Marmillod was born Christmas eve, 1909, in Naters, a small
village in the canton of Valais situated on the Rhône
river. When still a child, his Italian mother and French-Swiss
father moved the family down the valley to Lausanne, returning
to Vaud, the canton in which the Marmillod name had originated.
since earliest youth I have loved mountain climbing,"
Frédéric later wrote. "As a student I belonged
to a small group of friends who were always ready, summer
and winter, to go into the mountains. Of course we always
went without guides, which allowed us to accumulate a great
deal of experience. We climbed in every corner of the Alps,
although as residents of Lausanne we naturally preferred the
Valais, just as residents of Geneva prefer the Mont Blanc
of these youthful excursions ended in tragedy. Having underestimated
the length of the tour, the exhausted boys were descending,
anxious to reach home before their parents began to worry.
At a rest stop one of them fell asleep and slipped down a
snowfield to his death. The accident left a deep impression
on Frédéric. He believed it could have been
avoided had the party been roped, and from then on he paid
careful attention to safety in the mountains.
those days the minimum age for entrance to the Swiss Alpine
Club was eighteen. Frédéric badly wanted to
join to receive discounts at the huts scattered throughout
the Alps. He couldn't wait and was admitted shortly after
his seventeenth birthday by writing on the application the
year but not the month of his birth.
as his friends called him, showed great enthusiasm for climbing
during his compulsory military training, serving with the
mountain troops, and he also earned an Instructor's Diploma
from the Swiss Ski School.
1930, Germaine, one of Frédy's two sisters, approached
him with a request. A school friend of hers was falling behind
in math class. Would he tutor her? Frédy obliged and
was introduced to Dorly Eisenhut. Under his instruction Dorly
soon graduated from math to mountaineering.
The youngest of four children, Doris Eisenhut was born November
9, 1914 in Trogen, canton Appenzell, in the German-speaking
part of Switzerland. Her father was a judge who died when
she was nine, whereupon her mother moved the household to
Montreux, and later Lausanne. Dorly grew up in an atmosphere
of discipline and authority, as befitting a proper German-Swiss
family named Eisenhut (the name means "iron hat").
Mrs. Eisenhut rented rooms to teachers and students who came
to western Switzerland to study French. One of these borders
was Marguerite Forster, an American cousin of Dorly's who
recalls those times as "happy, carefree years that can
never be recaptured."
a large apartment with a beautiful view of the Savoy Alps
across the lake in France and the Dent du Midi above the Rhône
Valley at the eastern end of Lake Geneva. Dorly had a great
many friends. We went hiking and skiing, played tennis, and
swam in the lake. We did a tremendous amount of walking, mostly
up and down hill. In the winter we would take a train to Les
Avants and walk with skins on our skis for several hours,
ski around all day and then ski down as far as the snow lasted.
Sometimes we could ski to within a few miles of the house,
take off the skis and carry them the rest of the way."
Eisenhut was quite strict and worried a lot about us. Looking
back, I think it must have been hard for her to handle two
teenaged girls who were always wanting to go somewhere!"
was good at everything she did: sports, dancing, school work,
piano playing. She had a wonderful, outgoing personality,
full of enthusiasm and joie de vivre. She had many admirers,
but never took any of them seriously until Frédy came
along. She was an attractive girl, slim, athletic, wholesome
looking. She was not vain about herself except that she was
proud of her straight white teeth and strove to keep a slender
figure, and she hated having to wear glasses. She would go
without them whenever possible. Her greatest asset and most
likable trait was her charm and the fact that she was always
interested in 'you' and what you and your family were doing.
Frédy was very sociable and liked a good time, too.
They made a great pair and were truly made for each other."
some hiking and climbing trips with them and other friends.
We once climbed the Dent d'Oche, taking the boat across the
lake to Evian and walking for about eight hours from the boat
landing to the top of the mountain. We spent the night up at
the summit in a French Alpine Club hut. It was beautiful up
and Frédy were enthusiastic about the really steep,
rockwall climbing and I can remember her exhilaration when
she would return from one of those expeditions exclaiming:
and Dorly quickly found in each other the ideal partner. They
possessed great reserves of physical endurance and perseverance,
and their personalities matched and complemented one another.
From under the "iron hat," according to the family
saga as related by her daughter Mariette, Dorly flew under Frédy's
wing where she nestled.
As the world depression bore down on the Swiss economy, Frédy
enrolled at the University of Lausanne to study chemical engineering.
During his studies he applied for a job at Sandoz Laboratories,
the chemical and pharmaceutical company in Basel. He was told
to come back when he had his doctorate in hand, or in other
words, there were no jobs, or perhaps the company simply wanted
to test his interest.
Frédy received his doctorate in 1934, and by now he
and Dorly were engaged and tired of waiting. Walking down
a street in Lausanne they saw a house they liked, found a
vacant apartment, told the landlady they had little money,
got married and moved in. Now Frédy needed a job. He
went back to Sandoz. Would he be willing to learn Spanish
and move to South America? The answer was yes.
Sandoz Laboratories is a world leader in the manufacture of
dyes and pharmaceuticals, although in 1935 when Frédy
joined the company it was much smaller than today. Frédy's
entire career was spent in the pharmaceutical division where
he was engaged at various times as either a chemist or commercial
representative. While training for the transfer overseas,
he worked on a team carrying out research into medicinal drugs.
As a matter of curiosity, 1935 was the same year that Albert
Hofmann, a Sandoz chemist working on a totally unrelated project,
initiated an investigation into ergot alkaloids that grow
parasitically on rye and other grains. Years hence, Hofmann's
research provided Sandoz with one of its best known products:
lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD.
As husband and wife the Marmillods climbed for three years
throughout the Alps, from the Meije to the Dolomites. They
loved to sail, whether on Lake Geneva or the Mediterranean.
On one occasion they combined sports and sailed to Corsica
for a rock climbing holiday. Their boat was just large enough
to hold them, two friends, and four rucksacks.
Blaise de Perrot, a friend of Frédy's from his military
service, climbed with the Marmillods before they moved to
South America, as well as various times over the years. He
writes an admiring portrait of them.
the great enthusiasts of alpinism, Frédy and Dorly
formed, I believe, a pair unique to the genre of climbing
couples. Mountains were an integral part of their lives. They
could not live without them, as if their love for them were
an unquenchable desire. If they accomplished a difficult ascent,
an exploit if you will, they spoke little of it. Vanity and
boasting were not their style. Only one thing counted: enjoyment
of the outdoors and the beauty of the high mountains, to which
they were so attuned."
believe I've ever met a couple so unified by the same passion.
It was hardly thinkable that one would climb without the other.
Together they experienced a kind of completeness in the mountains.
They avoided crowds and, whenever possible, stayed away from
a hut full of tourists on Saturday night; it was much nicer
to spend the night alone in a hut, or to step onto a summit
without encountering another living soul!"
I joined Frédy and Dorly for a climb and did so with
delight. What a privilege to follow in Frédy's footsteps,
to watch him lead a difficult pitch, climbing with confidence
and calmness, so precise and agile in his movements, and also
so attentive to the progress of his companions, gracefully
giving them a hand when he saw that they were having difficulty.
And what a flair for finding the best way!"
were overtaken by bad weather, or if technical difficulties
turned out to be greater than foreseen, I never saw Frédy
become impatient or upset. That's how he was. And besides
that, what joie de vivre and humor!"
had none of the air of a crack female climber. Quite to the
contrary she was very feminine, almost frail, but beneath
this appearance, what energy, tenacity and love for climbing
the highest peaks at the side of her husband!"
In 1938 Sandoz
transferred Frédy to Santiago de Chile. For two decades
he would be stationed in various Latin American countries, and
as a fringe benefit the Marmillods garnered first ascents in
every Andean range they visited. During this grand tour Dorly
also bore four children in four different countries.
Santiago is an
excellent city for active and armchair mountaineers. Base camps
beneath four- and five-thousand meter peaks are but a few hours'
travel away, and the mountains form a dramatic backdrop from
"Soaring 4800 meters above the avenues of the city are
El Plomo (5430 meters), a massive ice dome, which, together
with the lovely pair of La Paloma (4930 m) and El Altar (5222
m), can be seen to advantage from any point in the valley where
Santiago lies; they are an unforgettable sight at sunset, when
the clouds part and the setting sun tints cherry-red the snows
and the rock cliffs."
Frédy and Dorly quickly took advantage of this proximity,
and within a few months of their arrival had climbed Altar and
Christmas they ascended Nevado Juncal (6110 meters, third
ascent). Seen from the trans-Andean highway twenty kilometers
to the north, Juncal forms a beautiful white curtain which
ends at the right in the dark walls of Alto de los Leones.
From certain places to the west it resembles a fireman's helmet,
hence its popular name, Casco de Bombero. The Marmillod's
ascent, while not technically difficult, was long and exhausting,
requiring four days on the north glacier.
In the eyes of local climbers, Juncal established the Swiss
couple as a pair of rising stars. The promise of this auspicious
debut was soon fulfilled; the Marmillod's next climb catapulted
them to the front rank of Andean mountaineers.