Riccardo Cassin, legendary Italian climber who created routes up some of the world’s most difficult peaks and mountain equipment
Riccardo Cassin

Riccardo Cassin was a tough and legendary alpinist who hailed from Italy born on 2nd January 1909. In addition to being an author and a pioneer in the field of mountaineering equipment, he was also a significant character in the history of rock climbing, alpine climbing, and big wall climbing and most importantly creating new routes to tough mountains.
Mountaineering is a sport in which there is no such thing as the best, just as there is no such thing as the finest writer or singer. However, aside from Riccardo Cassin, who passed away at the age of 100, there are just a few climbers who may be classed together. Cassin was a tough, warm, and good-humoured individual who had a stubborn, down-to-earth approach to the practicalities of climbing. This approach was supported by smart intelligence and an artist’s eye for the most beautiful routes up the most challenging summits.

Cassin’s legacy consists of a succession of new climbs that were accomplished around the world before and after the Second World War. These climbs continue to dominate the awareness of the sport as unchangeable monuments. The first ascents of the north face of the Piz Badile in Switzerland, the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses in the French Alps, and what is still known as the Cassin Ridge on Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, were among the most notable of these.

Cassin, who was born in San Vito al Tagliamento, which is located in the northeastern region of Italy, was estranged from his father, a migrant worker who passed away in a mining accident in Canada. By his own admission, the young tearaway was raised by a group of strong-minded women who did their utmost to contain an already restless spirit. They did this at the expense of the young tearaway. When he was 12 years old, he was working at a blacksmith’s shop. When he was 17 years old, he moved to Lecco, which is located north of Milan, on the advice of a friend. There, the salary and opportunities were higher.

Cassin had been spending his leisure time boxing up until that point, and he appeared to be a good fit for the sport thanks to his bluff nose and spare frame. When he first saw the cliffs that surrounded Lecco, however, he was immediately captivated by the idea of climbing. The time he spent in the mountains slowed down his reflexes in the ring, which led him to give up boxing. During his single day off, which was Sunday, he would spend his time in the Grigna, a region of small peaks and cliffs close to Lecco. It was there that he quickly became an expert rock climber. He would send his wages home to his mother each week.

When money was scarce, Cassin and his pals pooled their resources to purchase ropes and created their own equipment wherever they could. This included pitons that were made at the steel fabricators where he worked at the time. In the aftermath of the war, he established his own company that specializes in the production of this kind of machinery, which is being exported all over the world. They travelled to the mountains by means of trains and bicycles, which allowed them to keep up a high level of physical fitness throughout the journey.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the outgoing Cassin flourished in the collegiate environment of Italian mountaineering and had a natural leadership ability. It was at Lecco that he became a member of the Nuova Italia climbing group, which would later evolve into the Ragni di Lecco, also known as the Lecco spiders. The first of Cassin’s big alpine climbs, the north face of the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo in the Dolomites, was climbed by the two of them in 1935. Vittorio Ratti was one of his closest companions, and the two of them ascended the mountain together.

Two years later, this team, along with Gino Esposito, focused their attention on the enormous granite north face of the Piz Badile, which is located in the Bregaglia range in Switzerland. For the same reason that he faced competition on the Cima Ovest, Cassin was up against another capable squad, in this case, two competitors from Como. Nevertheless, as the weather grew bad, the two groups decided to work together to wait out a storm and then make their way to the peak. Despite this, the climbers from Como both passed out and died as they were descending.

Because Ratti was serving in the military at the time, Cassin, Esposito, and Ugo Tizzoni travelled to the Bernese Oberland in 1938 to climb the infamous north face of the Eiger. However, they were surprised to find that a German-Austrian team commanded by Anderl Heckmair had already climbed the mountain. To compete with the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses, which was the only remaining obstacle that could compete with that, the Italians hurried back to Italy and proceeded for Courmayeur, which is located below Mont Blanc.

Because Cassin had never climbed in the Mont Blanc range and his knowledge was limited, he sought the guidance of the guardians of the mountain huts where he was staying to discover the peak that he had come to climb. When Cassin reached the summit of the most prized and beautiful line in the French Alps three days later, they were given a shock. If they had been wondering who the foolish Italian thought he was, they were informed of his true identity. The aesthetic attractiveness of the line that a specific route forms up a mountain is something that climbers can perceive instantly. In the eyes of many people, the Walker Spur is the best of all time.

Even though he was exempt from participating in the war since he worked in an electronics industry that produced military equipment, Cassin, who abhorred fascism, joined the partisans even before Italy made peace with the Allies in 1943. After Mussolini aligned the rump Salò republic with Germany, Cassin increased his role in the conflict. In the early months of 1945, when the United States began delivering arms, Cassin became embroiled in intense fighting on the streets of Lecco. While he and his closest companion, Ratti, were engaged in combat with German troops who were attempting to withdraw, Ratti was killed along with him.

While the war was going on, Cassin did not have many opportunities to climb. However, in the 1950s, he went on several trips to the Himalayas, as well as to both North and South America. He offered essential support to the leader of Italy’s successful K2 expedition, Ardito Desio, in 1953, but, after reconnoitring the mountain, was wrongfully pushed off the team due to a putative heart ailment. A characteristic of Italian alpinism that persisted for decades was the existence of political splits and jealousies.

There was no way that Cassin could have acted like a man who was in ill condition. It was in 1958 when he led a successful expedition to Gasherbrum IV, which is located in the Karakoram range of Pakistan. This phenomenal accomplishment was accomplished on a peak that is extremely challenging but also incredibly beautiful, and it has only been climbed ten times yet. He was in his early 50s at the time, yet he led the team to the summit of Denali in 1961. They climbed what is now known as the Cassin Ridge, which is a breathtaking line that continues to be a highly sought-after challenge. 1964 was the year when he achieved success on the west face of Jirishanca, also referred to as the Matterhorn of the Andes.

After receiving several accolades from the Italian government and the climbing community on a global scale, Cassin continued to climb well into his senior years. He repeated the ascent of the north face of the Piz Badile on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his initial ascent, when he was 72 years old.

Hard rock climbing was something he continued to do well into his 80s. In an interview that took place not too long before he passed away, he stated that the mountains are an excellent tutor. You will learn to think without fear as a result of them. He celebrated his 100th birthday with visits from the few climbers whose notoriety rivalled his own, including Walter Bonatti and Reinhold Messner. Despite the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair in his final months, he maintained his bright and cheery disposition.

All three of Cassin’s sons will carry on his legacy. His spouse, Emilia, passed away before he did.

Cassin’s Life

Cassin came from a modest background. He was born into a family of peasants in San Vito al Tagliamento, which is located in Friuli, when this territory was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1913, when he was 29 years old, his father, Valentino, passed away in a mining accident in Canada. He had immigrated to Canada when he was three years old. Cassin quit school when she was 12 years old to find employment as a blacksmith. In 1926, when he was only 17 years old, he relocated to Lecco, where he immediately found work at a steel mill. His initial passion was boxing, but he quickly became captivated by the mountains that towered over Lake Como and Lake Garda before he realized his true passion.

In 1940, he tied the knot with Irma, and since then, he has been blessed with three sons: Valentino, Pierantonio, and Guido.


The direction of Piz Badile’s northeast face. Ascending the right-hand side of the cliff is where the Cassin Route begins.
The Ragni di Lecco, often known as the spiders of Lecco, were the gang that Cassin joined to begin his mountaineering journey around the year 1930.[3]: The first climb of the Piccolissima of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo was an accomplishment that he accomplished in 1934. In 1935, after having climbed the north-west face of the Civetta in the same manner as Emilio Comici, he climbed the south-eastern ridge of the Trieste Tower and, in collaboration with Vittorio Ratti, constructed a new route on the north face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo. On the granite of the Western Alps, Cassin made his first ascent at the beginning of the year 1937. They were accompanied by Ratti and Gino Esposito after they teamed up with M. Molteni and G. Valsecchi, the latter two of whom died of exhaustion and exposure on the descent. He made the first ascent of the northeast face of Piz Badile in the Val Bregaglia (Bergell), Switzerland, over three days, from the 14th to the 16th of July.(5) [5] This path is commonly referred to as the Cassin Route or the Via Cassin in modern times. By climbing this path once more at the age of 78, he demonstrated that he still possessed outstanding mountaineering talents after fifty years had passed.

It is the face of the Grandes Jorasses that faces north. When viewed from the centre left, the buttress that leads to the highest summit is known as the Walker Spur.
It is possible that his first climb of the Walker Spur, which took place on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif on August 4–6, 1938, alongside Esposito and Ugo Tizzoni, is still considered to be his most notable first ascent. The alpine historian Helmut Dumler makes the observation that this was “by then universally acknowledged as the finest alpine challenge.” This is what Claire Engel has to say:

They were completely unfamiliar with the Chamonix district and had never been there before. They questioned the hut keeper in a hazy manner about where the Grandes Jorasses were located while they were there. Using a motion that was even more ambiguous, the man made a broad gesture and stated, “Somewhere there.” It was a joke to him that the Italians were asking him that question because he had not recognized them. It came as a big surprise to him when, the following evening, he noticed a bivouac light located rather high up on the Walker spur; by the following night, the light had made its way up the face. On the sixth of August, the group arrived at the summit ridge, where they were trapped amid a strong storm. As a result, the men were forced to bivouac along their descent.

According to Claire Engel’s Mountaineering in the Alps, published by George Allen and Unwin in London in 1971, page 231
Cassin and Tizzoni made the first ascent of a difficult line on the north face of the Aiguille de Leschaux in 1939. This ascent was accomplished by Cassin.

Between the two world wars, Cassin was a mountaineer who was considered to be among the best. The sum of all the ascents that Cassin accomplished was 2,500, with more than one hundred of those being first ascents.

Expedition Leader

Cassin was meant to be a part of the Italian expedition that made the first ascent of K2 in the Karakoram in 1954; however, Ardito Desio, the chief expedition leader for the Italian Alpine Club, decided that it would be best not to have Cassin take part in the mission. This is what Cassin himself has to say:

Even though he brought me to the Himalayas in 1952 to plan the route, prepare the expedition, and figure out the supplies to carry, he did everything in his power to keep me at home because he felt threatened by my experience. In 1952, he did everything he could to leave me at home. He sent me to Rome to get a physical examination before we left for Kathmandu. During the examination, I was informed that I had some cardiac difficulties and that I needed to remain at home while the other members of the expedition conquered the mountain.

After this experience, Cassin focused his attention on organizing and conducting expeditions himself. These expeditions included the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV in the Karakorum Range, which was accomplished by Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri on August 6, 1958, as well as an expedition that climbed Jirishanca in the Andes in 1969.

Cassin was not only the head of the team that accomplished the first ascent of the eponymous Cassin Ridge on Mount McKinley in Alaska in 1961, but he was also a successful ascensionist on the peak. At the time, the Cassin Ridge was the most difficult route on the mountain. As a result of this climb, President Kennedy sent a cable of congratulations to Cassin, and he was supposed to meet with Cassin if the crisis at the Bay of Pigs had not intervened. During the year 1975, Cassin led an expedition to the south face of Lhotse in the Himalayas, which had not yet been climbed at the time. However, this attempt was unsuccessful due to the adverse weather conditions.

Creating Equipment used for mountaineering

In 1947, Cassin built his first rock pitons in Lecco, which marked the beginning of his adventure into the world of mountaineering equipment design and production. The year 1948 marked the inception of his first hammers, the year 1949 saw the introduction of his first ice axes, and the year 1950 saw the launch of his carabiners. The “first eiderdown duvet jackets for non-European mountaineering expeditions” were made by him in the same year, and they were put into production two years later. The first prototype of their harness was created by him and his son in 1958. Two years later, in the same year that he invented titanium crampons, the harness was put into production.

During the early 1980s, the company relocated from Lecco to Valmadrera. In 1967, the company changed its status to that of a Limited Company. 1997 marked the year that the CAMP corporation acquired the Cassin trademark.

Cassin Mountain EquipmentCommemorations of the 100th birthday

It was on January 2, 2009 that Cassin celebrated her 100th birthday. The occasion was commemorated by the publication of a retrospective book titled “Riccardo Cassin: Cento volti di un grande alpinista” (which translates to “One Hundred Faces of a Great Alpinist”). This book featured one hundred testimonials from individuals who were associated with Cassin. These individuals included Edouard Frendo, Georges Livanos, John F. Kennedy, Reinhold Messner, Carlo Mauri, Walter Bonatti, Gianni Brera, and Candido Cannavò.

On August 6, 2009, at the age of one hundred, Cassin passed away in Piano dei Resinelli, Lecco.

Top Honors

In Rome on February 9, 1999, the Cavaliere of the Grand Croce Ordine was awarded the merito awarded by the Italian Republic.
It was on January 5, 1980 that the Grand’Ufficiale of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic was presented.


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