Grenoble (AFP)

Mountaineering, the young art of "climbing mountains and high mountains", entered Wednesday in Bogota Intangible Heritage of Unesco, an international distinction that could revive measures to safeguard this practice.

To win this label, France, Italy and Switzerland had allied themselves to promote mountaineering, a practice that had just been bicentennial, taking its name from the mountain range that these three countries have in common: the Alps, a historic site of this activity.

Young, mountaineering? Admittedly, antiquity bears traces of the activity of guides and the first corporation in the Val d'Aoste (Italy) dates from the thirteenth century. The Florentine Petrarch climbed Mount Ventoux well around 1350, Antoine de Ville Mount Needle in 1492 on behalf of Charles VII, the Swiss naturalist Gessner Mount Pilatus in 1555.

But the founding act, if not the act of birth, remains 1786, with the ascent of Mont Blanc from Chamonix by a singular string that carries in it the values ​​of mountaineering: Jacques Balmat, crystallist and poor, Michel-Gabriel Paccard, doctor and notable.

The first had vanquished the ancestral superstitions, the second left him the totality of the reward promised for this exploit. The itinerary was quickly repeated, shared and recorded.

As the centuries passed, the idea of ​​applying to UNESCO sprang up around the highest point of the Alps in 2008-2009, on its French and Italian slopes, while the highest peaks were conquered both in the Himalayas and in the Andes.

At the time, the sacred monsters Walter Bonatti and Reinhold Messner see their career rewarded with a Piolet d'Or, the Oscar of the discipline.

A way to overcome sporting achievements and (re) emphasize the "alpine style", these ascents with a minimum of help and equipment "in respect of the environment and people, with an ethic ", says Claude Gardien, guide and project manager on the French side.

- "Lifestyle" -

A steering committee was created in 2011. "We had to domesticate the words of UNESCO, it took us time and it was difficult to find common words to describe the 10,000 facets of mountaineering," says Bernard Prud'homme, Guardian's counterpart. The Swiss will join the project afterwards, bringing their know-how, having their avalanche danger management recognized.

"The bid has made it possible to strengthen links between mountaineer communities and organizations," said Luigi Cortese, member of the bid coordination group.

"Mountaineering is a practice representative of alpine identity as a whole", adds the Italian, whose country has 311,000 members in his alpine club, when Switzerland has 150,000 and France 95,000.

"This is a lifestyle for many," says Pierre Mathey, Secretary General of the Swiss Association of Mountain Guides, "a physical practice with a shared culture, an art made of knowledge, know-how and knowledge acquisition on the environment ".

In contrast to a sport with rules and competitions, mountaineering is the quest for "this world that is not ours", in the words of Robert Tézenas du Montcel, french climber of the in-between -guerres.

"Mountaineering is accessible to all, you just have to want," says Claude Gardien. "It takes two feet, two hands and a well made head". And again: the British Geoffrey Wintrop Young (1876-1958) continued mountaineering after losing a leg in 1917 during the First World War.

The Unesco Intergovernmental Committee, by placing this practice in the intangible heritage, has thus shown itself to be sensitive to solidarity, to the taste for effort and to the raw contact with the nature of mountaineering. A recognition that gives impetus to the safeguarding measures of a practice badly handled, according to its promoters, by the climate change and the increasing judiciarisation in the event of an accident.

© 2019 AFP