War II brought recreational mountaineering to a halt in many
parts of the globe, but the Andes remained insulated from
the hostilities. Apart from location, two other advantages
allowed the Marmillods to lead a relatively normal life, both
in town and high in the mountains: they were nationals of
a neutral country and they were a self-contained rope team.
Marmillods at Laguna de la Plaza, Sierra Nevada de Cocuy.
Photo: E. Kraus
the war Sandoz Laboratories moved Frédy successively
to offices in Caracas, Bogotá and Lima. Each city brought
the family a new member, and Caracas brought Françoise,
their second daughter, in May 1942. Four months later, Dorly
became the first woman to climb Pico Bolívar (4979
m), the highest mountain in Venezuela.
found the ideas of the local climbers peculiar: "In order
to goad the ambition of new andinistas, the Outing Club in
Mérida placed a box on the summit of Pico Bolívar
which contains the coat of arms of the twenty-three Venezuelan
states. Each state was then invited to send a delegation to
fetch the coat of arms. Also, a large bust of the national
hero, Simon Bolívar, is supposed to be erected on this
highest summit in the land. These manifestations of patriotism,
meant to appeal to the South American mind, will probably
be received in conventional mountaineering circles with mixed
on Pico Abánico, Venezuela. Pico Bolívar
in background. Photo: F. Marmillod
1943 the family moved to Colombia, and in February Frédy
and Dorly undertook a highly successful expedition to the
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Pico Simons (5660 m) was the
last major unclimbed peak in the range, which rises into the
glacial zone only fifty kilometers from the Caribbean coast.
Two years earlier, American mountaineers Elizabeth Cowles
and Paul Petzoldt had tried to reach the base of the mountain
but gave up when they lost their way in a maze of canyons.
Frédy and Dorly took a higher route and made the climb
in four days round trip from their base camp near Lake Naboba,
situated in the center of the massif.
notable ascent was the first traverse of Picos Colón
and Bolívar (both 5775 m), the highest summits in Colombia.
Dorly was the first woman to stand on top of them, and during
the descent a new route was opened on the Southeast face of
Pico Bolívar. Other ascents included Picos Ojeda (5490
m), La Reina (5535 m), El Guardián (5285 m), and Tairona
(5000 m, first female ascent).
the time arrived to leave: "We took down the tent, cleaned
up the campsite, and stuffed everything into the packs, "
wrote Frédy. "The sun rose and we were ready.
Golden sunlight touched the ridges, the morning breeze swept
away the mist, and the lake rippled awake and filled with
light. Time to go! But we stood there silently, moved in the
face of such beauty; we felt at that moment how much this
place had enriched our lives. Neither one of us dared say
'Vamos,' which would tear us away from this enchanted
new arrival at the Marmillod household in Bogotá was
Elvira Barrios, a mestizo girl. This illiterate teenager matured
into an intelligent, loving woman who would nurture three
generations of Marmillods. She was more than a hired nursemaid,
cook and housekeeper. She became a full member of the family
and a second mother to the children. She cared for the children
while Frédy and Dorly were off climbing, and as such
her role was crucial. Without Elvira there might have been
fewer children or less climbing or both.
climbers were a rare breed in the northern Andes, so the Marmillods
were delighted to meet Erwin Kraus in Bogotá. Born
in Colombia to German-immigrant parents, Kraus was the first
regular climber in the country. For his record of first ascents
from the thirties to the fifties, he is recognized as the
leading pioneer in Colombian mountaineering. In late 1943,
Kraus introduced the Swiss couple to one of his favorite ranges,
the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy, three-hundred kilometers northeast
the west, the crest of the Cocuy appears tame, a series of innocuous
summits gently wrapped in white, perhaps undeserving of a mountaineer's
time. From the east, however, the peaks buck ferociously. If
the rock were not so poor these walls would have become famous
visitor to the range wrote: "
the valley was dominated
by enormous dragon's teeth. Whole ridges of vertical, slaty
slabs were complemented by isolated, grey, mist-rending monsters.
It was as though giants with cookie cutters had stamped these
teeth from soft clay, propped them against each other in rows,
and left them to weather in the winds."
Marmillods too were struck by the Cocuy's countenance. "We
walked along the foot of the walls with the oddest feelings,
as if discovering a world that no human intruder had ever
seen. The landscape was draped with an uncommonly rich alpine
flora (surprising enough at this height), growing beneath
the soaring, ice-flecked walls. The view from above is also
unusually interesting; one looks down remarkably airy rock
walls which plunge abruptly toward the ever-cloudy llanos
of Cerros de la Plaza. Pico Castillo in background.
Photo: E. Kraus
setting attracted another party of climbers during the dry
season of 1943-1944. As the Marmillods and Kraus approached
from the south, the rival Swiss team of August Gansser and
Georges Cuenet were hiking in from the north. They converged
on Pico Castillo (5123 m), the finest trophy in the range.
in the eastern portion of the range, heretofore unexplored
because of the region's atrocious weather, Castillo is one
of the most beautiful peaks in Colombia, its name ("the
castle") indicative of the mountain's majestic form.
As with many remote peaks, the key to Castillo lay not on
its hanging glaciers or symmetrical ridges, but in forging
a path over rugged terrain to its base. The Marmillods and
Kraus found the quicker way and reached the virgin summit
six days ahead of Gansser and Cuenet.
also made the first ascents of Púlpito del Diablo (4711
m), Cerros de la Plaza 4957 m), and Grande Campanilla (4886
m). The most interesting of these was Púlpito, a weird
rock wart rising one-hundred meters out of the Pan de Azúcar's
summit glacier. From a distance this cubical block resembles
a gigantic tombstone. A snow-covered staircase on the north
face led to the flat-as-a-dinner-plate summit.
few months later, Frédy and Dorly added to these successes
by climbing two semi-active volcanoes in Colombia's Central
Cordillera, Nevado del Tolima (5215 m) and Volcan Puracé
Peru was the Marmillod's last home during the war. The closest
mountains of any interest lay in the Cordillera de la Viuda,
a six-hour drive east of the capital. Nevado Rajuntay (5477
m), the highest peak in the range, was their first objective
in Peru. Leaving their children Françoise and Mariette
at home in the capable hands of Elvira, who had left her native
Colombia to remain with the family, Frédy and Dorly
made the ascent in three days round-trip from Lima. Access
and route finding were straight forward on the virgin peak;
they climbed up the South face and down the West ridge without
few weeks later, in July 1944, they traveled to the fabled
Cordillera Blanca. Nevado Santa Cruz (6241 m), one of the
highest peaks in the range, had been left untouched by the
German-Austrian expeditions of the thirties. From a base camp
high in the Quebrada Alpamayo, the Marmillods looked up at
this massive pyramid and its precipitous, ice-armored rock
faces. During the ascent of adjacent Quitaraju in 1936, Erwin
Schneider had concluded that the best route on Santa Cruz
might be the Northeast face and North ridge. The Marmillods
found Schneider's proposed route too exposed to stonefall
and avalanche, so they chose the lengthy East ridge instead.
They headed for the prominent gendarme (ca. 5800 m) half way
between the eastern saddle and the summit. After crossing
the Northeast glacier, they climbed a face loaded with loose
blocks until, a few meters below the East ridge, misfortune
struck: a stone rolled over Frédy's foot, breaking
two toes. By the time they reached Lima days later, the bones
had fused together, and the doctor had to rebreak them before
they could be set. Fortunately, they healed properly and never
got in the way of rolling stones after that.
to right: Nevado Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Chico, and Santa
Cruz Norte. The East Ridge of Nevado Santa Cruz forms
the left skyline. Photo: Leigh Ortenburger,
from an Ortenburger family Christmas card circa 1960.
Janine, the Marmillod's third daughter, was born in Lima in
June 1945. Within three months the Marmillods were back in
the Cordillera Blanca, where they made the first ascent of
Nevado Milluacocha (5480 m). A few days after the Japanese
surrender brought World War II to a close, they were ready
to attempt Nevado Santa Cruz again. Reaching the East ridge
without incident, they found themselves faced with a disappointing
sight and a difficult decision:
several rope lengths we would have had to traverse enormous
cornices of doubtful stability. We dared not risk our two-person
rope on them. I had tried in vain to hunt up at least a third
man for our trip, but in these countries, locating experienced
climbers is an almost hopeless task, for their numbers have
dwindled close to the vanishing point. The uncertain weather
and the difficulties won the upper hand over our strong desire
to continue the ascent."
four years of exile, the Marmillods were eager for repatriation
with Helvetia, longing to see friends and relatives, itching
to renew their acquaintance with the beloved Alps. With the
end of the war, they bid a tearful farewell to Elvira and
sailed for Europe, destination: Basel.
was hard in Europe following the war, even for the neutral
Swiss. But it didn't last overly long, for Sandoz restationed
Frédy once again. In early 1947 the family sailed back
to South America., destination: Buenos Aires.