A Hero’s Guide to France: Crossing the Alps, Part 1

Of recent years, many a Frenchmen (Virenque, Jalabert, Rinero) has won the illustrious red polka dot jersey in that Grand Tour which men still undertake. But today, we Heroes want to bend our gaze backwards and reflect on a man who was also a King of the Mountains, or, if you will, an Emperor of the Mountains. We speak of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

There are three main things that are believed about Monsieur Bonaparte today:

(1) He was short.

(2) He had an aggression complex.

(3) He should never have invaded Russia with winter approaching (and winter is always approaching, when you’re invading Russia.)

We Heroes would unequivocally agree with the third, respectfully question the second, and argue decidedly against the first. After all, unless average height is to be considered minuscule, Napoleon is innocent of the longest-lasting stereotype laid against him. In this, we must salute the British cartoonists and political lampoonists of the turn of the 19th century; your jabs have lasted longer in the public consciousness than Napoleon’s monumental strategic and tactical successes.

But no matter the truth about his physical stature, his lofty military and political achievements are impossible to deny. And most importantly, that man really knew how to climb the Alps!

In May of the year 1800 (before he became Emperor of the French) Napoleon saw the mighty Alps not as a barrier to his invasion of Italy but simply as a challenge that he and his men were more than capable of conquering. No doubt he also saw those Alps, and the impossibility therein, as a route to glory that could only be rivaled by the likes of Roman Emperors (and by all accounts this was a man who was very aware of building his own glory).

And what did Bonaparte do to attain his own Alpine renown? He marched his entire army right over the mountains into Italy (against common sense, and even though others had recently had problems with the same type of climb), so that they could join the fight. A fight they ended up helping to win.

Because of this exemplary show of Mountainsmanship (as well as a personal bravado and panache that we admire), we at Hero Headquarters are posthumously declaring Napoleon Bonaparte, the Corsican-French climber, an honorary member of Club KoM. And, if we do say ourselves, he makes those polka dots look good.

Next up in our continuing Guide to France, we tackle the other side of Napoleon’s saga, and reflect on issues of French thinking.

Words by Hannah Burtness. Images by Delaroche, Jacques-Louis David and Todd Hero.