (8,485m) with Jean Couzy.
  9. 1956: Explored Nevado Chacraraju (6,110m) and Taulliraju (5,830m) in Peru.
  10. 1959: Undertook an expedition to Jannu, reaching a height of 7,400m. In 1962, under Terray’s leadership, the summit was successfully reached.
  11. 1962: Achieved the first ascent of 7,710-meter Jannu in Nepal.
  12. 1964: In the Alaskan range, made the first ascent of Mount Huntington (3,731m).


  • Terray, Lionel (1961). Les Conquérants de l’inutile. France: Gallimard. ASIN B000HJRAVQ.
  • Terray, Lionel (2000). Conquistadors of the Useless. Translated by Geoffrey Sutton. Baton Wicks Publications; New Ed. ISBN 1-898573-38-7.
  • Terray, Lionel; Franco, Jean (1965). Bataille pour Le Jannu. France: Gallimard. ISBN 2-07-010203-3.


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