Follow in the footsteps of the Victorian judge who popularised alpine mountaineering & hiking in the Haute Giffre Valley
Alfred Wills was an English High Court judge who became a 19th-century mountaineering pioneer. His alpine adventures and writings are credited as making climbing fashionable during the ‘golden age of alpinism’. Wills also had a notable legal career and presided over the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895.
Wills fell in love with the area around Samoëns and Sixt after first visiting in 1846. He returned to the Haute Giffre Valley every year. Today, you can follow in Wills’ hiking footsteps by taking a walk to the refuge named after him in the Sixt-Passy Nature Reserve. The hut is approximately 20km south of our Grand Massif luxury chalet.
The alpine legacy of Alfred Wills
Wills rose to fame after a party he led claimed to have made the first successful ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854. The mountaineering history books were later amended to recognise that a pair of local guides had in fact achieved it a decade earlier.
Wills’ achievement remained widely celebrated though, and in his 1912 obituary, the climb to the peak of the Wetterhorn had been amended to state it was the “first completely successful one”. The Wills mountaineering genes remained evident after his passing with his grandson, Edward Norton, taking part in two notable Everest exhibitions during the 1920s.
Wills spent much time in the Haute Giffre Valley, exploring the peaks above it. His book, The Eagles Nest, is an account of a summer spent here accompanied by his children. During that time, Wills scoured the slopes seeking a location for a “pleasure chalet”. The building still stands but has long been deserted. Le Refuge Alfred Wills was named in his honour in the 1980s.
Take a walk to Le Refuge Alfred Wills
Mountain shelters have been places of refuge for travellers in the alps for centuries. They were usually stone shepherd’s huts that offered little more than a retreat should the weather turn and a resting place for those who moved with the seasons.
Le Refuge Alfred Wills is around a two-hour steady walk from Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. There are several hiking routes that pass by it. The hut is a great spot for a picnic too, but you’ll certainly be glad of a good meal when you return to your catered chalet base at Ferme du Ciel.