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Fernand Petzl, the story of a pioneer

©PETZL / Fernand Petzl

Fernand PetzlIn the early 1930s, Fernand Petzl discovered caving at the age of seventeen. A mechanic by trade, he quickly began envisioning new techniques for caving, which was still a rudimentary discipline at the time. In his workshop after work, he began hand-producing products and systems for himself and his caving friends. His goal: to conquer, on the following Sunday,underground obstacles in previously inaccessible galleries.

He invented and perfected new and innovative products in the 1940s with his friend, Pierre Chevalier. Their collaboration was a turning point. Together they explored the initial seventeen kilometers of underground galleries of the Dent de Crolles and established a new world record for exploration below 600 meters. Significantly, they perfected new techniques for progression by pioneering the use of nylon ropes instead of the fixed ladders that were in use at the time. Other revolutionary inventions by Fernand Petzl include the climbing pole, and notably,the ascender a few years later.

In the 1950s, Fernand Petzl led an international expedition to the Berger Cavern in the Vercors region of France. After three years, a new record of -1122 meters was set and Fernand Petzl became part of the history and the legend of caving. This did not prevent him from continuing to improve the ascender, then the descender in the ‘70s, eventually allowing ropes to completely replace ladders. These innovations would soon find their place in sport, rescue and later in industry and construction.

In 1968, Fernand Petzl mass production of his ascenders in his own workshop. Then in 1970, with his sons Pierre and Paul, he expanded his production to include mountaineering gear as well. After inventing lighting for caving, the team created the first headlamp designed for mountaineers. This was the beginning of the adventure for the Petzl brand.