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Victorian Mountaineers. 

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i British Mountaineers in the early i.S6o's 


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P. D. W.-B. 

First published, 1953 








INTRODUCTION: Half of their Lives 15 


One The Prophets 29 

Two Pioneers, O Pioneers 57 

Three The Alpine Club 78 

Four The Scientists 91 

Five The Clergy no 

Six Whymper, the Man with the Chip 

on his Shoulder 122 

Seven Coolidge, the Boswell of the Alps 145 

Eight The Women 174 

Nine The Mountaineers in Britain 186 

Ten Conway, the Victorian Mountaineer 206 

INDEX 225 


THE author wishes to thank: T. S. Blakeney, James Reid, 
Mrs. George Starkey, Doctor Monroe Thorington and Mrs. 
Winthrop Young, among many others, for help and advice; 
Doctor Sieber of the Zentralbibliothek, Zurich, for his kind 
co-operation with the Coolidge material; the Editor of The 
Cornhill Magazine for kind permission to use the material incor- 
porated in an article in that journal; all those people who have 
lent illustrations, and made available information, which it has 
been impossible to incorporate in this book; and the late Ashley P. 
Abraham, for figs. 36-44; the Alpine Club, for figs. 10 and 20; 
Mrs. Vanessa Bell, for figs. 15 and 16; Captain Neville B. C. 
Brock, for figs. 24-28; the Centre Alpin de Zermatt, for fig. 5; Mr. 
Peter Eaton, for fig. 19; Mr. Helmut Gernsheim, for fig. 4; Major- 
General R. S. Lewis, C.B., O.B.E., for fig. 29; Mr. Hugh Merrick 
for fig. 34; Mrs. Mary Howard McClintock, for fig. 31; Lieu- 
tenant-General E. F. Norton, C.B., D.S.O., M.C., for figs. 3 and 
8; Picture Post Library, for figs, i, 2, 6, 7, 17 and 18; Miss Dorothy 
Pilkington, for figs. 13, 22 and 33; the Royal Geographical 
Society, for figs. 21 and 45; the Royal Institution, for fig. n; 
Mr. C. W. Rubenson, of Oslo, for fig. 35; the Swiss Alpine Club, 
for fig. 23 ; Mr. Charles Vaughan, for fig. 30. Fig. 15 is reproduced 
from a photograph supplied by Messrs. McGibbon and Kee from 
Leslie Stephen by Noel Annan. Thanks are also due to the follow- 
ing publishers for granting their permission to make quotations: 
Messrs, Jonathan Cape Ltd., The Autobiography of a Mountain 
Climber by Lord Conway of Allington; Messrs. Longmans Green 
and Co. Ltd., Time and Chance by Doctor Joan Evans, and 
Wanderings by Alfred Wills; Messrs. John Murray Ltd., Scrambles 
amongst the Alps by Edward Whymper; and die Journal of the Fell 
and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District for the account 
of Haskett-Smith's first ascent of the Napes Needle. 



1 British Mountaineers in the early i86o's Frontispiece 

2 John Ruskin 13 

3 Members of the Wills Family on the Col d'Anterne 14 

4 Albert Smith 14 

5 Charles Hudson 33 

6 John Ball, First President of the Alpine Club 33 

7 JohnTyndall 33 

8 Sir Alfred Wills and a Family Group at the Eagle's 
Nest 34 

9 A Group on the Mer de Glace above Chamonix 59 

10 A Group of British Climbers at Zermatt in the late 1 86o's 60 

11 John Tyndall outside the Bel Alp with his Wife, 1876 85 

12 The Rev. Hereford George's Party on the Lower 
Grindelwald Glacier, 1865 85 

13 Lawrence and Charles Pilkington and Frederick 
Gardiner 86 

14 Ulrich Aimer saving his Employers on the Obcr 
Gabelhorn 103 

15 Leslie Stephen: with his Guide, Melchior Anderegg 104 
1 6 Leslie Stephen: on one of his later visits to Grindelwald 104 
17, 18 On the Mer de Glace in the late 1870'$ 117 

19 Sir Edward Davidson and his Guides II 8 

20 Edward Whymper: as a Man of 25 135 

21 Edward Whymper: in his Middle Fifties 135 

22 Grindelwald Guides of the Mid-Victorian Age 136 

23 A letter from W. A. B. Coolidge to his Mother follow- 

ing his first visit to Zermatt 149 



Figure Page 

24 Miss Brevoort 150 

25 W. A. B. Coolidge 150 
26, 27 Tschingel, and the Printed List of her Peaks and 

Passes 150 

28 W. A. B. Coolidge and Albert, his manservant, at 
Grindelwald 159 

29 A Group taken in the late i86o's showing Miss Straton 

and Miss Emmeline Lewis-Lloyd 160 

30 A Group taken in the i86o's showing Miss Straton and 
Jean Charlet 169 

31 Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, at the Grands 
Mulcts, Mont Blanc, in 1864, at the age of 14 170 

32 Queen Victoria ascending Lochnagar, near Balmoral 179 
3 3 Mrs. Jackson 1 80 

34 Miss Maud Meyer 180 

35 Cecil SHngsby, in 1876, at the age of 27 189 

36 "The Keswick Brothers": Ashley P. and George D. 
Abraham 190 

37 The Rev. James "Steeple" Jackson 190 

38 O. G.Jones climbing in Derbyshire 199 

39 J. W. Robinson and George Seatree at a Camp, near 

Sty Head 199 

40 The "Stable-Door Traverse" at Wastdale Head 200 

41 W. P. Haskett-Smith in his early climbing days 200 

42 The Spring Meet of the Cairngorm Club on Mount 
Keen, 1890 209 

43 A Group of Climbers outside Pen-y-Gwryd, North 
Wales, 1898 210 

44 A Group on Cader Idris in 1897 219 

45 Lord Con way of Allington 220 


FEW photographs of the earlier Victorian mountaineers were ever taken; 
fewer still have survived the salvage drives of two world wars and the 
bombings of one. Even when photographs are discovered there is, too often, no 
means of identifying, beyond all possible doubt, those climbers who are shown. 
Even the dates can often be surmised only from the clothes or, more 
frequently, from the type of alpenstock or ice-axe carried. 

In spite of this the following notes on some of the pictures, however incom- 
plete, may be of interest. 

The frontispiece, fig. i, is one of the earliest photographs showing a 
woman mountaineer. The couple are believed to be Lucy Walker and her 
brother, Horace Walker, although it has been suggested that her companion 
might be A. W. Moore. 

In fig. 3, J. T. Wills, son of Sir Alfred Wills, is shown seated on the far 
left. Second and fourth from left are Mrs. Edward Norton (daughter of 
Sir Alfred) and Edward Norton, mother and father of General E. F. Norton. 

In fig. 14, from a drawing by H. G. Willink, is shown die incident when, 
as described by an eyewitness, "... a huge mass of cornice fell, carrying 
with it the leading guide, Brantschen, and the two voyageurs. Aimer, who 
alone remained on terra firma . . . leaped a yard backwards, plunged his axe 
into the snow, and planting himself as firmly as possible, was thus enabled to 
arrest the fall of the entire party down a precipice of some 2,000 feet/* 

Fig. 19 is from a photograph taken by W. F. Donkin at die Montanvcrt 
in 1882. Davidson's guides are Andreas Jaun (left) and Hans Jaun. 

In fig. 22, Christian Aimer, most famous of all the Oberland guides, is 
seen shielding the bottom right-hand end of the ladder, with rope over right 
shoulder and ice-axe in left hand. Below him, and to his left, with rope 
over left shoulder, is his son, "young Christian". 

In fig. 31, Prince Arthur is seen centre, holding alpenstock. On his left, 
holding alpenstock, is Major Elphinstone, V.C.; on his right is Colonel 

In fig. 42 is seen the spring excursion of the Cairngorm Club to die top of 
Mount Keen on May 5th. Described as the highlight of die 1890 season, the 
meet attracted a record total of 162 people, including a boy of six, a man of 
seventy-six and 45 ladies. A formal meeting of the Club was held on the 

In fig. 43, Dr. Collier sits at the far left of the centre row with, next to 
him, Oscar Eckcnstein. 

In fig. 44 there is shown, from left to right, Ashley P. Abraham, C. Fox, 
W. J. Williams, O. G. Jones and George D. Abraham. 


z John Raskin 


3 Members of the Wills Family on the 
Col d'Antcrne above the Eagle's Nest 

4 Albert Smith 



I go, Fate drives me, lut I leave 
Half of my life with you. 


' I *HERE is something a little surprising and slightly indecorous 
J_ about the fact that the Victorians, the bearded gentlemen 
from the family albums, provided the first considerable body of 
mountaineers that the world had ever known. 

They were, at first glance, essentially indoor gentlemen. Their 
portraits were taken against the backcloth rather than the land- 
scape; their clothes were such as to make movement difficult and 
violent action, one might well imagine from the illustrations 
which have remained, dangerous if not impossible; their 
ambitions led to the Albert Hall and the terraced rows of the 
great towns rather than to the Garden Cities. 

Yet it is too often forgotten that the backcloth was almost a 
necessity of the pre-Leica age, that the Charge of the Light 
Brigade was led by an officer in corsets, and that the closing 
decades of the last century were die great years not only of the 
local debating society, but also of the Natural History Club. The 
"indoorness" of the period is in fact merely a part of the Victorian 
fafade, a popular erection vigorously strengthened during the 
last half-century; through its chinks one has seen, too often, only 
caricatures of the men who wrestled with problems far more 
difficult than those of today yet who still succeeded in regarding 
the world "steadily and whole". 

The Victorians were not, of course, at all like their caricatures. 
It is true that they were solid and usually sober; yet they had 
other qualities, certain inbuilt strengths, which are illuminated 
most brilliantly of all by the records of the mountaineers among 


them, that eccentric, colourful galaxy of opposites who formed 
the Alpine community which grew during the second half of the 
nineteenth century. These men, almost without exception, were 
more than mental giants; they were original, enterprising, 
adventurous, and tough. They were also phenomenal workers. 
Just consider what sort of men and women they were. 
Consider Edward Shirley Kennedy, left a fortune by his father 
at the age of sixteen he sometimes climbed with his man- 
servant Fortunatus following as dutifully close behind as he dared 
who for a while lived with thieves and garrotters, who tramped 
with similar companions from London to Brighton, and who 
was remembered by one persistent question which he voiced more 
frequently than any other "Is it right?" Consider Meta Brevoort, 
the stern new woman of the age, beating the donkey-drivers if 
they ill-treated their animals, ample both of figure and of dignity, 
yet singing the "Marseillaise" on the top of Mont Blanc in the 
days of the Second Empire and then dancing a quadrille with her 
guides. Consider William Grahame, that ill-starred adventurer 
who disappeared from the Victorian scene without reason and 
who was last heard of as a cowboy in the Far West, a man of 
whom it might truly have been written that : 

Change was his mistress, Chance his councillor, 
Love could not hold him, Duty forged no chain; 

The wide seas and the mountains called to him, 
And grey dawns saw his camp-fire in the rain. 

Consider Miss Straton, the .4,ooo-a-year woman who mar- 
ried her guide; or benign C. E. Mathews, organising a six-course 
meal followed by coffee and liqueurs in the most desolate and 
ill-equipped of Alpine huts. All these characters a fair word for 
them represented strong forces which were at work in the age 
which created, in the Alpine world, a microcosm of itself. 

For it is almost true to claim that if there had been no Victorian 
Age there would today be no Alpine Club, none of the hundred 
mountaineering groups which are scattered through Britain, few 
of the many thousand volumes of mountain exploration which 
line the booksellers' shelves. 


"All the thought of the age arose out of the circumstances of 
the age", G. M. Trevelyan has written of the Victorian period. 
So did mountaineering, the sport which during the 1 850*5 and 
i86o's took a relatively small number of the Victorians up 
most of the hitherto virgin summits of the Alps and enabled them 
to gain, in a few glorious years of triumph, the laurels which 
continental travellers had been eyeing for nearly a quarter of a 

The thoroughness of the record, which in Alpine statistics has the 
quality of an exhibition catalogue, is typical. Nothing less would 
have satisfied the exacting standards of the people concerned. 

How did it happen? What were the "circumstances of the age" 
which made the rise of mountaineering so nearly inevitable a 
century ago? 

They were very varied, and the lack, or misplacing, of any one 
of them might well have meant the failure of the business to blaze 
up as it did. There had first to be the preparatory work of such 
people as Forbes, the scientist; of John Ruskin, the man who 
startled people's minds into thinking about mountains in a new 
way; of that queer mountain-propagandist, Albert Smith. There 
had to be a demand for physical knowledge which would drive 
scientists up above the snowline even though they might not, at 
first, see much attraction in mountains as such. There had to be 
a long peaceful period of economic well-being which made such 
excursions not only desirable but also possible. And there had to 
be some such range as the Alps, conveniently situated at the end 
of the carriage roads and only some couple of days distant from 
London. All these were prerequisites for the development of 
mountaineering by British climbers during the middle of the 
Victorian century. 

Yet there had to be something more. Strangely enough men 
do not go to the hills regularly for conquest alone. They may go 
there first to solve some scientific problem. They may go there 
to feel for a while the cool keen finger of danger pointing at them. 
They may even go because it is fashionable to do so. But to 
climb continuously, season after season, to think of mountains 
and mountaineering so that the subject becomes half of one's life, 

V.M. 2 17 

to treat the sport thus, as did many climbers during the latter 
half of the last century for all this to happen means that the 
attraction must have some deeper and less material reason behind it. 

Many minor reasons can be given in an effort to explain how 
it was that a few hundred lawyers, doctors, scientists, clergymen 
and merchants were willing to leave their well-servanted homes 
for the ragged bivouacs under the colder if more inspiring panoply 
of the Alpine stars. None of them are completely satisfactory. 

The most usual explanation is that the Victorian mountaineers 
were over-fed with wealth, ease and luxury; they had, runs the 
argument, to get away from it all for one reason or the other. 
They were, in a manner of speaking, the real Ivory Tower gentle- 
men for at least a few weeks every year. Alternatively, they were 
salving their consciences in the Alps, finding something in the 
mountain world that might redress the balance of the factory 
world in which, even if they worked twelve hours a day, they 
worked under circumstances vastly different from those of their 
less fortunate employees. 

This physical, Marxian, explanation is correct so far as it goes. 
The material advances of the Victorian years, it is true, not only 
gave men the craving for hard physical exercise under the sky but 
also enabled them to reach the Alps with an ease and speed which 
astonished them. 

Yet there is another and more important explanation of the 
restless mountain-urge which rippled through the Victorian years. 
It might be the material circumstances of the age which enabled 
men to climb mountains with a facility never before known; it 
was something more than this which kept bringing them back 
year after year. 

The Victorians were always asking questions and they climbed, 
fundamentally, because they wanted their questions answered, 
They were questions of two sorts and they were asked most 
frequently by different, and at times diametrically opposed, groups 
of people. It is no coincidence that scientists and clergymen were 
so numerous among the early mountaineers. 

It was natural that the scientists, the men who wanted physical 
questions answered in some detail, should be the first who travelled 


above the snowline with any regularity. After 1815, travel 
throughout Europe became less difficult, and at the same time 
science began to push its boundaries far beyond those of the 
earlier century. The new enquirers began to ask why it was that 
one began to pant and gasp at a great altitude. Could birds or 
insects live above the heights at which snow lasted throughout the 
year? How and why did the glaciers, those white dragons of the 
eighteenth-century prints, move in just the way that they did 

Such questions had, of course, been asked before, notably by 
Saussure, the Genevese whose offer of a reward to be given to the 
first man to reach the top of Mont Blanc, directly led to its ascent 
in 1786. There had been other scientific mountaineers who had 
followed, almost literally, in his footsteps while there had, before 
the Victorians, been a number of men and women, many of them 
British, whose mountain travels had been unhampered by any 
scientific ambitions. Mrs. and Miss Campbell, two of the earliest 
British women mountain-travellers, had crossed the Col du Geant 
in the Mont Blanc range in the early 1 820'$. William Brockedon, 
the writer and traveller who helped John Murray produce the 
first edition of his famous handbook to Switzerland, had crossed 
the Theodule in the Pennines in 1825, and a number of other 
glacier passes in 1828 and 1829. Francis Walker, who in 1865 
took part in the famous first ascent of the Brenva ridge on the 
south side of Mont Blanc at the age of fifty-seven, crossed the 
Theodule in the same year as Brockedon; two years later 
Frederick Slade and Yeats Brown made an enterprising attempt 
to climb the Jungfrau with nine guides. 

Yet all these exploits were isolated examples of joie de vivre. 
They aided only slightly in building up any permanent know- 
ledge of high mountain travel; they had little or no effect beyond 
a small select circle of personal acquaintances; and they provided 
relatively little opportunity for what contemporary writers call 
"the mountain magic" to get to work. 

It was only when men began to climb in the mountains regu- 
larly rather than spasmodically that the situation was altered. 
These men were the scientists. For to secure answers to the 


questions which they had set themselves to solve they had to 
climb regularly. It was necessary for them to be out and about 
not only in fair weather but in the full blast of the mountain 
storm; it was necessary for them to camp, to train and hire guides 
who could carry their delicate instruments with some approach 
to safety, to build up a technique of travel above the snowline and 
to produce a demand for better inns below it. The men of science 
acquired, in order to keep both their scientific wits about them 
and their lives intact, the first rules of mountain travel. 

It is interesting to remember that those who today seek out the 
last technical secrets of the Himalaya, the Hindu Kush or the 
Karakoram and who, almost incidentally as it were, resolve in a 
new way the problems of high Asiatic travel, had their counter- 
parts in pioneers such as Forbes, Tyndall, Bonney, Ramsey, and 
other scientists who pressed ever more deeply into the Alps during 
the forties and fifties of the last century. 

There are two points to note in connection with these Victorians 
who went mountaineering to solve their scientific problems, 
points which have a bearing on the apparently materialist theory 
of mountaineering-impulse. The first is the large number of 
scientists who came to study and stayed to worship. Forbes, whose 
ponderous glacier argument rumbled round the universities for 
decades, finished by becoming as great a mountain addict as 
Ruskin (and, it might be said, not such a very different kind of 
addict). Tyndall, who when it came to writing could rarely 
disentangle his mountain-worship from the trails of Royal Insti- 
tution prose, built his "London 5 ' house at Hindhead where the 
mists can summon up the mountain glory as easily as anywhere 
else in the world, and later made his spiritual home in the little 
and almost unbelievably ugly house at Alp Lusgen. Bonney, 
whose geological researches took him into die Dauphine nearly 
a decade before Whymper went there, was captured not only by 
the record of the rocks but also by the mountain scene. Ramsay 
became attached to the mountains of Snowdonia with an affection 
that was by no means scientific. 

The second interesting point is that so many of these scientists, 
who found in the mountains something that was apparently more 


than the answers to their scientific conundrums, were in fact 
geologists. They were, in other words, men whose daily life and 
thought brought them into full and unavoidable contact with the 
awful problems posed by the revelations of this science which 
was then eating so deeply into many men's accepted beliefs. The 
geologists had done more than any other group of men to under- 
mine man's ancient belief in the certainty of the Universe and in 
a life everlasting; it would be easy to maintain that in that fact 
lay the real seed of mountain-worship when immortality goes, 
hold fast to the magnificent certainties of mountain-form and 

Yet the geologists were no more prominent than the clergy, 
the gentlemen who were doing their best to maintain a belief in 
the cosmology which the awkward scientists were destroying 
with an unnerving ease. This apparent paradox of the wolf and 
the lamb setting out, so to speak, on the same Alpine expedition, 
is most illuminating. It shows what might have been expected 
from the circumstances, that they both climbed for very similar 

Perhaps it is not so very surprising. Many of the clergymen of 
a hundred years ago had become rather too near to God. They 
understood the codified business of religion down to the last 
"Amen"; they were supremely confident of their position on the 
Almighty's right hand; they were able to give the answers so 
easily that in many cases religion had become more a matter of 
good cross-indexing than of basic belief. Knowledge had come 
in at the window and humility had flown out at the door. That 
was the outward form of affairs; a form in which Sunday prayers 
at the Bel Alp, the little inn which had been opened on the 
magnificent vantage-point above the Aletsch glacier in the Ober- 
land, gave a good and well-earned advantage in the life to come 
over such men as the guides who occasionally lapsed into believing 
that there were, after all, really "ghosts on the Matterhorn". 

The form lacked nothing except the essential mystery. Many 
Victorian Churchmen realised the fact. And, after the physical 
circumstances of the age had persuaded them up into the moun- 
tains, they found on them some hint of this mystic and needed 


link between themselves and the unexplained and the inexplicable. 
What is more, they found that it gave to their mortal work a new 
and hard proselytising punch. 

The geologists were in much the same way. They, too, had 
begun to explain everything far too satisfactorily. They, too, 
though in a different way, needed to get out beyond the slick 
certainties of life to the point where doubt arose. In their case 
it was not so much a question of religious belief as an intellectual 
problem posed by expanding knowledge which was the difficulty; 
yet with them, also, the climbing of difficult mountains restored 
the balance. The academic as well as the physical and spiritual 
problems they found gave them back their necessary unknown 
and made them complete men once again. 

Few of these climbers, either scientists or Churchmen, declared 
openly and boldly to the world the full pungent reasons for their 
mountaineering. What they did do was to agree that they had 
ears attuned to the lesser mysteries. Almost without exception, 
they sought "contact with Nature". 

The mountaineers carried this practice of experiencing the 
rough yet still kindly touch of nature one logical step farther than 
most of their contemporaries. This was very right, for they felt the 
artificiality of the picnic at the end of the carriage-drive; they 
knew not only the limitless suggestions but also the limitations 
of Box Hill and Hindhead, and of the other physically lesser hills 
of the world. They realised that to regain something that their 
age had lost they had to give genuine hostages to fortune; they 
had, at some period in the process, really to stand alone and 
battered by the gale with only a fair chance of getting home alive. 
Nothing less would do. 

The Victorian climbers were therefore united in seeing in their 
mountain adventures something different from a sport, something 
impinging on their thoughts more significantly than any hobby 
could ever do, something which was to mould their lives and to 
fashion out of them such beings that they who climbed mountains 
were not in their own opinions at least as other men. 

This deep spiritual satisfaction which they found in the moun- 
tains was, it must be admitted, the only thing that did unite them, 


Few groups of men joined by a common enthusiasm or belief 
have had such varied backgrounds, made such different approaches 
to the minutiae of their sport, drawn such different pleasures from 
a similar set of circumstances, or fought such bitter and unrelent- 
ing disputes in urging their own specific points of view. Outside 
the bright circle of light cast by the great Alpine disputes they 
might be tolerant and liberal-minded and forgiving; inside it 
they were uncommonly like the great teachers, each maintaining 
that his, alone, was the one route not only up to the gate of the 
Kingdom of Heaven but also right through it. 

It was not surprising that the Victorian mountaineers should 
have argued. They were too many-sided to agree for long on 
anything; their interests overflowed into the other fellows' com- 
partments, and they all had particular views of their own on 
everything. Many, such as John Ball and Francis Fox Tuckett, 
combined an amateur interest in science with their love of 
exploring fresh country; some of the artists, Whymper above all, 
were among the most enterprising of the great climbers; some of the 
scientists, notably Tyndall, became not only mountain-worshippers 
but pioneers in the craft far ahead of their contemporaries. 

The reasons that first drove them up into the mountains were 
as varied and as intermingled as their interests. The professional 
and business men might first climb for mental relaxation: the 
scientists might ascend a high peak to analyse the quality of the 
air; the clergy might, almost by accident, find in the sublimity 
of the mountain dawn and sunset, either a confirmation or a 
reassurance of those beliefs which their vocation bade them 
preach. Yet there were no clear divisions about the matter. 
Bonney, the geologist, was also a Clerk in Holy Orders and both 
undertakings are reflected in the reasons which drew him to the 
mountains. The Rev. Hereford Brooke George, the red-bearded 
giant who was to become the first editor of the Alpine Journal, 
saw in what he called the climbing spirit both "that love of action 
for its own sake . . . which has made England the great coloniser 
of the world" and also a means by which men could see more 
clearly "that above and beyond all law rises the supreme will of 
the Almighty lawgiver". 


Largely because of this intermingling of ideas and the inter- 
locking of resultant events, it becomes a major problem to judge 
fairly which group of men exerted the greatest influence on the 
sport or drew to it the greatest number of adherents. Does the 
great glacier controversy equal in influence Albert Smith's "Mont 
Blanc Sideshow" which earned him nearly .30,000? Do either 
equal the influence of Ruskin's fourth volume of Modern Painters? 
Men not only began climbing for a multiplicity of reasons, once 
the "circumstances of the age" allowed; they continued to climb 
for an equally large and varied number of reasons. 

These Victorian climbers are slightly surprising in two different 
ways. They were not all wealthy. And they were astonishingly 

Some were, it is true, born with a canteen of silver spoons in 
their mouths. Others, were like Thomas Atkinson, admitted to 
the select Alpine Club even though he had been born "of humble 
origin, became a bricklayer's labourer and quarryman, and later 
a stonemason and carver". It is too often forgotten that Tyndall, 
the poor Irishman from County Carlow, first saw the Alps on a 
student's walking tour which he "got through amazingly cheap"; 
that Whymper was by no means well-to-do when he first went 
to the Alps as an engraver for Longman, the book publisher; and 
that many of the less well-endowed Churchmen who played such 
a prominent part in Victorian mountaineering only did so through 
the use of the cheaper pension wherever possible and of the packed 
diligence. Even the Coolidges, superficially among the richest of 
travellers, touring with their caravanserai of Christian Aimer, 
"young Christian", one or more porters and the immortal bitch 
Tschingel, at times had to cut their travel according to their 
finances. It was by no means all carriages and champagne. 

What is more, when one considers the development of the 
sport, a development worked up into a great movement by the 
yeast of a strong spiritual need, one of the most astonishing things 
is that the Victorians were tough enough to do what they did. 

James David Forbes, the scholarly retiring invalid who was 
in many ways an eighteenth-century gentleman born rather too 
late, wrote a revealing paragraph late in life when the burden of 


disease and overwork was already hanging heavily on his 
shoulders. "He who does not feel his step lighter and his breath 
freer on the Montanvert and the Wengern Alp, may be classed 
among the incapables and permitted to retire in peace to paddle 
his skiff on the Lake of Geneva or to loiter in the salons of Baden 
Baden", he said. 

Forbes reminds one of a letter written many years later by 
Edward Whymper, that giant whose tragedy loomed like a black 
shadow behind the Alpine scene for nearly half a century. 
Whymper was seventy-one at the time, bad-tempered and 
breathless, an old lion of whom the younger generation was still 
both respectful and cautious. He was explaining to W. A. B. 
Coolidge, that pedantic scholar-mountaineer who was inter- 
mittently his friend, enemy and possibly father-confessor 
how he would again visit one of his old Alpine haunts. "When 
I come, I shall come in the old style", he wrote. "Shall walk up, 
not order rooms in advance, and take my chance as to finding a 
room. If none can be had, I shall camp out." 

Whymper was, to the end, aggressive, confident, and lonely, 
all natural traits which had been deepened when, as a man of 
twenty-five, he had made the first ascent of the reputedly in- 
accessible Matterhorn and had then watched four of his com- 
panions fall to their death during the descent. It was a tragedy 
from whose effects mountaineering was to recover far more 
quickly than did Whymper. 

Yet in the toughness of his old age he was no exception. 
Leslie Stephen was not only the editor of the Dictionary of National 
Biography but one of the forty-mile-a-day men. John Ball, editor 
of the Alpine Guide, strode down the scorching Italian valleys 
bearing his own pack although he was an Englishman who might 
certainly have been expected to employ porters. Forbes, the 
invalid, lost his knapsack and crossed the Stelvio on foot with, as 
kit and food, just what he could stuff into his pockets. Michael 
Faraday, mountain-traveller as well as scientist, walked from 
Leukerbad over the Gemmi Pass to Thun, forty-four miles in 
ten and a half hours and two hours' rest, in spite of illness. The 
Rev. Wethered (roughly known to some as "Botherhead") once 


described to Coolidge his methods for keeping fit. "I am thankful 
to say that I am very fit in health", said this fellow who was the 
first man to climb the Matterhorn in a day from Zermatt and 
who was then the Vicar of Hurley. "I put this down largely to 
the Alps, and to bathing in the Thames every morning before 
breakfast in residence, winter as well as summer. I am just off to 
bathe now." The date was October 28, 1910; Wethered's age, 
seventy years, nine months. 

Such men were typical Victorians, many of whom had a 
toughness which would probably reveal itself surprisingly well 
on a Commando course, even though the gentlemen concerned 
would go through the business in stovepipe trousers, keep their 
hands clean, and ask a few pertinent and probably awkward 

The field of their adventures was primitive in a way which it 
is difficult to imagine today. Adams-Reilly, the amiable Irish 
gentleman whose lovely map of Mont Blanc carried on the work of 
Forbes, once wrote of the Alpine world into which Forbes had 
penetrated in the 1 840*5, a world not so very different from that 
which saw the end of the Golden Age. "Legends of air too 
rarefied to support life, and of avalanches started by the human 
voice, still lingered among the crags the 'trailing skirts' of that 
departed night of superstition which had before peopled them 
with dragons and chimeras", he said. 

The railway came to this shadowy land only in 1844, when the 
first tracks were laid in Switzerland; there were then only a few 
miles of them and in 1857, the year in which the Alpine Club was 
founded, no railways really entered the mountain zone. Deposited 
at the railway terminus of the lowland belt, the traveller bound 
for the Alps had for the next stage of the journey the choice of 
carriage, too dear except for the moderately wealthy, or the 
packed diligence. Even these sources of transport petered out in 
the mountain zone, with the exception of those few which 
followed the carriage routes across the great passes into Italy, 
leaving the mountain aspirant with the choice of travelling on 
foot or of bargaining personally with the muleteers. 

In his inns, the Victorian mountaineer fared little better. 


Bonney, writing of the i86o's, says cryptically: "Fresh meat 
could not be obtained, the bread and wine alike were sour; vermin 
abounded." Fleas provided an almost inexhaustible supply both 
of annoyance and of Alpine humour, and one feels at times that 
old Semiond, in his remarks to Whymper, had almost the right 
attitude, and at least the most philosophic one. "I am no different 
from anyone else", he confidently said of the subject. "I have 

It was in the Dauphine that conditions, both of travel and of 
accommodation, were worst. Here, even at the end of the Golden 
Age, lay a great area of high virgin country, a land off the main 
track of Franco-Italian travellings, a land traversed by few roads 
and those ill-kept for wheeled traffic; a country where even the 
huts of goitrous peasants were frequently better habitation than 
the inns; a strange dominion in which the heights of many of the 
great peaks were still cloaked in an obscurity not so very different 
from that of the Middle Ages. Even as late as 1870, when 
Coolidge and his aunt came down from the Aiguilles d' Arves into 
the Romanche Valley, that frontier of the Dauphine, they found 
La Grave, although a lovely place, ablaze with flowers of every hue, 
almost completely lacking in what would now be called amenities. 

The floor of our room was as black as the ace of spades [wrote 
Miss Brevoort to her sister], a bag of flour and a sieve in one corner. 
No means of washing apparent, flowers spread out to dry on the 
floor, no pillows, sheets like dish-cloths! Will went to bed while his 
clothes were drying and, concluding it was the best place for him, 
remained there ! We made some tea and had boiled eggs, but neither 
milk nor butter as the cows are away. Fleas without end! 

Throughout most of the Alpine regions, the pioneers were 
served by maps that were at the worst unreliable and at the best 
so laughably inadequate that they could not seriously be used. 
The first explorers of the Dauphine, who came little more than a 
decade before Coolidge and his aunt, were forced to use Bour- 
cett's map of 1749-1754; a map drawn only a few years after the 
days of Scheuchzer who seriously listed the various species of 
dragons to be found in the Alps. 


During these days of mountaineering genesis, the period during 
which the comfortable homes of Britain were left in search of 
some new mystic Grail, collecting boxes for cretins, the grotes- 
quely goitrous, still hung in the larger Alpine inns. Men not only 
spoke, but spoke in careful words, of the giants who dwelt among 
the thunder of the peaks. Some spirit of the eighteenth century 
still hung like the gauzy mists of dawn above a world where the 
safe return of a traveller from the heights was the signal for a 
Guide-Chef, that autocrat of the guides' association, to prepare 
specially written testimonials, for the local innkeeper to summon 
staff for the victory banquet, and for servants to touch off the 
cannons which still roared out to tell the valley of such a triumphal 

It was into this remote world of the day before yesterday that 
the Victorians strode, half conquerors, half pilgrims, walking 
examples of both the success and the dissatisfaction of their own 
enormous age. 


Chapter One 


We are the music-makers, 

And we are the dreamers of dreams. 
Wandering by lone sea-breakers, 

And sitting by desolate streams; 
World-losers and world-forsakers, 

On whom the pale moon gleams: 
Yet we are the movers and shakers 

Of the world for ever, it seems. 


A? the beginning of the Victorian Age the Swiss had been 
climbing their own mountains for a number of years. The 
Meyers who ascended the Jungfrau in 1811 and the Finsteraarhorn 
the following year, the Hugis, the Studers and the Ulrichs these 
are only some of the Swiss who climbed the high peaks of the 
Alps before the growth of the Victorian mountaineer. Yet each 
man's achievements remained an isolated series of sparks. The 
Swiss tinder, unlike the British variety of the 1850*5 and i86o's, 
was not the stuff to blaze up. Each individual enthusiast merely 
glowed for a while in the small circle of his own personal con- 

Before such isolated episodes could blaze up into a conflagra- 
tion, three essential requirements had to be met. There had first 
to be a spiritual preparation, the making of an apologia which 
would enable men to regard mountains neither as areas of danger 
and terror nor as roseate, pink-and-white paradises where 
Rousseau-like peasants danced in perpetual good weather. Before 
mountaineering could reach full stature, the mountains themselves 
had to be given a new place in the Universe, a place not only 
where man could walk calmly close to God but where he could, 
as Frederic Harrison wrote to his daughter, "know nothing and 


feel nothing, but that he is a marvellous atom in a marvellous 

Secondly, the technique of mountain travel had to be built up. 
The best methods of moving on different types of snow and ice, 
the safety measures to be observed in this virtually unknown 
world, the peculiar physiological problems that presented them- 
selves all these had to be enquired into by men entering a world 
as little known and almost as forbidding as that of the thin blue 
haze of outer space which awaits the explorers of today. 

Thirdly, the existence of this world above the snowline had 
to be made known to more than a small handful of specialist 

These tasks were carried out by three men who even in their 
own day would have made little claim to genuine mountain 
prowess. Only with difficulty can two of them be classed as 
"mountaineers", in the contemporary sense of the word. Yet 
without them the charge built up by the middle of the nineteenth 
century might possibly have exploded not into mountaineering 
but into some hitherto unsuspected and possibly less harmless 
enterprise. These men were John Ruskin, the writer and art 
critic, James David Forbes, the scientist, and Albert Smith, the 
playwright, journalist, and creator of the "Mont Blanc" entertain- 
ment which he produced in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, com- 
plete with Swiss misses, gaudily painted backcloths, and genuine 
St. Bernard dogs, one of which struck fear into Queen Victoria 
when it was later presented to the infant Prince of Wales. 

The whole mountain world which expanded, set-piece-like, in 
the 1840*8 and 1850*5, and which grew during the subsequent 
years of the century, was illuminated by the writings, the sayings, 
the influence, of John Ruskin, the sheltered, careful, exponent of 
mountain beauty who was the protected son of a wealthy 
suburban wine-merchant. It was almost a mixed blessing. 

Ruskin was one of the first writers to believe that mountain 
scenery had something to offer the human race, and as his 
writings gained influence he expounded the fact with increasing 
vigour. His belief was summed up early, in the famous fourth 
volume of Modern Painters. 


But loveliness of colour, perfectness of form, endlessness of change, 
wonderfulness of structure, are precious to all undiseased human 
minds; and the superiority of the mountains in all these things to the 
lowland is, I repeat, as measurable as the richness of a painted 
window matched with a white one, or the wealth of a museum 
compared with that of a simply furnished chamber. They seem to 
have been built for the human race, as at once their schools and 
cathedrals; full of treasures of illuminated manuscript for the scholar, 
kindly in simple lessons to the worker, quiet in pale cloisters for the 
thinker, glorious in holiness for the worshipper. 

Here, indeed, was an attitude diametrically opposed to that of 
Master John de Bremble, the medieval monk who after crossing 
the Great Saint Bernard prayed: "Lord, restore me to my 
brethren, that I may tell them that they come not to this place of 
torment." Here, with no mistake, was a man who was producing 
a good logical reason for going up into the mountains. As 
Ruskin's influence increased throughout the long Victorian reign, 
so did he score and underscore the lesson. 

Many of the thoughtful mountaineering disciples who slipped 
through the gate that Ruskin, almost alone, had carefully pushed 
open for them, have acknowledged how much they owed to this 
pale-faced young man who was in most ways the antithesis of all 

I owe him a personal debt [wrote Leslie Stephen]. Many people 
had tried their hands upon Alpine descriptions since Saussure, but 
Ruskin's chapters seemed to have the freshness of a new revelation. 
The fourth volume of Modern Painters infected me and other 
members of the Alpine Club with an enthusiasm for which, I hope, 
we are still grateful. 

Douglas Freshfield, himself an equal to Stephen in the Alpine 
hierarchy, claimed that no one had added so much as Ruskin to 
the enjoyment of mountain scenery. 

It is a little disappointing after all this to learn one disconcerting 
fact; that although Ruskin travelled through the Alps for a great 
number of seasons many of them at the height of mountain- 
eering's Golden Age and although he had ample leisure and 
sufficient money, yet he only climbed one mountain, the 


io,i64-ft. Buet. It is even more disappointing to record that the 
experience forced him to the conclusion that "the Alps were, on 
the whole, best seen from below". 

This is only the beginning of the case against Ruskin. There is 
also, on the debit side, the famous jibe about "soaped poles" with 
which he castigated at least certain types of mountain-climber. 
Later, he was to write of: 

the extreme vanity of the modern Englishman in making a momen- 
tary Stylites of himself on the top of a Horn or an Aiguille, and his 
occasional confession of a charm in the solitude of the rocks, of 
which he modifies nevertheless the poignancy with his pocket 
newspaper, and from the prolongation of which he thankfully 
escapes to the nearest table-d'hote. 

This attitude condoned if not understood, it is too easy to 
regard Ruskin as a mountain Plazo-Toro, an Alpine general 
leading his troops from behind. Most of the evidence does 
suggest that he failed to climb because he disliked the hardship 
and was afraid of getting hurt; or, perhaps more charitably, 
because he did not think worth while the risks of getting hurt 
which would, in his own inexpert judgement, have to be faced 
above the snowline. Yet to agree that Ruskin stood merely on 
the touch-lines of real mountaineering is in no way to belittle his 
effect. He helped in the essential task of clearing away the 
medieval undergrowth so that men of good will might regard the 
mountains "steadily and whole". That he, himself, did not press 
on regardless with the next job of personally discovering the 
mountains makes his influence on the Alpine world, so great, so 
vital, and so lasting, all the more remarkable. Had he appreci- 
ated to the full his effectiveness in the primary task, he would no 
doubt have been satisfied. The second task was not merely be- 
yond him; it was no part of his business. 

John Ruskin, born in London of well-to-d wS in 1819, 

inherited the tradition of slow, well-ordered summer journeys 
across Europe. He made the first at the age of fourteen, the second 


5 Charles Hudson 

6 John Bali, first President of the 
Alpine Club 

7 John Tyndall 

two years later, the third at the age of twenty-three, and the 
fourth at the age of twenty-five. 

From the first he appears to have looked on the Alps, as he 
later wrote of all mountains, as "the beginning and end of all 
natural scenery". As he travelled through them, year after year, 
observing, recording, questioning, sketching, enquiring ever 
more deeply into their geological structure and their purpose in 
life, Ruskin began to build up in his own mind a picture of the 
mountains in which they formed a background not merely to one 
particular set of experiments but to all worthwhile existence. It 
was this many-sidedness of his approach which was of such 
importance. For it meant that one could have a legitimate interest 
in the mountains without being either a naturalist or a geologist. 

During the i84o's, in which Ruskin's earlier travels were made, 
the Alps were still largely the province of the scientific mountain- 
traveller. Ruskin did not object to this. One of his ambitions 
was to become President of the Geological Society; he planned 
many of his rambles with one eye on the strata; he was an 
inveterate collector of specimens. Yet be believed that a man 
among mountains should be something more than a mere 
collector, and he puffed his wrath at those who believed other- 

There is a fine satirical passage in his Chronicles of St. Bernard 
which illustrates this early attitude and which might almost have 
been written by Leslie Stephen three decades later. 

In his semi-fictitious description, Ruskin tells how the pro- 
fession of a young Englishman is proclaimed by his collection of 
"those worthless and ugly bits of chucky stones which, dignified 
by the name of 'specimens 5 , become in the eyes of a certain class 
of people, of such inestimable value". 

Together with Ruskin, the young man watches the sunset 
above the mountains near Courmayeur. 

A few rosy clouds were scattered on the heaven, or wrapped about 
their bases, but their summits rose pure and glorious, just beginning 
to get rosy in the afternoon sun and here and there a red peak of 
bare rock rose up into the blue out of the snowy mantle. 

"How beautiful", I said to my companion, "those peaks of rock 

V.M. 3 35 

rise into the heaven like promontories running out into the deep 
deep blue of some transparent ocean." 

"Ah yes, brown, limestone strata vertical, or nearly so, dip 
eighty-rive and a half", replied the geologist. 

Such was almost the sacred attitude to mountain travel when 
Ruskin began to startle the professors into opening their eyes. 
There are few better portraits of the attitude adopted by at least 
some of the scientists although few went so far as this one who 
made a point of chipping specimens off the nearby gravestones. 

Yet it was not the geological approach but the geological 
approach unallied to anything wider, more humane, or more 
artistic, that rankled with Ruskin. He could chip and analyse 
with the best of them, but he saw the mountains as illustrations of 
something more than the mere physical facts of life that men 
were then discovering for the first time. It was thus that he could 
look with bewilderment rather than awe at the Darwinian 
theses which later in life so wracked his contemporaries. His 
reaction to the scientific approach to the mountains was in this 
respect curiously modern. He was at one, in this matter at least, 
not only with Leslie Stephen who drove Tyndall to resignation 
from the Alpine Club by a famous bantering after-dinner speech 
but also with such men as Lord Schuster, Winthrop Young, 
Smythe, Tilman and Shipton. 

For Ruskin, the mountains were examples of God's handiwork 
and in moving among them man could learn to discover himself. 
Tttis attitude, which permeated almost all that he wrote, is 
expressed most clearly of all in his verdict on Forbes. 

Many an Alpine traveller, many a busy man of science, volubly 
represent to us their pleasures in the Alps [he wrote], but I scarcely 
recognise one who would not willingly see them all ground down 
into gravel, on the condition of his being the first to exhibit a pebble 
of it at the Royal Institution. Whereas it may be felt in any single 
page of Forbes* writing, or de Saussure's, that they love crag and 
glacier for their own sake's sake; that they question their secrets in 
reverent and solemn thirst; not at all that they may communicate 
them at breakfast to the readers of the Daily Newstti& that although 
there were no news, no institutions, no leading articles, no medals, 


no money, and no mob, in the world, these men would still labour 
and be glad, though all their knowledge was to rest with them at 
last in the silence of the snows, or only to be taught to peasant 
children sitting in the shade of the pines. 

All Ruskin's influence on man's appreciation of mountains, 
which developed steadily throughout the latter half of the 
Victorian era, lies in what he wrote rather than in what he did, 
for the truth is that he did very little. Yet wherever he travelled 
he wrote. He wrote copiously, at times pompously, at times 
magnificently, but across whole oceans of his prose there sails the 
message that mountains provide fine, uplifting, thought-provok- 
ing sights. For nearly half a century Ruskin used this message to 
erode the slowly disappearing belief that mountain areas were 
areas of horror and ugliness and danger. For that, all men are 
perpetually in his debt. 

Yet although Ruskin's emphasis on what mountains might 
mean to man remained constant throughout his whole life, his 
estimate of how they might best be "used" was a perpetually 
changing one; changing, it appears, not steadily in one direction 
or the other as he grew older but from year to year, without 
apparent rhyme or reason. His reaction to "sporting" mountain- 
eering and the formation of the Alpine Club is typical; essays on 
Ruskin and the Mountains are almost equally divided between 
those which paint him in avuncular colours and those which list 
his outbursts against the Club. Much of his disgust that the 
mountains were being used "as soaped poles in a bear-garden 
which you set yourselves to climb and slide down again with 
'shrieks of delight' " appears to have stemmed from one unfor- 
tunate fact; that he was at Chamonix when Albert Smith returned, 
amid cannon-banging and with great exultation, from his much- 
publicised ascent of Mont Blanc. Much of his criticism would 
have been justified had it been aimed as it well may have been 
not at the genuine mountaineers but at their imitators. And 
it must be remembered that in 1868 Ruskin attended the Winter 
Dinner of the Alpine Club, joined the Club a year later his 
qualification being authorship of the fourth volume of Modern 
Painters created an excellent impression, and planned writing a 


paper on Alpine Art for tie Alpine Journal Yet the contradiction 
remains; psychologically he stood always on the edge of the 

He wandered extensively below the snowline. He looked about 
him with eyes that were more widely open than those of many 
genuine mountaineers who followed him. And occasionally he 
burst out with an exultation which suggests those better tilings 
which never came. He rushes out into the dawn of St. Jean de 
Maurienne seeking, may one imagine, that great, grave, out- 
line of the Aiguille d'Arves? and records: 

Thank God! I have lost none of my old joy in the Alps. I dressed 
in three minutes, and rushed out down through the galleried village 
and up on the cattle path among the dewy rich pasture, the blaze 
of the snow on every side, the rocks clean against the heaven, and 
red and steep, and my eyes strangely well able to meet the full blaze 
of the western pyramid without shrinking. Oh, happy! I shall 
never forget this morning unless my brains go altogether, and even 
then the sound of its cattle-bells would ring in them. 

Consider what the record implies the record of a man with 
his heart set in the right place and a genuine feeling for the 

Yet at the not-so-ripe age of fifty-four when many moun- 
taineers may well expect to be at the height of their power this 
same lover of the Alps jumps into battle at Leslie Stephen's 
suggestion that Whymper had "taught us [i.e. the members of the 
Alpine Club] for the first time really to see the mountains". 

Ruskin came in at this suggestion with all professional hackles 
fully raised. 

Believe me, gentlemen [he told an Oxford audience], your power 
of seeing mountains cannot be developed either by your vanity, 
your curiosity, or your love of muscular exercise. It depends on the 
cultivation of the instrument of sight itself, and of the sense that 
causes it. ... 

For, gentlemen, little as you may think it, you can no more see 
the Alps from the Col du Geant, or the top of the Matterhorn, than 
the pastoral scenery of Switzerland from the railroad carriage. If 
you want to see the skeleton of the Alps, you may go to Zermatt 


or Chamouni; but if you want to see the body and soul of the 
Alps, you must stay awhile among the Jura, and in the Bernese 
Plain; leave alpenstocks to be flourished in each other's faces, and 
between one another's legs, by Cook's tourists, and try to find some 
companionship in yourself with yourself; and not to be dependent 
for your good cheer either on the gossip of the table d'hote, or the 
hail-fellow and well met, hearty though it be, of even the pleasantest 
of celebrated guides. 

Here, perhaps, is the clue to Ruskin's failing. For he could only 
look at alpenstocks and guides with the eyes of ignorance. Al- 
though he had opened the door to the Alps, he never had the 
courage to pass through that door himseif. It was partly, of 
course, the result of his parents' crippling care. It may also have 
been influenced by the fact that the guide chosen to accompany 
Ruskin on his Alpine rambles was Joseph Marie Couttet, one of 
the few survivors of the disastrous accident to Dr. HameFs party 
on Mont Blanc in 1820. Couttet no doubt talked about the 
accident; the incident was fresh enough, and vivid enough, to 
form the subject of Ruskin's poem "The Avalanche"; and it 
seems possible that the story of this tragedy so worked itself into 
the mind of the impressionable Ruskin that almost all high 
mountain travel appeared to him as overshadowed by almost 
inevitable death and disaster. Some such abnormal working of the 
mind is needed to explain his genuine belief that, as he put it, "the 
real beauty of the Alps is to be seen, and seen only, where all may 
see it, the child, the cripple, and the man of grey hairs". 

The truth is that there was something twisted and something 
lacking in Ruskin and, as always, the touchstone of the mountains 
revealed the fact. "All the best views of hills are at the bottom of 
thfcm", he writes and, immediately, one knows what sort of a 
man Ruskin is. The tragedy is what he might have been. For 
what might not have happened had Ruskin escaped early from 
the hitherings and thitherings of his wretched parents? What 
might not have happened had he broken out from the careful 
round of mountain rambles and chanced himself so that he saw 
the Alps not from without but from within? His eye for 
mountain form might have led him higher on to the mountains 
V.M. 3* 39 

than any other man of his generation; his prose might have 
thundered in the Alpine Journal to good effect. 

All this was not to be. And, in spite of the fact, Ruskin still 
towers as the first, and possibly the greatest, mountain prophet 
of the age. He made men look at mountains. He made them talk 
about mountains and think about mountains. He was the man at 
the lock-gate turning the wheel to let the first trickle of water 
through. And it is part of his tragedy that he would have agreed 
with Martin Conway, that epitome of all the later Victorian 
mountaineers, who once wrote that "each generation makes of 
the world more or less the kind of place they dream it should be; 
and each when its day is done is often in a mood to regret the 
work of its own hands and to praise the conditions that obtained 
when it was young". 

* if * 

However well Ruskin might have presented the fine mental 
case for mountain-appreciation, little would have come of it had 
not the mechanics of mountain-travel also been investigated in 
equal detail. 

It was James David Forbes, the tall unassuming professor of 
Edinburgh University, moving through the early Alpine world 
with the last ruffle of his cuffs in place, who performed this task. He 
made mountaineering possible, just as Ruskin made it worthwhile. 

Enquiring, courteous, well-to-do, deeply moved by religion, 
crippled in early life by illness yet retaining until death a genuine 
love of mountains and mountain-travel, Forbes was in almost 
every respect the text-book opposite of that later climbing 
scientist, John Tyndall. He provides, chronologically, the link 
between the world of Saussure and the world of the Victorian 
mountaineers. He provides, psychologically, an ideal example of 
the transformation which so often took place in those scientists 
who came to the mountains to study and who stayed to worship. 
And he provides, in dozens of small incidents which stand out 
from his stern scientific accounts, examples of the wonder and 
exhilaration which came to men when they first realised the 
sporting possibilities of the Alps. 


Forbes, born in 1809, acquired from his father, who kept a 
town house in Edinburgh and a country house at Colinton, at 
least enough money for careful travel; and although always busy, 
working at new experiments until they finally broke his health, 
he was aided in his mountain-explorations by the old Scottish 
University system which crowded the year's work into six 
months and left the other six in each year free for travel. 

His first sight of the mountains came at the age of sixteen when 
he was taken on the conventional Grand Tour, visiting Inns- 
bruck, Vienna, Rome, Naples, and Chamonix, and precociously 
sending anonymous papers to the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. 
The publication was under the editorship of the renowned Sir 
David Brewster, who printed the papers under the illusion that 
they must be from some distinguished and original-minded man 
of science. 

On this first visit to the Alps, Forbes was led to the Montanvert, 
the sunny belvedere above die Mer de Glace, by no less a guide 
than Cachat le Geant, one of those who had accompanied Saussure 
on his famous ascent; for Forbes, already cultivating his genius for 
observing, recording, deducing, it must have been as though 
good fortune had now given him another link with the master. 
And, like the master, he decided first to establish himself in life 
and then to spend a part of each summer on the Continent, 
touring "not as an amusement but as a serious occupation". He 
had not long to wait, rocketing into prominence, becoming a 
Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of twenty-three and being 
elected to the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh the 
following year. The post was no sinecure. He travelled to 
London, to Cambridge, to Oxford, to meet other men of science 
working in the same fields as himself and to discuss with them the 
various problems on which they were mutually at work. He 
took lessons in elocution from Mrs. Siddons so that his lecturing 
might be improved, and he generally swung himself into the busy 
routine of professorial life. His mountain travels would, he 
planned, form an essential part of it. 

All of them and they continued until stopped by ill health 
were imbued by the same unusual mixture of intellectual 

observation and emotional enjoyment. In many ways, Forbes, like 
Arnold later in the century, saw all life "steadily and whole". His 
philosophy of mountain-travel, his conception of the place which 
it should occupy both in scientific observation and in the happy 
life, is illustrated by one passage from his Travels through the Alps 
of Savoy > one of those books which sparked the imagination of the 
generation which later consolidated the Alpine Club. 

Mere change of scene and active exercise produce fatigue at last, 
unless the mind have some wholesome employment as well as the 
body [he wrote]. And most of those who have made the trial will 
probably regard as amongst the happiest periods of their lives those 
in which a favourite study has been pursued in the retirement of 
mountain scenery. Mornings of active exercise, from sunrise till 
afternoon, and evenings of quiet thought and speculation, with 
here and there a day interposed of easy society with intelligent 
travellers, or employed in reducing and digesting the knowledge 
previously acquired by observation, give the sense of living twice 
over. Happy the traveller who, content to leave to others the glory 
of counting the thousands of leagues of earth and ocean they have 
left behind them, established in some mountain shelter with his 
books, starts on bis first day's walk amongst the Alps in the tranquil 
morning of a long July day, brushing the early dew before him, 
and, armed with his staff, makes for the hill-top (begirt with ice 
or rock as the case might be), when he sees the field of his summer's 
campaign spread out before him, its wonders, its beauties, and its 
difficulties, to be explained, to be admired, and to be overcome. 

Here is the attitude that Forbes retained throughout life, an 
attitude significantly different from that of Ruskin who would 
never have rubbed his nose on the rocks. Scientists of the next 
generation, men such as Tyndall and Bonney, went one step 
farther, becoming imbued with the passion for exploration and 
climbing as a worthwhile endeavour in its own right. Forbes 
always kept to his earlier attitude. Late in life he regretted that 
Auguste Balmat, his old guide, was not often employed, and 
added: "He would still be invaluable to any man with ever so 
slight a tincture of science, such as would prevent him from 
scampering from col to peak with an almost insane restlessness/* 

The first of his mountain journeys was made in 1835 when he 


travelled to the Pyrenees to study the geology of the region, 
visited the Cirque de Gavarnie and the Breche de Roland, and 
watched the glacier waters disappearing into the Trou de Toro. 
Two years later he visited the universities of Bonn, Gottingen, 
and Berlin, then struck south into Austria, ostensibly to carry out 
a number of experiments on terrestrial magnetism. Fortuitously, 
his journey took him into the almost unknown area of the Dolo- 
mites where he saw, with amazed eyes, the rocky pinnacles of the 
Langkofel and the Marmolata groups, and pressed on into a score 
of tiny hamlets where he was, so far as is known, the first British 

As yet his record had been that of the enterprising mountain- 
traveller; an interesting one, but not such as to warrant his later 
fame. It was not until 1839 that he made the two journeys which 
were to give him a genuine position in the mountain peerage. 
One was the first complete circuit of Monte Viso; the other an 
inspection of the Veneon Valley in the Dauphine Alps which 
brought him to La Berarde, the first Englishman to reach the little 
hamlet at the foot of the Ecrins which was later to develop into 
the centre of Dauphine mountaineering. In both cases Forbes 
wrote the first paragraph in a chapter of British mountaineering, 
the first dealing with attempts on the Viso that ended with 
Mathews' ascent in 1861, the second with the exploration of the 
Dauphin6 across which the names of Bonney, Moore, Whymper, 
Tuckett and Coolidge are written so clearly and so large. 

It was during these two journeys that Forbes first began to 
appreciate the mountains not only as an arena in which he might 
tilt against the scientific unknowns, but also as a source of purely 
non-scientific wonder. "The scenery is stupendous", he wrote in 
an enthusiastic account of the Dauphine, and it was to La Berarde 
that he returned in 1841. 

This time there was no doubt about where his interests lay. 
Forbes the scientist was still making his exact observations, but 
Forbes the mountaineer, hiring Joseph Rodier, a guide whose 
name is woven into the fabric of Dauphine exploration, was more 
adventurous. First he crossed the glacier pass of the Col du Says 
to Valgaudemar; then he returned by the Col du Sellar to 


Vallouise, thus linking three main Dauphine valleys by hitherto 
uncrossed passes. 

Perhaps Forbes felt that he could conscientiously give time to a 
little "pure" mountaineering in view of the arrangements which 
he had made for scientific work later in the season. For the 
previous year, at a meeting of the British Association in Glasgow, 
he had met Louis Agassiz, the great Swiss geologist whose 
Etudes sur les Glaciers had concentrated a major part of scientific 
thought on the problems presented by the Alps. Agassiz had 
invited Forbes to his famous "Hotel des Neuchatelois" so that on 
leaving the Dauphine in 1841 Forbes made his way to the Ober- 
land, rested at the Grimsel Hospice, and then set out on a five- 
hour tramp up the Unteraar glacier to Agassiz' encampment. 
The "Hotel des Neuchatelois" consisted of a large cave on a rock- 
island in the middle of the glacier, formed by a huge overhanging 
block of mica schist, made more weatherproof by a wall of 
stones, and more comfortable by layers of grass and oilcloth on 
the rocky floor. It was this solitary spot that Agassiz, helped by 
porters, guides, and scientific assistants, had turned into the centre 
of his scientific expeditions of enquiry, and it was here that 
Forbes spent three weeks during the summer of 1841, occasionally 
travelling back to the Grimsel Hospice for a few days, but making 
the "hotel" the centre not only for scientific but also for moun- 
tain expeditions. 

As in the Dauphine, he combined work and pleasure, his most 
important expedition being an ascent of the Jungfrau, the fourth 
that had taken place and the first British ascent a climb which 
presented greater problems than the regular ascent of Mont 
Blanc, an expedition which Forbes, for some inexplicable reason, 
never attempted. Forbes enjoyed himself at the "Hotel des 

I here willingly record [he later wrote] that I shall never forget 
the charm of those savage scenes. The varying effects of sunshine, 
cloud and storm upon the sky, the mountains and the glacier; the 
rosy tints of sunset, the cold hues of moonlight, on a scene which 
included no trace of animation and of which our party were the 
sole spectators. 


Here was a man of whom great things might have been expected; 
as it was, Forbes' concern with the great glacier controversy con- 
tinued to limit the time he could devote to mountaineering; and, 
finally, he was brought down by a series of illnesses from which 
he never recovered. 

The Forbes of the mountaineering years has rarely been 
described more accurately than by Ruskin, who met him at the 
Hotel de la Poste on the Simplon in 1844. The meeting lingered 
in Ruskin's memory, drove him to the championship of Forbes 
in the argument which broke out later between Forbes and 
Tyndall, and may even have influenced Ruskin's early attitude 
to the mountains. Ruskin was looking through his sketches in 
the coffee-room of the inn while his mother and wife were 
demurely at work near by. Forbes, sitting in a corner of the 
room, was quietly sketching. "Quiet, somewhat severe-looking 
and pale", was how Ruskin described him. "Our busy fellow- 
traveller seemed to us taciturn, slightly inaccessible, and even 
Alpestre, and, as it were, hewn out of mountain flint, in his 
serene labour", he added. 

Forbes was interested in the sketches of so young a man 
Ruskin was only twenty-five at the time. Ruskin suggested that 
Forbes' sketch might be of the Matterhorn it was, in fact, of the 
Weisshorn and all at once the scientist blazed into the moun- 
taineer as he replied. "No and when once you have seen the 
Matterhorn, you will never take anything else for it." 

Forbes had a feeling for mountains equalled only by his desire 
to solve the great problems of the glaciers whose structure and 
movement presented one of the main problems of the physical 
world into which scientists were enquiring. It was known that 
glaciers moved, but it was not known how they moved. Were 
they solid bodies which slid down the sides of the mountains as a 
sledge will slide downhill? Were they viscous bodies which 
flowed as water flows? Or did they, perhaps, move by a process 
of regelation, freezing, thawing and then re-freezing? It was to 
the answers of such questions that Agassiz was seeking an answer 
on the Unteraar glacier. 

Throughout the next two decades scientific enquiry into these 


problems led to a series of disputes conducted with a ferocity 
which is slightly astonishing. Men felt strongly about the matter; 
the disputes split old friendships, created bitterness, and developed 
into a series of almost religious controversies. John Ball, who was 
later to become the first President of the Alpine Club, recalls how 
one day at the Grimsel Hospice he overheard two young men who 
had travelled from America together, who had studied as friends 
in Germany, and who were now parting company on the most 
bitter terms of enmity. "I listened", he says, "and found that the 
matter of dispute was neither of the common topics politics or 
religion but the theory of the glaciers." 

Forbes had realised, early on, that before one could solve many 
of the glacier problems it was necessary to carry out detailed 
measurements showing just how much glaciers moved, what 
portions of them moved at the greatest speed, and at what speed, 
and from the time of his stay at the "Hotel des Neuchatelois" 
he devoted much of his time in the Alps to obtaining such 

He began this work in the summer of 1842, and it is of signifi- 
cance in the story of mountaineering because it helped to raise 
the status of the Alpine guides by bringing one of them, Auguste 
Balmat, into the world of scientific travellers as a companion and 
friend rather than a hewer of wood and drawer of water. Forbes 
decided to make his measurements on the Mer de Glace above 
Chamonix, and to help him he hired Balmat, a thoughtful self- 
educated guide who had the objective enquiring mind of the 
scientist. Together, the two men spent part of the early summer 
in driving metal stakes into various parts of the glacier, noting 
their positions, and finding how far they had moved after so 
many hours or days. Often they were accompanied by another 
guide, David Couttet of the Montanvert, and together they 
formed an interesting trio; Forbes, carefully dressed in a suit of 
soft chamois leather, long worsted stockings and a pair of double- 
soled London shoes which had been locally nailed, setting up his 
instruments on the glacier; Balmat chipping observation marks 
on the nearby rocks; and Couttet shielding Forbes' instrument 
from the glare of the sun with a large green umbrella. 


The observations proved three important things that the 
glaciers moved steadily and not by fits and starts; that they moved 
by night as well as by day; and that they moved faster in the 
centre than at the sides. Theories had been formed on all three 
points, but it needed Forbes, the hard-headed Scotsman, to get to 
work on the glacier itself and prove the matter once and for all. 

Satisfied with his results and having left Balmat to supervise 
further observations throughout the winter he was off again, 
this time with Professor Studer, the Swiss scientist, first to Arolla 
and then to Evolena, in both of which places he was probably the 
first British traveller. He returned to Chamonix by way of 
Zermatt, staying with the village doctor, for the little hamlet did 
not have an inn, and then climbing the Riffelberg. It was here 
that he made his famous drawing of the Matterhorn, almost a 
geological sketch, which was later so praised by Ruskin in the 
fourth volume of Modern Painters. 

In the normal course of his scientific work, Forbes had already 
travelled more above the snowline than any other Englishman. 
He was still in the mid-thirties. He appeared to be at the height 
of his power and on the verge of a genuine mountaineering career. 
Yet the following year, while travelling through Bonn on his 
honeymoon, he was struck with fever from the effects of which 
he never fully recovered. He continued his glacier observations, 
though he relied more and more on Balmat. He made an enter- 
prising attempt on the Aiguille du Moine with Balmat and 
David Couttet. In 1851 he travelled to Norway, explored the 
glaciers, and observed the total eclipse of the sun. Yet the crippling 
effect of his illness prevented the development of his wanderings 
into anything approaching high climbing. 

In spite of this, Forbes' influence continued to increase. In 1845 
he had published his Travels through the Alps of Savoy, and for 
years this was almost a text-book for mountain-travel. Eight 
years later he published an account of his Norwegian visit and 
appended to it a note of his wanderings in the Dauphine a note 
which for more than a decade was virtually the only information 
in English on the district, and throughout the fifties, Forbes kept 
constantly in touch with the growing band of young men, 


lawyers, doctors, and gentlemen of leisure, who were taking a 
purely non-scientific interest in the Alps. 

In 1853 he invited Balmat to visit him at his home in England, 
and subsequently introduced him to Wills, thus being the god- 
father of that long association which culminated in Wills' famous 
ascent of the Wetterhorn and ended with Balmat's death in Wills' 
chalet, The Eagle's Nest, in the Valley of Sixt. He encouraged 
Adams-Reilly in his great project of mapping Mont Blanc, 
and played a significant part in having the map published by the 
Alpine Club of which he was, in 1859, made the first honorary 

Forbes died in 1868, worn out by illness and work, and rather 
wondering, one may imagine, at the implications of the Matter- 
horn disaster, whose sole English survivor, Edward Whymper, 
had explained to him in the Birmingham house where the 
formation of the Alpine Club had first been formally discussed, 
just how the dreadful accident had taken place. 

Forbes never bowed to the new non-scientific reasons for 
mountaineering which grew up during his later years. He never 
developed into a mountaineer as did some of the later scientists 
such as Tyndall and Bonney. Yet during the later period of his 
life lie was, as was said of Coolidge, "the great master". He had, 
after all, sensed the attraction of the great mountains before 
Edward Whymper had been born. He had, moreover, dis- 
covered by quiet observation how one could travel among them 
in relative safety. 

Neither Ruskin's revelation of the mountain glory nor Forbes' 
careful enquiring journeys would have had much effect on the 
Victorian public had it not been for the activities of a third man. 
Both Ruskin and Forbes spoke to the informed, discerning, one- 
thousandth of the population; few even among this small minority 
had any real knowledge of mountains and for the middle classes, 
let alone for the vast belly-and-body masses, the Alps and their 
names were not even symbols but queer words which meant little 
more than unusual sounds used by men back from abroad. 


Someone very different from either Forbes or Ruskin was 
needed before any knowledge of mountains or mountaineering 
could, like rain on the earth, filter down deeply and yet more 
deeply among Victoria's subjects so that eventually even the 
most inarticulate had heard of at least one mountain. 

Albert Smith, "the man of Mont Blanc", was cut for the job. 
He was different, harder, harsher, than either Ruskin or Forbes. 
His early background was that of the small surgeon's practice 
built up by his father in a sleepy Surrey town; his later experience 
that of a rather Bohemian playwright and author who was rarely 
worried by such bourgeois matters as solvency. 

Smith's story is misleadingly simple. He was born in Chertsey 
in 1816, received as a child a copy of The Peasants of Chamouni, 
a book which described the accident to Dr. Hamel's party on 
Mont Blanc, in 1820, and subsequently followed the news of each 
new ascent of the mountain with an almost pathological interest. 
The idea of climbing Mont Blanc obsessed him even though he 
knew little or nothing about any other mountain in the Alps. He 
studied medicine in Paris, made a brave, hitch-hiking, roister- 
doister journey to Chamonix where he volunteered, un- 
successfully, as a porter willing to accompany any party setting 
out for the summit and returned to London where the profession 
of doctoring gradually left him and where he turned to writing 
as an alternative love. 

As a contributor to Punch, an author of light plays, as dramatic 
critic to the Illustrated London News and joint editor of a short- 
lived magazine, The Man in the Moon, Smith trundled steadily up 
the ladder in his new profession in a deft but slightly haphazard 
way. In 1849 he visited the Middle East and returned to London 
where in 1851 he gave his first public entertainment, "The Over- 
land Mail". 

The same year, Smith set out for Mont Blanc, a venture the 
thought of which had nattered away at him for more than a 
decade. Throughout the rough-and-tumble of authorship he had 
retained much of the genuine mountain enthusiasm which had 
driven him across France as a younger man with only a few 
pounds in his pocket so that he might look at Mont Blanc and 


chance his arm at climbing her. He had gone back to Chamonix 
whenever the chance offered, spending a week or so with his 
friends the Tairraz at the Hotel de Londres; kept from making 
the ascent of Mont Blanc, one feels, more by lack of finance than 
by lack of courage. 

Now, as a result of the success of "The Overland Mail" he had 
money and leisure; both would be contributed to the ascent of 
Mont Blanc. Smith was in almost every respect a totally different 
sort of man from those who were about to create the sport of 
mountaineering. It was not merely that he was different from, 
and slightly disliked by, his contemporaries Douglas Jerrold 
claimed that his initials represented merely two-thirds of the 
truth, while Dickens resigned from the Garrick Club when 
Smith was elected for in this he was comparable to many of the 
most famous Victorian mountaineers, men of singular opinions, 
stubborn will, and angry words. Smith was something more, 
something that might have been considered quite inexcusable. 
He was rather showy, and his profession, his enthusiasm, and his 
ignorance brought him at times perilously near the edge of 

Sala's description of him paints a man who in most details was 
a strange contrast to the future elders of the Alpine Club. 

I can recall him [writes Sala] as a sturdy-looking, broad-shouldered, 
short-necked man, with grey eyes, and flowing locks of light brown, 
and large side- whiskers; later in life he wore a beard; and, on the 
whole, he bore a most striking resemblance to Mr. Comyns Carr. 
His voice was a high treble; his study was like a curiosity shop; 
although the " curios'* were not highly remarkable from the stand- 
point of high art, and were not very antique. Littered about the 
room, which was on the ground floor, were piles of French novels, 
in yellow paper covers, dolls, caricatures, toys of every conceivable 
kind, a debardeuse silk shirt, crimson sash, and velvet trousers, the 
white linen raiment of a Pierrot, cakes of soap from Vienna, made 
in the similitude of fruit, iron jewellery from Berlin of the historic 
"Ich gab Gold fur Essen 9 pattern, miniature Swiss chalets, porcelain 
and meerschaum pipes although Albert was no smoker and the 
model of a French diligence. 


He was also, adds Sala, one of die kindest and cheeriest of 
mankind. He might have added that Smith was also one of 
the most casual on his wedding-day he was found, at the hour 
planned for the ceremony, quietly reading a paper at home, a 
position from which he was dragged away by the officiating 

Yet there can be no doubt that Albert Smith, when he set out 
for Mont Blanc, had a genuine enthusiasm for the adventure, 
even though he knew that with any luck the ascent would provide 
the material for some public performance. He set out in the right 

I found my old knapsack in a store-room [he writes], and I beat 
out the moths and spiders, and filled it as of old, and on the first of 
August, 1851, I left London Bridge in the mail-train of the South- 
Eastern Railway, with my Lord Mayor and other distinguished 
members of the corporation, who were going to the fetes at Paris 
in honour of the Exhibition, and who, not having a knapsack under 
their seat, lost all their luggage, as is no doubt chronicled in the 
City archives. 

At Chamonix he was joined by three men, Francis Philips, the 
Hon. William Edward Sackville-West, and Charles G. Floyd, 
all of whom were glad to join Mr. Smith in his ascent once they 
learned his identity. The first two were to become, like Smith 
himself, members of the Alpine Club solely on the strength of 
their ascent of Mont Blanc. 

After a day's waiting for good weather, the party set off, one 
of the largest and most unwieldy parties ever to straggle out from 
Chamonix. There was Smith and his three companions, a total 
of sixteen guides, and about a score of porters and other volun- 
teers who were accompanying the party varying distances up the 

The table of provisions provides an interesting comparison 
with the contemporary ineal-in-a-biscuit school, and an in- 
dication that the Victorians set about climbing much as 
Wellington "first a full belly and then at 'em" set about 

Here are the provisions which added 456 francs, or roughly 
, to the cost of Smith's expedition: 

60 bottles of Vin Ordinaire 
6 botdes of Bordeaux 
10 botdes of St. George 
15 bottles of St. Jean 

3 botdes of Cognac 

1 bottle of Syrup of Raspberries 
6 botdes of Lemonade 

2 bottles of Champagne 
20 loaves 

10 small cheeses 

6 packets of chocolate 
6 packets of sugar 

4 packets of prunes 
4 packets of raisins 
2 packets of salt 

4 wax candles 

6 lemons 

4 legs of mutton 

4 shoulders of mutton 

6 pieces of veal 

i piece of beef 

11 large fowls 
3 5 small fowls 

The ascent, made at a cost of nearly .60 for each of the 
four travellers, was unremarkable. There was a bivouac on 
the Grands Mulcts, a fine view from the summit, a safe descent, 
and a triumphal entry into the village of Chamonix with 
cannons firing, the whole population a-flutter with handker- 
chiefs in the main street, and a festive table in the courtyard 
of the Hotel de Londres, dressed with bouquets and champagne 

The ascent, the thirty-seventh of the mountain and the first to 
be made by any future member of the Alpine Club, was not 
without its critics, partly due to a particularly boisterous party 
held in Chamonix by Sir Robert Peel. 


Saussure's observations and his reflections on Mont Blanc live in 
his poetical philosophy [said the Daily News]. Those of Mr. Albert 
Smith will be most appropriately accorded in a tissue of indifferent 
puns and stale fast witticisms, with an incessant straining after smart- 
ness. The aimless scramble of the four pedestrians to the top of 
Mont Blanc, with the accompaniment of Sir Robert Peel's orgies 
at the bottom, will not go far to redeem the somewhat equivocal 
reputation of the herd of English tourists in Switzerland, for a 
mindless and rather vulgar redundance of animal spirits. 

Much the same criticism was to be levelled against both 
Smith's description of the ascent, which forms the concluding 
chapters of his The Story of Mont Blanc, and "The Ascent of Mont 
Blanc'*, the entertainment which he subsequently produced at 
the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Both were a curious mixture of 
gauche sensation, in which every incident was over-dramatised, 
and a certain rather naive innocence. Both survived the criticisms. 

"The Ascent of Mont Blanc", a display in which Smith 
personally described a series of dioramic views drawn by William 
Beverley, and in which the whole journey from London to the 
summit of Mont Blanc was interlarded with historical, topo- 
graphical, and various less serious allusions, opened on March 15, 
1852. Even after the first performance, Smith appears to have 
been uncertain as to its financial success. He need not have 

"Mount Blanc" ran until two years before Smith's death in 
1860. Only three months after its first performance, the Prince 
Consort, the Prince of "Wales the future Edward VII and 
Prince Alfred, attended a special private morning performance of 
the show. Two years later a special performance was given before 
the Queen and the Prince Consort at Osborne, Smith afterwards 
being presented with a diamond scarf-pin by the Queen; and, yet 
another two years afterwards, a third Command performance 
was given, this time at "Windsor before the Court and King 
Leopold I of Belgium. The show, for such it was, played to 
packed houses, making Smith not only financially but in reputa- 
tion, so that for a whole segment of the population he became 
"the man of Mont Blanc". 


"The Game of Mont Blanc", complete with rules and counters, 
and approximating roughly to an Alpine snakes-and-ladders, was 
sold by the thousand while the music which drummed through 
the mid-i8so's included, as a direct result of Albert Smith's 
efforts, the "Mont Blanc Quadrille" and the "Chamonix Polka". 
St. Bernard dogs were brought to London by Francois Favret, one 
of Smith's guides, and one of the animals presented to the Queen. 
Swiss misses, Swiss costumes, and all the attributes of a carefully 
planned advertising campaign jollied up enthusiasm while Smith 
was filling the Egyptian Hall. Throughout it all he returned to 
Chamonix almost every year, being feted not only as a good 
fellow but also as a public benefactor. In 1853 he was invited to 
the ceremonial opening of the first hut on Mont Blanc; four years 
later he was invited to the village so that he might conduct the 
Prince of Wales, then making his first visit to Switzerland, on a 
tour of the Glacier des Bossons. Almost everything that he did 
had some publicity value for the show which is claimed to have 
brought him .30,000, and which certainly accounted for most 
of the ji8,ooo which he left when he died. 

There can, from the safe, secure, educated viewpoint of the 
Victorian mountaineers, have been few things more likely to 
bring Alpine climbing into disrepute than Albert Smith and his 
rather ostentatious showmanship. Yet in spite of it Albert Smith 
received, and accepted, an invitation to become an original 
member of the Alpine Club revealing in his reply, incidentally, 
that he and John Auldjo, who had climbed Mont Blanc in 1827, 
had once contemplated forming an Alpine club. Even such a 
grim, behind-the-stockades figure as Douglas Freshfield, who 
saw Smith's show at the age of nine, admired the man of Mont 
Blanc and later wrote of him that: 

He came forward just at the psychological moment when railways 
across France had brought the Alps within the Englishman's long 
vacation. And, strange to say, he had a genuine passion for Mont 
Blanc, which fortune or rather his own enthusiasm enabled him to 
put to profit. 

Whatever failings Smith may have had, he did two things. He 


encouraged men to visit Chamonix, and not a few of those who 
did so took the next step and climbed Mont Blanc. Secondly, and 
more important, Smith revealed to scores of young men that 
there existed a field for adventure which they had never before 
suspected. Most of his audience naturally consisted of men and 
women who would never visit the Alps, let alone climb them. 
Yet among the crowd there was more than one youngster who 
looked, through the slightly distorting eyes of Smith as through 
magic casements. On nearer acquaintance he might revise his 
opinions of what he saw. The mountains might appear to him in 
a light rather different from that of the gas-lit Egyptian Hall with 
its girls in national costume, its fancy programmes, and its 
Barnum-and-Bailey atmosphere. Yet without Albert Smith he 
would never have felt like "that watcher of the skies when a new 
planet swims into his ken". His eagle eyes would never have dis- 
cerned that new world waiting to be conquered which lay beyond 
the bluster and rumbustious exaggerations of Albert Smith. 

Smith helped to convert many young men to mountaineering 
and for this he was forgiven much. Yet there is another reason 
for the influence which he exercised over the most unexpected of 
the Victorians. This is his sincerity. He really loved the Alps, and 
the more discerning among his audiences sensed, even if they did 
not know, that he had not gone to Chamonix entirely with the 
idea of making money. 

It is a little too easy to laugh at Smith's sensational descriptions. 
It is difficult to agree that, as he says of the Mur de la Cote: 
"Should the foot slip, or the baton give way, there is no chance 
for life you would glide like lightning from one frozen crag to 
another and finally be dashed to pieces, hundreds and hundreds 
of feet below in the horrible depths of the glacier." Yet even a 
few years later Alfred "Wills, that sober, experienced and careful 
climber who was to become President of the Alpine Club, could 
say, of the summit of the Wetterhorn: "I was almost appalled by 
our position." Neither words nor situation are exactly com- 
parable, but it is possible to believe that Smith was merely 
putting into the language of his public much the same thoughts 
that fluttered at times across the minds of many early climbers as 


they pioneered their ways up what was later to become "an easy 
day for a lady 3 '. 

Yet the real reason for Albert Smith's extravagant terms, so out 
of keeping both with the other mountain language of the time 
and with what he appears genuinely to have felt, was a rather 
different one. 

Smith saw the mountains, epitomised by Mont Blanc, not 
clearly as Forbes had seen them, not with the eyes of genius 
through which Ruskin had looked at them, but through a lumi- 
nous golden haze of unreality. His writing was in one way queerly 
comparable with that of the modern rock-climbing writers who 
go to the other extreme with carefully stressed understatement. 
Both reject the idea that the common mass can stand, as it were, 
on "the edge of all things". For Albert Smith, Mont Blanc was 
the Promised Land. Round it he built his own imaginative 
fortifications, making it not only for him but for all those who 
might crowd into his display, a distant, virtually inaccessible place, 
a sanctuary about which one might inform the crowd but about 
which it would be unwise to let slip too much factual informa- 

In spite of the cannons of Chamonix, in spite of Ruskin's 
disgust, the man of Mont Blanc was much nearer in spirit both to 
Forbes and to the "Don Quixote of Denmark Hill", than any of 
the three ever imagined. All would have been gravely offended 
by the idea that Mont Blanc could be ascended without guides 
as it was by Kennedy's party in 1855. All would have ridiculed 
the idea that it could ever be climbed alone, as it was by Frederick 
Morshead in 1864. 

All had to make their own individual contributions before 
there was much hope of mountain-climbing developing into a 
serious and significant method of employing one's time. 

Chapter Two 


And greatness is the vision, not the deed. 
Greatness is to be one with the vision, and ensue it, 
Greatness is suffering, greatness a long need, 
And distant bugles crying faintly through it, 

"Lights out! Lights out!" 
Greatness is to hear the bugles and not to doubt. 


mountain world whose existence was revealed in the 
JL forties and fifties was investigated by men who were 
explorers rather than mountaineers. They were mainly interested 
in treading into those places of which men had no knowledge; 
only by chance did the one area for their discoveries remaining in 
Europe lie above the snowline. These explorers had a virgin 
innocence of the first principles of mountaineering; they let their 
ropes be held by guides, they knew nothing of breaking strains, 
and they built up their principles of snow-craft almost as they 
went along, largely by trial and error. Only later, as the Golden 
Age continued during the later 1850*8, did the glories of the 
mountain world, as such, usurp the prime glory of discovery; 
only then, as a result of mutual intercourse and the exchange of 
experience, did the happy few develop the craft of mountaineer- 

It is not easy to understand the lustre of the unknown that hung 
about the Alps little more than a hundred years ago. 

When Queen Victoria came to the throne, the summit of 
Mont Blanc had been reached, as a most exceptional effort, only 
half a century previously and only some thirty men, other than 
the guides, had stood upon its summit since that memorable 
event. The Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn had, it is true, been 
climbed by those redoubtable Swiss brothers, the Meyers. Two 


of the lower peaks of Monte Rosa had been climbed, although 
the summit had so far escaped the conquerors. There were a 
number of passes across the Alps, as there had been for hundreds 
of years, but in between there lay a country, running from the 
Mediterranean to the peaks of Austria, which was as little known 
to most Englishmen as far Cathay. For the Victorian moun- 
taineers, the Alps, only recently depopulated of dragons yet 
lying in a great crescent only some 400 miles from their com- 
fortable firesides, had much the same significance as the thin blue 
haze of outer space has for the adventurers of today. 

Toward the western end of this crescent lay Mont Blanc, the 
most famous as well as the highest mountain in the Alps. Near 
its foot lay Chamonix, later to become the centre for ascents not 
only of Mont Blanc but of a whole galaxy of fine peaks around it 
such as the Aiguille Verte, Mont Mallet, and Mont Dolent. To 
the east lay the Pennine Alps with Monte Rosa, one of the few 
mountains in the range whose ascent had been frequently 
attempted, and whose lower summits had been reached. Near by 
lay such peaks as the Weisshorn, the Dent Blanche, the Grand 
Combin, the Matterhorn, and a score of minor summits, many of 
them easily accessible from the little hamlet of Zermatt. 

To the north and north-east, across the deep trough of the 
Rhone Valley, lay the Bernese Oberland with the great peaks of 
the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger so plainly visible from the 
northern plain of Switzerland; with the Wetterhorn, rising almost 
from the outskirts of the village of Grindelwald; and, deeper in 
the group, among a tangle of glaciers that were the longest in the 
whole of the Alps, such mountains as the Schreckhorn and the 
Finsteraarhorn. Farther east stretched the Lepontine and the 
Bernina Alps as well as the Dolomites and numerous smaller and 
lower groups. 

In the far south-west, beyond the Graian Alps, lay the Dauphine 
with its unknown and unmapped peaks south of die Romanche, 
an area into which no Englishman had yet penetrated. 

The conquest of this whole range, first of those peaks in the 
more central groups such as the Pennines and the range of Mont 
Blanc, later of those in the groups to the east and the west, went 






through a number of phases, the most important of which was 
the Golden Age which started with the conquest of the Wetter- 
horn by Alfred Wills in 1854 and ended with the ascent of the 
Matterhorn by Whymper and his party in 1865, by which time 
the Meije, in the Dauphine, was the only great peak in the Alps 
which had not been climbed. The Silver Age followed, lasting 
until the turn of the century and being marked by the develop- 
ment of guideless climbing, by the climbing of old mountains by 
new routes, by climbing in ranges beyond the Alps, by the 
development of climbing in Britain, and by the increase of 
mountaineering among women. 

Wills' ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854 is generally taken as 
marking the start of "sporting" climbing. It was not the first 
ascent of the mountain, whose early history is still being un- 
ravelled by scholars, but it was the one which became best known 
both through the story which Wills told to his fellow-climbers 
when he returned to London, and the description of the ascent 
which he later gave in the Wanderings. The Wetterhorn's position 
in the forefront of the view from Grindelwald, a village already 
being visited by hundreds of travellers each year, helped to make 
this ascent by a travelling Englishman on his honeymoon the one 
event which in the eyes of many people marked the creation of a 
new sport. 

During the following few years, men went out to the Alps 
from Britain in increasing numbers. In 1855 the highest peak of 
Monte Rosa was reached without guides by the Rev. Charles 
Hudson, the finest amateur of his day, and a party of young 
Cambridge men. The Dom in the Eastern Pennines fell in 1858 
to the Rev. Ll. Davies, and the Eiger to Charles Carrington. 
Among the other great peaks of the Alps, the Rimpfischhorn, the 
Aletschhorn, and the Bietschhorn fell to British climbers in the 
following year and so, in 1860, did the Grand Paradis, the Grande 
Casse, and the Alphubel. 

By the turn of the sixties, the stream of activity was in full 
flood, and by 1865 more than a score of the major Alpine summits 
which had defied the native Swiss were beaten into submission by 
the carefully swung axes of British climbers and their guides. 

V.M. 4 6l 

The Dauphine, that queer, lovely country south of the main 
Alpine chain, hung out longest after the Matterhorn tragedy of 
1865, and it was not until 1877 that the first chapter of Alpine 
conquest was definitively closed with the ascent of the Meije by a 
remarkable Frenchman, Boileau de Castelnau. 

Throughout the whole of the period which began with the 
exploration of the 1840'$ and has continued until the present day, 
there has been what a Government department might call a 
progression of amenities throughout the Alps. 

Four things, above all, differentiated the Alps of that distant 
era from the Alps of today. First, the men who stepped up on to 
them stepped into the unknown. Secondly, there was a complete 
absence of Alpine huts. Thirdly, there was the lack of what 
modern climbers would consider even the most elementary 
weight-saving equipment. Fourthly, there was the ameliorating 
cheapness of guides and porters. 

The first of these factors was by far the most important. 

There seemed [said Whymper of the Matterhorn in 1860] to be 
a cordon drawn around it, up to which one might go, but no farther. 
Within that invisible line gins and effireets were supposed to exist 
the Wandering Jew and the spirits of the damned. The superstitious 
natives in the surrounding valleys (many of whom firmly believed 
it to be not only the highest mountain in the Alps, but in the world) 
spoke of a ruined city on its summit wherein the spirits dwelt; and 
if you laughed, they gravely shook their heads; told you to look 
yourself to see the castles and the walls, and warned one against 
rash approach, lest the infuriated demons from their impregnable 
heights might hurl down vengeance for one's derision. 

Although this was, of course, merely the opinion of one man 
upon the reaction of his guides to one mountain, it was a typical 
reaction even in 1860; it was even more typical a decade earlier. 
"The cordon up to which one might go" was a real thing 
psychologically for many of the Victorian mountaineers, and a 
very real and far more substantial one for the Swiss guides who 
travelled with them and gave them the benefit of their long 
experience with the mountains. 


The lack of huts would probably be even more disconcerting 
for the mass of Alpine travellers. The^/te beneath the stars, or at 
best beneath an overhanging rock, was the rule for the pioneers 
rather than the exception. There were, of course, innumerable 
porters on demand to carry blankets; there were guides at relatively 
cheap rates who could reconnoitre the most suitable spots for the 
overnight bivouac; there still remained the open air, the un- 
certainty of the morrow, the awaited step into what was at best 
the little known. Of modern weight-saving equipment such as 
wind-proof clothing, condensed foods, and nylon rope, the 
pioneers had none. Their ladders, which they occasionally 
carried in order to cross the more difficult spots on a glacier, were 
of heavy wood; their clothes were very largely those of the 
British countryside, heavily manufactured articles only slightly 
adapted to the needs of the Alps. Their boots were, in many 
cases, merely stout walking shoes locally hobbed. 

It is doubtful if the fourth factor, the cheapness of man-power, 
the fact that porters were available to carry the straw or the 
shawls, to pack the fuel for the fire and to carry the relative 
luxuries, ever made up against contemporary standards for the 
fact that it was customary to sleep in the open or in the roughest 
of bivouacs. It is doubtful if all the porters made up for the 
clothes that were unsuitably designed for high altitudes or for the 
lack of boots, breeches, ropes, or ice-axes specifically designed for 
the job. The climbers of the 1850*8 and die i86o's were in fact 
of a toughness that is rather astonishing. It has been said that no 
one other than the Victorians could have withstood the cold and 
harshness of certain Royal homes; it is equally true that many 
modern climbers would hardly be willing to follow in the steps 
of the mountain pioneers with only the equipment that was used 
by them. 

Mountaineering, in those early days, required little equipment 
and an equally small amount of expert knowledge. One result 
of this happy set of circumstances was that during the early years 
of the Golden Age the Alps abounded in young University men 
whose means allowed them to spend a pleasant holiday in the 
centres lying in a great half-moon around the Alps, and to sally 


out, as and when they wished, into voyages of exploration. It 
also allowed, perhaps rather surprisingly, the male members of a 
large number of young married couples who spent their honey- 
moons on the Continent, to combine fidelity with an occasional 
rumbustious Alpine excursion. Wills, Hudson, Kennedy, and 
Frederick Morshead are only some of those climbers who 
insisted on spending their honeymoons in the Alps. Leslie 
Stephen's Regrets of a Mountaineer are well known. 

The cost of climbing, in its early days, was not large. The one 
exception was the ascent of Mont Blanc which held its price of 
about .30 per person until Hudson and his party broke the 
guides' monopoly with their guideless ascent from St. Gervais 
in 1855. Yet in 1862 the young John Stogdon, who hired a good 
guide, who travelled throughout the Oberland for ten days and 
who must have been abroad for almost double that time, records 
that he had only 19 for his holiday. As late as 1880 Frederick 
Gardiner, that steady and conscientious climber from Liverpool 
whose record of ascents almost equals in number that of Coolidge 
a man, moreover, who by no means stinted himself in the 
benefits of life talked of .50 for his general expenses, and of 
.25 for guides, for a six-week season. 

It was only rarely that one came upon such a man as the inn- 
keeper below a previously uncrossed pass who replied, when 
objections to his bill were raised, that "he had carefully reflected 
upon the matter, and had come to the conclusion that no one 
would ever come in any case, and that, therefore, he had better 
charge when he had the opportunity". 

The relative cheapness with which one could go climbing, the 
relative ease of access of the Alps, and the lack of specialised know- 
ledge which it was thought necessary to have, meant that a whole 
host of people were drawn up into the mountains who in spite 
of their genuine interest finally remained only on the fringe of 

Following Ruskin, there were the artists such as George 
Barnard, who in 1841 carried out a long Alpine tour with his 
brother-in-law, Michael Faraday, and their respective wives, and 
who later became drawing-master at Rugby. Barnard, as his 


books on drawing prove, had a genuine feeling for mountains, 
and he was one of the first men to get high among them so that he 
might draw them accurately. Yet his interest was not that of the 
mountaineer. He speaks of "the awful solitude of the Alps", and 
admits: " Although I have for many years found my greatest 
pleasure in studying amongst the Alps, I have only climbed 
sufficiently high to obtain the views I wished to paint, finding 
that if time and strength were spent in climbing there was little 
left for careful drawing." It is a measure of the Victorians that he 
should add: "It is not surprising that, after a long day's walk of 
thirty or forty miles, the sketch then made should be hasty, or 
thrust aside at the welcome sound of the dinner-bell." 

There were many such as Barnard, more courageous than 
Ruskin, inheriting the knowledge of the previous ten years, 
helping to prepare the way for the men to whom the business of 
climbing was the main thing that mattered. 

There were many such as Oscar Browning, the queer Eton 
master, sacked through a dispute in which he expressed his own 
point of view at the cost of all things, a man with a perceptive 
yet dilettante approach to the mountains. 

My chief motive for Alpine travel was health [he admitted] and 
as to its beneficial results in that respect there can be no doubt. I 
could not have got through my work at Eton without it. 

His attitude was almost that of the Philistine, and probably, 
too, typical of that outer penumbra of young men who were 
attracted only superficially to the mountains. "I have always 
maintained that the three most exciting emotions I have ever 
experienced have been fox-hunting, mountaineering, and stand- 
ing for Parliament", he wrote later, "and I do not know which 
is the most exciting of the three." Browning, in many ways 
representative of those who were tested by mountaineering in 
early life and found wanting, revealed himself when he admitted 
that: "One became tired of living upon a knapsack, and never 
being absolutely clean, of seldom sleeping in a decent room or 
enjoying wholesome food, and when September arrived I began 
to long for the fleshpots of civilisation." 

V.M. 4* 65 

Some men were of sterner stuff. The lack of wholesome food, 
the lack of the decent room that so often meant the fleas of the 
persistent Alpine joke, the frugality, the hardship and the 
occasional danger all these were the inescapable necessities for a 
handful of young men, many of them University students, who 
during the 1850'$ travelled through the Alps and employed Swiss 
guides to take them up a whole host of hitherto unclimbed 
summits. Their climbing was carried out in a hearty, not to say 
boisterous, manner. Substantial food and drink formed part of 
the adventure; there was a casualness about the danger, and good 
living was mixed with surprise that the mountains could, and did, 
suddenly play tricks on those who were climbing them. 

Few passages of Alpine literature summon up these qualities of 
the early days better than one in a paper which Thomas Hinch- 
liff contributed to Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, that anthology of 
mountain experiences which was to precede the Alpine Journal. 

The provision knapsacks were emptied and used as seats [says 
Hinchliffj; bottles of red wine were stuck upright in the snow; a 
goodly leg of cold mutton on its sheet of paper formed the centre, 
garnished with hard eggs and bread and cheese, round which we 
ranged ourselves in a circle. High festival was held under the deep 
blue heavens, and now and then, as we looked up at the wonderful 
wall of rocks which we had descended, we congratulated ourselves 
on the victory. M. Seller's oranges supplied the rare luxury of a 
dessert, and we were just in the full enjoyment of the delicacy when 
a booming sound, like the discharge of a gun far away over our 
heads, made us all at once glance upwards to the top of the Trifthorn. 
Close to the craggy summit hung a cloud of dust, like dirty smoke, 
and in a few seconds another and larger one burst forth several 
hundred feet lower. A glance through the telescope showed that a 
fall of rocks had commenced, and the fragments were leaping down 
from ledge to ledge in a series of cascades. The uproar became 
tremendous; thousands of fragments making every variety of noise 
according to their size, and producing the effect of a fire of musketry 
and artillery combined, thundered downwards from so great a height 
that we waited anxiously for some considerable time to see them 
reach the snowfield below. As nearly as we could estimate the 
distance, we were 500 yards from the base of the rocks, so we 


thought that, come what might, we were in a tolerably secure 
position. At last we saw many of the blocks plunge into the snow 
after taking their last fearful leap; presently much larger fragments 
followed; the noise grew fiercer and fiercer, and huge blocks began 
to fall so near to us that we jumped to our feet, preparing to dodge 
them to the best of our ability. "Look out", cried someone, and 
we opened out right and left at the approach of a monster, evidently 
weighing many hundredweights, which was coming right at us 
like a huge shell fired from a mortar. It fell with a heavy thud not 
more than 20 feet from us, scattering lumps of snow into the circle. 

The incident was experienced, one feels, more with interest than 
with fear; almost with a belief that such things were inevitable 
when one ventured into the unknown regions of the Alps. 

Hinchliff himself, a barrister whose wealth obviated the need 
for practising, was typical of the early mountain-travellers on 
whose explorations the Alpine Club which held many of its 
early meetings in his chambers was founded. He was leisurely, 
outspoken, and independent: he described himself as the poacher 
of Mont Blanc, for when he made the climb in 1857 he refused 
to employ the stipulated minirnurri of eight guides but success- 
fully made the ascent with half the number. He made few 
spectacular expeditions, although he climbed both the Altels and 
Monte Rosa twice, made the first ascent of Mont Blanc by the 
Ancien Passage since the accident to Dr. HaxneTs party in 1820, 
climbed the Finsteraarhorn, and made a large number of minor 
excursions. He wandered rather than climbed, but he knew 
as Ruskin did not that beneath the light shed by danger and 
difficulty the climber might see a world very different from that 
presented to the less adventurous traveller. The real lover of the 
mountains, he stressed more than once, "finds in his most difficult 
excursions, not merely an exciting and adventurous sport but 
the enjoyment of a new sensation that of being brought into 
immediate contact with the brilliant wonders of an unknown 

HinchlifF first visited the Alps in 1854, at the age of twenty- 
nine, and only eight years later was disabled in a shooting 
accident which forced him to divert his activities to less strenuous 


travel. His influence on the development of climbing was due 
to his "clubbability", the extent of his interest in all things per- 
taining to mountains, and the publication, in 1856, of his Summer 
Months among the Alps, a book which together with Wills' 
Wanderings among the High Alps, had a decisive effect. 

Alfred Wills, son of a J.P., a financially well-set-up fellow, 
coming to maturity in the expansive years that preceded the 
Great Exhibition, was in many ways the laboratory specimen of 
the early Victorian mountaineer. Barrister, Judge in die Queen's 
Bench Division he was the man who tried Oscar Wilde he is 
of importance in the Victorian mountain hierarchy for three 
separate reasons. 

He was, first, the prototype of those gentlemen whose ordinary 
mountain wanderings developed into genuine mountain-climb- 
ing. His experience came slowly, and he travelled in the Alps 
for many years without attempting a major peak. Throughout 
the whole of his life, difficult mountaineering was merely one of 
the attractions which he found in the Alps. He took his wife to 
Switzerland for her honeymoon so that she might, as he said, be 
shown some of the glories of the glaciers. And it was on his 
honeymoon that he accomplished, almost accidentally it might 
seem, his famous ascent of the Wetterhorn. 

Wills was, secondly, one of the first of the Alpine pioneers to 
forge the relationship between guides and their employers that 
was one of the great features of the Golden Age. He dedicated 
his Wanderings to Balmat, "my guide and friend, my tried and 
faithful companion in many difficulties and some dangers". And 
in much of his subsequent writing he dropped the word "guide" 
and referred to Balmat solely as friend. It was only to Balmat 
that he would entrust his wife on her mountain-wanderings while 
he, Wills, made some more ambitious excursion. And it was 
Balmat who helped in the purchase of the plot of land in the 
Valley of Sixt where Wills built The Eagle's Nest for the wife 
who was to die before she crossed the threshold. In all this there 
is ample evidence that Wills, more than most men, had such 
confidence in Balmat that he helped to create, in the guides, what 
Lord Schuster has called "a new race of men'*. 


Thirdly, there was the ascent of the Wetterhom, and the story 
of that ascent which Wills gave to the world in the Wanderings. 
The ascent was by no means the first of the mountain; nor of that 
particular peak of the Wetterhom; nor even of that particular 
peak from that particular side. It was, however, the first that was 
to gain any measure of notice outside the small select group of 
Alpine devotees. That fact, combined with the spectacular and 
engaging form of the peak, its proximity to Grindelwald, a 
village from which the mountain was so readily visible, and the 
exciting duel played out on the mountain between Wills* party 
and the two local Grindelwald men who finally made the ascent 
with him, combined to give a certain importance to the ascent 
which has turned the date of 1854 into that when "sporting" 
mountaineering is popularly supposed to have begun. 

Wills first visited the Alps at the age of eighteen, while still a 
student at London University, and during it made merely 
a single visit to the Jardin. Four years later he went back, 
crossing a number of minor passes, visiting Zermatt and making, 
from Interlaken, the first recorded ascent of the Schynige 

In 1852 he went out again, spending nine weeks abroad and 
making a number of pleasant if unspectacular excursions the 
crossings of the Tschingel, Monte Moro, Allalin, and Theodule 
Passes and visiting Chamonix for the first time. From die 
mountaineering point of view it was hardly an important season, 
but one record that Wills has left casts an interesting light on the 
costs of the day. 

We were out nine weeks [he later wrote], one week of which 
was passed in Paris, where the expenditure was, of course, much 
above average. We spent no small sum in guides and carriages, 
and although economical stinted ourselves in nothing. The trip 
cost us less than ^40 each, everything included. 

It was in 1853 that Wills first appears to have embarked with 
full vigour on an Alpine career. Early in the year Forbes had 
invited Balmat to visit him at his home at Clifton, and Wills had 
been invited to meet the couple in London. 

I was [says Wills] greatly struck by the absence of false modesty 
or bashful timidity from his bearing. And, although he might 
sometimes be guilty of a conventional solecism, in all graver respects 
he was sure to speak and act like a gentleman. 

The details of "Wills' meeting with Balmat in the Alps later in 
the same year form an interesting commentary on the Trade 
Union atmosphere which then permeated the guides' com- 
munity at Chamonix, ham-stringing initiative wherever possible, 
putting a premium on mediocrity, and doing much to channel 
every line of endeavour up the one "routine" peak of Mont 
Blanc. The crux of the system was the rota, on which every 
registered guide the only ones allowed legally to work was 
duly entered. Many of the men, possibly the majority of them, 
were mere glacier guides, "worthy to carry a lady's shawl on the 
glacier", yet incapable of new or major expeditions. Many were 
illiterate; only a few, of which Balmat was one, had fought their 
way up until they had more than a passable knowledge of 
practical science and were invaluable to such scientists as Forbes. 
Yet under the rota system such men as Balmat were lumped 
together on the list with the near-incompetents. And, a subject 
continually contested by the Alpine Club, any climber coming 
to Chamonix was forced to take the man at the head of the rota, 
however useless he might be for the project in hand. 

It was in vain that you expostulated you had an old friend on the 
list you did not like the look of the guide thus fortuitously presented 
another had been recommended to you this had nothing to do 
with the matter [protested Wills]. Superior skill, energy and 
competency brought no advantage to the good guide; impertinence 
and incapacity were no disqualification to the bad guide. 

So pernicious was the system that one English mountaineer left 
a substantial cheque for the sufferers from a disastrous fire at 
Chamonix on the condition that it should remain untouched 
until an English traveller was allowed to choose his own guide 
and to determine for himself just how many men he should take 
on any particular expedition. 

It was unlikely, however, that the wit of the Victorians would 


be unable to find some way of evading such scandalous regula- 
tions. One such method was discovered by Wills or, quite 
possibly, recommended to him by Forbes. If a guide were hired 
beyond the jurisdiction of the Chamonix Commune and brought 
to Chamonix by way of a col (those being the operative words) 
then the traveller who arrived with him was allowed to keep his 
companion, whatever might be the latter's place on the rota. 

Wills had therefore arranged to meet Balmat at Sallanches and 
to reach Chamonix by the Col de Voza, a ruse which enabled 
him to keep the guide for a season which was, as it turned out, 
cut short by bad weather. 

The following year he was back on his honeymoon, made a 
number of minor ascents, spent a night with his wife on the Mer 
de Glace so that she might see the beauties of the place, took her 
up the Torrenthorn, and then decided that before he returned to 
London he would make the ascent of one major peak. 

I had crossed many a lofty col, and wound my way among many 
a labyrinth of profound and yawning crevasses [he wrote later]. 
I had slept on the moraine of a glacier, and on the rugged mountain- 
side, but I had never yet scaled any of those snowy peaks which rise 
in tempting grandeur above the crests of cols and the summits of 
the loftier passes. 

His choice fell on the Jungfrau, and Balmat suggested that they 
should consult a local guide. This was Ukich Lauener, the "tall, 
straight, active, knowing-looking fellow, with a cock's feather 
stuck jauntily in his high-crowned hat", a guide who quickly 
explained that owing to the lateness of the season the Jungfrau 
could only be tackled from the far side of the Oberland, an 
expedition for which Wills had not the time. The Finsteraarhorn 
and the Schreckhorn were both rejected for similar reasons, and 
only then did Wills suggest the Wetterhorn. 

Lauener suggested, presumably with his tongue in his cheek, 
that the matter was possible and that the Herr might, in any case, 
like to make a first ascent. Wills rose to the bait, travelled up the 
valley to Grindelwald with his wife and, a few days later, set out 
for the Wetterhorn. 


With him there were: Balmat; Auguste Simond, a Chamonix 
guide whom Balmat knew and who had happened to be in Inter- 
laken a guide who had once held a fully grown man off the 
ground at armVlength and who was soon nicknamed "Sam- 
son"; Ulrich Lauener, who was in charge of the party; and Peter 
Bohren, another Grindelwald man who had been to the plateau 
from which the three Wetterhorn peaks all spring, at least three 
times that season. 

On the mountain, after a rough bivouac, the party found itself 
being outflanked by two mysterious figures, one of whom carried 
a fir-tree on his shoulder, a tree comparable to the "flag" carried 
by Lauener which was in fact a great sheet of iron attached to a 
12-ft. mast. After a great shouting-match carried out across the 
snows, it was learned that the two men were local chamois- 
hunters, Christian Aimer and his brother-in-law Ulrich Kauf- 
mann, both of whom were to win fame as guides. Hearing of the 
attempt by Wills' party, they had decided to climb the peak for 
the honour of their native valley, had brought the fir-tree to place 
on the summit beside the iron "flag", and had climbed the lower 
crags during the night. Eventually, both parties joined forces and 
reached the summit together. 

As they went higher on the mountain, the mood of the party 
altered. "One must never shout on the great peaks," Balmat 
warned Wills, "one never knows what will happen." The local 
Grindelwald men might be less impressed, but both for the 
Chamoniard and for Wills there was a new wonder as they trod 
through the summit ridge and saw "a few yards of glittering ice 
at our feet, and then, nothing between us and the green slopes of 
Grindelwald, nine thousand feet beneath". 

Wills' reactions at that moment, when he broke through not a 
physical but a mental barrier raised by the unknown, provide 
a clue to the whole inner driving force of Victorian mountain- 

We felt [he wrote later] as in the more immediate presence of 
Him who had reared this tremendous pinnacle, and beneath the 
"majestical roof" of whose deep blue Heaven we stood, poised, as 
it seemed, half-Way between the earth and the sky. 


He was there, he knew, on sufferance. He had a great humility. 
Mountaineering, he might have said had he lived a hundred years 
later, had added to both his intellectual and his emotional stature. 

At first glance, there was a whole multiplicity of contradictory 
reasons for the climbing carried out by the young men of Wills' 
time. Some climbed because they desired to explore, and the 
Alps formed the most convenient field for their exploration. 
Some climbed "for the exercise". Some climbed for a sight of the 
majestic scenery which could not be viewed, as Ruskin had im- 
agined, from the bottom of the mountains. Yet the common 
denominator, which could be seen more clearly as the century 
progressed, lay outside the realm of material experience. It lay, 
rather, in the realm of the inner spirit, enclosed in a dissatisfaction 
with the great material progress of the age, a dissatisfaction which 
it was rarely possible and even more rarely expedient to express. 

This is shown in the composition of one group of men, four or 
five of whom were associated in a whole list of important climb- 
ing expeditions during the 1 850*5. There were the three Smyth 
brothers, Charles Ainslie, Charles Hudson, and E. S. Kennedy, 
and it is significant that three of them two of the Smyths, and 
Hudson were clergymen, while Kennedy, who wrote Thoughts 
on Being at the age of thirty-three and who was renowned for his 
persistent question, "Is it right?", seriously contemplated taking 
Holy Orders. They were all "serious" young men; they all gave 
considerable thought to the problems which the growing know- 
ledge of science was creating; and they all appear to have found in 
their climbing some solace from the troubles of the world that 
was something more important than mere escapism. 

Hudson was the finest mountaineer, not only of the whole 
group but of the whole generation, the man who was "almost 
as great as a guide", and who was even more largely responsible 
for the conquest of the Matterhorn than was Whymper. He spent 
the winter of 1852-1853 in Switzerland he was then twenty- 
four and reconnoitred a new route up Mont Blanc, returned to 
England where he was ordained, and then went to the Crimea 
where he served as Chaplain with the Forces and, after the fall of 
Sebastopol, went for an adventurous trip across Armenia and 


approached Mount Ararat. Returning to the Alps in 1855 he 
made, with the Smyths and John Birkbeck, the first ascent of the 
highest point of Monte Rosa, an expedition in which the guides 
followed the amateurs. A week later, he made the first guideless 
ascent of Mont Blanc, an event which the guides did everything 
in their power to prevent. He continued to climb almost every 
year until his marriage in 1862 contriving, indeed, to visit 
Zermatt during his honeymoon and returned to the Alps in 
1865 when he introduced the young Douglas Hadow to the Alps 
and, a few days later, was killed with him on the Matterhorn 
after having made the first ascent of the mountain with Lord 
Francis Douglas and Michael Croz (both of whom also perished), 
Whymper, and the two Taugwalders. 

Hudson, being more competent than any of his contempo- 
raries, found it necessary to remove, from between the mountain 
and himself, as it were, the third party which consisted of the 
guide. The acclaim which greeted the ascent by Kennedy and 
himself of Mont Blanc was only partially due to the fact that such 
guideless climbing lifted a large financial weight from the 
shoulders of youthful Alpinists. It gave also a sense of satisfaction 
totally different from that gained from any climb in which 
guides took part. 

In some cases the guides trod carefully in the rear, but even then 
their inborn experience of the weather, of just what risks could 
be taken with any particular set of circumstances, was always 
available in reserve. With guideless climbing, the amateurs were 
forced to stand four-square by their own judgements. Once they 
had reached the ability of a Hudson it was only thus that they 
could fairly face the facts of mountaineering life. 

It was not until later that guideless climbing fell into disrepute, 
largely due to the antics of the Rev. Girdlestone who appears to 
have been protected from disaster only by exceptional luck and 
who published in 1870 the story of his travels in The High Alps 
without Guides, a book that created considerable controversy and 
which, in the opinion of many, did the cause of climbing a 
serious disservice. 

The Matterhorn itself was first climbed without guides in 


1876 by Gust, Cawood, and Colgrove, three sturdy exponents of 
private enterprise, while the Meije, the last of the great Alpine 
peaks to be conquered, was climbed without guides by the 
Pilkingtons and Frederick Gardiner in 1879, only two years after 
it had first been climbed with professionals. The Pilkingtons, 
Lancashire business men, were typical of the second generation of 
Alpine pioneers, men of strong character who sought in guideless 
climbing and in the development of British mountaineering a 
relaxation from the multiple duties of a life crammed with service, 
industry, and hard work, the coin in which the Victorians bought 
their leisure. 

The apogee of the guideless climbing movement came early for 
the Victorians, in this period of the young Hudson. "One is 
much inclined to think that, at one period, these Hudsons, these 
Smyths, these Ramsays, these Parkers, these Youngs, these 
Buxtons, and others were within measurable distance of diverting 
the stream of English mountaineering from the course it eventu- 
ally took and of forming a great school of guideless English 
climbers", wrote Captain Farrar, that great Alpine expert. As 
history finally ordained it was only the experience of the 
Second World War, combined with the financial stringency 
imposed by post-war restrictions, that was to begin the formation 
of such a school. 

Hudson wrote but little. Together with Kennedy, he de- 
scribed his ascent of Mont Blanc without guides in Where There's 
a Will There s a Way, and to a second edition he added his account 
of the Monte Rosa expedition. He contributed an occasional 
paper to Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, and notes to the Alpine Journal. 
Yet nowhere did he even begin to explain those inner reasons for 
his obsession with mountaineering of which there are occasional 
hints in his scanty writings. 

This is more to be regretted because the development of 
mountaineering during the later 1850*8 owed so much to the 
books which its exponents were beginning to make available to an 
ever-growing public. There had, of course, been many mountain 
books before the mid-fifties, but they had been written for a 
restricted and almost family public. From the first ascent of Mont 


Blanc, a whole succession of little pamphlets had appeared upon 
the scene, something like four for every five ascents of the 
mountain which had been made. They were detailed, honest, and 
intimate little journals, telling exactly what had happened to the 
conquerors, recording the names and weaknesses of the guides, 
explaining what was, or was not, seen of the view from the 
summit, and recording in understandable detail the great recep- 
tion accorded in Chamonix to those who had paid some .30 
apiece for the ascent. They were frequently subsidised by their 

The little books were invariably slim, expensive, well bound, 
well printed, illustrated by sketches or water-colours of those 
artists who had known Mont Blanc at least at distant range, and 
were sometimes privately produced for circulation almost 
exclusively among the friends of those who had made the ascents 
recorded. They make fascinating reading, but their contemporary 
influence was negligible. 

The mountain books of the mid-fifties were different. Even 
Forbes' Travels through the Alps of Savoy, a book largely for 
scientists, had contained much of interest to the general reader. 
Wills' Wanderings, Hinchliff 's Summer Months among the Alps, 
Hudson's account of his Mont Blanc ascent, and, to a lesser 
extent, The Spirit of Travel, a handy little book by that mountain- 
connoisseur, Charles Packe, who travelled through both the 
Pyrenees and the Lakes with his dogs all these books were 
intended for the less clearly defined reader. Their circulation, even 
so, was influential rather than large; their reviews were in the 
right places and were discussed by the right people. They gave, 
to mountaineering in the later 1850'$, a position it would hardly 
otherwise have occupied. They formed the bridgehead from 
which the intellectual assault could be launched. 

That the bridgehead was built up at all was largely the result of 
a lucky chance which brought Hudson to Longmans, the pub- 
lishers. William Longman, later to become Vice-President and 
then President of the Alpine Club, was at the time of Hudson's 
ascent of Mont Blanc one of the heads of the firm. He not only 
published Hudson's book but later in 1856 made his first Alpine 


tour. He was forty-three at the time, and his age combined with 
his family responsibilities to prevent him from ever seriously 
tackling the business of mountaineering; yet he was fascinated 
by the Alps and by all that he saw in them, and in the following 
year gladly published Hinchliff's Summer Months among the Alps. 
He was invited to become a member of the Alpine Club, and was 
one of the moving spirits in the publication of Peaks, Passes and 
Glaciers, as well as the publisher of a whole host of Alpine books 
that included Wills' sequel to the Wanderings, TyndalTs Moun- 
taineering in 1861, and Gilbert and Churchill's Dolomite Mountains, 
the first account by Englishmen of the remarkable area a 
mountain area through which, like many other Englishmen, they 
had first travelled on their respective honeymoons. 

Longman, like most successful publishers, had most of his 
fingers on the unpredictable pulse of the public. He sensed, 
rightly as it turned out, that the isolated adventures which had 
followed Forbes' explorations were already being transformed 
into the permanent background and tradition of a pastime with a 
steadily increasing body of devotees. 

The next move was obvious. 


Chapter Three 


Love of mountains, like the love of nature is something 
new, perhaps sophisticated. I cannot help that. In me 
it is too deeply implanted to be rooted out. 


THE growing interest in the new and frequently criticised 
occupation of climbing mountains for pleasure must, in the 
Victorian Age, have had one inevitable result. It was obvious 
that a group of like-minded men would form themselves into a 
club whose members would meet at pre-arranged intervals to 
discuss the technical aspects of their interest, to exchange infor- 
mation and, if the record of human nature stands for anything, 
to spur themselves on to further efforts. 

The result was the Alpine Club the Alpine Club and not the 
London Alpine Club or the British Alpine Club. There was no 
need for any geographical location for this, the first organisation 
of its kind; in any case, the calm clear assumption of superiority 
fitted well into the spirit of the age. It had, after all, been the 
Great Exhibition, unqualified by any adjective. The Alpine Club 
therefore assumed, at its inception, a certain dictatorial Tightness 
to which it had, it must be admitted, almost every possible claim. 
It began in an age when it could, through the unique experience 
of its members, speak, as it has spoken ever since, with something 
of the authority which belonged to the Delphic Oracle. There 
was, at times, more than a hint of God about it. To the men who 
formed the club nearly a century ago the communal views which 
they expressed must have seemed, in an Alpine context, to be 
rather like the voice of God Himself. 

The earliest suggestion that an Alpine Club should be formed 
came from William Mathews, the first of a long line of Alpinists 


from the great Worcestershire family whose members swam 
into success on the crest of the Victorian wave, in a letter to the 
Rev. Fenton John Anthony Hort. 

Hort, a typical Victorian ecclesiastic of great mental power 
whose equally vigorous climbing potentialities were limited by 
ill-health and overwork, had been a friend of Mathews at 
Cambridge and had made a number of climbs with him. He was 
known even in his early days for sound common sense and 
administrative ability, and it was natural that Mathews should 
write to him. For Hort was then a Fellow of Trinity, a college 
to which a high percentage of the early climbers had belonged, 
and it was likely that he, above all other men, would be able to 
judge the possibilities. 

I want you to consider [said Mathews in his letter of February i, 
1857] whether it would not be possible to establish an Alpine Club, 
the members of which might dine together once a year,' say in 
London, and give each other what information they could. Each 
member, at the close of any Alpine tour in Switzerland or elsewhere, 
should be required to furnish, to the President, a short account of all 
the undescribed excursions he had made, with a view to the publica- 
tion of an annual or bi-annual volume. We should thus get a good 
deal of useful information in a form available to the members. 

Hort agreed to the idea but feared that the dining might have 
precedence over the information to be exchanged; care, he 
warned, should be taken that the dinner bills were kept within 
reasonable dimensions. 

That summer Mathews visited the Alps with his cousin, 
Benjamin St. John Attwood-Mathews, and together with Ken- 
nedy they discussed the formation of an Alpine Club. Finally, on 
the thirteenth of August they made the first English ascent of 
the Finsteraarhorn, together with the Rev. J. F. Hardy, and a 
Mr. Ellis. The success of the expedition further encouraged the 
idea of a club and its formation was definitely decided upon. That 
autumn William Mathews, his son, Mr. St. John Mathews, two 
of his nephews, W. and C. E. Mathews, together with Kennedy, 
dined at William Mathews' home, The Leasowes, on the 


outskirts of Birmingham the house where the young Edward 
Whymper was later to tell Forbes the story of the Matterhorn 
accident. The name of the house is still seen on even the quarter- 
inch Ordnance Survey maps, retained, perhaps, by a carto- 
grapher who knew not only that the poet Shenstone had lived 
there but that it was the birthplace of the Alpine Club. 

At The Leasowes dinner, Mathews and his friends drew up 
lists of men likely to join the Club; Kennedy, on his return to 
London, either saw personally or wrote to all those on the various 
lists. A few men showed little interest. The rest met at Ashley's 
Hotel, Covent Garden, on December 22 and the Club was 
formally established. 

Kennedy had previously circulated a note listing the objects 
and proposed rules of the Club, and it is obvious from some of the 
reactions to this that the original idea of a dining club which 
would meet once a year had already expanded considerably. 

The chief point which raises doubt is the expense [wrote Hort, 
who was unable to be present at the December 22 meeting]. On 
what do you propose to expend guinea subscriptions and guinea 
entrance fees? Surely there is nothing to be gained by having 
"rooms", "curator", and that style of thing? William Mathews 
wrote to me about such a club for one dinner nearly a year ago: and 
I then told him I thought it would be an excellent thing, provided 
the dinner bills were kept within reasonable dimensions. When he 
was here a few weeks ago, he quite concurred; he was going to write 
to you on the subject, but I have heard no more from him. Is it not 
rather much to ask a guinea a year, besides two dinners and (for all 
except Londoners) two double journeys to town? Granting that it 
is desirable to make the club select, we cannot see that a money 
standard is a desirable one. It may be well to have a few books and 
maps, though most of us would be likely to possess the best maps 
of districts which we meant to visit; but their annual cost ought to 
be something very small. Circulars would also cost something. But 
these are the only necessary expenses we can think of (except in 
connexion with dinners, which will, as you propose, be divided 
among the diners) ; and they might annually be divided among the 
whole Club without a large fixed subscription. What idea lurks 
under "geographical explorers" and "other guests of celebrity"? 


Surely we do not want speeches from Dr. Livingstone or Sir 
Roderick Murchison? The introduction of such elements seems 
likely to impair the genuineness of the whole affair. 

In spite of such rather querulous complaints Hort became an 
original member and remained a member until his death in 1892. 

The one real controversy at the formation of the Club con- 
sisted of the argument that soon developed around Rule XH. 
This laid it down that all candidates should have ascended to the 
top of a mountain 13,000 ft. in height a curious qualification 
since mountaineers had soon learned that height itself was rarely 
a measure of difficulty. The rule was finally amended so that a 
candidate's general mountaineering ability and experience, rather 
than any one isolated effort, became the criterion. Furthermore, 
it was made clear that, in certain cases, men who were not active 
mountaineers might be eligible for membership. The objects of 
the Club were, after all, defined as "the promotion of good 
fellowship among mountaineers, of mountain climbing and 
mountain exploration throughout the world, and of better know- 
ledge of the mountains through literature, science, and art". 

Mr. John Ball, the Irish politician, scientist and traveller, who 
had been Under-Secretary for the Colonies in Lord Palmerston's 
Administration of 1855, was elected the first President of the Club 
early in 1858. His choice was not due to the prestige afforded by 
his name for at that time he was one of the most experienced of 
all Alpine travellers; although he had made few spectacular 
ascents, he had been travelling throughout the Alps for nearly 
twenty years at the time of his election, had crossed the main 
chain forty-eight times by thirty-two different passes, and had 
traversed nearly 100 of the lateral passes. 

The Club was now fully launched on the world, but not for 
another year did it acquire permanent quarters. Its members 
continued, instead, to meet in HinchlifFs chambers in Lincoln's 
Inn and to hold their dinners in various hotels and private rooms. 
The reason is explained by William Longman who some twenty 
years later wrote a short history of the club and embarked on a 
history of mountaineering whose completion was cut short by 
his death. 


It was at first assumed that the Club would take the character 
rather of a social gathering of a few mountaineers than of a really 
important society, at the meetings of which papers were to be read, 
and contributions made to the geographical and topographical 
knowledge of mountain regions, and it certainly never entered into 
the mind of any of its founders to conceive that it would be the 
parent of fruitful children, each more prolific than itself. 

Within a year, membership had risen to more than eighty. 
By 1861 it had reached 158, and claims to membership were being 
based on "a list of literary contributions or mountain exploits". 
The Club was expanding, not only as Hort had apparently feared, 
into a wining and dining club, but into Longman's "really 
important society". The less ascetic side of life was by no means 
neglected, however, and Ellis Hardman, the "Victorian Pepys" 
as he has been called, has left a typical picture of an annual summer 

Last night I dined at the Castle, Richmond, with the Alpine Club 
[he wrote]. We found a jolly party round William Longman, the 
publisher, who is Vice-President of the club, Anthony Trollope 
sitting next to him. Longman is a glorious fellow, full of jokes and 
story, and beaming with good humour. Anthony Trollope is also 
a good fellow, modelled on Silenus, with a large black beard. 
There was a call for Trollope, and Silenus made a funny speech, 
assuring the Club that he was most desirous of becoming a member, 
but the qualification was the difficulty, and both time and flesh 
were against him. He added that not very long since, in the city 
of Washington, a member of the U.S. Government asked him if it 
were true that a club of Englishmen existed who held their meetings 
on the summits of the Alps. "In my anxiety", he said, "to support 
the credit of my country, I have transgressed the strict limits of 
veracity, but I told him what he heard was quite true" (Great 

Through all the vicissitudes of the Club and it was rent, at 
fairly regular intervals, by fierce arguments on policy, procedure, 
and almost everything else, which all the contestants appear 
thoroughly to have enjoyed a certain civilised "clubbabiHty" 
remained uppermost. Small cliques or groups were formed from 


time to time, though rarely for a more harmful purpose than 
concentration on some specific Alpine problem or the gratifica- 
tion of some mutual interest. This was true, for instance, of the 
Club within a club whose headed note-paper bore an embossed 
crest which included a black waiter on the left, a green guide on 
the right, a black-and-blue shield in between and, below, the 
words "Curre per alpes". 

The history of the device on the paper is as follows [explained 
A. W. Moore, one of the most enterprising and daring climbers of 
the i86o's, and one of the first to climb in the Caucasus], A small 
number of A.C.'s have for years past dined together before the 
meetings, and the device is their private property, now superseded 
for postcards! The man in black symbolises a waiter, he in green 
a guide the sole idea of the community being dining and climbing. 
The bloody hand grasps a carving knife. The falling figure is 
prophetic of the fate which will not improbably befall us, while the 
Chamois grins with serene happiness from the elevated and exalted 
position which the faller vainly strove to reach! Altogether a 
cheerful allegory! 

The facts, dates, and figures of the early members of the Alpine 
Club have been tabulated in a great labour of love, the three- 
volume Alpine Club Register which was compiled over long years 
of careful research by the late A. L. Mumm. From this Sir 
Arnold Lunn has abstracted figures showing that of the first 
281 members of the Club those who joined it between 1857 and 
1863 fifty-seven were practising barristers, twenty-three were 
solicitors, and thirty-four were clergymen, with landed gentry and 
dons coining next with nineteen and fifteen respectively. Many of 
the Club's early members, however, had little more than a passing 
interest in mountaineering. Matthew Arnold "everyone should 
see the Alps once, to know what they are" was a member. So 
was Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. Sir Richard Burton was elected 
(although he never completed his membership), his qualification 
being "General travel; mountain ranges in all parts of the world". 
So was Thomas Atkinson, from Cawthorne, Yorkshire, that odd 
traveller of humble origin, a bricklayer's labourer and quarryman 
who rose to fame through his architectural ability, travelled across 


much of Central Asia for the Tsar, and on his return to Britain 
succeeded in maintaining a position of some public importance 
despite the fact that he had two wives living in Britain simul- 
taneously, a feat by no means common even today. 

Once those members who had little genuine interest in moun- 
taineering are removed from the total, the preponderance of 
lawyers, business men, and clergy is even more marked. Most of 
these were men of considerable learning and scanty leisure. It 
is significant that for almost all of them travel among the high 
mountains was not only a pleasant relaxation but something that 
appeared to influence much of their lives. There were two main 
reasons for this, the first physical and obvious, explainable most 
easily by the example of the hardest workers among the business 
men and the lawyers; the second more undefined, more difficult 
of definition, more explicable by die examples of the clergymen 
and of the scientists. 

Many of the Victorians climbed because they found in the 
mountains the greatest escape from, the greatest contrast to, their 
normal, densely packed life. At first, as was natural, they went 
to the Alps. Later, as climbing techniques improved, as the major 
and then the minor peaks of the Alps were climbed, a few of them 
looked farther afield for their relaxation. Charles Packe in the 
Pyrenees, Douglas Freshfield in the Caucasus, and Cecil Slingsby 
in Norway, all brought the principles of sound mountaincraft, 
developed in the Alps almost entirely by British climbers, to 
lands which knew little of such matters. 

Most cosmopolitan of them all was Freshfield, who made three 
journeys to the Caucasus, led an expedition to the Himalaya 
where he was seen on occasion in grey cut-away tail-coat and 
trousers and who also climbed in South Africa, the Ruwenzori, 
the Canadian Rockies, and the Japanese Alps. Yet however 
attractive such ventures might be, lack of time and money pro- 
hibited them for most mountaineers, to whom they appeared as 
isolated and rather exotic departures from the main sport of 
Alpine climbing. 

The one exception to this was formed by the explorations in 
Norway of Cecil Slingsby, that great Yorkshireman, Elizabethan 



lip ml V# H 1 * 

|| || [ | |ff| H 

\\ 11 If! it 

fc * ,I,Aa.A,,ii ....*, , ^...i!L_. ..rf*,*iwM.,2I 

II John Tyndall (bearded) outside the Bel Alp with his Wife, 1876 

12 The Rev. Hereford George's Party on the Lower Grindelwald Glacier, 1865 

13 Lawrence and Charles Pilkington and (centre) Frederick Gardiner, in the late 

of both frame and outlook, with, a name still not only known but 
honoured in the most unexpected of small Norwegian hamlets. 
Slingsby spent five seasons in Norway before he visited the 
Alps. Later he played an important part in the development of 
climbing in Britain and when, during the i88o's and 1890*8, he 
carried out his major Alpine campaigns they consisted largely of 
guideless climbs whose main attractions lay on rock rather than 
im ice or snow. His traditions, therefore, did not spring so 
directly from those of the Alpine pioneers as did most of his 
contemporaries. With mountaineering he linked not science but 
art; in the mountains he saw not a laboratory but a field for new 
human experiences which would make every day brighter and 

To understand why men of his calibre devoted themselves to a 
sport still under criticism, it is necessary only to consider the record 
of C. E. Mathews, a benign and much-loved Birmingham man 
who was an early prototype of the Alpine Club member. 

Mumm's summary that for nearly fifty years Mathews made 
himself felt in countless ways in the public and social life of Bir- 
mingham is an understatement. With Joseph Chamberlain, one 
of his greatest friends, Mathews was a founder of the National 
Education League. He was chairman of innumerable committees, 
president of innumerable societies, a Birmingham Town Coun- 
cillor, a governor of schools, a leader in local politics, a Justice of 
the Peace, and an active and opinionated member of a whole 
galaxy of bodies. He managed to pack all this activity into 
seventy-one crowded years, to become also, as well as one of the 
most accomplished mountaineers of his day, an expert of im- 
portance on subjects as varied as the Waterloo Campaign, the 
Birmingham Water Supply, and the detailed history of Mont 

The mountains provided the clue to this extraordinary energy. 
Mathews was the text-book example of the man who went 
climbing to escape not from any unpleasant facts of life but 
from the crowded events which his own high standards of duty 
pushed relentlessly on to his shoulders. 

At the bivouacs or in the mountain hotels of the Alps, at the 

V.M. 5 87 

cottage which he later acquired at Machynlleth, in North Wales, 
Charles Edward Mathews could slough off the responsibilities of 
Birmingham. Here, he knew, was a relaxation, a safety-valve 
such as no other sport could possibly provide. Here, surrounded 
only by amiable companions who like himself wished for a time 
to turn their backs at least until the end of the month on the 
progress which they had helped to create; surrounded, also, by 
that new race of men which he had helped to raise from the raw 
material of the guides; here Mathews and men of similar thought 
were able to forget the pulsing, scrambling, gainfully employed 
life of England's expanding industrial empire. 

Mathews played an important part in creating the guides as an 
honourable and respected group of men. For hundreds of years 
local peasants had been available for leading travellers across the 
easy snow passes of the Alps. Some of them had helped Hannibal, 
and their ancestors' ancestors had done much the same job for the 
men of the Middle Ages who had succeeded in keeping open the 
great trans-Alpine trade routes. Yet the whole virtue of these 
men was that they could lead others across mountains rather than 
up them; they would look, instinctively, for the nick in a skyline 
rather than for the ridge that led to a summit. Many were good 
and brave men; many more merited Whymper's description 
of "pointers out of paths, and large consumers of meat and drink, 
but little more". 

It needed mountaineers such as Wills and Mathews, as the Rev. 
Hereford George and Leslie Stephen, to raise up a certain number 
of Alpine peasants, to breath fire into them and to stir into them a 
knowledge which was eventually to make them the first mem- 
bers of a great profession. In an unexpected way, the Alpine 
pioneers mixed as perfect equals with these peasants whom they 
hired. There was something more to it than the remark of one 
guide to his employer on a mountain that: "You are master in the 
valley; I am master here." Reading back through the record, 
catching what one can from the memories that remain, one can 
really believe that in this way at least some of the Victorians did 
practise the theory that all men are born equal. "They were just 
like brothers", said the daughter of one famous amateur and the 

guide with whom he climbed regularly for more than a quarter 
of a century. 

"To say that I owe him a debt impossible to pay is not to say 
much," Mathews wrote of Melchior Anderegg, the guide with 
whom he spent most of his climbing life, and whom he personally 
guided round the Snowdon Horseshoe on one memorable 
occasion when Melchior was staying with him in his cottage in 
North Wales. 

He first taught me how to climb. For more than 20 seasons he 
has led me in success and failure in sunshine and in storm. He 
has rejoiced with me in happy tunes; he has nursed me when 
suffering from accident with a charming devotion. Year after year 
I have met him with keener pleasure. Year after year I have parted 
from him with a deeper regret. 

Mathews' introduction to the Alps was a hearty one during the 
season of 1856 when with his brother, William Mathews, he 
ascended the Dent du Midi, was turned back by weather on Mont 
Blanc, and during the course of three weeks' successful climbing 
crossed a number of passes and climbed a number of peaks, 
including Monte Rosa. 

The following year he returned to the Alps, met Melchior 
Anderegg, and embarked on that long Alpine career that took 
him to the mountains almost every year until the turn of the 
century when, at the age of sixty-five, he was reluctantly com- 
pelled to give up mountaineering. He had had forty seasons, 
climbed both the Matterhorn and the Wetterhorn three times, the 
Monch twice, Monte Rosa five times and Mont Blanc no less 
than twelve. 

Mathews, inevitably, went to the Alps for his honeymoon, and 
during the holiday attempted the Blumlisalphorn, climbed the 
Altels, was turned back on the south face of the Weisshorn, and 
ascended the Jungfrau with Horace Walker, the Liverpool 
merchant who together with Mathews was to play such an 
important part, nearly a quarter of a century later, in the develop- 
ment of climbing in Britain. 

Mathews, the epitome of that comfortable God-fearing group 
of middle-class Englishmen who believed that the Almighty had 


deliberately put diem into positions of responsibility, was 
charitable, overworked, but only mildly critical of the appalling 
conditions in which large numbers of his countrymen lived. 
Perhaps the most characteristic quality of his climbing, and of all 
that is known about him, was his "clubbability". In this, as well 
as in his established background and his physical motives for 
climbing, he was typical of a considerable segment of Alpine 
Club members. The ascent of a fine peak was, with Mathews, 
one part of a day's adventuring in which comradeship with others, 
the ordered progression of the day from dawn to dusk, the shared 
enjoyment of fine sights and experiences, the new experience in 
the regular march of life, all merged to make one civilised and 
civilising experience. 

Few men did more than Mathews to consolidate the founda- 
tions of climbing in Britain. With his home on the outskirts of 
Birmingham it was natural that holidays too short for enjoyment 
in the Alps should be spent in North Wales, where he climbed 
Snowdon more than 100 times and Cader Idris more than 100. 
It was Mathews who did so much to bring fame and fortune to 
Pen-y-Gwryd, the little inn standing where the road from Capel 
Curig forks uphill towards the summit of the Llanberis Pass and 
downhill towards the distant gleam of Llyn Gwynant. Here, in 
1870, he founded the "Society of Welsh Rabbits", a small group 
of friends banded together to explore Snowdonia in winter, and 
it was Mathews who played an important part in the foundation, 
in 1898, of the Climbers' Club, of which he was to become first 

He was an honorary member of both the Yorkshire Ramblers 
Club and of the Rucksack Club. He was an adviser, a man of 
experience whose views, all knew, would be completely dis- 
interested as well as fully informed. He was utterly reliable and 
fair, and in his later days occupied much the same position as that 
filled half a century later by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. 

Mathews represented all those constant qualities of which 
civilisation is compounded. For the Alpine Club he might well 
have been a symbol, the "typical climbing man" against whose 
character and record the critics might beat in vain. 


Chapter Four 


The sea of faith 

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore 

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl 9 d. 

But now I only hear 

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar. 


MATHEWS was typical of that large body of Alpine Club 
members who found in the mountains the complete and 
incomparable break from the Victorian world which they had 
helped to create. Yet to escape into the mountains was only one 
incentive for the climbers of the Golden Age; the demands of 
science formed another. 

The early scientists who first solved the basic problems of high 
mountain-travel had their counterparts a decade or more later in 
such men as Bonney, Tuckett, Ramsay, John Ball, and Tyndall. 
Some were to help in the development of mountain-wandering 
into the craft of mountain-cHmbing; some were to see the trans- 
formation of the craft into the organised sport of the twentieth 

The scientists of mountaineering's Golden Age can be divided 
into the amateurs and the professionals. There were those such as 
Francis Fox Tuckett, a man bristling with note-books and instru- 
ments, an indefatigable and earnest amateur whom hard times 
never limited, a lucky man whose mountain and scientific 
inclinations happily coincided. And there were the professionals 
such as Tyndall, the poor boy from County Carlow, whose 
scientific work took him into die mountains, the boy who later 
found circumstance taking him to the mountains year after year 
and himself going to them for love alone. The amateurs had the 
mountain passion earlier in their lives than the professionals, and 

moulded their lives to fit their inclinations. The professionals 
were captured unawares by the mountains, often in middle life; 
their passion appears to have been deeper and more disturbing 
because of this fact. 

There were, of course, those men such as Bonney, a scientific 
Mathews, who in all difficult problems returned again and again 
to the mountains for a solution. With Bonney, as with so many 
of the Victorian mountaineers, it is his energy and his many- 
sidedness that astound. At the age of sixty he walked from his 
hotel to the top of the Piz Languard, an ascent of about 4,800 ft., 
"without a single pause", as he proudly puts it. Well past the 
age of seventy he maintained his regular seven miles a day, fair 
weather or bad, and at the age of eighty was still capable of 
what his not uncritical Alpine friends called strenuous days on the 
hills. His range of interests was of the size which might have been 
expected of that rarity, the geologising parson. To the climber, 
Bonney is the man of twenty-seven who unsuccessfully tackled 
the Pelvoux when even its position was unknown two years 
before Whymper visited the Dauphin6. To the geologist he is 
one of the pioneers. To the ecclesiastics, one of those preachers 
who remained calm and undismayed by the terrors of Darwin. 
He was a mountain sketcher of considerable ability, an extensive 
producer of books and sermons, an architectural artist of almost 
professional skill, and the writer of more than 200 separate articles, 
most of them in the full-bodied many-columned fashion of the day. 

Thomas George Bonney was only eight or nine when he was 
first impressed by a great mountain view that of Snowdon from 
the garden of the Royal Hotel at Capel Curig, looking to the 
mountains across the Mymbyr Lakes. It was a view that he never 
forgot, and its effect remained with him for the rest of his life. 

At the age of twenty-three he made his first visit to Switzerland, 
a rather routine visit with a reading party during which he 
journeyed across the Mer de Glace but did no serious climbing. 
He took Holy Orders his religious service was almost entirely 
limited to two years as curate at St. John the Evangelist, West- 
minster and, later in life, two years as Cambridge Preacher at the 
Chapel Royal, Whitehall and returned to the Alps two years 


after his first visit. He crossed a number of passes, became 
interested in the problems of high climbing, and returned the 
following year to climb the Altels and Monte Rosa. 

It was in 1860 that he turned to the Dauphine, driven there 
largely by the zest that is, as he put it, "given to the pleasure 
derived from the beauties of nature by the knowledge that they 
have been seldom or never seen by others". 

Forbes* notes on Dauphine, published seven years earlier, com- 
prised all the printed information available. The atlases, com- 
ments Bonney, did not recognise the existence of mountains in 
that part of France, while the most reliable map of the country 
which had been made was that of Bourcet which had been com- 
pleted more than a century ago in days when the presence of 
dragons in the Alps was first being seriously disputed. 

With the spread of mountaineering in the sixties, the inns of 
the Dauphine became notorious, and there is little doubt that they 
were far more ill-kempt than those of the rest of the Alps. 
Bonney's description of what faced him and his party consisting 
of the ubiquitous William Mathews and John Clarke Hawkshaw, 
a Manchester civil engineer who remained a member of the 
Alpine Club until his death in 1921 though he had not climbed 
since the 1860 season was not, however, so very untrue of the 
rest of the Alps in the days of the pioneers. 

On the great high road from Grenoble to Brian^on there is fair 
accommodation at one or two places [he said]. Off this, everything 
is of the poorest kind; fresh meat can only be obtained at rare intervals, 
the bread and wine are equally sour, the auberges filthy, and the beds 
entomological vivaria. It is hardly possible to conceive the squalid 
misery in which the people live; their dark dismal huts swarming with 
flies, fleas, and other vermin; the broom, the mop and the scrubbing 
brush are unknown luxuries; the bones and refuse of a meal are 
flung upon the floor to be gnawed by dogs, and are left there to 
form an osseous brecia. The people in many parts are stunted, 
cowardly and feeble, and appear to be stupid and almost cretins. 
Too often there, as in other parts of the Alps, "every prospect 
pleases and only man is vile". 

When it came to the "entomological vivaria", Bonney's 


scientific knowledge was useful. There was the time, he recalls, 
when he and a companion had the choice of two beds in a very 
small inn. One of the beds looked relatively trim; the other was 
filthy. They tossed a coin, Bonney won and took the filthy bed. 
In the morning his companion found that while he had been 
wracked with insects, Bonney had been untroubled. 

"Yes," he quietly explained, "I chose the iron bedstead; they 
don't breed them/' 

On the mountains one was apt to have similarly unpleasant 
surprises. In 1860, when Bonney and his companions set out to 
climb Mont Pelvoux, then still vaguely thought to be the highest 
peak in the Dauphin^, they had been told of a rough hut on the 
mountain in which they could bivouac. Finally the guide 
pointed it out: 

a huge mass of rock that had in former times fallen down from the 
cliffs above, and had rested so as to form a shelter under one of its 
sides. This had been still further enclosed with a rough wall of 
loose stones, and thus a sort of kennel was made, about nine or ten 
feet by five or six, and about four feet high at the entrance, whence 
it sloped gradually down to about two feet at the other end. 

Finally, the party was turned back by bad weather, as it was 
two days later on Monte Viso, and Bonney moved south to Turin 
with Hawkshaw, finally going to Zermatt over the Theodule and 
spending the rest of his holiday in the Zermatt area. 

The remoteness of the Dauphine fascinated Bonney as it was 
later to fascinate others, and to it he returned again and again in 
the following years until he finally became, with Tuckett and 
Coolidge, one of the greatest British experts on the group. His 
travels took him, however, to almost every part of the Alps. 
First a Lecturer in Geology at St. John's, then, for a quarter of a 
century, a Professor of Geology at University College, London, 
he became increasingly aware of the vast number of scientific 
problems which could be solved in the laboratory of the Alps 
far more easily and conveniently than elsewhere. 

The extent of his wanderings is shown by the fact that in 
thirty-five seasons he made about no ascents, six of them above 
10,000 ft., and crossed more than 170 passes. 


Less of a professional scientist than Bonney, more of a moun- 
taineer, yet the man even more responsible than Coolidge for the 
encyclopaedic approach to the Alps, was John Ball, the Alpine 
Club's first President. The creator of Peaks, Passes and Glaciers 
and, through that, of the Alpine Journal, as well as of the Alpine 
Guide] Ball was not only politician and amateur scientist but, 
more than these things, a gentleman of leisure, treading the 
familiar path from University to Bar and then devoting himself 
to those useful pursuits in which men of less time and less money 
could not indulge. He was, almost alone among the early British 
mountaineers, a prominent Catholic. 

Like Bonney, Ball was first influenced by mountains at the 
early age of nine when he first saw the Alps from the Col de la 
Faucille. Perhaps nothing, he said later, had had so great an 
influence on his entire life. 

He was, as might have been expected from a Catholic, more 
interested than Bonney, or most contemporary scientists, in the 
spiritual experiences which the mountains offered. While in many 
ways typical of the Victorian amateur scientist, begirt with note- 
books, he yet had a genuine love of pioneering work which went 
far beyond his note-taking needs. It was the interest of making a 
difficult passage, rather than any scientific urgency, which com- 
pelled him in 1845 to press on with his crossing of the Schwartz- 
thor, on which he finally led his incompetent guide across the 
pass. It was the same reason, twelve years later, which impelled 
him to press on to the summit of the Pelmo, one of the first great 
Dolomite peaks to be climbed. 

It was possibly in 1845, the year in which he was called to the 
Irish Bar, that Ball first appreciated how well mountain-wander- 
ing might be combined with his scientific observations. He 
spent some time at Zermatt, chiefly engaged in the double task of 
exploring the remarkable vegetation of the Valley of St. Nicholas, 
and of observing the movement of the two nearest glaciers. He 
climbed the RifFelhorn, made a number of glacier excursions, 
then returned to Zermatt and made the first passage of the 

Thereafter he travelled in the Alps almost every year until his 


death in 1889, covering their whole breadth by his excursions, 
making new ascents wherever these fitted into his plan for fresh 
botanical or geological observations, but travelling rather than 
climbing, gaining knowledge of a whole area rather than " work- 
ing out" any one valley, a process which might, had he adopted 
it, have given him a list of first ascents as fine as that of any of his 
contemporaries. By 1863, when the first volume of his Alpine 
Guide appeared, he had crossed the main Alpine chain forty-eight 
rimes by thirty-two different passes and had in addition traversed 
nearly 100 lateral passes a record which at that time was unique. 
Ball has left a description of how he travelled and what he 
took with him, a description which cannot be very dissimilar 
from that of most scientists of the time who carried their amateur 
researches into the Alps. 

To my knapsack [he observed] is strapped a stout piece of rope 
about thirty feet long, with a Scotch plaid and umbrella; the last, 
though often scoffed at, is an article that hot sunshine, even more 
than rain, has taught me to appreciate. A couple of thermometers, 
a pocket klinometer, and a Rater's compass with prismatic eye-piece, 
may be carried in suitable pockets, along with a note-book and a 
sketch-book, having a fold for writing-paper, etc., a good opera- 
glass, which I find more readily available than a telescope; strong 
knife, measuring tape, a veil, and spectacles, leather cup, spare cord, 
and matches. A flask with strong cold tea, to be diluted with water 
or snow, a tin box for plants, a geological hammer of a form 
available for occasional use as an ice-axe, with a strap to keep all 
right, and prevent anything from swinging loosely in awkward 
places, complete the accoutrement. 

The fact that Ball's journeys were planned with eyes on 
scientific rather than mountaineering records is well illustrated 
by the list. It was not, however, so strange that it was Ball who 
was asked to fill the Presidency of the Alpine Club in 1858, an 
office left vacant when the Committee had been elected. His 
position in the world, his administrative ability, and his retirement 
from politics early in 1858 which gave him the time to devote to 
a pleasant hobby-horse, all combined to make him an ideal man 
for the post, especially as the Club at that time represented a 


pastime whose aims and ideals were, at the best, imperfectly 
understood. There was also not only Ball's Alpine record but the 
feeling that his particular brand of knowledge would enrich the 
Club, arising as it did from his practice in the orderly, logical 
presentation of facts. The Club had not long to wait. 
In November, Ball wrote to William Longman. 

Among the crowd of tourists who leave England every year, 
a good many visit places of interest in the Alps and elsewhere, that 
are nearly or quite unknown to the reading public. A fair propor- 
tion of them are capable of writing an intelligible and even interesting 
account of what they have done and seen, but with limited materials 
it is neither reasonable nor desirable that each should write a book. 
What would you say to bringing out an annual volume, made up of 
contributions of travellers? If carefully selected, I should say that 
such a volume would be generally interesting, and secure of a large 
sale. Unlike the books of most travellers, the writers would have no 
occasion to stuff their articles with additional matter taken out of 
libraries; there would be room for small contributions to science, 
especially Natural History, but in that department especially I 
would advise you (if you should adopt the idea and undertake the 
editing) to use much stricter restraint than most book-writing 
travellers exercise over themselves. People of limited information 
are apt to record facts which are either akeady well known and 
familiar to men of science, or else wanting in the needful precision 
and accuracy. A little previous communication with the writers 
might sometimes convert a loose statement into a useful fact. 

Thus, with an aim that was more scientific than Alpine, there 
was born the germ that developed into Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, 
A Series of Excursions by Members of the Alpine Club. The first 
volume in the series, in which there were recorded many of the 
now near-legendary exploits of the pioneers, was published by 
Longmans early in 1859, under Ball's editorship. By the end of 
the year it had gone through four editions totalling 2,500 copies, 
and a fifth edition was issued in the following year. Two more 
volumes, edited by E. S. Kennedy, and illustrated by woodcuts 
prepared by Whymper, appeared in 1862, and their success 
confirmed the earlier impression that a "regular market" now 


existed for chronicles of Alpine exploration. The next year there 
followed the Alpine Journal, that * 'record of mountain adventure 
and scientific observation" that has remained the weightiest if not 
the final word on all matters of Alpine history, topography, and 

Great as were the benefits which the publication of such material 
accorded the climbers of the mid-sixties, they were as nothing 
compared with the lasting effect of Ball's Alpine Guide. As early 
as 1861, Ball had pointed out to a meeting of the Club that there 
existed no guide-book for mountaineers that dealt with the whole 
chain of the Alps. The result was his commission to produce such 
a guide, and the eventual publication of his great trilogy, Guide 
to the Western Alps (1863), Guide to the Central Alps (1864) and 
Guide to the Eastern Alps (1868). Scores of helpers were co-opted 
into the work, their information being sifted, checked, and 
edited by Ball, who was in a vast number of cases able to tally the 
facts and figures against his own experience. "Ball", together with 
Peaks, Passes, and the volumes of the Alpine Journal itself, became 
one of the craft's Sacred Works, and one which, unaltered, was 
regularly consulted until its rewriting and reissue by Coolidge 
at the end of the century. 

Second only to Ball in the extent of his Alpine wanderings, in 
his encyclopaedic and scientific approach to the mountains, and 
in the earnest vigour with which he carried out his campaigns, 
was Francis Fox Tuckett, the Bristol Quaker and business man 
who between 1856 and 1874 climbed 165 peaks, 84 of them 
important summits, and crossed some 376 passes. No less than 
57 new expeditions were included in these figures, an indication 
that Tuckett's scientific interest was well tempered with the desire 
for pioneer work. 

Like Mathews, he packed an astonishing amount of work into 
every day. Discussing one of his mountain campaigns with 
Coolidge for nearly a month they once wrote one another a 
letter every other day he mentions in passing that he is writing 
thirty or forty letters a day, running his complicated and exten- 
sive business, and is also busy with an cxecutorship and sundry 

After a visit to Switzerland as a child Tuckett returned in 1854, 
at the age of twenty, for a long rambling tour. Two years later 
he met Forbes and was imbued by him with the need for con- 
tributing to the body of scientific knowledge, whatever else he 
did in the Alps. "Make mountaineering not merely a recreation, 
but a scientific occupation*' is reputed to have been the gist of 
Forbes' exhortation. 

Tuckett followed the advice, and the majority of his journeys 
were made with all the equipment necessary for detailed obser- 
vation and recording. He bristled with instruments, and his deep 
pockets were filled with a series of elaborately organised note- 
books and pencils ready both for making the pleasing panoramas 
which graced his records and for their detailed annotation. 

He was a sight to see [said Hort in 1861], being hung from head 
to foot with "notions" in the strictest sense of the word, several of 
them being inventions of his own. Besides such commonplace things 
as a great axe-head and a huge rope and thermometers, he had two 
barometers, a sypsieometer, and a wonderful apparatus, pot within 
pot, for boiling water at great heights, first for scientific and then 
for culinary purposes. 

It is easy to ask why all this conglomeration of scientific 
impedimenta was needed. The answer is that there were still men, 
even in the early days of "sporting" mountaineering, who 
genuinely considered that any failure to record a multitude of 
facts, figures, and dates, would be a back-sliding in social and 
moral duty. They may have been right. 

Even so, a sense of proportion was needed, and Tuckett's 
ponderous contributions to Peaks, Passes and Glaciers invoked 
Leslie Stephen's mock-heroic account of an ascent of the Gabel- 
horn. On this famous climb, the scientists discovered the tempera- 
ture by the amount of cold on their fingers, for the thermometer 
was broken, and found it to be 175 degrees below zero; their 
height was so great that the mercury in the barometer sunk out 
of sight. "As to ozone," said Stephen, "if there were any ozone 
that afternoon on that arete, ozone must be a greater fool than I 
take it to be." Professor Tyndall, for whom the Alpine Club rules 


had been altered so that he might become Vice-President, 
resigned in protest after Stephen's bantering speech, thinking the 
barbs meant for him. 

There was, in fact, less reason for Stephen to jibe at Tyndall 
than at Tuckett. Tyndall was taken to the mountains by the 
practical business of earning his own living and to him men like 
Tuckett must have been rather ponderous dilettantes, however 
charming their character might be and however useful might be 
the vast gathering of information on which they lavished so much 
of their time, hardiness, and money. 

Information Tuckett certainly did gather, ream upon ream of 
it, both during his own high mountain excursions and on the less 
strenuous tours which he made in middle life with his sisters. 
Throughout the i86o's and iSyo's he returned, year after year, 
to the Alps, climbing with most of the mountaineers of the day; 
getting his one, or more, first ascent per season; planting his 
thermometers carefully on peaks and passes where they could be 
consulted, and their readings taken, by later travellers; winning 
from the King of Italy the Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus 
for his scientific and geographical investigations in the Alps; and 
only refusing the Presidency of the Alpine Club because he felt 
that residence in or near London was essential to the job. Slow, 
rather ponderous one must imagine, with an almost Germanic 
lack of humour, Tuckett yet ventured in his measured stride 
on the verge of more narrow escapes than most of his more 
adventurous contemporaries. There was the famous time be- 
neath the Eiger when his party escaped destruction beneath 
an avalanche by a matter of feet, an escape described in A Race 
for Life. He was arrested as a spy on the Austrian frontier in 
1866, and three years later as a Panslavist agitator; while, right 
at the end of his last season of hard climbing, in 1875, he finished 
his final expedition by taking cover on the Roche Melon in 
a chapel which was almost immediately partially destroyed by 

Tuckett had at least one thing in common both with Forbes, 
the master who had preceded him, and with Tyndall, his fiery 
contemporary. All three believed that it was the moral duty of 


the mountaineer, the man moving up into new kingdoms, to 
equip himself mentally and physically for carrying out the 
maximum number of useful scientific observations. Forbes had 
found a certain pleasure outside these observations. So did 
Tuckett in a rather shame-faced sort of way. Tyndall took his 
observations seriously, for they were both his life's-work and his 
bread-and-butter. Yet without a hint of inconsistency he 
admitted the glory of climbing for its own unscientific sake. 
What is more, he explained the fact with a clarity which itself 
explains the motives of Mathews and his kind and took the 
argument one step farther. 

I have returned to them every year [Tyndall wrote of the Alps], 
and found among them refuge and recovery from the work and the 
worry which acts with far deadlier corrosion on the brain than real 
work of London. Herein consisted the fascination of the Alps for 
me; they appealed at once to thought and feeling, offering their 
problems to one and their grandeur to the other, while conferring 
upon the body the soundness and the purity necessary to the 
healthful exercise of both. 

The belief in this dual function of mountains was almost the 
only thing that Forbes and Tyndall had in common. Only twelve 
years separated their births but in social background and religious 
beliefs, Forbes belonged to the eighteenth century and Tyndall 
to the nineteenth. Forbes, his whole life conditioned by a wealthy 
and conservative family background, saw the Alps for the first 
time on a "Grand Tour" that was almost part of the social round. 
Tyndall saw them first on the student's walking tour of 1849 of 
which he later said that " trusting to my legs and stick, repudiating 
guides, eating bread and milk, and sleeping when possible in the 
country villages where nobody could detect my accent, I got 
through amazingly cheap". Even in their religious beliefs, the 
contrast between Forbes and Tyndall was striking, Forbes feeling 
the principles of the Church as governing his everyday habits and 
actions in a way that was near-medieval; Tyndall remaining, in 
spite of all his efforts, the confirmed agnostic who wished for no 
stone to be raised above his grave. 


In spite of all these differences it was Tyndall who occupied in 
the mountaineering world of the i86o's the pre-eminent position 
that Forbes had occupied a decade earlier. Both had a good back- 
ground of what the Victorians called substantial worth; both 
could only with danger be accused of rashness or imprudence, and 
the journalist who wrote the famous leading article in The Times 
after the Matterhorn disaster "Is it life? Is it duty? Is it common 
sense? Is it allowable? Is it not wrong?" must have had some 
anxious moments wondering if Tyndall would open a broadside 
against the attack. Much of TyndalTs importance to the Vic- 
torian mountaineers and their development lay just in this fact; 
that he was an unassailable, stabilising body whose scientific 
theories might be questioned only with care, whose religious 
doubts might be deplored, but whose interest in the new sport of 
mountain-climbing was an inexplicable fact that must be accepted 
as the idiosyncrasy of an intellectual heavyweight whom it would 
be unwise to cross. 

TyndalTs first holiday walking tour in 1849 took him from the 
quiet German university town of Marburg (where von Papen 
was later to make his one unavailing denouncement of the Nazis). 
On September 19 he marched south, arriving at Heidelberg three 
days later in the true fifty-mile-a-day fashion that he retained until 
late in life. In Heidelberg he decided, as he wrote later, to "see 
how the mountains appeared under such a sky. In those days it 
was a pleasure to me to saunter along the roads enjoying such 
snatches of scenery as were thus attainable. I knew not the distant 
mountains; the attraction which they afterwards exercised upon 
me had not yet begun to act/' 

What is more, it failed to act even when he came within sight 
of the Alps, perhaps because of his unfortunate approach, through 
Zurich, Zug, and Arth to the Rigi, the notorious Rigi where, 
thirty years later, the immortal Tartarin of Alphonse Daudet was 
to be surprised by "that immense hotel, the Rigi-Kulm, glazed 
like an observatory, massive as a citadel, wherein for a day and a 
night a crowd of sun-worshipping tourists is located". For 
Tyndall it was, rather similarly, merely a cloudy mountain noted 
for its guzzling and its noise. 


14 Ulrich Aimer saving his Employers on the Ober Gabelhorn, 1880 
From a hawing by H. G. Willink 


15 With his Guide, Melchior 

1 6 On one of his later visits 
to Grindelwald 

He continued farther into Switzerland, saw the Rhone Glacier, 
had an awkward scramble to the Grimsel after he had lost his way, 
crossed the Little Scheidegg where he saw the avalanches on the 
Jungfrau, and then turned back for home. "The distant aspect 
of the Alps appeared to be far more glorious than the nearer 
view", he commented, in an almost Ruskinian manner that was 
enough to show that he had not, by then, been intrigued by 
mountains at first hand. 

His conversion was not to start until seven years later when, 
following his interest in the problems posed by the cleavage of 
slates, he went to Switzerland in the hope of being able to answer 
the questions by investigating the glaciers. The journey was 
made with Professor Huxley, and Tyndall proudly recalls that he 
received his alpenstock from the hands of Dr. Hooker, in the 
garden of the Pension Ober, at Interlaken. Thence, he set out on 
a tour that included visits to the Guggi, the Lower Grindelwald, 
the Unteraar and the Rhone Glaciers a tour from which it 
might well be claimed that there was to spring all his later pre- 
occupation with mountaineering. 

TyndalTs interest in the subject appears to have gone through 
two distinct phases. There was first the era of scientific enquiry 
that began to change in 1859; and there was an era of the great 
expeditions which followed 1859, many of them still linked to 
important scientific enquiries but planned also with the aim of 
mountain conquest. 

It is possible that TyndalTs love of the Alps was born in 1856, 
during his scientific ramble with Huxley. His description of what 
he calls the exceedingly grand scene on the Little Scheidegg is 

The upper air [he said] exhibited a wild commotion which we did 
not experience; clouds were driven wildly against the flanks of the 
Eiger, the Jungfrau thundered behind, while in front of us a magni- 
ficent rainbow, fixing one of its arms in the valley of Grindelwald 
and, throwing the other right over the Wetterhorn, clasped the 
mountain in its embrace. Through the jagged apertures in the 
clouds, floods of golden light were poured down the sides of the 
mountain. On the slopes were innumerable chalets, glistening in the 

V.M. 6 105 


_ ^nbeams, herds browsing peacefully and shaking their mellow bells; 

while the blackness of the pine-trees, crowded into woods, or 

scattered in pleasant clusters over alps and valley, contrasted forcibly 

with the lively green of the fields. 

This was the description not only of the scientist but of the 
embryo mountain-enthusiast and it was hardly surprising that 
Tyndall went back the following year, by this time greatly 
involved in the glacier argument and already at loggerheads with 
Forbes. He stayed at the Montanvert for six weeks, taking 
measurements as Forbes had done, crossed the Col du Geant, and 
ascended Mont Blanc with a boy. 

Once he got among the mountains, Tyndall appears to have 
shown a sense for hill form and scenery almost entirely alien to 
the rest of his life, inclinations, and aptitudes. Almost as soon, he 
developed a love of daring mountain adventures, many of which 
such as his solitary ascent of Monte Rosa in 1858 with merely 
a bottle of tea and a ham sandwich as supplies would have been 
rashness in the case of any man less competent. 

The competence showed itself immediately Tyndall took to 
serious climbing, and from the later 1850*8 his record is a peculiar 
mixture of high ascents which would have been "pure" mountain 
ascents in the case of any other man but which were, in his case, 
carried out largely for scientific motives, and of hit-and-thrust 
exploits which equalled those of any member of the Alpine 

In 1858 he climbed the Finsteraarhorn to make observations 
from its summit while Ramsay made comparable measurements 
from the Rhone Valley, thousands of feet lower. The following 
year he made his famous ascent of Mont Blanc with Sir Alfred 
Wills and August Balmat, during which the latter placed im- 
portant scientific instruments in the summit-snow and nearly lost 
his hands by frost-bite in doing so. When Tyndall returned to 
England at the end of the season he* persuaded the Royal Society 
to vote a grant of money to Balmat in recognition of his services 
to science. By that time Tyndall had made yet another ascent of 
the mountain, during which he spent twenty hours on the 


All these ascents could have been justified by Tyndall as 
adjuncts to his scientific enquiries. Like Forbes he was investigat- 
ing the glaciers. Like other scientists he was concerning himself 
with the properties of air, of light, of sound, and he could claim 
that many of his investigations demanded that observations be 
made on high mountains. 

Yet in 1860 Tyndall actually tried to climb the Matterhorn, 
To realise just what this meant it is necessary to remember how 
Albert Smith had been assailed for climbing Mont Blanc, a 
mountain higher than the Matterhorn and therefore, according to 
the current theory, far more worth while so far as scientists were 
concerned. If there were no new facts to be found on Mont 
Blanc there were certainly none of scientific importance, at 
least to be found on the Matterhorn. Yet Tyndall went at it 
almost bull-headed, discarding much of his scientific shroud and 
standing up, unashamedly, as one who wished to step beyond 
that "cordon up to which one might go". What is more, he 
succeeded in reaching a height of 13,000 ft., a height considerably 
beyond that which men had yet reached on the mountain. 
Tyndall, the scientist at the height of his energy and fame he 
was just forty at the time was beginning to enjoy mountaineer- 
ing for its own sake. 

The following year he went to the Alps with one idea in his 
mind, that of climbing the Weisshorn, then one of the "last 
problems" of the Alps. He did so successfully, with Johann 
Joseph Bennen, the enigmatic Valais guide who almost reluctantly 
accompanied him on the great enterprise. From then onwards 
Tyndall lived as a mountaineer in his own right, unsupported 
by scientific necessities. He was already making climbs far 
more difficult than those tackled by such men as Forbes or, 
for that matter, by any man in mere search of scientific data. 
He was moved by the spirit of combat and risk that the moun- 
tains offered him; from the position of a man who carefully 
exploited the mountains for their scientific value, he had 
marched in a few strides to the other end of the calendar. 
There is a touch of the "death-or-glory" boys about some of 
his exploits. 

V.M. * 107 

I followed him while the stones flew thick and fast between us 
[he says, of Bennen on the Old Weisthor in 1862]. Once an ugly 
lump made right at me; I might, perhaps, have dodged it but Bennen 
saw it coming, turned, caught it on the handle of his axe as a cricketer 
catches a ball, and thus deflected it from me. 

He was, we may surmise from his record, a man who was 
titillated by danger, and across all his worthy, learned, and 
essentially dull scientific record there is drawn the shadow of 
another man, the man whom duty prevented him from being on 
more than isolated occasions. He would, says an eye-witness, 
delight picnic parties by hanging from his heels from the highest 
trees to be found. In the Alps, where the little Marjelensee 
bordered the great Aletsch Glacier, he would jump on to the 
nearest miniature icebergs and balance on them until they finally 
gave him the inevitable cold bath. On his stray visits to Cornwall 
he would sometimes be found clambering with unexpected 
interest up some of those northern cliffs which have since 
exercised the ingenuity of both the Climbers' Club and the 

He was, parallel with his stern, calculating scientific exterior, 
a genuine mountain adventurer, seeing in small rocks as well as in 
great mountains the challenge of physical matter. At the height 
of his scientific fame he was the only man other than Whymper 
who believed that the Matterhorn would one day be climbed. 
The frill story of his efforts to justify the belief can be pieced 
together only from his Hours of Exercise in the Alps and from 
Whymper's Scrambles. The two men clashed, as might have been 
expected. Had either Tyndall or Whymper had less similar 
mountain ambitions, they might have joined forces in the early 
i86o's as Whymper was later to join forces with Hudson and 
have climbed the mountain before that fatal day in 1865 that 
influenced all Alpine history. 

As it was, Tyndall stood on the touch-lines of the Matterhorn 
story, a position in which his actions are revealing of his im- 
petuous, tenacious, yet analytic character. For it was Tyndall who 
after the accident of 1865 seriously suggested the fantastic scheme 
of having himself lowered down tie Matterhorn precipices 


by some 2,000 ft. of rope in an effort to find Lord Francis 
Douglas' undiscovered body. And it was Tyndali who in 1868 
made the first traverse and the seventh ascent of the Matterhorn, 
climbing the mountain from Breuil, in Italy, and descending to 
Zcrmatt in Switzerland. 

Thus, he made few high Alpine ascents. Overwork, illness, 
and marriage, all contributed. Yet so soon as he had the funds he 
built, on the Lusgen Alp near the Bel Alp, the ugly Villa Lusgen 
from which he might look across the Rhone Valley to what he 
considered was the most beautiful view in the Alps. He spent 
much of his time at Hindhead, where his house, the first to mar 
that lovely spot, still looks down the Happy Valley to the distant 
gap in the South Downs where the nick of the highroad crosses 
the last barrier to Portsmouth and the open sea. He loved high 
pkces. He loved the beauty he found there, however disturbing 
and unscientific might be the emotions which it aroused. 

In all TyndalTs relations with mountains, other than those 
which are astringently scientific, there is some feeling that he 
gained from them an awareness of life and death that he would 
otherwise have missed. He thought the danger worth while. They 
were, for him it seemed, an educator whose value was almost as 
great as that of science. They enabled him to enjoy life more, to 
put more into it and to take more out. Had he approved the 
word, Tyndali might almost have claimed that the mountains 
were a religion. For many Victorian scientists it appears that they 
were a substitute for something which their own religion had 
failed to give them. 


Chapter Five 


It is something to have wept as we have wept, 
It is something to have done as we have done; 
It is something to have watched, when all men slept, 
And seen the stars which never see the sun; 
It is something to have smelt the mystic rose, 
Although it break and leave the thorny rods; 
It is something to have hungered once as those 
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods. 


age in which the specialised craftsmen of the Alpine 
JL Club worked out the details of their sport was something 
more than an age of religious belief. It was an age in which all 
religious belief was being challenged with a wealth of apparent 
evidence that had not been seen for some considerable time. 
There were questionings, and they involved the whole basis of 
religious truth on which many Victorian mountaineers had 
founded their lives. They were the result not only of the onward 
stumble of science in general, but of the growing knowledge that 
illuminated one particular aspect of science. 

This aspect was archaeology, or the story of man's past. It was 
just possible to consider the theories of the earth's creation eons 
before the date laid down in the Bible and yet still keep a hold on 
belief. The problem became altogether more difficult when the 
discoveries in the Somme Valley, made by Boucher de Perthes 
and confirmed by a reputable if unofficial British commission of 
enquiry in 1859, placed the beginnings of man's history at least 
some hundreds of millenia back. 

Dr. Joan Evans, in Time and Chance, has well described the 
impact which these discoveries had on the mind of Victorian man. 


The establishment of the existence of palaeolithic man [she says] 
did more than add chapters to human history. It added vast stretches 
of time to those ages which even the most anthropocentric philosopher 
must consider; it destroyed the conventional chronology of Church 
and University; it brought a new proportion into man's view of the 
cosmos, that was only comparable with the change of proportion 
brought about by the Renaissance discovery of a new world. 

It is not to be wondered at that this attack on belief, uninten- 
tional though it might be, should have had an equally disturbing 
effect both on those who made it and on those at whose beliefs it 
was directed. It was, after all, the Eternity of the scientists as well 
as of the clergymen which was suddenly being lifted away from 
their future. 

It would be presumptuous to claim that many of the Victorian 
clergymen who went mountaineering did so, even indirectly, to 
reassure themselves about an after-life; or that the scientists did 
so to prove to themselves that their revelations had not really 
altered life. The thinkers of the period did not really climb 
because they witnessed in the mountains some newly seen yet 
constant physical phenomena in a changing world. The scientists 
among them were only too well aware of the fallacy disguised by 
the phrase "the everlasting hills". The clergy found that their 
guides, those well-tried mountain friends, still believed in many 
mystic goings-on that had little to do with Christianity. 

Yet the blunt truth is that many deeply religious men did find, 
during their mountain excursions, some satisfying reinforcement 
to their beliefs. The first and most obvious reason for this was 
that many mountaineers, then as now, found their sense of God 
heightened, illuminated, and justified by their physical experi- 
ences in the mountains. Wills on the Wetterhorn, feeling "as in 
the more immediate presence of Him who had reared this 
tremendous pinnacle", was typical. So was Charles Hudson, who 
after John Birkbeck's escape on the Col de Miage he was only 
nineteen when he slid some i ,800 ft. put down the escape to what 
he called a "long chain of providential arrangements due . . . surely 
to Him who guides and protects us day by day". Whymper 
himself, troubled with doubts throughout his lifetime, and even 


at his most emotional hardly a religious man, reveals in the care- 
folly self-edited Scrambles at least some shadow of that feeling 
which crossed his mind when after the Matterhorn accident two 
great crosses hung in the sky before the eyes of the horrified 
survivors. The references to God and His near Presence, regular 
as they are in the Alpine literature of the day, were not written 
in by the pioneers as a matter of conventional form. They were 
felt and experienced, and those feelings and experiences were 
doubly deep because of the doubts which had, for a while, flitted 
across the mind. 

The problems created by the impinging of science on religious 
thought lie at the nub of the matter. Without their impetus, 
mountaineering would not have shot forward with such jet- 
propelled speed during the second half of the nineteenth century, 
It was natural, therefore, that the clergy should play an important 
part in its development. Many were not clergy as one would use 
the word today. University regulations being what they were, it 
was normal in many cases essential for those wishing to 
prosper in an academic life to take Holy Orders. Some, such as 
Hereford George, the first editor of the Alpine Journal, who 
devoted his talents largely to military history and mountain- 
climbing, never held even a curacy. Many, such as Coolidge, 
found that neither the taking of Holy Orders nor the minor work 
of a small parish necessarily involved any thundering or militant 
work of protestations. A few, like Leslie Stephen, resigned Holy 
Orders as their opinion of the world developed and as they stepped 
more clearly out into it; others, such as George, were ordained 
only when their feet were about to feel their way cautiously up 
the ladder of success. 

Yet even when such men are taken into account, it seems true 
that the clergy illuminate better than any other single group, just 
what it was that drove men of the period up into the hills. For the 
clergy, more obviously than most, did not climb to demonstrate 
their physical courage or because they were not so good at 
organised games. Many of them did, of course, revel in the 
toughening and heroic business of climbing difficult mountains, 
diluting it where necessary by the use of suitable guides. But they 


might have taken equal risks in any of a dozen other dangerous 
pursuits. They chose mountaineering for the simple reason that 
it could, and did, provide something that no other pastime did 
offer. What that almost indefinable quality really was, can best 
be inferred from the fact that the serious thinkers appreciated it 
most. For it was a moral quality. It was a satisfaction of the mind 
rather than of the body. It was a window through which man 
saw his own justification. It was something which in some in- 
explicable way restored his dignity and confidence and belief in 
life. It was something that reassured the clergy among whom so 
many enthusiastic mountaineers of the period were counted. 

Of the suggested members of the Alpine Club who replied 
favourably to Kennedy's circular which he issued after the 
"Leasowes" meeting, more than a quarter were clergymen. The 
Rev. Hort was among them, of course, and so was the future 
Canon Lightfoot. So was Hardy, Llewellyn Davies, and a 
number of other clerics whose interest in the Club's activities 
eventually waned. The first editor of the Alpine Journal was 
George who was not, however, ordained until after the end of 
his editorship; the second was Leslie Stephen who relinquished 
Holy Orders three years after the end of his editorship. The 
fourth was the Rev. W. A. B. Coolidge who took Holy Orders 
while in office. 

Hudson, killed on the Matterhorn, was the greatest amateur of 
his age; Julius Elliott, who in Britain discovered the "ordinary" 
way up the Pillar Rock and who in Switzerland was the first to 
follow Whymper's fateful footsteps from Zermatt to the summit 
of the Matterhorn; Girdlestone, who achieved either fame or 
notoriety according to one's point of view for his advocacy of 
guideless climbing; all these were typical of the clergymen who 
made climbing their one major recreation. It is difficult to dis- 
cover any aspect of Victorian climbing in which some cleric does 
not play an important part. 

Hudson and the two Smyths had been among the first of the 
young men in Holy Orders who during the 1850'$ had helped to 
create the sport of mountaineering. Yet however great their 
mountain ability, they were religious flyweights and it was left to 

Hort and Lightfoot, both of them among the leading Biblical 
scholars of the day, to demonstrate the fact that profound religions 
study mixed well with high Alpine travel. 

Hort was the more important of the two in both the academic 
and the mountaineering sense. He made his first, five-week, tour 
in the Alps in 1854 at the age of twenty-six, and after only this 
slight experience returned two years later with most ambitious 

Lightfoot and I PIC wrote to the Rev. John Ellerton, one of his 
oldest friends] have agreed to rendezvous at Luzern July ipth, spend 
a week in training among the peaks of Uri, etc., ending at the 
Grimsel, and a fortnight in the snow regions of the Bernese Oberland 
(the ascent of the Jungfrau and Finsteraarhorn being dreamed of); 
and then make all haste to St. Gervais at the foot of Mt. Blanc, 
where we expect to find Hawkins and perhaps Ames or Watson, 
and thence ascend Mt. Blanc himself (this is a dead secret) by the 
new route, thereby avoiding the extortions of Chamonix. Lightfoot 
has made not up his mind how much farther he will accompany us 
before diverging to Germany, but at all events Hawkins and myself 
talk of moving eastward, crossing and recrossing the main chain 
till we reach Zermatt, and then spend some two or three weeks in 
that region, going up Mt. Rosa and as many other of the highest 
points (mostly unexplored hitherto) as we can manage, and then 
return home. I hope we shall find it an expedition to be remembered. 

As it turned out, he made the eighth ascent of the Jungfrau and 
was turned back by weather three times on the St. Gervais route 
up Mont Blanc which had then been ascended only by Hudson 
and Kennedy's party the previous year. It was on this visit to the 
Alps that Hort first tried his hand at mountain photography, 
carrying a bulky full-plate camera on many of his climbs but 
failing to achieve results through waiting too long to develop his 
plates. Many of the early climbers had done their imperfect best 
to take Alpine photographs. Ruskin claims the credit for what 
he calls "the first sun-portrait ever taken of the Matterhorn and 
as far as I know of any Swiss mountain whatever", in 1849. The 
two Smyths carried about a photographic tent for use on their 
climbs in the mid-fifties, and G. Joad, who accompanied Hudson 


and Kennedy for part of their guideless ascent of Mont Blanc 
in 1855, took a number of photographs, one of which was used 
as the basis for the frontispiece of Where There $ a Will There's a 
Way. And there was the unnamed English colonel whom 
Mrs. Cole met in the Val Anzasca in 1858, complete with wife, 
developing tent, and mule for carrying the photographic equip- 
ment. Bisson, the Frenchman, made three photographic journeys 
to the summit of Mont Blanc in 1861, 1862, and 1863, spending 
five days at the Grands Mulets on his second trip. Yet it was not 
until Hereford Brooke George made his family tour of the Ober- 
land in 1865, taking with him Ernest Edwardes, a portrait photo- 
grapher of some standing, that good results above the snowline 
were achieved by any British mountaineer. 

George, more than most of the climbers, "looked the part". 
With red beard and great height, he was massive and confident 
both of mind and of body, with a record both on the mountains 
and in the sphere of Alpine organisation quite equal to the 
reputation he later acquired as an historian. 

He first visited Switzerland at the age of twenty-two and was 
taken on a minor glacier expedition by Leslie Stephen. He 
returned the following year, crossed the Monchjoch and climbed 
Mont Blanc. And he then, having joined the Alpine Club, threw 
himself with tremendous fervour into the conquest of the Alps* 
unclimbed peaks and uncrossed passes. The following year he 
became the editor of the newly founded Alpine Journal. He served 
on a special committee which was set up by the Alpine Club to 
lay down standards for ropes, axes, and alpenstocks, and he 
devoted what leisure he had not only to the major problems of 
Alpine travel but also to the most minor details of equipment. In 
1865 he planned and led the ambitious tour through the Oberland 
made by three ladies and six men, and organised largely with an 
eye on the photographic possibilities. And, in between the minor 
excursions made for the benefit of the photographer and of the 
ladies, he took part in a number of major climbs, including the 
first ascent of the Jungfiau from the Wengern Alp and the first 
ascent of the Gross-Nesthorn. Soon afterwards, in the iSyo's, he 
founded the Oxford Alpine Club. 

Mountains and mountaineering had captured George's interest 
and imagination. And, with a fullness that was alien to most of 
his fellows, George explained carefully just why this was so. The 
attraction was, he infers, a complex one, half-Jingoist, half-- 

The climbing spirit [he wrote], like the love of all kindred pursuits, 
is essentially a form of that restless energy, that love of action for its 
own sake, of exploring the earth and subduing it, which has made 
England the great coloniser of the world, and has led individual 
Englishmen to penetrate the wildest recesses of every Continent. 

Yet this was not the only explanation from the young man who 
was to take Holy Orders two years later. 

The deeper we penetrate into the arcana of nature, so as to discern 
"the law within the law", the more clearly do we perceive that above 
and beyond all law rises the supreme will of the Almighty lawgiver 
[he wrote]. Familiarity with the wonders of the Alps is among the 
best means of originating and deepening such impressions; for their 
gigantic size and awful phenomena tend to produce an effect not 
merely on our intellectual perceptions, but also upon the moral 

George, who was about to enter the Church, had, in fact, dis- 
covered in the Alps some revelation curiously similar to that 
found by Stephen who after taking Holy Orders changed his 
views, ceased to regard himself as a clergyman, and profoundly 
disturbed many of his friends by his An Agnostics Apology. The 
mountains, to Stephen: 

represent the indomitable force of nature to which we are forced 
to adapt ourselves; they speak to man of his littleness and his 
ephemeral existence; they rouse us from the placid content in which 
we may be lapped when contemplating the fat fields which we have 
conquered and the rivers which we have forced to run according to 
our notions of convenience. And, therefore, they should suggest not 
sheer misanthropy, as they did to Byron, or an outburst of revolu- 
tionary passions, as they did to his teacher Rousseau, but that sense 
of awe-struck humility which befits such petty creatures as ourselves. 

Both George and Stephen had been educated, in the Alps, into 


17, 1 8 On the Mer de Glace in the late iSyo's 

As-M-fc^^i^^^ *" ' .V . "mJ'J '* * , *. *' 

19 Sir Edward Davidson and his Guides 

their own particular brand of humility; they both felt rather like 
Frederic Harrison's man who needed "sometimes to know 
nothing and to feel nothing, but that he is a marvellous atom in a 
marvellous world". 

Stephen stands at the heart of the attraction which mountain- 
eering had for the religiously inclined of the mid-Victorian years, 
just as that attraction lies at the root of its meteoric expansion 
between 1850 and 1880. A clergyman turned agnostic, Stephen 
was yet a deeply religious man throughout his whole life. Dis- 
turbed as he was by Darwin in a way that Hort never was ("In 
spite of difficulties, I am inclined to think it unanswerable", 
wrote Hort, who kept his belief. "In any case, it is a treat to read 
such a book"), Stephen appears to have created, from his experi- 
ences in the mountains, a new belief for the one he had rejected. 

He was ordained in 1855, at the age of twenty-three, and the 
same year made his first visit to die Alps, a rambling-cum- 
scrambling holiday in Bavaria. Two years later he spent a month 
in the Mont Blanc area, and ascended the Col du Geant. 

It was not until the following year that the mountains began to 
influence him, that he met Kennedy, Hardy, and Hinchliff at 
Zurich, and embarked on his meteoric Alpine career. By this 
time he had been subjected to two influences. He had come under 
the spell of the Alps themselves, "woven in a great degree by the 
eloquence of Modern Painters"; and he had, as he also admitted, 
been infected with the Alpine fever by reading Wills' Wanderings. 
From the start of his climbing career he was therefore deeply 
influenced by two diametrically opposed theories of Alpine 
appreciation. The result was of considerable significance to the 
Alpine world, for it made Stephen unique in at least one respect. 
He could sup in full measure off the most glorious sights that the 
mountains could offer, and could explain their beauties to others; 
yet he could also gain equal joy from setting out on expeditions 
that were invariably difficult, frequently dangerous and, judged 
by the standards of the Ruskinians, completely useless. 

The 1858 campaign was a six-week tour during which Stephen 
first met Melchior Anderegg, his guide and lifelong friend, and 
during which he made a number of high ascents, including that 
V.M. 7 119 

of Monte Rosa. The great years commenced in 1859, 
eight seasons Stephen strode up and across the Alps, taking part 
in a score of first ascents any one of which would have placed him 
among the most accomplished mountaineers of the day. The 
first ascent of the Schreckhorn and of Monte Delia Disgrazia, the 
first complete ascent of Mont Blanc from St. Gervais, the first 
passage of the Jungfraujoch and of the Viescherjoch these are 
only a few of the great courses he accomplished in an almost 
casual manner during the early i86o's. 

He was a vigorous, forty-mile-a~day man who covered the 
country "like compasses over a small-scale map", and who was 
always proud to have walked the fifty miles from Cambridge to 
London in twelve hours to attend an Alpine Club dinner. He was 
the dominating personality in the Alpine Dining Club, whose 
crest was described by Moore. He was occupied like most of his 
contemporaries, in a score of different jobs from electioneering to 
writing, from organising University clubs to pamphleteering; and 
he was, throughout the whole of his early Alpine career, cogita- 
ting on his religious commitments. The doubts had begun in 
1862 when he had first refused to take part in Chapel services. 
Finally, in 1875, he relinquished Holy Orders and began writing 
the long series of essays later collected as An Agnostic's Apology. 

Yet Stephen's retreat from Christianity was unlike that of many 
others. "In truth," he later wrote, "I did not feel that the solid 
ground was giving way beneath my feet, but rather that I was 
being relieved of a cumbrous burden." More curiously, his 
personal actions continued almost exactly along those broad lines 
of conduct that are followed by most Christians. During the 
years that he first spent in the mountains he ceased to believe, he 
felt, in any form of God. Reading today what Stephen wrote 
three-quarters of a century ago, it is difficult not to believe that 
what happened was the transmutation of his beliefs into some- 
thing different, something non-Christian, but something that 
hardly warrants the word agnosticism. 

There followed, after his change of heart and his marriage, 
both of which took place in the late sixties, another eight years 
during which his activities in the mountains were limited by the 


fears of his wife. He made the first ascent of the Cima di Ball, and 
of Mont Mallet "that child of my old age" as he called it and 
the first passage of the Col des Hirondelles; yet by far the greater 
part of his holidays were taken up with excursions of minor 
importance; and, after the death of his wife it was to the newly 
developing sport of winter mountaineering rather than to more 
orthodox climbing that he devoted himself. 

President of the Alpine Club, editor of the Alpine Journal, 
Stephen spread his influence over the mountain world not only 
by his energy, not only by the force of his personality and the 
doughtiness of his deeds, but also by his ability to write. The 
Playground of Europe, his book which was published in 1871 and 
told of his most famous ascents, was not merely the best-written 
book of Alpine climbing that had been published. It had one 
quality which all the others, with the exception of Whymper's 
Scrambles, notably lacked. It explained an attitude to life. It was, 
in the literal sense, literature, which the Oxford Dictionary defines 
as "writings esteemed for beauty of form or emotional effect". 
It had not only a lasting influence but a finish beside which almost 
all other Alpine books that men could then buy had the polish 
of a crusty loaf. 

Stephen did not climb on into old age. Work overtook him 
like night falling on a traveller hurrying for home. Yet until the 
last he retained an affection for all the memories that were 
summoned up by the two old ice-axes he gave to the Alpine Club 
a few months before his death. "Those quaint old poles", he 
wrote to Lord Conway, on whose shoulders was felling some- 
thing of Stephen's mantle at the turn of the century, "reminded 
me of some of the pleasantest days of my life." 


Chapter Six 


Sooner or late in earnest or in jest 
(But the stakes are no jest) Ithuriel's Hour 
Will spring on us, for the first time, the test 
Of our sole unbacked competence and power 
Up to the limit of our years and dower 
Of Judgment or beyond. But here we have 
Prepared long since our garland or our grave 
For, at that hour, the sum of all our past, 
Act, habit, thought and passion, shall he cast 
In one addition, be it more or less, 
And as that reading runs so shall we do; 
Meeting, astounded, victory at the last, 
Or, first and last, our own unworthiness. 
And none can change us though they die to save! 


AS the stately if somewhat ponderous procession of Victorian 
JLJL. mountaineers gathered numbers there suddenly burst upon 
it the young, enthusiastic, and slightly brash figure who was to 
provide its climax, was to cast over it a rather sultry shadow of 
doom, and who was to remain, for nearly a century, one of 
the most written-about, if not the most controversial, figure 
of the whole astonishing group. 

His name was Edward Whymper. He was an artist-engraver, 
a man who had learned the business in his father's Lambeth works 
and who, judged by the standards of those who formed the bulk 
of Alpine Club members, might almost have been dismissed by 
the one word "trade". It was not that there existed, as such, any 
distinction of class or money; it was merely that few men of the 


trading layer of society had the opportunity for making high 
Alpine ascents. 

Whymper's "trade", however, was the direct reason for his 
first visit to the Alps and, indirectly, for the speed with which he 
rocketed into the most distinguished parts of the Alpine firma- 
ment. At the age of twenty, before setting out for a long tour on 
behalf of his father's business, he was asked by William Longman 
to prepare a series of sketches for the coming volume of Peaks, 
Passes and Glaciers which was then in course of preparation. The 
Pelvoux in the Dauphine, it was added, was one of those moun- 
tains which it was especially desired to illustrate in the volume. 
The young Whymper, whose imagination had earlier been 
aroused by the search for Franklin which had stirred the mid- 
1850*5, had long nourished an ambition for Arctic travel Here, 
he well reasoned, was the chance for serving at least a near- 
apprenticeship; in the snow and ice regions of the Alps he might 
learn something of the problems he would have to overcome. 
He gladly accepted Longman's commission. 

The story of what happened during the following five years is 
among the most famous of all adventure stories. How the young 
man made his first Alpine tour almost as a business trip; how some 
attraction drew him back the following year when he made his 
first attempt to climb the unclimbed Matterhom the mountain 
whose remarkable form he had not even noted when he had first 
walked up the valley to Zermatt; how attempt followed attempt 
until, in 1865, he finally climbed the peak; and how, after the 
moment of triumph, day was turned into night by the disaster 
which killed four of the seven members of the party all these 
events have become something more than the facts in a story 
which has moved thousands of men and women who have never 
climbed a mountain and never wished to do so. They have 
become more than the climax of the Golden Age of mountaineer- 
ing. They have become, in some subtle way, the epitome of all 
mountain-climbing; a moral to those who would argue against 
the pastime and an inspiration to those who maintain that it leads 
men not only to higher but also to better things. They have 
formed the subject of films, of radio plays, books, and a whole 

V.M. 7* 123 

wealth of learned papers debating the minutiae of the case, the 
attraction of which would remain even were there not, to this 
day, a lingering suspicion; a suspicion that all has not even yet 
been told about the events of that fateful day in 1865 when the 
"sharp-eyed lad ran into the Monte Rosa Hotel saying that he 
had seen an avalanche on the Matterhorn" an awful avalanche 
whose import only those on the mountain then knew. 

There are two reasons for this enduring interest in Whymper 
and the main event of his life. One lies in the story of the Matter- 
horn itself, the second in the character of its conqueror. 

Whymper climbed for none of the mixed moral reasons that 
moved his contemporaries. He saw mountains clearly and with- 
out qualification as a challenge to man's supremacy. He climbed, 
it must be admitted, for a reason entirely the reverse of those 
which affected most of the men who formed the Alpine Club. 
It must be wondered whether he ever understood any of 

Whymper makes icily clear in the fourth chapter of the 
Scrambles just what it was that attracted him to the Matterhorn. 
The mountain had not been climbed; neither had the Weisshorn, 
and it is just those two peaks which excited his imagination. When 
he heard rumours that the Weisshorn had been climbed his 
interest in it abated. So far as he was concerned, and whatever 
else he might put into his mountain training, it was then only the 
Matterhorn that was really important. This single-mindedness 
is underlined in a letter which Hort wrote to his wife from 
Switzerland on August i, 1865. He had been in touch with 
Girdlestone, who had himself been with Whymper only a few 
days before the accident, and Hort says of Whymper: "He was 
resolved to do the Matterhorn, and equally resolved, when that 
was done, to give up mountaineering, because there were no 
more new great mountains to be conquered." 

Whymper had to climb the Matterhorn not when he first saw 
it, for the sheer wonder of its form appears to have passed him by, 
but when he first appreciated that his long limbs, stamina, and 
energy enabled him to climb and climb well. Here, in this large 
lump of stone was an object that had so far defied the progress 


of the age in which he lived; as a matter of duty it had to be 

The attitude was hardly a happy one and from the moment of 
decision the tragedy of Whymper's story somehow appears 
inevitable. It is true that on the bare facts as told by Whympcr 
there seemed nothing inevitable about it. He might never have 
succeeded in climbing the mountain. There might never have 
been the plans of a party of Italians, plans which matured in the 
summer of 1865 so that they were trying to climb the mountain, 
with Carrel, Whymper's former guide, while his party was on 
the mountain. A dozen events might have intervened but, read- 
ing the Scrambles, one cannot feel that they were likely. Events 
marched steadily forward as Whymper's experience increased, 
and as he made his second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh 
attempts to climb the mountain. When it might have been 
ascended by other parties and Tyndall's was one that nearly did 
so Fate steps in with upraised hand; she brings the Italian 
expedition to Breuil at the right moment, gives Whymper time 
to hurry across the Theodule Pass, brings up Hadow, Hudson, 
and Lord Francis Douglas, and sets the stage for the final scene. 
It is this sense of inevitable doom, spreading over a whole life 
from the moment that Whymper decides that the mountain shall 
be his and his alone, as much as the story of the accident itself, 
which gives a certain tragic dignity to Whymper's story. 

This is heightened by the fact that Whymper's philosophy, 
which drove him up and on to the mountain, did not quite stand 
up to the accident. Many men who had sought some mystic 
revelation in the mountains continued, not only to climb but to 
preach the value of the hills, even after friends and relatives had 
perished. Whymper, who climbed to prove man's supremacy, not 
only gave up high climbing after the accident as he had, in any 
case, planned to do but looked at the world through different 
eyes. For him there was "never glad confident morning again". 

The accident formed a watershed in Whymper's life. It formed 
a dividing line, marking a deep contrast not only in the things that 
he did but also in the kind of man into which he was developing; 
twenty-five was a young age at which to have crossed it. 


Until that day in 1865 everything had gone relatively well with 
him. The Matterhorn had been the only major mountain on 
which he had teen repeatedly repulsed. His reputation had grown 
season by season, and it must have seemed that in spite of his 
background, in spite of the fact that he had an approach to 
climbing very different from that of his contemporaries, in spite 
of his naturally dour and unfriendly nature, the place he was to 
take in the select Alpine circle would be an important one. It 
was, in fact, destined to be unique. After the accident a cloud 
seemed to hang over everything that he did. It is true that he 
became a member of the Alpine Club Committee for two years. 
After the publication of the Scrambles he was Vice-President. He 
went to the Andes, and he achieved one of his early ambitions by 
visiting Greenland. Yet nothing except the business of earning a 
living appears to have moved him as climbing moved him 
between the ages of twenty and twenty-five. It may be, as Hort 
suggested, that the passion died when " there were no more new 
great mountains to be conquered". It is certain that the first fine 
careless rapture had not been transmuted into the calmer but more 
abiding emotion which lights the middle and later life of so many 
mountaineers; instead, all joy had gone from the business and life 
was darker and more empty because of it. 

Whymper's first tour of the Alps was a seven-week affair which 
in 1860 took him to the Oberland, to Zermatt, and to Chamonix. 
He made a number of minor ascents, crossed a number of passes, 
some of them alone, and, as he said, acquired the passion for 
mountain-scrambling. He was agile, active, audacious, and 
impatient of all authority. It was typical that when he arrived at 
Chamonix and found the Mer de Glace closed to tourists for the 
visit of the Emperor Napoleon, he should have scrambled above 
the glacier, outwitted the guards, and arrived at the Montanvert 
as the Imperial party was leaving. The same afternoon, he adds, 
he failed to get to the Jardin, and very nearly succeeded in break- 
ing a leg. 

The next year he went back to the Alps with one main aim, to 


climb Mont Pelvoux which had been unsuccessfully attempted 
the previous year by Bonney and his party. As usual, Whymper 
succeeded. He met Reginald Macdonald, a young clerk in the 
Colonial Office, made with him the first ascent of the peak and 
then, after ten days' wandering, crossed the Mont Cenis, where 
the great tunnel was in course of construction, and made his first 
attempt on the Matterhorn. 

It was on this occasion that he had his first meeting with Jean- 
Antoine Carrel, the Italian guide who regarded the Matterhorn 
as his own domain, and whose ambition it was to make the ascent 
from Italy for the honour of his native valley. 

By 1861 there had been more than one attempt on the Matter- 
horn; the majority of mountaineers still considered that it was not 
only inaccessible but that it would remain so. Carrel himself had 
made tentative attempts with other men from his little village of 
Breuil, below the southern slopes of the Matterhorn, and had 
eventually reached the "Chimney", a prominent feature 12,650 ft. 
up the mountain, and 2,132 ft. below the summit. In 1860, the 
three Parker brothers, Liverpool business men whose promise of 
meteoric Alpine careers came to little, tackled the Matterhorn 
without guides from Zermatt, following, so far as they went, 
roughly the route by which the mountain was eventually climbed 
five years later. Francis Vaughan Hawkins, a barrister who had 
been climbing since the mid-i85O*s, had reconnoitred the 
Matterhorn in 1859 with Bennen, a guide from the Valais, and 
one of the few other than Carrel who believed that the mountain 
would one day be climbed. In 1860 Bennen, together with Jean- 
Jacques Carrel uncle of Jean-Antoine and Professor Tyndall, 
had climbed some 300 ft. beyond the "Chimney". In 1861, the 
Parkers had renewed their attempts from the Zermatt side, but 
had climbed only slightly beyond the point they had reached the 
previous year. 

This was the position when Whymper arrived at Breuil with 
an unnamed guide and negotiated for die services of Carrel, "the 
cock of the valley", the "well-made resolute-looking fellow with 
a certain defiant air". Sparks flew, Whymper attacked the 
mountain with his inexperienced guide but without Carrel, and 


from the evening light of a bivouac watched two figures creep 
past Carrel and his uncle stealing a march on the foreigners and 
trying to ensure that the first ascent should be made not only 
from the Italian side but also by Italians. It was possibly from that 
moment that the scales tipped over, that what had been a desire 
to be first on the summit of the Matterhorn became an almost 
pathological obsession with Whymper. 

On this occasion Whymper was turned back below the "Chim- 
ney". Carrel climbed higher, up to that spot where he had 
previously used the iron spike of his axe to cut in the living rock 
the date, a cross, his initials, and the rough design of a tiara. 

Whymper returned to England, the idea of Alpine conquest as 
deeply engraved on his mind as Carrel's cross had been cut into 
the rock of the Matterhorn. He was elected a member of the 
Alpine Club. He brooded over his defeat on the mountain, and 
the following season he returned to Switzerland earlier than 
before, during the first days of July. He made his second and 
third attempts on the Matterhorn, both with Macdonald, went 
up Monte Rosa, and then made his fourth attempt on the Matter- 
horn an attempt made alone, and one during which he climbed 
past the points reached by earlier explorers, to a height of about 
1 3 ,400 ft. During the descent he sustained the dramatic fall which 
is the subject of a famous illustration in the Scrambles, an illus- 
tration whose suggestion of a near-vertical drop of 200 ft. has a 
bearing on a later dispute about another illustration in the book. 
He made a fifth attempt on the mountain the same year and was 
only prevented from making yet another by the cantankerous 
argument which broke out between himself and Professor 

The following year, 1863, Whymper again visited his old battle- 
field in the Pennines, attempted the Dent d'H6rens, completed a 
circuit of the Matterhorn, ascended the Grand Tournalin by 
making the first ascent of the North-West arete, and then carried 
out the sixth attempt on the Matterhorn, an attempt which was 
halted by bad weather. 

It was on this occasion that Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, 
was speaking to a number of Englishmen in the dining-room of 


the Hotel Mont Cervin in Zermatt, and referred to the Matter- 
horn as still unclimbed. 

We all [said one who was there] knew that Whymper was, that 
very day, making one of his attempts upon the mountain, and I am 
afraid that bets were freely offered and taken as to whether the 
Bishop was correct. 

"Whymper had achieved something of a reputation by this 
time. He was relentless in his assault on rocks, he used every 
device which his ingenuity could invent, and he had none of the 
dislike which existed even then for artificial aids. He designed his 
own form of grappling iron which could be slung high above the 
climber in the hope that it might gain a grip on some rock or 
protuberance above a difficult spot perhaps the genuine pre- 
cursor of a delicate climb known as "Rope-Wall" on the Mile- 
stone Buttress of Tryfaen in North Wales. He devised the 
Whymper Tent. He would bar no artifice in his single-minded 
intention of getting to the top of whatever mountain he chose to 

He was, therefore, more than adequately equipped when he 
set out for his great tour of the Dauphine in 1864, a tour in whose 
tracks many mountaineers have followed with admiration not 
unmixed with wonder. With Moore and Horace Walker he left 
St. Michel in the Arc Valley, and between the middle and end of 
June made an elaborate series of magnificent first ascents and 
passages. The first crossing of the Col des Aiguilles d'Arves, the 
first ascent of the south peak of the Aiguilles de la Sausse, the first 
passage of the Breche de la Meije by which a passage was forced 
from La Grave on the Route Napoleon to La Berarde, the remote 
little village lying in the heart of the Dauphine, the first ascent of 
the Ecrins, the highest peak in the area, and the first passage of the 
Col de la Pilatte, were the principal incidents in the amazing 

All these were expeditions which had excited the interest of 
more experienced, of older, and of more mature mountaineers. 
Whymper's party contained, it is true, experienced men in the 
persons of Moore and Walker; it was led by Croz and Christian 


Aimer, two of the greatest guides then alive. Yet it is difficult not 
to believe that the driving force came largely from Whymper, 
One can see him demanding just that little extra effort; urging, 
cajoling, ordering, being as ill-tempered as the occasion might 
demand, and finally getting his own way when the others might 
have let the sport take its own course. 

From the Dauphine, Whymper went to Chamonix, and with 
Moore and Adams-Reilly continued to add to his collection of 
"firsts" Mont Dolent, the Aiguille de Trelatete, and the Aiguille 
d'Argenti&re, as well as the first passages of the Col de Triolet and 
the Morning Pass. 

The following fateful year began in the same way, with first 
ascents notably of the Grand Cornier and the Aiguille Verte 
and success sprouting from almost every venture that Whymper 
touched. Then, on July 12, he arrived at Zermatt with Lord 
Francis Douglas, a climber of some mountaineering, and con- 
siderable athletic, reputation whom he had met near Breuil. 
At Zermatt they encountered Hudson, who was accompanied by 
Michel Croz and a young man named Hadow whom Hudson 
was escorting on his first visit to the Alps. Whymper knew that 
Carrel, his former guide, was about to lead an Italian party in an 
attempt to reach the summit of the Matterhorn from the Italian 
side. Almost on the spur of the moment, it seems, Whymper and 
Lord Francis Douglas linked parties with Hudson and Hadow 
and decided to make a combined attack on the mountain from 
Zermatt. On the morning of Thursday the thirteenth, the party 
set out for the mountain Whymper, Hudson, Lord Francis 
Douglas, and Hadow; with, as guides, Croz and "old" Peter 
Taugwalder; and, as porters, Taugwalder's two sons, one of whom 
finally stayed with the party until the summit was reached. 

The story of the Matterhorn accident has been told and re-told 
in extensive detail, and it is only necessary to recapitulate the bare 
bones of the matter. Arrived on the summit without having 
encountered any of the major difficulties which had been feared 
the party of four amateurs and three guides saw the Italian 
party many hundreds of feet below, on the southern, Italian, 
slopes of the mountain. The British party shouted down, waved 


to the Italians, and even prized out loose boulders which went 
crashing down the steep face, in an effort to ensure that those 
below should know of their defeat. There followed an hour of 
lazing on the summit, of seeing the old peaks from a new and 
triumphant angle, what Whymper himself has described as "one 
crowded hour of glorious life". 

Whymper and his party moved off from the summit with Croz 
leading. Behind Croz came the young Hadow, already deeply 
exhausted by the climb; Hudson; Lord Francis Douglas, and then 
the elder Taugwalder. Whymper, and "y oun g" Peter Taug- 
walder who was to be last man on the rope, remained on the 
summit for a few minutes longer than their companions, then 
roped together with Whymper in front. Some way below the 
summit the two joined themselves on to the already lengthy rope 
of five men. 

A few hundred feet down they reached the steepest part of 
their route. The slabs were dangerous but not inherently difficult, 
although in the circumstances they must have been difficult 
enough. At one point, Croz turned to guide Hadow's feet into 
the best positions on the rocks. Hadow appears to have slipped 
although this is still only surmise and to have knocked Croz 
from the position where he was standing firm. Their combined 
weight pulled Hudson from the rocks, and the combined weight 
of the three men pulled off Lord Francis Douglas. 

Immediately we heard Croz's exclamation, old Peter, and I 
planted ourselves as firmly as the rocks would permit [says 
Whymper in the Scrambles] . The rope was taut between us, and tie 
jerk came on us both as on one man. We held; but the rope broke 
mid-way between Taugwalder and Lord Francis Douglas. For a 
few seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding downwards 
on their backs, and spreading out their hands, endeavouring to save 
themselves. They passed from our sight uninjured, disappearing one 
by one, and fell from precipice to precipice on to the Matterhorn- 
gletscher below, a distance of nearly 4,000 feet in height. From the 
moment the rope broke, it was impossible to help them. 

So perished our comrades. 

This was the disaster whose news swept across Europe and 

whose impact was, in the words of Captain Farrar, to set back the 
sport of mountaineering by a whole generation of men. 

There are many factors which combined to give the Matter- 
horn accident and which still combine to give it a unique 
interest and fascination. The first, of course, was the way in which 
events had, almost inevitably it appears in retrospect, built them- 
selves up to the tragic climax. Secondly and in some ways even 
more important, there were the circumstances of the four men 
who fell to their deaths; they were no ordinary travellers. Charles 
Hudson was known in the small circle of climbers as possibly the 
finest amateur of his time; Croz was one of the greatest guides; 
Hadow, even at the age of nineteen, was acquiring a reputation 
for athletic endurance even though he had virtually no mountain 
background; Lord Francis Douglas, young but already experi- 
enced, was a man who had a golden future opening out before 
him while to the Continent at least he represented the dying 
tradition of the English milord. There were the international 
repercussions aroused by the obvious rivalry between the British 
and the Italian parties. And there were the persistent rumours 
frequently scandalous and invariably ill-informed that Whymper 
was not telling all that he might have told about the early stages 
of the fateful descent. Any one of these things might have 
turned the Matterhorn accident into a talking-point; together, 
they turned it into the talking-point on which any argument 
against the practice of mountain-climbing might conveniently 
be hung. 

In addition, there were some interesting technical details of the 
ascent and the descent. It was an unusual if not unique practice 
for seven men to be climbing on one rope on a mountain of this 
difficulty; the inclusion in the party of Hadow was a matter for 
which Hudson has been criticised more than once; there was the 
peculiar but easily explainable coincidence that three different 
types and qualities of ropes were used to link the party together. 
All these facts combined to make the Matterhorn accident a 
matter over which climbing men might argue interminably, an 
endless puzzle of theories and formulae and speculations in which 
there was enough technical information available to keep the 


debate within reasonable bounds yet going for ever. Of 
more general importance was the outcry which the accident 

Newspapers in every country in Europe commented upon the 
accident in their feature or their leader columns, The Times 
pontifically asking of mountain-climbing in general: "But is it 
life? Is it duty? Is it common sense?'* 

Whymper himself, automatically held at Zermatt until the 
Government enquiry on the accident had been held, regarded the 
outcry with a contemptuous disdain that is readily understand- 
able. He had given a short account of the affair to the English 
chaplain at Zermatt who, with Whymper's approval, informed 
The Times. Nothing more, felt Whymper, was really needed of 
him, although he agreed that he would give a private report of 
the affair to the Alpine Club. He left Zermatt for Interlaken, was 
persuaded there to prepare an account of the accident for use by 
the Swiss and Italian Alpine Clubs, and then returned to England. 
It was only after he had returned home, and learned of the 
sensation that the accident had caused, that he finally wrote a 
fuller account for The Times. That account, dated August 7, from 
his home at Haslemere, was substantially the same as that con- 
tained in the Scrambles, which was published six years later. 

It is now generally accepted that the full story of the Matter- 
horn disaster has been pieced together with the possible exception 
of minor and unimportant details. Yet it seems clear that for 
some reason possibly the wish to shield one of the six other 
members of the party Whymper did not readily reveal all the 
details of the accident. 

Bishop Browne, a Fellow and Lecturer at St. Catherine's 
College, Cambridge in 1865, was visited by Whymper on his 
return to England immediately after the accident. 

As Whymper had got into the way of consulting me about matters 
other than Alpine [he wrote later], I was the first person to whom 
he gave a full account of what really took place. He came to see me 
in Cambridge. He had sealed up the bag in which he had the remains 
of the rope. He came to consult me on two questions of casuistry, 
on at least one of which he did not take my advice. 


It might at first be thought that the reference is merely to minor 
matters, possibly those elucidated when Captain Farrar succeeded 
in obtaining publication of the evidence given at the Court of 
Enquiry held in Zermatt after the accident. 

However, some years after the publication of these proceedings 
Lord Conway of Allington, then the Grand Old Man of climb- 
ing, added a footnote to Browne and threw more light on the 
queer question of the rope. "The late Dr. G. F. Browne, once 
Bishop of Bristol, who in his turn became President of the Alpine 
Club, told me not many years ago that he was the only living man 
who knew the truth about the accident and that the knowledge 
would perish with him, as it has perished/' Then he comes to 
the rope. 

It happened Pie says] that Whymper was the last man in the 
party and could not actually see Hadow's slip and Croz' overthrow 
by him, but two or three strands of the rope might have been 
severed beforehand without anyone knowing. The end of the rope 
would have retained some sign of the cutting. The end engraved 
in Scrambles is not the one where the breakage occurred. It is the 
right rope but not the broken end. 

Whymper did, in fact, seek more than one adviser when he 
returned to England in 1865. Oscar Browning says that he went 
straight to John Co well, the Secretary of the Alpine Club, and 
told him the story. "I was in London that day, and Cowell 
repeated the story to me. The next morning Whymper's narra- 
tive appeared in The Times, omitting some things which he had 
told to Cowell." 

These "things omitted" may have been the threats which 
Whymper alleged in the Scrambles, though not in The Times' 
letter had been made to him by the Taugwalders on the latter 
part of the descent. They may have been merely minor details 
of interest to mountaineers but of no significance to the general 
story of the Matterhorn accident. 

Whatever the truth, the Matterhorn accident flung its shadow 
across the Victorian scene as no other had done. The prophets of 
disaster appeared to have been justified, as was Ruskin who knew 
the Alpine glory entirely from below. All the Year Round, then 


20 As a Man of 25 

21 In his Middle Fifties 

edited by Charles Dickens spoke through Dickens' mouth, it 
seems certain of the 

society for the scaling of such heights as the Schreckhorn, the Eiger, 
and the Matterhorn [which] contributed about as much to the 
advancement of science as would a club of young gentlemen who 
should undertake to bestride all the weathercocks of all the cathedral 
spires of the United Kingdom. 

The mountaineers themselves, so shocked were they by the 
tragedy, so much did four lives then mean, suffered glumly and 
largely in silence, knowing that they were right in their own 
attitude to climbing, but knowing also that the accident had given 
the rest of the world a stick with which to beat them. 

Whymper himself exhibited little emotion, swung his interests 
from mountain-climbing to the more scientific investigation of 
the Alps, and set steadily to work on the laborious task of writing, 
rewriting, and rewriting yet again, the one great book of his 
life which was to give him an immortality even more sure than 
that gained by his ascent of the Matterhorn. 

In the year following the accident he returned to the Alps to 
investigate the theory and structure of glaciers. In 1867 he 
achieved his ambition of exploring Greenland. In 1869 he 
revisited the Alps, but did little more than cross the Col du 
Lautaret and revisit the Mont Cenis tunnel, through which, two 
years later, he made a journey on the first train to traverse the 

Throughout these years there had been persistent rumours that 
Whymper's book was about to appear but, as The Times was 
later to say of his volume on the Andes, finally published twelve 
years after his travels through them, the author seemed to take a 
grim delight in disappointing the public. 

At last, in 1871, there appeared Whymper's Scrambles amongst 
the Alps in the Years 1860-1869. It was an astonishing book, a 
mixture of naive amateur writing and inspired phrases, of first- 
class descriptive reporting and dull slabs that might have been 
inserted as examples of what to avoid, of scientific comments and 
purple patches. It was an astonishing book because, in spite of its 
technical failings, it was a real book in which a man revealed 

V.M. -8 137 

himself; a book, moreover, in which one can still hear the thunder 
of the falling rocks, and whose power is as strong as it was four- 
fifths of a century ago. 

The Scrambles was first produced by Murray at the round 
Victorian sum of a guinea, and its second edition appeared two 
years later. A third, slightly abridged, came out in 1879; a fourth 
in 1893, and a fifth in 1900. A shilling edition with photographs 
instead of the original illustrations appeared in the blue-bound 
Nelson library in 1908. And in 1936 there carne the new edition 
from Murray, with photographs, maps, and appendices that 
included for the first time for popular reading the results of the 
Zermatt inquest on the accident. The book was translated into 
French and German, and pirated in other languages from one end 
of the Continent to the other. It held and retained the affection 
not only of most mountaineers but of whole generations of 
potential climbers. Lord Schuster, whose mountain prose, almost 
alone, can compare with Stephen's, is one of the hundreds who 
have acknowledged their debt to Whymper for first having 
aroused their interest in the mountains. The late Frank Smythe 
is another. 

The peculiar fascination of the book does not lie only in the 
story that it tells. It has an honest artlessness that summons up the 
picture of Whymper, the man, in a way that few photographs 
can ever hope to do. It is true that Whymper wrote and rewrote 
every line innumerable times; it is true that he wrote fresh 
chapters in some of the later editions and excised some of bis 
earlier material; it is true that he was for ever altering and amend- 
ing and correcting, and that late in life he admitted to Coolidge 
that the book still contained many mistakes. Yet in spite of all 
these things the book yet remained one man's record of the 
influence that mountains had had on him. For a whole segment 
of the only partially informed public, Whymper was mountain- 
eering for the rest of his life. 

The Scrambles consolidated Whymper's position as a national 
figure. He might not be the typical mountaineer; he might not 
even be a normal one; yet for thousands of men and women this 
stern-lipped sombre young man of few words was the survivor 


of the Matterhorn. Whymper had at last found his lonely niche 
in life. He cultivated the solitude of the position, and there is 
little reason to believe that he would have been any happier had 
his relations with his fellow men been more frequent, more 
normal, or more friendly. 

He did not entirely give up mountaineering. In 1872, he made 
a solitary and rather rambling visit to Greenland. He went back 
to the Matterhorn again and made the seventy-sixth ascent of the 
peak with his old friend Jean-Antoine Carrel as guide. Two years 
later he again visited the mountain, and one cannot help wonder- 
ing if by this time the Matterhorn had not begun to cast over 
Whymper some spell which had been ineffective when, as a 
youth, he had tackled the mountain bull-in-a-china-shop fashion. 

Some modified version of the old feelings blazed up at least 
once more. In 1879 Whymper left England for the Andes of 
Ecuador, his aim being to discover how men might live and move 
at great altitudes. The expedition, which he organised and ran 
almost entirely by himself, was a complete success, just as were 
almost all the other mountain tasks that he tackled throughout 
his life. He made the first and then the second ascent of Chim- 
borazo, travelled extensively through the high mountains of 
Ecuador, and spent more than thirty nights above 14,000 ft. On 
his return, the Alpine Club held a meeting at the Royal Institu- 
tion where Whymper lectured to an audience that included 
Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, duly received the vote of 
thanks moved by His Royal Highness, and departed to start work 
on his monumental Travels amongst the Great Andes of the 

It was the record of Whymper's last major mountain explora- 
tion, an accurate but rather turgid record which lacked all hint of 
the fire which had blazed up in parts of the Scrambles. 

Whymper visited the Rockies three times in the early ipoo's, 
but although he made some new ascents on the first of these and 
opened up much new country, the journeys were overshadowed 
by his dependence on the Canadian Pacific which had com- 
missioned him for the task. Significantly, he wrote to Coolidge 
shortly before the third visit, suggesting that the latter "might say 

V.M. 8* 139 

something in a suggestive way about the want of a book upon the 
Rocky Mountains of Canada". 

During the last forty years of his life, Whymper's name fails 
to occur with the frequency which one might expect, either in 
mountain records or in those which dealt with the sociable 
meetings of climbers. This must have been all the more galling 
to his sense of perspective since he knew that he was, for most 
people, the most famous of all living mountaineers. The 
audiences which he drew to lectures left no doubt about that. 

Yet the cold-shouldering which Whymper appears to have 
suffered throughout the greater part of his life was not due either 
to the Matterhorn accident or to his upbringing. It was simply 
that he was an unclubbable sort of man, a hardly amiable fellow 
who would go to considerable lengths to ensure that he gained 
the maximum financial reward for any effort which he expended. 

He had, for instance, paid especial tribute in his Andes book to 
the help which C. E. Mathews had in his typically generous way 
given him in obtaining the necessary official facilities. Mathews, 
however, was lecturing on his own experiences in the Alps 
lecturing almost entirely to small local societies to whom he 
willingly volunteered his time and his energies. Whymper, so soon 
as he learned of this, caused his lecture agent to write to Mathews 
and bid him discontinue the use of the title "Scrambles in the 
Alps" for the talks which Mathews was giving to what were 
virtually small groups of friends and acquaintances. Mathews, in 
his kindly way, could hardly understand the action. "I have been 
his friend for twenty-five years", he wrote in amazement to 
Lord Conway. 

During the latter years of his life Whymper lived, almost 
literally, on the fruits of his explorations, lecturing up and down 
the country on his Alpine experiences, telling and re-telling the 
Matterhorn story, writing for the popular magazines, and en- 
couraging in every possible way the sale of the two guide-books 
which he later wrote on the history and topography of Chamonix 
and Zermatt. 

He was argumentative, jealous of his position, and dhin-skinned 
when it came to criticism. The most famous of all his disputes 


concerned "Aimer's Jump", a jump that has passed into Alpine 
history and almost became the subject of a libel suit. It had taken 
pkce in 1864 when Whymper and his party, accompanied by 
Christian Aimer and Michel Croz, were descending from the 
summit of the Ecrins, whose first ascent they had just made. 

The incident, shown by Whymper in the Scrambles in a 
dramatic full-page illustration, was described by him thus: 

We were on the very edge of the arete. On one side was the 
enormous precipice facing the Pelvoux, which is not far from 
perpendicular; on the other a slope exceeding 50 degrees. A deep 
notch brought us to an abrupt halt. Aimer, who was leading, 
advanced cautiously to the edge on hands and knees, and peered 
over; his care was by no means unnecessary, for the rocks had broken 
away from under us unexpectedly several times. In this position he 
gazed down for some moments, and then, without a word, turned 
his head and looked at us. His face may have expressed apprehension 
or alarm, but it certainly did not show hope or joy. We learned 
that there was no means of getting down, and that we must, if we 
wanted to pass the notch, jump across on to an unstable block on the 
other side. It was decided that it should be done, and Aimer, with 
a larger extent of rope than usual, jumped. The rock swayed as 
he came down upon it, but he clutched a large mass with both 
arms and brought himself to anchor. 

The incident passed without comment for more than a quarter 
of a century after the publication of Whymper's book. Then, in 
an obituary notice on Christian Aimer contributed to the Year- 
book of the Swiss Alpine Club, Coolidge re-described the incident 
and added a footnote. 

After publication of this book (the Scrambles) I immediately 
showed this picture to Aimer [said the explosive note] who then 
assured me, in all earnest, that he had never done such a thing and 
would never have been able to do it. 

Whymper, went the implication, had invented the whole "jump" 
story to give colour to his account of the Ecrins ascent. 

The trouble was immediately brewed up by both sides with 
considerable and obvious glee. Whymper wrote to Coolidge. 
Coolidge reaffirmed his statement. The Alpine Club, the Swiss 


Alpine Club, and Horace Walker, the only other member of 
Whymper's party then living, were all drawn into the argument. 
Whymper asked for, and was refused, a special meeting of the 
Alpine Club at which the matter might be thrashed out. 

Walker agreed with Whymper's version, and Whymper 
thereupon threatened a libel action. Coolidge refused to with- 
draw his statement and wrote to Tuckett who "was trying to 
play mediator between the two men and being soundly criticised 
by both: "If he worries me much more he wilier that only be 
turned out of all foreign A.C.'s. I am far too useful a member to 
be lost save in the eyes of A.C." 

As to the libel threat, Coolidge added: "He will have some 
trouble to catch me, an 'alien' living in a foreign land, for a para- 
graph published in a foreign land." Finally, Whymper dropped 
the libel threat and circulated to all members of the Alpine Club 
a sixteen-page booklet which included a reproduction of the con- 
tested illustration and a generous selection of the letters that had 
followed the outbreak of the argument. 

The fairest summing-up of the whole incident came a few years 
later in a letter from Captain Farrar to Coolidge. 

I do not think W. invented the incident [he said]. Remember he 
became a noted man through the Matterhorn affair. He was writing 
his first book, which was looked for by the public, and was expected 
to be sensational. What more natural than that a clever draughtsman 
should use some little incident to make a sensational picture and 
unconsciously exaggerate? We are all human. And who on earth 
in those early days ever expected the minute criticism to which 
nowadays Alpine matters are, in the fierce light of completed 
knowledge, exposed? God help all those early authors and I thank 
God that my own very few and far between literary efforts are 
written with a determination to make them deadly true if deadly 

It was an apt comment on an argument that might, between' 
any other two men, have been solved with a little common sense 
and a little courtesy. Neither Whymper nor Coolidge had much 
of either. 

Yet Whymper was not, as is often imagined, perpetually at 


loggerlieads with the scholar, ten years his junior, who criticised 
in detail so much of his work* The two men corresponded 
freely and at times affectionately from 1878 until Whymper's 
death in 1911, Whymper himself freely admitting to CooHdge 
much that he would have denied in public. 

In the second edition [of the Scrambles] several illustrations were 
added; and the text was revised. A great many corrections were 
made (too numerous to be pointed out). Some were printers* 
blunders, others were author's faults. In the fourth edition, I 
have endeavoured to lessen both printers* blunders and author's 

There appears, in fact, to have been a good deal of confession 
between the two of them. 

The friendship even recovered from the discussion of Aimer's 
Leap. Early in the new century Whymper was again writing to 
Coolidge, and Coolidge was inviting him to the Chalet Montana, 
his home in Grindelwald, the village to which he had moved in 
1896. "When I come, I shall come in the old style," wrote 
Whymper, then in his seventies. "Shall walk up, not order rooms 
in advance, and take my chance as to finding a room, If none 
can be had, I shall camp out." 

Finally, he did come, in the hot summer of 1911, sending from 
Geneva and Zermatt a series of cards, written in a quavering 
unsteady hand, warning Coolidge when to expect him. He 
arrived on the morning of September 3, and for nearly a day 
conqueror and chronicler of the Alps talked together. 

It would be interesting to speculate on what passed between the 
two men who, between them, had seen the passage of so much 
Alpine history, who had seen the sport of climbing transformed 
from the quiet passion of the few into a pastime attracting its 
thousands, a pastime with its own clubs and traditions and 
extensive literature. 

It seems likely that in spite of their notorious feuds they bore 
one another little permanent ill-will. The extensive correspon- 
dence between them suggests, in fact, that each may really have 
enjoyed the occasional practise of an engagement with someone 


as irascible as himself; that each may have felt some sympathy for 
an opponent who had as few friends as himself. 

Whymper left Coolidge toward evening, travelled to Zer- 
matt, then to Geneva and on to Chamonix where he took 
a room. He fell ill, refused all aid, and was dead within a few 


Chapter Seven 


I seek and desire 
Even as the wind 
That travels the plain 
And stirs in the bloom 
Of the apple-tree. 

I wander through life, 
With the searching mind 
That is never at rest, 
Till I reach the shade 
Of my lover's door. 


J"T"lHE ascent of the Matterhorn, even if it had not been accom- 
JL panied by tragedy, might easily have brought to an end 
the driving force behind the sport of climbing which was 
developing so vigorously. It might easily have stultified, beyond 
hope of salvation, the growing interest in mountain-climbing for 
the peak was, with the exception of the Meije in the Dauphine, 
the last great unclimbed summit of the Alps. The fearful accident 
which befell the conquerors an accident which in the eyes of 
many was caused by die just and avenging finger of Fate wiping 
its relentless finger down the slate did, of course, cast a gloom 
over the years which immediately followed. Yet neither the 
ascent of the mountain, nor the accident on the descent, per- 
manently crippled the advance of climbing. 

The reason for the continuation and ultimate resurgence of 
mountaineering after 1865 lay simply in the one fact that men 
did find in it something more satisfying than mere physical 


conquest. Just as a Christian can understand a resurrection beyond 
the grave, so could a large number of Victorians see, beyond the 
Matterhorn disaster, a continuing rightness about mountaineering. 
They realised that it was an occupation or even a belief which 
could satisfy all manner of unexpected demands in a man. It 
might even satisfy the intellectual demands of a scholar who 
could see, in the unploughed field of Alpine history, a whole 
life's work waiting to be done. 

The best example of this was that most peculiar of all Victorian 
mountaineers, W. A. B. Coolidge, who first visited Switzerland 
in the August of 1865 at the age of fifteen with his aunt, Miss 
Meta Brevoort. On that occasion the boy sent back to his mother 
from Zermatt the carefully engraved note-paper of the hotel on 
which the Matterhorn was shown, adding that "the two dots you 
see on the picture represent where they (the victims) fell from, 
and where they fell. A horrible distance." This alert, com- 
municative correspondent was a weak, slightly pampered, and 
rather precocious child whom emotional bad luck and an iron 
will were to transform, during the succeeding fifty years, into the 
most dominating of Alpine personalities. 

It is somewhat surprising that Coolidge, born near New York 
in 1850 and brought to Europe by his aunt because of his poor 
health, ever became a mountaineer at all. He was short, leaning to 
plumpness even in early years; he had a rare facility for picking 
up and nurturing whatever disease was in range, while even as a 
youth his sight was so bad that a breaking of the binocle through 
which he looked at great Alpine views was a major disaster. Yet, 
short as he was both of stature and of breath, it was of Coolidge 
that Captain Farrar once said that "it would be as ridiculous for a 
man to speak of Alpine matters without mentioning the name of 
Coolidge, as it would be to discuss the Bible without mentioning 

Farrar was making no overstatement. For at that time when 
Coolidge, in one of his periodic disputes with the Alpine Club 
was breathing fire and destruction on anyone who dared print 
his name in the Alpine Journal he had not only been editor of 
the Journal for ten years, a member of the Club Committee, and 


an honorary member of the Club for yet another decade. He 
had made more than 1,700 mountaineering expeditions, including 
600 grandes courses*, he had, with Lord Conway, edited the first 
great series of climbing guides to the Alps; he had published score 
upon score of articles, books, guides, and notes in which every 
aspect of the Alps was listed, scrutinised, and criticised in a detail 
and with an accuracy that made comment difficult. He had 
become the greatest Alpine historian that the world had ever 

Coolidge had realised, early in life, that no one had yet applied 
to the history of the Alps and their conquest by man, the same 
scholarly scrutiny and investigation which had been lavished on 
so many other obscure and esoteric subjects. Remedying this 
defect, filling this lacuna in man's knowledge became, as he grew 
older, the whole aim and object of his life. His standards were 
high and inflexible, their enforcement almost pathological. On 
one occasion he condemned a whole book because the author had 
let slip one wrong accent. When one of his own learned volumes 
appeared, an alpine journal decided that Coolidge was the only 
man alive who had the knowledge to review it adequately; he did 
so and pointed out with scorn a number of minor errors which 
the author had made. 

The bare facts of Coolidge' s life suggest that he was a man cast 
in no normal mould. Brought as a boy to Europe, he never 
returned to the United States and when, during the First World 
War, he was refused a passport both by Britain and by the United 
States was proud to boast of himself as "the first displaced person". 
Due to his mother's bad health he was put in the care of his aunt, 
a woman with whom all his early Alpine wanderings were made, 
with whom he existed on terms whose intimacy it is a little difficult 
to understand, and whose early death injected a sullen bitterness 
into his life which never completely left him. A Fellow, Junior 
Dean, and later Librarian of Magdalen, he was ordained in 1882, 
held the honorary curacy of South Hinksey, outside Oxford, for 
twelve years; and in 1896 retired to Grindelwald where he became 
first "the sage" and later a legend within his own lifetime. 

He is remarkable not only for what he did, but for why he did 


it, and for the fact that his climbing enthusiasm arose when it did. 
For there was, as he says, a 

sort of palsy that fell upon the good cause after that frightful cata- 
strophe of July 14, 1865, particularly amongst English climbers. 
Few in numbers, all knowing each other personally, shunning the 
public as far as possible (and in those days it was possible to do so), 
they went about under a sort of dark shade, looked on with scarcely 
disguised contempt by the world of ordinary travellers. 

Yet in spite of disabilities added by both nature and events, 
Coolidge climbed continuously and strenuously for most of his 
active Hfe. 

His career, and the factors and events which forced it along its 
austere but almost predestined path, divide into four parts. There 
is, first, the period of early Alpine wanderings with Miss Brevoort, 
Coolidge being then a boy who lacked any overwhelming 
interest in the mountains. There is, secondly, the period which 
started in 1870 with his first visit to the Dauphine, a period during 
which he travelled on major expeditions through the Alps with 
his aunt. There is the period of semi-bibliographical exploration 
that followed her death in 1876. And there is the last long period 
which started when Coolidge moved to Grindelwald in 1896 and 
which ended only with his death in 1926. 

The young nephew who crossed the Strahlegg Pass in 1865 
passing Herr Baedeker "the guide-book gentleman", who 
ascended the Cima di Jazzi, crossed the Theodule and the Col du 
G^ant, ah! with his aunt, drew from her enthusiasm for the Alpine 
world some unfiltered essence that was to dominate his life. He 
was happy about the domination. He was a willing hero-wor- 
shipper and there can be little doubt that it was his abnormal 
affection for her which drove him up into the heights, largely if 
metaphorically at the end of her ice-axe. Her presence gave him, 
it appears, a new confidence which his own physical disabilities 
must have made doubly pleasant. 

In 1867 and 1868, they were back again. On the second 
occasion they had engaged Christian Aimer, a guide then at the 
height of his fame. He had been employed before the Coolidge 


.o ->:^v : ^xt" -./.^ 

"** ./ " % 

./ x^.' -'v', / . .L!:^'^ 

23 A Letter from W. A. B. Coolidge to his Mother following his first visit to Zermatt 
at the age of 15, in 1865 

24 Miss Brevoort 

25 W. A. B. Coolidge 



Jumrfraajoch (descent to 


Wengern Alp. ) 

Tijcfaiiigel PASS. 




Blumlis Alps. 








Aiguille d'Arve flowost 
peak, 1st ascent.) 


Col de la Lauze. 

Grands Malets. 
Aiguille de Mia?e. 
Col de Bfrengw (1st 

Rateau (1st ascent.) 
Col des Ecrins. . 
Col du Glacier Blanc. 
Grande Raine(lst ascent ) 

passage, ) 
Col du Mont Toadu. 
Grand Combin. 
Monte Rosa. 

Col de la Casse Deserte 
(1st passage.) 
Col de la Pilatte (desoent 
to Vallouise.) 



Col des Aiguilles d' Arve 

Col du Tour 
Mont Pourri. 


Pic de la Grave (1st 


B reche de St . C h.r istophe . 



Jungfrau. (from Wen- 


gera Alp.) 


Klein Schreckhorn. 


Brfiohe de Valsenestre. 

Fusshom (1st asceat.) 

OalduVallon(lst passage^ 
Pointe de Marguerite (1st 

Breche de la Meije. 
Col de la Temp?. 
Aletschhom (crosse 1. ) 

La? Berches. [ascent.) 
Col des Chamois (1st 
Mont; Blanc. ( passage. ) 



Monch. (from Wengeni 

Fussaorner (1st ascent 


of 2nd Peak.) 

26, 27 Tschingel, and (left) the Printed List 
of her Peaks and Passes 

engagement by Hereford George, who had been unable to tackle 
the Finsteraarhorn as planned, and who had therefore released his 
guide earlier than was expected. 
Aimer turned up before time. 

He can't speak a word of either French or English, nor yet under- 
stand [Miss Brevoort wrote to her sister]. We immediately unpacked 
the dictionary and went to work talking. His son ("young" 
Christian) had, I suppose, broken the news of the "Dame" to him, 
for he expressed no astonishment but sensibly remarked that he 
could soon tell after a day's walk with us what and how we could 
go. He is a short little man with an honest intelligent face, and very 

The meeting was an important one. Under Aimer, Coolidge 
and his aunt were to begin their serious mountaineering together; 
the links between the Aimer family and Coolidge were to last for 
more than half a century. They climbed the Wetterhorn. They 
attempted the Finsteraarhorn and the Eiger, and on their repulse 
from the latter Coolidge was presented with the immortal dog 
Tschingel, who was to accompany him and his aunt on so many 
Alpine excursions. The following year they climbed Mont Blanc, 
unwittingly making the first known descent by the Bosses- du 
Dromedaire. They made a whole series of first-class ascents, and 
by the end of the season had already begun to found that legend 
of "the young American who climbs with his aunt and his dog". 

It is the following year that Coolidge, now twenty, first appears 
fully formed, out of the chrysalis, a man, a climber, and a planner 
all in his own right. He had not only served an apprenticeship on 
the mountains by this time but had seen that apprenticeship 
acknowledged. Notes to the Alpine Journal had been accepted 
and in February he had been elected a member of the Club. In 
addition, he had three things of great value to any man wishing 
to attempt mountaineering in the heroic manner; the master, the 
companion, and the task. 

The master was Tuckett. Coolidge had first written to him at 
the age of seventeen, cautiously at first, and then with requests for 
advice on half a hundred mountain matters from bootmakers to 

V.M, 9 

aneroids. He had gratefully borrowed equipment which Tuckett 
had generously offered; finally, the elder man had become what 
Coolidge called his "Alpine godfather" by proposing him for 
the Club and guiding him through the necessary formalities 
which membership entailed. Coolidge had been an enthusiastic, 
not to say persistent admirer, swamping Tuckett with letters, 
sometimes twenty or more a month and asking, towards the end 
of 1869, for advice on what appears to have been his first literary 
project. He received a somewhat cold reply. 

A complete list of all first ascents of mountains 10,000 ft. and 
upwards would doubtless be interesting but it would involve 
immense labour [Tuckett pointed out] and, I fear, expose the 
compiler to the risk of being taken to task for the almost invisible 
mistakes which questions of priority invariably involve. 

There is something ironically amusing about the young Coolidge 
being chided against the possibility of making "the almost 
invisible mistakes" whose detection was later to become his 
speciality, Coolidge was undeterred by Tuckett's coolness and 
throughout the winter of 1869-1870 there continued a flow of 
almost daily letters from the enthusiastic youth, then at Oxford, 
to the firmly established gentleman who early in 1870 invited 
the young man down to his house near Bristol. 

As his companion, Coolidge had his aunt, twenty-five years 
his senior, a woman of great determination and some eccentricity 
who was, surprisingly maybe, an ideal companion for her 
ambitious nephew. It was she, writing to him in 1876, who made 
what must have been one of the first serious suggestions that 
Mount Everest might be attempted. 

Coolidge's task, as he saw it in the early seventies, was the 
exploration of the Dauphine, where he was subsequently to make 
more than 250 ascents, many dozens of them new. This last great 
area of unclimbed peaks in Europe, was in those days in much the 
same condition as that in which Bonney had found it a decade 

"I am not quite sure what it was that made us choose Dauphine 
as our battleground," says Coolidge, "but I believe it was ambition. 


There was a whole world to explore there and that was enough 
for us/* There was, by this time, an "us" about the matter. 
Coolidge, after years of travelling with, and being mastered 
by, his aunt, had suddenly become master himself He rises, 
for a moment, in real though rather curious stature, and it is 
from this moment that his great Alpine career really begins to 

The choice of area might have been different had he been born 
even ten years earlier. But during the decade which began in 
1860, while Whymper was capturing virgin peaks with an ease 
never to be known in Europe again, the Alps shrunk immeasur- 
ably. The Ultima Thule of the earlier Alpine world had become 
the "new centre" of Coolidge's day, and he was therefore driven 
south of the arc into the queer rough land that he was to make 
peculiarly his own. 

It is interesting to compare Whymper and Coolidge, both 
stepping on to the Alpine stage at the age of twenty, both reach- 
ing their own predetermined ends, yet one becoming the most 
famous of all mountaineers while the other remained, in spite of 
his unique accomplishments, almost unknown outside a limited 
circle. The backgrounds to their lives were entirely different. It 
was not only that by Coolidge's day it was frequently more 
difficult to confirm that a peak was unclimbed than it was to 
make the ascent. There was one far more significant difference in 
the Alpine worlds in which they made their debuts. When 
Whymper set out on his first journey to make sketches for Mr. 
Longman, mountaineering was at last beginning to justify itself 
as a respectable occupation for the eminent Victorians. All 
Coolidge's early campaigns were carried out during the aftermath 
of the great accident. 

There was also the different social status of the two men, a 
difference which would not have been so noticeable today. Even 
Whymper's addresses they included Lambeth and lodgings in 
Teddington have a slightly more proletarian ring than those of 
the young boy who at the age of twenty had lived in Concord, 
Guernsey, Paris, and Oxford. Whymper, the artist from the 
engravers, won the respect of the small circle of men who climbed 


regularly, the few for most of whom money was rarely a worry; 
he never became one of them. Coolidge dropped naturally into 
that leisured society of carriages, servants, and select musical 
evenings. He was an American, it is true, and at times, he must 
have appeared a rather unusual specimen to his London friends; 
yet he had the essential background, the permanent confidence of 
the man who will never have to work for his living, and he took 
his place easily and without surprise in the calm assured world 
of such men as Conway, Freshfield, Tuckett, and Baillie-Groh- 
man. Both Coolidge and Whymper would have preferred life 
to treat them differently, and the letters of their later years 
suggest how both of them had their regrets Coolidge that he 
had not been born a little earlier, Whymper that he had not been 
born into a family which would have given him the background 
to meet Coolidge's certain, constant, and often insupportable 
assertion that he alone could be right. 

Yet if there were these differences of circumstance between the 
two men, there were also similarities of character and ambition 
which probably lay at the root of the persistent guerrilla war 
between them a war interlarded with long periods of friend- 
ship. With each, to be first was the great affair first on the 
mountain or first in the recording of its definitive history. For 
each, one great peak had a fascination which was almost that of 
the supernatural; when Coolidge wrote of the Meije his writing 
trembled, as it rarely did, on the verge of inspiration, bringing to 
his sentences a hint of that troublesome longing that Edward 
Whymper felt for the Matterhorn. Psychologically, both men 
came from the same mould; both paid a dear penalty for success, 
and the accident on the Matterhorn which so affected Whymper's 
life was only a swifter example of that retribution which 
slowly overtook Coolidge as his Alpine studies divorced him 
more surely, year by year, from the lives of other men and 

In 1870, however, coming events cast no shadow upon 
Coolidge's decision to devote the opening weeks of his Alpine 
campaign, as many men have done since, toretracing at least some 
parts of the journey which Whymper, Moore, and Walker had 


made through the Dauphine six years earlier, and in climbing a 
number of the peaks which their hurried passage had left tin- 
climbed. He had borrowed a number of the original sketches 
which Tuckett had made of the area in 1862; together with Miss 
Brevoort, he had gained a brief glimpse of Moore's Alps in 1864, 
then only privately printed, and both of them had read Bonney's 
Outline Sketches in the High Alps of Dauphin^. There was little else 
that dealt with mountaineering in the area the Scrambles was not 
published until 1871 and when Coolidge set out from his 
mother's home in Paris in the summer of 1870 he had justifiable 
hopes of starting a career as a genuine pioneer. 

It was a queer trio which drove through the streets from Mrs. 
Coolidge's house to take their places in die express to the South. 
Except for Coolidge's axe Miss Brevoort never carried one, 
preferring the long wooden baton which one associates with the 
early prints of Mont Blanc it would have been difficult to 
identify them as mountaineers. 

Miss Brevoort was slow-moving and, it must be imagined, a 
little ponderous in the thick and voluminous clothes with which 
she ceaselessly experimented but which she was unable to convert 
satisfactorily to mountaineering. Coolidge once complained 
vehemently that she was not, as described by a casual writer, a 
"grosse hollandische-amerikanische Miss" but was, on the con- 
trary, "slight and tall". Both writers appear to have been 

Coolidge seemed even less of a mountaineer than his aunt, the 
complete contrast to Martin Conway, the beau ideal of a slightly 
later period, whose tall figure, flowing hair, and fine moustachios 
combined with his dual reputation as an art critic and a moun- 
taineer, and created about him an air which would have been 
theatrical had it not been for the man himself. 

The third member of the party was the small bitch Tschingel, 
already a veteran in her own quiet way. 

In die minor hall of fame which the Victorian mountaineers 
carefully built for themselves, Tschingel deserves a place of her 
own. She did, after all, make a total of sixty-six major climbs, as 
well as about 100 minor ones; she did form the final third of the 


legendary trio; and she was to become, as Miss Brevoort proudly 
termed her, the only "Honorary Lady member of the Alpine 

Tschingel was by no means the first dog to be taken into the 
ice-world of the Alps. Marc-Theodore Bourrit, one of the earliest 
of Alpine writers, travelled in the mountains for six years with 
his dog. De Saussure invariably travelled with his. Yet it was 
left to an Englishman to take a dog on the first really high Alpine 
climb. He was Henry Atkinson who, as was almost demanded 
at the time, followed up his ascent of Mont Blanc in 1837 with a 
slim pamphlet describing the experience. In it he gives one of 
the first descriptions of what a dog thought of the upper 

It was a little dog [he says] which belonged to one of the guides, 
Michael Balmat, which accompanied us the whole day, and was the 
first dog that ever reached the top of Mont Blanc. He was much 
affected with drowsiness after we quitted the Grand Plateau, and 
every time we stopped he tried to lie down on our feet, finding the 
snow cold. He evinced many tokens of surprise by frequently 
staring about him, and would make an effort to run very fast and 
then drop. With regard to his appetite, chicken bones disappeared 
with an amazing rapidity, but he did not appear to suffer from 

It seems likely that this was the animal described by George 
Barnard, the artist who copied an account from one of Longman's 
privately printed books, and who says that the guide wanted to 
take the dog, but that permission was refused by his party who 
thought it would be a nuisance. 

Of course, it soon overtook them, though the guide protested 
that he had ordered it to be tied up [says Barnard]. Well, the dog 
was a trouble, he got between their legs, and bothered them, and 
they were obliged to throw him over all the crevasses. He was 
what is called a Spitz dog, a kind distinguished by a very pointed 
nose, sharp black eyes, and a tail curling stiffly over the back. The 
mountain atmosphere had an extraordinary effect on this dog; it 
made him uncurl his tail! As he went up, this bushy appendage 


gradually got straighter and straighter, till at last it hung down 
behind as straight as a broomstick. No Spitz dog's tail was ever 
before known to uncurl, and curiously enough as he came down his 
tail by degrees curled up again as usual. 

A later canine climber was the little dog who accompanied 
Kennedy on many of his Alpine travels in the i86o's and who 
made the ascent of the 13,500 ft. Aiguille Verte with her master. 
She disliked some of the hard snow slopes, Kennedy reported, but 
persevered on to the top and then went to sleep on a rucksack 
while everyone else admired the view. 

Yet all the mountaineering dogs of which records have sur- 
vived are faint shadows compared with the incomparable 
Tschingel who for nine glorious seasons rollicked across the Alps 
with Coolidge and his aunt. 

Tschingel has been variously described a bull terrier, a small 
bloodhound, a large beagle. She was I foot 7 inches high, and 
she had a brown silky coat with white breast, stomach, stockings 
and muzzle, and very large brown eyes. Her favourite drinks on 
the mountain were very human red wine or weak tea while 
although she understood English, German and the dialect of the 
Canton Valais in Switzerland, she never responded to French. 
Coolidge always maintained that this was due to her decided 
views about the Franco-Prussian War which in 1870 involved her 
in an arduous journey across Europe when she travelled home to 
Britain with her owners. 

Tschingel was born in the spring of 1865, in a small village in 
the Bernese Oberland, and little is known of the first few months 
of her life. The following September, however, she was frisking 
in front of her home when Christian Aimer passed by, liked the 
look of the small dog, bought her for ten francs, and induced her 
to follow him on foot. 

Aimer was on his way to join George, and join him he did 
together with the dog who trotted up steps cut in a steep ice- 
slope to meet the party and "excited the admiration of all the 
spectators by the unconcerned way in which he trotted up the 
slope". The mistake about the sex of the animal was one that was 
only tardily corrected; Miss Brevoort stubbornly continued to 


speak of Tschingel as "he", long after the animal had produced 
more than thirty puppies. 

At the end of Aimer's engagement with George in the autumn 
of 1865, Tschingel named after the first glacier pass that she 
crossed was taken back to the guide's home in Grindelwald, and 
there the story of her mountaineering might well have ended. 
Three years later, however, Coolidge and his aunt were turned 
back by bad weather on the Eiger; and, to lessen Coolidge's dis- 
appointment he was only eighteen at the time Aimer made 
him a present of Tschingel. The same year she began her main 
Alpine wanderings, travelling with the Coolidge party on all 
except the most difficult climbs. 

Tschingel was taken to and from the Alps in a specially built 
travelling box. On the mountains themselves, she usually trotted 
along as one of the party. Sometimes a rope would be looped 
through her workaday collar, and she then became physically 
linked to the people on either side of her. Her paws sometimes 
bled, but that did not appear to worry her, and she kicked off the 
special leather boots which Coolidge had made for her. 

Like many other dogs, she was particularly good at finding her 
way across thickly crevassed glaciers, and on at least one occasion 
helped to find the way home when the guide had lost it; an 
ability which some scientists explain by the fact that a dog's super- 
sensitive nose can "scent" the old air that comes up through the 
crevasses from the depths of the glacier. Writing to her sister of 
Tschingel, Miss Brevoort explains how the party once crossed 
the Grindelwald Glacier and adds: 

In one place, we had to cross a very rotten-looking and pretty 
long snow bridge, but by stretching a rope along it and going one 
by one (Tschingel was tied and walked along it alone quite solemnly) 
we got safely over. 

Tschingel climbed the Jungfrau, and a number of other well- 
known summits, but Mont Blanc was probably her most famous 
climb, for it had always been suspected that the dog which went 
with the Atkinson party might have broken the rules and been 
carried for a short distance. Tschingel certainly went all the 
way on her own four feet, and when she returned from the 


28 W. A. B. CooHdge (left) and Albert, his manservant, at the Chalet Montana, 
Grindelwald, in 1920 

summit in 1875 a special cannon was fired at Chamonix in her 

She trotted into the village with her head erect and her tail 
wagging, immensely proud of herself [Miss Brevoort wrote to her 
sister]. The next day, lying luxuriously on a sofa in the hotel 
drawing-room she held a kind of state reception which was attended 
by several hundred persons, including all the guides. 

Tschingel never climbed the Matterhorn, although Coolidge 
had great plans for her to do so in 1876. When his idea matured, 
he was in one part of the Alps and Miss Brevoort, with Tschingel, 
was in another. Miss Brevoort needed quite a lot of convincing; 
finally, she agreed, in principle, that Tschingel could make the 
ascent to crown her career. But, she added, "I can't bear to think 
of his doing this without seeing him do it, and as to our going to 
Zermatt it's not to be thought of, Dear Will, in spite of your 
economy." Could it not, she implied, be left for another year? 
Coolidge let the matter rest for that season. Another never 

As Tschingel grew old, her coat grew white, she became almost 
blind, and her teeth dropped out. But although she no longer 
climbed, she still sometimes wore her Sunday-best collar, with its 
little silver medallions recording all the peaks she had climbed, 
and the passes she had crossed. Finally in 1879, Coolidge decided 
that it was kinder to have her put away. The night after he had 
made the decision, Tschingel died in her sleep before the kitchen 

I am at present in great affliction at the death of my dear old dog 
Tschingel, which took place on June 16 [Coolidge wrote to C. E. 
Mathews]. She was so much more a companion than a mere dog 
that I feel her loss very deeply. 

Coolidge never forgot her and when, nearly half a century 
later, he had another dog, it was a black Newfoundland as 
dissimilar as possible from Tschingel. 

It was some forty years after Tschingers death that Coolidge 
was visited in his Grindelwald home by Dr. Monroe Thorington, 
the great American climber and Alpine historian. 

V.M. 10 l6l 

He had his man show me about [Dr. Thorington once said]. 
And then, just when I was leaving he pointed to the door. There 
on a hook was Tschingel's collar with the litde bangles shining in the 
sun. Not a word was said, but Coolidge managed something 
resembling a smile. 

In mid- and later life, as Coolidge gathered around himself the 
impedimenta and glory of an Alpine expert, he was as meticulous 
about the record of Tschingel as of that of any human being. 
His letter to one gentleman who had rashly published a short 
history of the dog without checking with the Master was typical 
not only of his attitude to Tschingel but of the whole latter half 
of his life. 

I have only just had time to look at your article on my dog 
Tschingel [he said] and write at once to protest very strongly against 
the remarks you have made as regards my dear aunt, and against the 
numerous mistakes of fact in this short article. I supplied you with the 
printed authentic facts, to which you have paid but little attention. 
Tschingel walked from Kippel up the Torrenthorn, and was not 
carried. My aunt did not meet T. on the Torrenthorn, which she never 
climbed in all her life, while at the moment of T.'s ascent she was 
with me near Zermatt. She did not make the ist ascent of the 
Jungfrau from the N., but the first by a woman. She made the ist 
ladys ascent of the Silberhorn, not the 3rd, our ascent having been 
the third ever made (Baedeker in 1863 and Hornby and Philpott in 
1865 were our only predecessors on the peak). At least two other 
ladies (Fraulein Brunner of Berne and Miss Walker) had been up 
the Gr. Schreckhorn before her. The whole Torrenthorn story is a 
myth so far as regards my aunt's presence there. She never saw T. till 
1868, and then in H. du Grd. Eiger, here, not in Aimer's house 
which she never visited. The gift of T. was made by Aimer to me, 
and took place at a chalet a litde above the Hotel at Alpiglen, on 
this slope of the Kl. Scheidegg. It was to console me for a failure on 
the Eiger (due to verglas on the rocks), a peak which T. never 
climbed till 1871. The Blumlisalphorn was the first snow peak 
climbed (1868) by T. with us. My aunt was not a "grosse hollan- 
dische-amerikanische Miss". She was slight and tall, while she 
never lived in Holland in her life, though her family came thence 
to New York about 1700. The ascent of the Diablerets was in 1870, 


not in 1872. My aunt was perfectly well in 1876 in Switzerland, 
and continued so until Dec. 14, 1876, when she was attacked by 
rheumatic fever, which went to her heart and killed her on the 
I9th Dec. 1876. In 1870, T. was with us all summer, and her son Bello 
was born before we ever saw her in 1868 for the first time. Aimer 
was not our guide on the Diablerets, but a man from Plan des lies. 
I greatly regret that you should have taken so little trouble in this 
matter, and would certainly not have sanctioned the appearance of 
the article had I seen it before publication. All the true facts as to 
T. are given in the 2 pamphlets I lent you, and it was quite un- 
necessary to invent new ones. That is not the right way to write 

Little of this justified testiness appears to have clouded the 
young Coolidge's mind as he set out with Miss Brevoort for the 
first great Dauphine campaign of 1870. Their achievements were 
remarkable. They met Christian Aimer and his son, "y oun g 
Christian" the former being joyfully recognised by Tschingel 
to the pleasure of all and together made the first ascent of the 
central peak of the Meije, the first ascent of the Ailefroide, and the 
third ascent of the Ecrins which Whymper had climbed for the 
first time only six years previously. They climbed the Pelvoux, 
then drove south by carriage across the frontier to Courmayeur, 
whence Coolidge made the second ascent of Mont Blanc by the 
Brenva route, watched with anxious eyes through a telescope by 
Miss Brevoort. They joined forces again, made the fifth ascent 
of the Dent Blanche, attempted the Weisshorn, climbed the 
Dom, and made a number of other less important ascents before 
returning to England via the tortuous and inconvenient route 
necessitated by the Franco-Prussian War. 

The ideal pattern of Coolidge's life had been set, and it was to 
be followed for the next six years during which he built up the 
foundation of his unique experience. Nine or ten months of the 
year were divided between work at Oxford where he became 
a Fellow of Magdalen in 1875 visits to his aunt's establishment 
at Dorking, Surrey, and journeys to London where his presence 
in any dispute then brewing could be used to better effect. It was 
a satisfying and rather pleasant existence, almost insulated by 


scholarship and money from the outer world which at times 
inconveniently intruded on his ideas (". . . in that case Russia 
will come forward and there will be an European war, when 
of course my poor Dolomite plan must go to the wall", he 

In 1871 Coolidge and Miss Brevoort visited the Oberland and 
the Pennines, Miss Brevoort losing the first lady's ascent of the 
Matterhorn to Lucy Walker, but gaining, as compensation, the 
first lady's traverse of the peak from Zermatt to Breuil. One 
unexpected result of the campaign was the famous paper in the 
Alpine Journal which described "A Day and a Night on the 
Bietschhorn", famous because although signed by Coolidge it 
was in fact written by Miss Brevoort, excluded by her sex from 
both the Alpine Club and its journal. 

The following year they again went to the Oberland after only 
a brief visit to the Dauphine; and, the following year, to the 
Dauphine again. Early in 1874, they started the fashion for 
winter climbing by visiting the Oberland and making the first 
winter ascents of the Wetterhorn and the Jungfrau, an appetiser 
for yet another visit to Dauphine later in the year. There came a 
visit to the Mont Blanc range in 1875 and in the following year 
another winter campaign in the Alps during which three un- 
successful attempts were made to climb Mont Blanc for the first 
time at that season and a three-month summer campaign that 
ranged along the Alps from the Dauphine to the Dolomites. 

Throughout all these expeditions in the early 1870'$, the 
practice was for Coolidge and Miss Brevoort to make a number 
of climbs together, for them to separate in order to carry out any 
individual plans which they might have made, and to keep in 
touch with one another by an almost daily series of letters which 
criss-crossed the minor ranges and recounted the previous day's 
exploits. Tschingel, in general, stayed with Miss Brevoort, 
Coolidge, away from Miss Brevoort, generally climbed only with 
his guides, invariably the Aimers, although it was during these 
years that he began his acquaintance with Arthur Fairbanks, a 
man of his own age, and with his lifelong friend Frederick 
Gardiner. He climbed with both as occasion and convenience 


demanded. It was obvious that he preferred the companionship 
of Miss Brevoort. Then in December 1876, came her sudden 

Coolidge never quite recovered. With Meta Brevoort gone, 
the world would never again be quite the same place. Her death 
did more than create in Coolidge an abnormal affection for the 
Alps wherein he raised her shadow; it illuminated the way in 
which the mountains might carry out a dual emotional and 
intellectual task in the mind of a man suitably placed by circum- 
stance. Coolidge had been inordinately fond of his aunt and with 
her death he was driven back on himself; simultaneously, he 
realised that no one had yet applied to mountains and moun- 
taineering the technique of the historian. He had only to do so 
to satisfy an academic longing and, at the same time, keep alive 
in his mind a whole series of memories from happier days. 
Circumstances provided, ready-made, an intellectual field into 
which his emotions could be driven without too much risk of 

After the death of Miss Brevoort, Coolidge's life altered; 
steadily he began to withdraw himself more closely into University 
life, and into the academic problems of Alpine history which 
were to be his solace for two lonely decades in Britain. In 1882 
he took Holy Orders which gave effect, he said, to the wish of 
one whose memory was dear to him. Only two things worried 
him in entering the Church, he admitted. One was his dislike of 
having to carry out parochial work; the second was what he 
referred to as one circumstance in his own life which made him 
wish for the grace of Orders. 

His interest in mountains did not diminish; it changed emphasis 
slightly and veered more and more towards the solution of 
historical problems, to the amassing of knowledge for its own 
sake. Coolidge continued to travel abroad each year without 
Tschingel now, for during the last three years of her life she was 
not fit enough for the restless journeyings which he carried out. 
He continued to increase his akeady vast number of ascents, and 
he began to build into formidable proportions his considerable 
fame as an Alpine historiographer. The question of whether the 


original route up one particular Alpine ridge went left or right 
of one particular rock pinnacle would involve him for weeks 
in a heated and much-enjoyed argument with whomsoever was 
rash enough to challenge his view. He once filled pages on the 
question of whether or not there should be an accent over the 
word chalet. He had little sense of proportion, an overwhelming 
fear of showing his emotions, and the result was that for those 
beyond the small circle of Alpine enthusiasts his writings were 
slightly repellent with unexplained facts and figures. Even the 
enthusiasts were not always happy. "I personally cannot forgive 
him", wrote one climber, "for ... the fact that he never tried 
seriously to communicate to the world the knowledge which 
he possessed, but was content to fling it out in a disorderly 

In 1880 he became editor of the Alpine Journal in succession to 
Douglas Freshfield, a post which brought him into touch, and 
frequently into conflict, with the leading mountaineers of the 
period. His fame was already such that not only experienced 
mountaineers but also embryonic climbers, topographers, map- 
makers, the newspapers, and even dear old souls who wanted a 
quiet holiday in Switzerland, wrote to Coolidge for advice. 
They invariably got it, courteously, in extenso, and most 
annoying thing of all for his enemies correctly. 

Only when Coolidge's accuracy was questioned, when his 
opinions were challenged, or when he imagined that he was the 
butt of some sly joke that he scarcely comprehended, only then 
did he really rise in his anger and show, as one critic expressed 
it, that "in his one-sidedness, savagery, and bitterness he was 

He was easy to cross, and somewhat feared, as is shown by the 
small illustration which appears in the volume of the Badminton 
library that deals with mountaineering. This shows railway 
porters manhandling the baggage and impedimenta of what is 
obviously a group of climbing friends on their way to the Alps. 
The original sketch was drawn by that austere autocrat, Sir 
Edward Davidson, Coolidge's opponent in one of the most 
bitter of Alpine controversies; on die luggage Davidson inscribed 


the initials C. T. D. (Clinton Dent), D. W. F. pouglas Fresh- 
field), W. M. C. (William Martin Conway), and, A. J. B. (A. J. 
Butler, another of Coolidge's opponents, about whom he wrote 
virulent, not to say scurrilous, letters); and, flying from the 
parrot cage perched on A. J. B.'s luggage, he put a tag with the 
initials W. A. B. C. At the special request of the editor, who 
feared a libel suit, the initials were finally altered to A. B. C. 
Coolidge had already justified the writer of The Times 9 obituary 
who described him as an adept in the gentle art of making enemies 
and a man who regarded a hatchet as an instrument not for 
burying but for use. 

Coolidge had always suffered from bad health. He had no 
particular love of either Britain or the British mountains he had 
no interest either in the British hills, to which the Pilkingtons tried 
to entice him, or in the Himalayas and in 1896 he moved from 
Oxford to Grindelwald, first taking up residence with the Aimers 
and then renting his own house, the Chalet Montana, in the 
village. Here, among his Alpine library of some 15,000 volumes, 
he became a legend; from "the fiery lamb" he was gradually 
transformed into "the sage of Grindelwald". It was here that his 
best and most scholarly work was done. 

Earlier, he had revised Murray's Switzerland; he had become 
the Alpine contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, contributing 
more than 200 articles to one edition of the work, and of half a 
dozen other popular encyclopaediae. He had produced Swiss 
Travel and Swiss Guide-Books, an erudite, unreadable, volume 
in which Leslie Stephen found "a great deal of interesting 

You have, I think [Stephen continued in a letter to Coolidge] 
conclusively proved one point viz. that you should write a "special" 
guidebook, die speciality in your case being history. Even in my 
scrambles, I used often to think that a book enabling one to look on 
a few historical associations to Alpine sites would greatly add to the 
pleasure; and I am sure that if done with discretion i.e. not making 
too severe demands upon the general reader, a most charming book 
might be put together. You could do it admirably, though I admit 
that the task would not be a light one. 


Coolidge glossed over the charm, but before his move to 
Grindelwald he had contributed many of the 220 items in the 
bibliography of his writings which he later had privately 

At Grindelwald, less disturbed by friends and acquaintances, he 
produced his major works. The first was a new edition of Ball's 
Guide to the Western Alps, a publication over which he had 
quarrelled with the Alpine Club for years. There were arguments 
about how the revision of Ball which by the 1890*5 was seriously 
out of date should be handled; about who the helpers should be, 
and on the amount of editorial authority that Coolidge should 
have over them. There were, after all, many precedents for 
similar disputes Coolidge had resigned from his post as editor 
of Murray when John Murray refused to print Coolidge's 
libellous note on an Alpine hotel. Coolidge had taken on Ball 
in 1893 but illness, and his residence abroad, conspired to delay 
publication of the volume until 1898. The next year he resigned 
from the Alpine Club after a dispute over the second volume of 
the work. 

Although Coolidge was to be made an honorary member of 
the Club in 1904 an honorary membership which he resigned 
six years later following yet another dispute the break of 1899 
somehow underlined his divorce from Britain and his thirty-year 
residence there. Alpine history had become more than the 
passion of his life; it had become life itself. 

Cared for by Albert his manservant, rarely going into the 
village of Grindelwald yet succeeding in quarrelling with 
"yomg" Christian Aimer, and somehow knowing most of the 
village gossip Coolidge worked with and for his library of 
books that overflowed into the corridors and rooms of his house. 
With their help he produced, in 1904, the monumental Josias 
Simler et les Origines de FAlpinisme jusquob 1600, a book whose 
character can be gathered from the fact that it contained 190 
pages of introduction, 307 of text, 130 of notes, 327 of appendices, 
62 of notes on the appendices, and a 29-page index. Four years 
later there came The Alps in Nature and History, a volume in 
which Coolidge for the first time began to interpolate some 


of his own reminiscences, a practice he expanded in Alpine 
Studies four years later. In every other way Coolidge remained 
the same unemotional recording-machine of facts, dates, and 

When war broke out in 1914 he applied for a British passport 
since he no longer qualified for U.S. citizenship. The British 
refused, on the grounds that he had not spent the previous few 
years in Britain and therefore lacked a residence qualification. 
Coolidge argued; he had, he pointed out, sworn allegiance to the 
Queen once when he became a Fellow of Magdalen and yet 
again when he took Holy Orders. He still failed to get his pass- 
port, and became both "the man without a country" and "the 
first displaced person". 

During the latter years of the war he began editing the vast 
diaries of his old friend, Tuckett, and these were finally published, 
in 1920, as A Pioneer in the High Alps. Coolidge was by this time 
thinking of the future; what worried him most was the fate of the 
great library which he had built up over the years. In 1907 he had 
offered the Alpine portion of it to the Alpine Club; the President, 
in thanking him for the offer, had not unnaturally suggested that 
the offer should be put in legal form. Coolidge, leaping at the 
chance of taking umbrage, replied furiously and suggested that 
the offer had been turned down. Now, in the early 1920'$, he 
was thinking again. 

First, he considered giving at least a portion of it to the John 
Rylands Library in Manchester, and in a letter to a friend discussing 
the matter he described the collection, which was insured for 

I hope that if you ever come to this place [Grindelwald], you will 
look in on me, and examine my library of 16,000 volumes, 
particularly the Alpine and the Swiss History portions. It represents 
the accumulations of 50 years, for I am now yij years of age. It 
fills 12 rooms of the rather large wooden house which I inhabit, 
and its disposal has given me a good deal of trouble, as I wished 
certain portions of it to be kept together, if possible. I first offered 
the Alpine portion, with various Alpine curiosities, to the Alpine 
Club of London as a free legacy. I was much surprised when this 

V.M. ii 171 

offer was refused, on the strange ground that I could give certain 
books, but not a whole section of the library. So I had to look 
around. The Bodleian desired to purchase the Alpine and Swiss 
history portions, but insisted on an immediate purchase (this was 
before the war), to which I could not consent, as I did not feel that 
my literary activity was yet ended and required that it should be 
valued by an English expert, to which I could not consent for I do 
not think any English expert is capable of valuing, at any rate, the 
Swiss history portion. So I fell back, as to the Alpine portion, on 
a very old and intimate Liverpool friend, rather older than I was 
but unluckily he died in 1919! 

Finally, the library was bequeathed to the Swiss Alpine Club. 

Coolidge died in 1926. Almost until the end he was still 
sending out his famous yellow postcards, either badly typed or 
inscribed in a small spidery writing with pertinent comments on 
some Alpine controversy. Almost until the end he was visited by 
old Alpine friends from Britain who would call and be received 
by him, and then be shown round his library. For the people of 
Grindelwald who to this day care for his grave in Grindelwald 
churchyard he had a curiosity value; he belonged to the past 
that had existed before the cult of mountains had begun. 

His great knowledge, expended without stint for the benefit of 
mountaineers of the world, gave him such a claim to universal 
recognition that any foibles were willingly accepted [said one 
mountaineer who had crossed swords with him more than once]. 
But for his great labours he would have no doubt been considered a 
quarrelsome old devil. 

More of his friends would have been present at the funeral had 
it not been for the General Strike. As it was, the whole of 
Grindelwald turned out, men, women, and children standing in 
the keen air of the lovely spring day or following the cortege as 
it wound from the Chalet Montana, at the southern end of the 
village, past the English church where Coolidge had preached 
more than once, up the gentle rise to the little church beneath 
the shadow of the Wetterhorn. 

The sun shone brilliantly, occasionally loosening the winter 
snow still lying on the heights. As the coffin was lowered into 


the grave there came the distant rumble of an avalanche, pouring 
off the cliffs of the Eiger, a last tribute from the mountains at 
whose significance Coolidge might openly have scoffed bet 
which he would have privately considered no more Ms 



Chapter Eight 


With head on high she trod, 

A youthful, seeking, maid, 
With eyes alight for distant height 

Unawed and unafraid. 
How can we seek an equal peak 

Where we can walk with God? 


MISS BREVOORT, whose attraction to mountain-climb- 
ing had so influenced Coolidge's whole life, was one of the 
first women to make any number of serious high Alpine climbs. 
She followed the example of Lucy Walker, another remarkable 
woman who was the daughter of one enthusiastic Liverpool 
climber and the sister of another; between them Miss Brevoort 
and Miss Walter account for most of the important climbs made 
by women during the i86o's. 

Before their day, two women had climbed Mont Blanc 
Maria Paradis in 1809 and Henriette d'Angeville in 1838 but 
both ascents were exceptional events, the first being made for 
profit and the second for the notoriety which it gave. 

Maria, an eighteen-year-old peasant girl who owned a small 
stall near the foot of the mountain, did not enjoy the ascent. 
"Throw me into a crevasse and go on yourselves", she implored 
her guides. They humanely ignored her request, dragged her 
to the top, where she arrived in poor condition, and brought her 
safely back to Chamonix. 

Henriette d'Angeville, the "thwarted maiden lady in her 
forties" as she has been called, was of different metal. "She goes 
as well as we do and fears nothing", said one of her guides, all 
of whom were so impressed with her performance that on 


reaching the summit they lifted her on their shoulders, saying as 
they did so: "Now, Mademoiselle, you shall go one higher than 
Mont Blanc." Being a staunch Royalist, she drank a bumper of 
champagne to the Comte de Paris, and then despatched a carrier 
pigeon with the news of her success. Her dress, in which she 
was later painted, consisted of a long-skirted garment which 
she wore over brightly checkered peg-top trousers, an outfit 
chosen, one must assume, for its publicity value rather than its 

Throughout the 1840'$ and 1850'$, a number of women began 
to travel through the less-known parts of the Alps even though 
they did not make any major ascents. The wives of George 
Barnard and Michael Faraday went with their husbands on a 
leisurely tour of the Oberland in 1841. In the following decade 
the wives of Gilbert and Churchill accompanied the party which 
made pioneering journeys through the Dolomites. Mrs. Fresh- 
field, mother of Douglas Freshfield, and Mrs. Cole, both travelled 
around and across the Alps during the iSso's, and Mrs. Wills was 
taken for a night on the Mer de Glace while on her honeymoon. 
There were also the two unknown ladies "past the noon of life", 
whom Mrs. Cole met in Aosta after they had just crossed the 
Mont Blanc range with a single guide. 

Two things combined to hinder the growth of mountain- 
climbing among women. One was the belief that it was not a 
womanly occupation, a belief which was expressed until well 
past the turn of the century. The second was the problem of 

The male attitude was well described by Ellen Pigeon, one of 
two famous sisters who in 1869 made the first crossing of the 
Sesiajoch into Italy and took charge of the party when their 
solitary guide lost the way. 

In days gone by [she wrote to Coolidge in 1892] many A.C/s 
would not speak to us, though no one was so impertinent as "the 
king of the Riffel". Now, people are accustomed to lady climbers, 
and even solitary ones. We were the first, I think, to go unattended 
by a male protector, and we got on very well, but then two together 
must be pleasanter than one alone, when you must have guides. 


"The king of the RiflfeT was Sir W. E. Davidson, Permanent 
Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office for more than thirty years, 
who between 1875 and his retirement from active mountaineering 
nearly forty years later, climbed the Riffelhorn above Zermatt 
250 times. Aloof, distinguished, highly critical of innovation, 
he held opinions on the propriety of women on the mountains 
that may well be imagined even though they have nowhere been 

Even as late as 1879, the feeling against women climbers was 
strong, and Mrs. Aubrey le Blond, the remarkable thrice-married 
woman who was the founder of the first woman's climbing club 
in Britain, met considerable opposition. 

I had to struggle hard for my freedom [she says]. My mother 
faced the music on my behalf when my grand aunt, Lady Bentinck, 
sent out a frantic S.O.S. "Stop her climbing mountains. She is 
scandalising all London and looks like a Red Indian." 

The second thing which hampered the development of climbing 
among women was the question of dress. Some of the first advice 
came from Mrs. Cole. 

Every lady engaged on an Alpine journey should have a dress of 
some light woollen material, such as carmelite or alpaca which, in 
the case of bad weather, does not look utterly forlorn when it has 
once been wetted and dried [she advised]. 

Small rings should be sewn inside the seam of the dress, and a cord 
passed through them, the ends of which should be knotted together 
in such a way that the whole dress may be drawn up at a moment's 
notice, to the required height. A riding skirt, without a body, which 
can be slipped off and on in a moment, is also invaluable. 

The "slipping on and off" school grew throughout the years, 
A skirt was invariably considered necessary for appearances when 
leaving or arriving at an Alpine inn or hotel; breeches or their 
equivalent were essential to the conquest of certain mountain 
obstacles, and to the safe traverse of more than one narrow ridge. 
The discardable skirt theory could bring its own penalties, 
however, and it was Mrs. Aubrey le Blond, when traversing the 
Zinal Rothhorn, who remembered on approaching Zinal that she 


had left her skirt on the far side of the mountain, and was forced 
to retrace most of her day's route. 

Miss Brevoort, who on at least one occasion was driven to the 
use of trousers, was perpetually experimenting, and records that: 
"My dress plan, too, has failed, and descending snow slopes the 
snow enters the rings and stuffs up the hem and makes me heavy 
and wet. I have had to baste up both dress and skirt." 

Yet Meta Brevoort' s model, Miss Lucy Walker, never used 
the subterfuge of men's clothes, wearing on the mountains a 
white print dress whose shape she carefully had "renewed" 
whenever an expedition was finished. 

In the self-assured way in which she made her early ascents, 
Lucy Walker was typical of the new race of women which the 
Victorian Age produced. She "aspired" to the mountains; she 
felt drawn to them by an inexpressible attraction whose tightness, 
had it ever been in doubt, would have been assured by the fact 
that her father and brother were ardent devotees of the sport, 
Lucy Walker knew that climbing was better than the other occupa- 
tions in which ladies could indulge. It brought her into contact 
with nature; it gave her the illusion of danger which had almost 
been removed from the world in which she moved; it gave her 
contacts with a world of people different from those she normally 
knew. It brought her, with its combination of excitement, 
beauty, and exaltation, to the edge of a new world. 

Her first glimpse of that world came in 1859. Lucy Walker 
was twenty-eight at the time, a spectacled, darkly ringletted 
young woman, amply fashioned and kindly. She had arrived at 
the Schwarenbach Inn with her family, wished to make the 
ascent of the Altels, and was told by her father that Melchior 
Anderegg was the best guide for the expedition. Outside the 
inn, she asked a young man, apparently a porter, where she could 
find the famous guide. Drawing himself up to his full height, he 
replied with dignity, "I am Anderegg." It was the beginning of 
a long and increasingly friendly association. During the following 
twenty-one years, Lucy Walker made ninety-eight expeditions, 
only three of them unsuccessfully, mostly in the company of 
her brother, her father, or Melchior Anderegg. In all of these 


adventures she consistently refused to dress like a man, main- 
taining with perfect reason that she preferred to travel thus even 
if it did slightly limit her climbing. 

Her views were strong, and she was always pleased to explain 
why she had not climbed one particular summit. "You said that 
no woman could manage it", a certain woman climber had said 
to a well-known mountaineer after her ascent of the peak. "No", 
he replied, "I said, 'No lady'/' 

On the mountains she took nothing to eat except sponge-cake 
and champagne or sometimes asti both wines which she found 
ideal in combating the slight mountain-sickness from which she 
suffered throughout the whole of her climbing career. She did not 
ride, fish, or even walk with any particular enthusiasm, her only 
outdoor exercise other than climbing being the gentle one of 

Among the few women who climbed during the same years 
as did Lucy Walker, were Emmeline Lewis-Lloyd and Miss 
Straton, a remarkable couple who invariably travelled on the 
mountains together. Miss Lloyd, brought up at Nantgwyllt in 
mid-Wales, a great house which was swamped when the Elan 
Dam was built to create the water-supply for Birmingham, was 
a famous local sportswoman. Short, stout, and jovial, she enjoyed 
the reputation of once having played a salmon from sunrise to 
sundown, after which the local population came to regale her in 
the battle, with drink and sandwiches. 

She enters into early mountaineering quite confident and self- 
assured, and appears rarely to have been surprised at any turn 
which events might take. One evening she was completing a 
solitary scramble in the snow above Gressoney when there 
appeared in the distance a figure which seemed to be that of a 
local chamois-hunter. He came up to her, bowed, and began to 
talk with her in perfect English; discussing the mountains, he 
escorted her back to her hotel where he was apparently known to 
the staff. After he had left, Miss Lloyd casually asked his name. 
"King Victor-Emmanuel", she was told. 

Until 1873, Miss Lewis-Lloyd's most constant companion on 
the mountains was a character remarkable at any time, a spinster 





33 Mrs. Jackson 

Miss Maud Meyer 

endowed with .4,000 a year who married her Alpine guide and 
lived happily with him for the rest of her life. Miss Straton, 
who achieved the remarkable feat, first visited the Alps in 1861 
at the age of twenty-three, but it was not until four years later 
that she began a long series of Alpine excursions, many of them 
in the company of Jean Charlet of Chamonix. She appears to 
have met him first at Nantgwyllt, where he had been brought by 
Miss Lloyd to work as a groom for a year. She travelled with 
him in the Pyrenees, then in the Alps where she made four 
ascents of Mont Blanc married him and settled happily in a 
small home near Chamonix where she spent the rest of her life. 
Of their two sons, one was later to climb Mont Blanc at the age 
of thirteen, the other at the age of eleven and a half. Neither, 
Miss Straton later proudly recorded, needed special help. 

Both Miss Straton and Miss Lewis-Lloyd appear to have been 
attracted to mountaineering largely because they felt it wrong 
that any pastime should be reserved for the male sex alone. 
They tackled the situation with energy, courage, determination, 
and the banner of emancipation flying high. It seems unlikely 
that they were moved by the mountains in quite the same way 
as Lucy Walker and Meta Brevoort, although they had attempted 
the Matterhorn as early as 1869. 

Miss Brevoort, whose Alpine story is so closely linked with 
that of Coolidge, was brought up in a Paris convent school. She 
was neither strong nor unwomanly, and she appears to have had 
a flair for figuring in colourful and rather startling incidents. 
Early in her Alpine career she climbed Mont Blanc with two 
guides and Madame Sylvain-Couttet, the wife of one of them. 
Then the party drank the customary bumper of champagne, 
following which the four danced a quadrille in the bright sun 
and sang the "Marseillaise", a banned song in those days of the 
Second Empire. 

She was a woman of immense vitality, and a typical picture of 
her is given by John Stogdon, a mountaineer who gave up plans 
for Himalayan exploring when he married. Coolidge was study- 
ing at the Bel Alp and Miss Brevoort was invited to join a party 
that included Stogdon and the Rev. Arthur Fairbanks. 

V.M. 12 l8l 

Her courage and exuberant enjoyment doubled our pleasure [he 
recalled years later]. She was ready for anything. One crevasse, 
of which we could see no end, was too broad for her to jump, but 
she jumped at my rash proposal that we should let her down into it 
till she could find a ledge to stand on. We paid her out some forty 
feet, but I thought we should never have got her up again. You 
can't get a direct pull. However, in spite of cut knuckles, she 
thoroughly enjoyed it. 

It was a tragedy of Miss Brevoort's life that her two greatest 
Alpine ambitions were both frustrated. One of these was to be 
the first woman to ascend the Matterhorn, a feat for which she 
had everything ready in 1871, having unsuccessfully attempted 
the mountain from the Italian side in 1869. One of her guides 
incautiously mentioned the plans to Melchior Anderegg who 
immediately hurried off to Zermatt, as loyalty bade him, where 
he knew that the Walkers could be found. Plans were quickly 
formed, and on July 21 he led Lucy Walker, Francis Walker, her 
father, and Frederick Gardiner, to the summit. Miss Brevoort, 
arriving in Zermatt a few days later, was greeted with the news 
that "the young lady has just come down from the Matterhorn". 
Both women had nearly been preceded by Felicite Carrel, 
daughter of an Italian guide not the great Carrel who four 
years earlier had reached to within 350 ft. of the summit with a 
party which climbed the Italian ridge. 

Miss Brevoort, who a few days after the Walkers' ascent made 
the first woman's traverse of the mountain by ascending from 
Zermatt and descending the southern side into Italy, had one 
ambition even stronger than that of making the first woman's 
ascent of the Matterhorn. She desired, possibly more than any- 
thing else on earth, to be the first woman on top of the Meije 
in the Dauphine. Together with Coolidge, she had made the 
first ascent of one of the lower peaks in 1870; and, with him, 
had gone back year after year, her hopes continually deferred 
by bad weather. 

In 1876 there came the chance of attempting the peak for 
which she had mortgaged considerable emotional energy. She 
gave it up so that Coolidge should have more money for climbing 


in the Dauphine while she, her eyes on the expenses, remained 
carefully in the Oberland. There was news that others had their 
eyes on the Meije, then still unclimbed by either man or woman; 
Miss Brevoort's letter to Coolidge from the Oberland came 
straight from the heart. 

Alas, to think of all the others who will be coming, and of the 
one who may succeed [she wrote]. Give my love to all my dear 
old friends now in your sight and specially to that glorious Meije 
and ask her to keep herself for me. 

Within a few months of having written the letter, Miss 
Brevoort was dead. Her nephew, hoping to make the first ascent 
in her name, was preceded in 1877 by Boileau de Castelnau, a 
young Frenchman. Coolidge made the second ascent the follow- 
ing year, but it was not until 1888 that Kathleen Richardson, the 
legendary Miss Richardson as the French called her, was to make 
the first ascent of the peak by a lady. 

Miss Richardson was the antithesis of the typical woman 
climber of the period. Slender, short, looking rather like a piece 
of carefully kept Dresden china, she was the most remarkable 
of the women mountaineers who immediately followed Miss 
Brevoort's generation. Brown-haired, green-eyed, frail-looking, 
she was, in fact, tough and indefatigable. "She does not eat, 
and she walks like a devil", the guides said of her. 

She was on the Hornli at the age of sixteen and a few months 
after her seventeenth birthday carried out her first campaign in 
the Engadine, where she climbed the Piz Languard and the Piz 

During the following eleven seasons she completed n6grandes 
courses and sixty minor ascents, six of them being first ascents by 
any mountaineer, another fourteen of them first ascents by a 

The most remarkable of the first was her ascent of the Aiguille 
de Bionnassay and the traverse of the East arte, a route often 
attempted and considered impossible. Later in the same season 
she heard that an Englishwoman whose name no one knew was 
about to make the first ascent on the Meije. She hurried south to 


the Dauphine, only to find that the Englishwoman was herself. 
She justified die rumour that had gone before her, climbing the 
mountain in a single day from La Berarde. 

Many of Miss Richardson's climbs were made with Mile Mary 
Paillon, the famous French Alpinist who nearly killed her com- 
panion on the Central Aiguille d'Arves when the Frenchwoman's 
skirts dislodged a stone which crashed down on Miss Richardson's 
head. When the couple were within a few yards of the summit, 
Miss Richardson, having changed places with her friend, waited 
for Mile Paillon to reach her, then pushed her ahead with the 
words. "You go first. I have the Meije. You take the Aiguille 

By Miss Richardson's day, women climbers had become 
increasingly numerous. One of the most remarkable among 
them was the woman who is most generally remembered as 
Mrs. Aubrey le Blond. 

Born of a wealthy Irish family, she first visited Switzerland 
because of her poor health, was attracted by the mountains, made 
the ascent of Mont Blanc almost by accident, and showed her 
attitude when she later wrote that she owed "a supreme debt of 
gratitude to the mountains for knocking from me the shackles 
of conventionality". 

For years she thought it only right that she should travel in 
the mountains with her ladies' maid. Only when one had eloped 
with a courier and another developed hysteria whenever her 
mistress was late in returning from a climb, did she dispense with 
such women. 

Her importance was that she took it for granted that women 
should climb, and should do so on equal terms with men. When 
Roman Imboden, the son of her favourite guide, and a man with 
whom she had frequently climbed, was killed in the Alps, she 
felt compelled to give up mountaineering in the Alps; habit was 
too much, however, and for season after season she visited 
Norway, making there a series of first ascents almost comparable 
to that of Cecil Slingsby. 

Like Maud Meyer, Maths Tutor at Girton and a later President 
of the Ladies' Alpine Club which Mrs. Le Blond helped to found, 


she represented the last struggle of the Victorian woman climber 
freeing herself from the prejudice of the past; like Maud Meyer, 
her remarkable record carried on not only into the Edwardian 
but into the Georgian era. 

Both women are symbols of the triumph achieved when 
women on the mountains were first judged equally with men 
Miss Meyer met, and was apparently unrebuked by, Sir W. E. 
Davidson who had so criticised the Pigeons. Both women 
showed by the multiplicity of their interests, by their courage, 
and by their devoted interest in mountains through years of hard 
work, a reflection of the earlier Victorian male mountaineers 
whom they resemble so much. 

Mrs. Le Blond did not die until 1934, leaving behind her a 
memory of tremendous accomplishments and more than half a 
dozen books in which she exhorted her fellows up into the 

Miss Meyer, whose record included more than a hundred 
expeditions each of them neatly recorded in an edition of 
Coolidge's Alps in Nature and History continued climbing high 
mountains until eighteen months before her death at the age of 

Her death was in keeping. 

For some years she had been bicycling all over London to her 
various mathematical coaching appointments [says a surviving 
relative]. Everybody warned her of the dangers of this procedure, 
at her age, and in London's growing traffic. She replied that she 
liked it, that it kept her fit, and there was a spice of excitement about 
it; if she got killed, it was entirely her responsibility, and you might 
as well die that way as any other. 

She did. 


Chapter Nine 


Far me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice. 
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern 


Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze 
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June 's long-lighted days? 


IT was in the i88o's that the activities of Cecil Slingsby and 
of a small handful of other enthusiasts began to form the 
corpus of knowledge and tradition around which climbing in 
Britain was to grow. 

Men had, of course, found pleasure on the British hills before 
the Victorian Alpinists devoted themselves to the matter. The 
Highland Mountain Club of Lochgoilhead, which held its annual 
meetings on Midsummer Day to climb a local hill and to carry 
on there "certain festivities", was founded in 1815. The Gaiter 
Club, which in 1911 offered financial help to the Scottish 
Mountaineering Club for the publication of its guide-books, had 
been founded by the then Lord Inverclyde in 1849. The Cobbler 
Club, the first club in Britain whose main purpose was the 
encouragement of mountain-climbing, was founded in Glasgow 
in 1866 for those who wanted "to climb the Cobbler and what- 
ever other worthy hill can be reached in the course of a Saturday 
expedition from Glasgow". The Perthshire Mountain Club, 
started in 1875 as a section of the Perthshire Society of Natural 
History, initiated its members with due ceremony at the top of 
a 3,ooo-footer whose ascent was the qualification for entry, and 
utilised the services of a cairn-master and of a bard who recited 
a specially written poem. 

South of the Border, there came Mathews' "Society of Welsh 


Rabbits" and, later, the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club in whose 
formation Cecil Slingsby played such a prominent part. All 
these clubs, and the others which sprang up in the 1890'$, were 
the crystallisation of a process which had begun in the middle of 
the century, when the enthusiasm of the earlier Alpine climbers, 
taking a casual week-end in North Wales or the Lakes, had begun 
to act upon the local fell-walkers. 

The Queen herself was not without influence. A poor view 
is generally taken of her reaction to mountain-climbing, but it 
is not true that after the Matterhorn accident she attempted to 
have climbing forbidden; she merely made a note of the fact in 
her diary "four poor Englishmen including a brother of Lord 
Queensberry have lost their lives in Switzerland, descending 
over a dangerous place from the Matterhorn and falling over a 
precipice". It was only after three serious accidents in the summer 
of 1882 that she made any move. 

Then on August 24, 1882, Sir Henry Ponsonby, her private 
secretary, wrote to Mr. Gladstone. 

The Queen [he said] commands me to ask you if you think 
she can say anything to mark her disapproval of the dangerous 
Alpine excursions which this year have occasioned so much loss 
of life. 

Gladstone, who appears to have been on the side of the angels, 
suggested that no action be taken. 

I do not wonder Pie said] that the Queen's sympathetic feelings 
have again been excited by the accidents, so grave in character, 
and so accumulated during recent weeks, on the Alps. But I doubt 
the possibility of any interference, even by her Majesty, with a 
prospect of advantage. It may he questionable whether, upon the 
whole, mountain-climbing (and be it remembered that Snowdon 
has its victims as well as the Matterhorn) is more destructive 
than various other pursuits in the way of recreation which per- 
haps have no justification to plead so respectable as that which 
may be alleged on behalf of mountain expeditions. The question, 
however, is not one of wisdom or unwisdom; but viewing it, as 
you put it, upon its very definite and simple grounds, I see no 
room for action. 

Yet these comments were not made known at the time. For 
the mass of mankind, the Queen was the monarch who had 
commanded a special performance of Albert Smith's "Mont 
Blanc", who had fallen in love with the Cairngorms, had ascended 
Lochnagar and many other peaks surrounding Balmoral on 
pony, it is true and had later shown by her Leaves from A 
Journal of Our Life in the Highlands that she had a genuine 
delight in the glories of the mountains. She allowed Prince 
Arthur, Duke of Connaught, to reach the Grands Mulets on 
Mont Blanc in 1864, even though she did not allow him to con- 
tinue to the summit and become the youngest person he was 
then 14 who had attained it. Little of this was "mountaineer- 
ing", yet it did make more understandable in the public mind the 
growing association between the "Alpinists" and the local fell- 

Many of these fell-walkers and hill-wanderers were formidable 
men. There was, for instance, that queer unidentified figure 
after whom was named the Parson's Nose, the fine rock-snout 
that thrusts itself out into Cwm Glas. 

This clergyman described by John Henry Clifie was, he 

possessed of a most extraordinary mania for climbing mountains. 
Picture to yourself a tall man, about 52 years of age, of a wiry, spare 
habit, rather slightly built, dressed in a pair of dingy slop trousers, 
a linen spencer of the same complexion, without hat or covering of 
any sort for the head, no neck-tie, his shirt-collar unbuttoned, with 
an enormous alpenstock or climbing pole, seven or eight feet in 
length, in his hand, and you may perhaps be able to form some idea 
of the strange grotesque figure we have endeavoured to describe. 
His object was, to use his own expression, "to follow the skyline", 
until he reached the summit; he would then descend the other side 
of the mountain towards Beddgelert, in a similar manner. He most 
frequently performed his excursions alone, although occasionally, 
when not so familiar with the locality, he availed himself of the 
services of a guide. He would follow up these rambles de die in diem, 
regardless of the weather, and was generally on his legs from about 
nine a.m. until eight p.m. The most extraordinary thing was, how 
he could keep up such violent daily exercise without any refreshment 


35 Cecil Slingsby, in 1876, at the age of 27 

whatever during the period he was among the mountains. To pre- 
vent thirst, he carried a small pebble in his mouth; and Harry Owen, 
the guide, assured us that he never saw him partake of anything to 
eat or drink, not even a cup of cold water, while on an excursion. 
We have several times met him on his return to the inn (Pen-y- 
Gwryd), drenched with perspiration, and whilst his dinner was being 
prepared, he would continue at gentle exercise (staff in hand), to 
"cool down" like a race-horse after a "breather" preparatory 
to partaking of his repast in fine weather generally al fresco 
exhibiting not the least apparent fatigue. He was a man of very 
temperate habits; two or three glasses of sherry were the extent of 
his libations; he avoided smoking and he would be up early 
in the morning performing his ablutions for several hours. He 
appeared to have no other object in climbing to the wild moun- 
tain-tops than merely (as he said) to behold the wonderful works 
of the Almighty. 

What the cHmbing parson was to Wales, Frederick Bowring 
was to the Lakes. Both men broke away from the tradition of 
making only certain set and "popular" ascents although Bowring 
climbed Great Gable more than a hundred times and both 
provided a nucleus of non-professional local knowledge on which 
the Alpine Club men of the sixties and seventies could draw. 

Bowring, who was born in 1823 and did not die until 1918, 
must have been as striking a figure as the climbing parson. And, 
like him, Bowring climbed and walked with great vigour and 
precision when he was nearing the age of sixty. 

His long legs were clad in thick trousers; his fine head (which 
strikingly resembled that of the poet Tennyson) was covered with a 
felt hat, the wide brim of which had been reduced to limpness by 
his habit of securing it in windy weather by means of an immense 
blue kerchief tied under his chin. The "Norfolk" jacket was too 
modern for him and his usual coat bore somewhat bunchy tails with 
huge pockets which contained, as a minimum, maps, compass, 
string, field-glasses, sandwiches, and the afore-mentioned blue 
bandana, gloves, a large grey woollen comforter, and several books, 
besides abundant materials for smoking. In his hand was a stout 
six-foot fell-pole with a forked spike, which he thought less liable to 
slip on rocks. 

V.M. 13 191 

The third, and possibly the most eccentric of all these early 
fell-walkers was the Rev. James Jackson. A tall, bearded char- 
acter who had served with the British forces during the early 
Napoleonic wars and then, relinquishing this career for the 
Church, he had served in a variety of incumbencies throughout 
the North of England, and astounded his congregations almost 
as much by his egotistical verses as by his prodigious feats of 

In his sixty-ninth year, he walked forty-six miles in fourteen 
and a half hours, followed this up two days later with fifty-six 
miles in eighteen hours, and, after another two days, with sixty 
miles in less than twenty hours. 

His character is best shown by the incident of the weather-cock 
on his church steeple at Rivington. When steeplejacks refused 
to go up to it to carry out a repair, Jackson himself swarmed up 
the spire and commemorated the incident with a ditty which 

Who has not heard of Steeple Jack 

That lion-hearted Saxon? 
Though I'm not he, he was my sire 

For I am Steeple Jackson! 

He became one of the most persistent fell-ramblers and 
-scramblers, although for years he believed that the Pillar was 
inaccessible. Then he read an account in a local paper of how 
the Westmorland brothers and their sister Kate had climbed 
to the top. This was too much for Steeple Jackson, even 
though he was then seventy-nine. Thus, on May 31, 1875, he 
clambered to the top alone, carrying a rope and wearing 
nailed shoes. Arrived on the summit, he deposited the re- 
ligious relics he had brought home from Loretto a Victorian 
version of the contemporary crosses on Alpine peaks and 
recorded his ascent in a Greek inscription which he proudly 
described as "written without specs". He immediately dubbed 
himself the "Patriarch of the Pillarites", nominated a friend 
as "Patriarch Presumptive", and commemorated the event 


If this in your mind you will fix 

When I make the Pillar my toy, 
I was born in 1 9 7, p, 6, 

And you'll think me a nimble old boy. 

When he was eighty-two, he set out with the intention of 
making his second ascent of the Pillar; after two days' absence, 
he was found in Great Doup, the hollow near by, having apparently 
mistaken his position in the mist and plunged 300 ft. to his death. 
On a piece of paper in his pocket, carefully wrapped and put into 
a bottle which he had planned to leave on the summit, were his 
last lines: 

Two elephantine properties are mine 

For I can bend to pick up pin or plack: 
And when this year the Pillar Rock I climb 
Four score and two's the howdah on my back. 

Judged by modern standards, Jackson was merely a rather 
incautious scrambler. Yet it was just such men who helped to 
acquire the considerable body of knowledge which was available 
by the i88o's; knowledge used by those men with experience of 
the Alps who during ruminating strolls on the hills cast enquiring 
glances at the gullies which might, in heavy snow, provide them 
with a few hundred feet of sport. 

Charles Packe, that pioneer of the Pyrenees and the author of 
a guide to the range that is still so readable, was scrambling about 
the Lakeland fells invariably with his Pyrenean mountain dogs 
as early as 1850 and a few years later was camping and sleeping- 
out on them in his home-designed sleeping-bags. In the late 
1850*5, he introduced John Ball, Hinchliff, and William Longman 
to both the Lakeland fells and the hills of North Wales, and his 
rambling and scrambling tours continued for fifty years until 
within a few years of his death at the age of seventy. 

Leslie Stephen, the Rev. Julius Elliott, who made the second 
ascent of the Matterhorn from Zermatt before being killed on the 
Schreckhorn by an unwary and unroped jump, and C. A. O. 
Baumgartner, are only three of the many climbers from the 
Alps who made early ascents of the Pillar Rock. Stephen climbed 


wherever and whenever he could, and there is at least one record 
of him, gangling and prehensile, ascending a chimney near 
Gurnard's Head, on those granite cliff-faces to which the Climbers' 
Club have recently issued a new guide-book. 

In Scotland it was such men as Horace Walker, veteran of the 
famous first ascent of the Brenva Ridge of Mont Blanc, the 
Pilkingtons, Norman Collie, Slingsby, and Solly, all of them 
famous Alpine climbers, who were to make so many of the 
pioneer ascents in Skye and on Ben Nevis. 

In Wales, one finds Professor Tyndall, Macdonald, Moore, 
Grove, and Tuckett among the regular week-enders. In 1879 an 
Alpine Club meeting was held at Capel Curig, in North Wales, 
while the following year no less than twenty Alpine Club mem- 
bers accompanied by one of the most famous lady mountaineers 
of the time, made the first ascent of Gust's Gully on Great End 
in the Lakes. 

These enthusiasts from the Alps who gradually took over from 
the "local men" found, as the Badminton volume on "Moun- 
taineering" later put it, that "the British hills afford endless 
opportunities for the gratification of our climbing instincts and 
for the cultivation of all those faculties, habits, and virtues, 
which collectively form the art of mountaineering". 

The revelation came slowly, over a period of years, and would 
have come more slowly still had it not been for an article which 
Professor Tyndall contributed to the Saturday Review in 1861. 

Tainted by the city air [he wrote] and with gases not natural to 
the atmosphere of London, I gladly chimed in with the proposal 
of an experienced friend to live four clear days at Christmas on 
Welsh mutton and mountain air. 

He arrived at Bethesda with Professor Huxley and Mr. Busk, 
and after the party had bought rake-handles at fourpence each 
and had converted them into alpenstocks, they finally reached 
Capel Curig, The following morning they set out for Snowdon, 
three middle-aged gentlemen, tramping through the thick snow 
on what must have appeared in those days a rather crazy 
Christmas adventure. 


Tyndall was at this time an experienced mountaineer. Not 
only had he ascended Mont Blanc three times, but he had reached 
13,000 ft. on the Matterhorn (the highest point then gained) and 
had earned a reputation among the Alpine fraternity for a daring 
that hardly matched the slow-dying view sternly supported by 
Tyndall himself that men climbed mountains merely to carry 
out scientific observations. 

Yet the man's enthusiasm was kindled by the Welsh hills just 
as it had been in the Alps. On the summit of Snowdon, the view 
he said, "would bear comparison with the splendours of the 
Alps themselves". Here was enthusiasm for the British hills 
which would have sounded extravagant from any climber of 
those days, let alone from the dispassionate Tyndall. The result, 
not so much of this article itself, but of the interest which it 
aroused, was a steady growth of climbing, in England, Scotland, 
and Wales, by men from the Alps who even a few years earlier 
would have scorned the suggestion that Britain contained 
anything comparable to the Alps. 

From the i88o's onwards, there was apparent a subtle but 
significant change in the records, interests, and ideals of the men 
to be found climbing in Britain. 

There were some, such as Slingsby or Hastings or Solly, who 
appeared to devote almost as much time and attention to the 
Lakes, to Wales, or to Scotland, as they did to the mountains 
abroad. There was an increasing influx of young men, such as 
Haskett-Smith, who climbed in Britain for a number of seasons 
before visiting the Alps at all. And there finally developed such 
climbers as Archer-Thomson and O. G. Jones who went abroad 
only rarely and whose main interest was concentrated on the 
climbing, mainly rock-climbing as opposed to snow- and ice- 
work, which was to be found on the British crags. 

Simultaneously, there is to be sensed a change of emphasis in 
the reasons for which most men went mountaineering. As 
climbing in Britain became more surely divorced from climbing 
in the Alps during the last quarter of the century, so did the 
basic reasons which drove men up into the hills become more 
divorced from the weighty problems that had troubled the 


thinkers of a decade or so earlier. Trevelyan's comment that 
"all the thought of the age arose out of the circumstances of the 
age" is no less true of the second than it was of the first half of 
the Victorian era. And, by the i88o's, matters both temporal 
and spiritual were far easier than they had been two decades 
earlier. There might still be worries about the problems posed 
by the scientists, but the first awful impact of Darwin had passed, 
and the Church had, as it were, got its second breath. Materially, 
the most extravagant dreams of the optimists had been more than 
realised; there had been no revolution; and, even if the national 
cake still failed to provide every British worker with all that he 
wanted, yet there seemed little reason to believe that this happy 
state was not round a nearby corner. 

There is no particular reason to link these two developments 
of the i88o's the growth of British mountaineering and the 
decrease in importance of those spiritual problems that epitomised 
the Victorian hey-day. There is no reason to believe that the 
British hills gave something less necessary than that exultation 
given by the Alps to Frederic Harrison when he wrote in praise 
of Alpine climbing: "We need sometimes that poetry should be 
not droned into our ears, but flashed into our senses." Yet it is 
a fact that the problems decreased; and that, simultaneously, those 
men who might have been driven to the Alps did find in the 
British hills some satisfaction similar to that which the earlier 
climbers had found in the Alps and in such greater ranges as 
they later visited. 

Typical of the transition period during which the rambles of 
the fell-walkers were being replaced by the more ambitious 
adventures of the experienced Alpinists, was John Wilson Robin- 
son, a dour Keswick estate agent, the son of a great fell-walker 
who had sketched the Napes Needle as early as 1828. 

Robinson himself did not start climbing until 1882, when he 
made his first ascent of the Pillar, and it was about the same 
year that he first met Haskett-Smith, the young lawyer who 
played the most important part of all in the development 
of climbing in Britain during the latter quarter of the last 


To the combination, Robinson brought his great local know- 
ledge, gained not only during his walks on the fells, but during 
the day-to-day routine of his business. Even when one considers 
his luck in living so close to the hills, and his vigour he once 
walked over the principal summits of the Lakes, a total of seventy 
miles, in twenty-four hours the amount of climbing that he 
accomplished was astonishing. He ascended the Pillar 101 times 
between 1882 and 1906, taking between thirty and forty ladies 
to the top during this period, and also made more than fifty 
ascents of Scawfell Pinnacle, while between 1877 and 1903 he 
made nearly forty ascents of Great Gable. 

Just as Coolidge was uninterested in any range other than the 
Alps, so was Robinson completely disinterested in the Alps or 
any other range outside Britain. He made one visit to the Alps, 
climbed the Matterhorn, which impressed him in a routine way, 
and thereafter concentrated solely on climbing in Britain. 

Robinson's most constant companion in Britain was W. P. 
Haskett-Smith, "the father of British mountaineering", a man 
for whom the Alps and the Pyrenees, the latter of which he knew 
well, were but faint shadows of his own well-loved Lakeland 

Haskett-Smith stares from the portrait of the early climbing 
days slightly quizzically and rather defiantly, two attitudes 
which combined with his phenomenal list of first ascents to 
give him such a place in the story of British climbing. Born in 
1859, he had a neat trim record typical of the times Eton, 
Trinity, and Lincoln's Inn. Thereafter he departed from the 
conventions. He did not practise at the Bar, and Winthrop 
Young says that his only serious quarrel was when a fellow- 
member of the Alpine Club, thinking he was bestowing a 
favour, sent him a brief. He interested himself in the more 
abstruse aspects of philology, pottered around in a genial way, 
and became, like Coolidge, one of those rare things, a legend in 
his own lifetime. 

His first visit to the British mountains was in 1882 when he 
spent nine weeks at Wasdale Head in the Lakes, explored Deep 
Ghyll, made the first ascent of Pavey Ark Gully, found a new 


high-level traverse across the north face of Great Gable, and 
explored the whole area for climbable routes without, it should 
be noted, having had any more experience of mountains or 
mountaineering than had been gained from a stroll through the 
Pyrenees with Charles Packe during the previous year. 

In 1 884 he returned to the Lakes and continued his explorations 
there as he was to do, year after year, until the turn of the century. 
"Of course", he adds in what is a revealing comment on the 
period, "no ropes or other illegitimate means were resorted to." 
He pioneered first ascents of Scawfell, on Great Gable, Doe Crag, 
on the Napes Ridges, and on most other areas of rock which 
are today laced with routes. 

It is, however, with the Napes Needle, the slender and spec- 
tacular pillar of rock standing out from the Napes Ridges, that 
Haskett-Smith is most intimately connected. He has described 
in an early number of the Journal of the Fell and Rock Climbing 
Club of Great Britain, how he came to make the historic first 
ascent. He had seen the Needle first on a misty day in the early 
i88o's, "a slender pinnacle of rock, standing out against the back- 
ground of cloud without a sign of any other rock near it, and 
appearing to shoot up for 200-300 ft." 

It was not until 1886, however, that he found himself alone, 
and in the late afternoon, in the gap which separates the 
Needle from the ridges which rise up die face of the mountain 
behind it. 

My first care [Haskett-Smith wrote later] was to get two or three 
stones and test the flatness of the summit by seeing whether anything 
thrown up could be induced to lodge. If it did, that would be an 
indication of a moderately flat top, and would hold out hopes of 
the edge being found not too much rounded to afford a good grip 
for the fingers. Out of three missiles, one consented to stay, and 
thereby encouraged me to start, feeling as small as a mouse climbing 
a milestone. 

Between the upper and lower blocks, about five feet up, there is 
a ragged horizontal chink large enough to admit the toes, but the 
trouble is to raise the body without intermediate footholds. It 
seemed best to work up at the extreme right, where the corner 








40 The "Stable-door Traverse" 
at Wastdale Head 

41 W. P. Haskett-Sniitli in his early 
climbing days 

projects a little, though the fact that you are hanging over the deep 
gap makes it a rather "nervy*' proceeding. For anyone in a standing 
position at the corner it is easy to shuffle the feet sideways to the 
other end of the chink, where it is found that the side of the top 
block facing outwards is decidedly less vertical. Moreover at the 
foot of this side there appeared to my great joy a protuberance 
which, being covered with a lichenous growth, looked as if it might 
prove slippery, but was placed in the precise spot where it would 
be most useful in shortening the formidable stretch up to the top 
edge. Gently and cautiously transferring my weight, 1 reached up 
with my right hand and at last was able to feel the edge and prove 
it to be, not smooth and rounded as it might have been, but a flat 
and satisfactory grip. My first thought on reaching the top was one 
of regret that my friends should have missed by a few hours such a 
day's climbing, three new things and all good [he had just made 
the first ascent of the Ennerdale face of Great Gable and the first 
continuous descent of the Needle Ridge]; my next was one of 
wonder whether getting down again would not prove far more 
awkward than getting up. 

Hanging by the hands, and feeling with the toes for the pro- 
tuberance provided an anxious moment, but die rest went easily 
enough, though it must be confessed that it was an undoubted 
satisfaction to stand once more on solid ground below and look up 
at my handkerchief fluttering in the breeze. 

The Needle was not climbed again for three years and then 
three ascents were made within a few months. A lady, Miss 
Koecher, climbed it in 1890, and a few months later an illustrated 
article on the Needle appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette. 

The fame of the spectacular spire of rock, the most photogenic 
in the country, soon spread. Spooner, the well-known photo- 
grapher in the Strand, displayed a photograph of it in his shop 
window, and it was here that it first illustrated to O. G. Jones, 
a typical specimen of the second generation of British climbers, 
the possibilities offered by British mountains and hills. 

In 1890 Jones, a technical student in London at the time, had 
visited the Lakes on a walking-tour and climbed the Pillar with 
no more knowledge of mountaineering than could be gleaned 
from the pages of Prior's Guide, a chatty little book that broke 

V.M. 14 201 

new ground by giving its readers some indication of the area's 
rock features. 

The following year, walking down the Strand in London, 
oppressed with the flatness of people and things in general as 
he puts it, Jones glanced in Spooner's window, and for the first 
time, saw the outline of the Needle. Bystanders, he noted, 
looked at the tiny figures of climbers in the photograph and 
passed the usual uninformed remarks. "That evening", adds 
Jones, "a copy of the Needle hung in my room; in a fortnight, 
Easter had come round and I found myself on the top of the 

Such was a typical result of Haskett-Smith's discovery. The 
photograph of the Needle which was itself later taken as the 
emblem of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club became a symbol 
of the new adventures to be found not beyond the Channel but 
in Britain itself. Today there are seven "regular" routes up the 
Needle, but the magic of its outline still holds. Perhaps the most 
moving day in its history came in 1936 when Haskett-Smith, 
then seventy-four, made his anniversary ascent, being led up to 
the summit by Lord Chorley, then President of the Fell and Rock, 
before an admiring audience of many hundreds ranged around the 
Dress Circle, the rocky bay on the Napes from which the Needle 
stands out in all its apparent inaccessibility. 

As Haskett-Smith sat down on the uppermost block, a voice 
from the crowd below urged him to "Tell us a story." "There is 
no other story. This is the top storey", he immediately shouted 
back, a typical response from a man who devoted much of his 
life to the curiosities of words, to outlandish facts, and to useless 
but interesting branches of knowledge. 

He climbed in Scotland and Wales, in the Pyrenees, the Alps, 
Norway, Spain, the Rockies, and even the Andes, but all his 
enjoyment and all his important climbing was concentrated on 
the Lakes. 

Haskett-Smith not only "created" climbing in Britain; he also 
took the first step in its popularisation, and he would be of 
importance in the gradual expansion of mountaineering towards 
the end of the century if he had done nothing more than write 


and have published the two slim red-backed volumes of Climbing 
in the British Isles. 

When the first of Haskett-Smith's volumes appeared in 1894, 
climbers had been describing their Alpine exploits in print for 
nearly half a century. Ball's Alpine Guide was merely one of the 
short cuts to Alpinism that had been making the way even easier 
for young men wishing to take up climbing. It is true that there 
had been, as there still is, a feeling that the more reckless expedi- 
tions should not be given too bright a limelight; yet so far as the 
great majority of new expeditions and ascents were concerned 
they had been, since the early i88o's, recorded either in the Alpine 
Journal or in one of the many records of private exploration that 
were published, if privately, at least in sufficient numbers to fill 
the demand. 

The position of British rock-climbing intelligence was a little 
different. Virtually no printed information had appeared in 1884 
when two articles on the subject were published in All the Year 
Round. The first climbers' log-book had appeared at Wastdale 
Head only four years earlier. Haskett-Smith's were therefore the 
first to break the unwritten law that accounts of climbs in 
Britain should be passed down only by word of mouth so that 
information would be graded according to the experience of 
the recipient. 

This state of affairs was a happy, but impermanent, one. "For 
some years past", said Haskett-Smith in his preface, "there has 
been a remarkably rapid increase in the number of men who 
climb for climbing's sake within the bounds of the British Isles." 
It was for them that the little red-bound books were intended, a 
primer for the embryonic mountaineers who might otherwise 
"have missed their vocation because they were in the position of 
the prudent individual who would not go into the water until 
after he had learned to swim". 

Mere numbers alone are no index of the influence exerted by 
Haskett-Smith's guides after their quiet explosion on the Victorian 
scene. Between their publication and the mid-193 o's, in fact, 
they sold only some 3,000 copies each, a striking comparison 
with the 120,000 copies of the late J. E. Q. Barford's Climbing in 


Britain which were sold within a few years of its publication 
roughly half a century later. Yet it is not too much to claim 
that "Haskett-Smith" opened the floodgates which the pioneers 
had slowly begun to move. The volumes paved the way for 
CX G, Jones' more detailed Climbing in the English Lake District, 
for the lavishly illustrated volumes of the Abraham brothers and, 
ultimately, for the whole shelf-loads of detailed climbing-guides 
which today deal with the most minor routes up the most 
inconspicuous boulders. Some of these have continued the 
tradition of mild humour with which Haskett-Smith laced 
most of his descriptions; none have contained such a wealth 
of detail about the less technical but more human aspects of 
the sport. 

The publication of "Haskett-Smith'' underlined the fact that 
climbing in Britain now existed as a sport in its own right, as 
something distinct from, and not necessarily linked with, climbing 
in the Alps or elsewhere. It was a sport which grew enormously 
as the century drew to its close and which was different in two 
important ways from mountaineering as it had been thought of 
and practised during the previous half-century. 

The relative nearness of the mountains to the climbers' homes 
had two major results. In the first place, the hills lost something 
of their mystery. The mountains at the end of the street could 
never be quite the same as the mountains which lay beyond the 
sea, in a foreign land where they still posed topographical 
problems even though the solution of these was no longer 
hindered by the presence of dragons. 

Almost as important was the fact that climbers living so 
relatively close to the mountains could, by constant practise, 
achieve a proficiency impossible for those whose climbing was 
limited to a few weeks or perhaps months every year. Thus 
the climbers on British hills towards the end of the century- 
began, on rocks at least, to approach that technical efficiency 
which had previously been die prerogative of the Alpine 

By the turn of the century mountaineering in Britain, the 
off-shoot of Victorian Alpinism, had grown into a lusty plant, 


An off-shoot it was, however. Many of the basic factors which 
brought about the growth of mountaineering in the fifties and 
sixties still existed. Their presence, grim and challenging, is 
shown most clearly by that epitome of all later Victorians, 
Martin Conway, later Lord Conway of Allington. 


Chapter Ten 


From too much love of living, 

From fear and hope set free ', 
We thank ivith brief thanksgiving 

Whatever Gods may be 
That no life lives for ever; 
That dead men rise up never; 
That even the weariest river 

Winds somewhere safe to sea. 


AMONG the mountaineers and mountain-lovers of the 
jLJL nineteenth century there had been many for whom the 
beauty of the heights had been one of the main, if one of the 
most elusive, attractions offered by the Alps. Ruskin had been 
the most prominent of them but there had also been Elizah 
Walton, E. T. Coleman, George Barnard, and H. G. Willink. 
Yet it was not until Conway arrived upon the scene with the 
full flourish of a connoisseur's knowledge that an active moun- 
taineer, well versed in the craft, with all the minutiae of the 
sport at his finger-tips, and in his pocket the money to indulge 
it, was to approach the Alps with what was basically an artist's 

Just as the earlier mountaineers had subordinated all else to the 
process of getting their instruments in the right place at the right 
time creating only incidentally the craft of travel above the 
snowline so did Conway plan much of his mountaineering 
life in order that the exquisite mountain view, the panorama 
seen, as the pioneers had seen it, with eyes of wonder, the unique 
ridge viewed end-on with peculiar perspective, should separately 
or together form a part of each day's journeying. From his 


writings there comes the same impression; the feeling that an 
important part of each expedition was in fact a search for some 
ne;/ facet of the Alpine world which could be viewed with the 
eyes not only of the climber but of the artist. There is nothing 
quite like it, and few things so good, in the whole of Alpine 

There were many factors which combined to ease William 
Martin Conway, later Lord Conway of Allington, into the 
enviable position which he enjoyed throughout the last quarter 
of the nineteenth century. Born in 1856, he came of age after 
the first great mountain problems had been solved; he could, 
therefore, devote himself to those in which history, topography, 
or art, as well as pure conquest, played their respective parts. He 
was lucky in his parents, and in his position in life, and it is easy 
to claim that the more obviously inherited features of his life 
were responsible for his success. This is not entirely true. 

It would be fair to say that everything Conway touched 
turned, if not to gold yet at least to a not unprofitable venture. 
It is true that he can have seen little financial profit from some 
of his larger expeditions, but he had a background to cushion 
him against such occasional and minor matters. There were few 
amateurs of the period who could plan, as Conway planned, to 
employ another amateur the late Oscar Eckenstein as a 
professional guide on a lengthy journey to India. He could 
write, with no offence, of "my artist", A. D. MacCormick, who 
accompanied him to the Himalayas and illustrated a number of 
his books. His planning of an expedition to the most distant 
ranges of the world was usually a question not of money but 
of time; and when his plan for a whole series of climbing guides 
had been rejected by the Alpine Club he was quite prepared to 
embark on the task himself, virtually underwriting whatever loss 
might ensue. It was perhaps significant that when, as a child, he 
reached the top of Snowdon for the first time and found himself 
too small to add a stone to the cairn, his cousin's butler did so 
for him. 

Yet happy financial circumstances would have been nothing 
without the man himself. And, of all the Victorian mountaineers, 


Martin Conway most nearly approached the Elizabethan ideal of 
the "compleat man". His mind was the equal of his six-foot 
stature: his humility to the confidence with which he would 
tackle the most difficult or abstruse Alpine problem. An almost 
medieval chivalry and other-worldliness appeared to govern his 
life, and it was natural that in the untrodden mountains of distant 
ranges he should see some challenge to the explainable facts of 

So far as mountains were concerned he was the incurable 
Romantic, and it is not too much to claim that they ruled his 
life just as surely as they ruled that of the Alpine guide. 

Wide outspreading vistas, thank heaven, still retain for me the 
same mysterious charm that belonged to that one [he wrote some 
sixty years after having first seen the view from the Malvern 
Beacon], The delusion that somewhere, far off in the blue distance, 
lurks the Perfect Place, that the blue kills really are blue, that what 
one beholds is in its essence actually as beautiful as from above it 
seems so long as that delusion lasts, R.omance lingers. 

And, like most of the Victorian climbers, he was tough. It is 
"the cold air" which is "laden with the very spirit of romance". 
He goes neither carefully nor cautiously and can write with real 
relief of finding himself after some escapade as "suddenly in the 
world of living people with a future to look forward to as well 
as a past to remember". 

Almost every aspect of the mountain world interested him. 
One of the most important, an aspect which appears surprising 
to anyone surveying the whole man, was the study of mountain 
history and topography that by the later seventies was beginning 
to draw poor Coolidge ever more surely and irretrievably into 
its clutches. Conway, however, always kept history in its place 
as a servant. 

He had made the ascent of the Breithorn in 1872, at the age 
of sixteen but it was only in 1876, when he first visited the Enga- 
dine, that his serious climbing started. Thereafter, he returned to 
the Alps year after year, climbing frequently either with George 
Scriven, an Irish doctor whom he had known as a boy at Repton, 
or with Penhall who was later killed on the Wetterhorn. 















New routes up previously climbed mountains were the order 
of the day, and it was here that Conway, like many others, ran 
into difficulties. A hard day's work among the journals of the 
various European Alpine Clubs was often needed to ensure that 
a proposed "new" route had not, in fact, been climbed and 
recorded in some obscure publication; even such checking and 
cross-checking might not be conclusive. After two seasons at 
Zermatt with Scriven, Conway records that "only once did we 
venture on a new way up Monte Rosa, which to our disgust 
afterwards proved to be not new but only unrecorded". It was 
an error that Conway did not intend to repeat. He was then at 
Trinity and on his return from the Alps set to work in the 
University Library, intent on providing, at his own publishing 
cost if need be, a handy volume which would save climbers from 
similar errors in the future. 

He was only half-certain of the need for the book. He was only 
twenty-four. He had been a member of the Alpine Club for 
only three years, and it was natural that he would ask advice from 
Coolidge, six years his senior and the newly appointed editor of 
the Alpine Journal. 

His first lettqr to Coolidge, the vanguard of many hundreds 
which were to pass between the two men during the next half- 
century, summed up his doubts. 

I have recently been constructing a small pocket-book for 
mountaineers dealing with the Zermatt mountains [he said]. Do 
you think that such a commodity is wanted? and do you approve of 
the proposed flap-pocket-book form? It appears that the cost of 
publication of 500 copies would be ^50, do you imagine that 500 
people would turn up say in the next five years to whom such 
a book would be a boon? 

Coolidge lived for such requests. By return there went to 
Conway a four-point list of comments, suggestions, a "liberal 
order of copies", and an offer to read the proofs. As a result 
there appeared in 1881 the record of ascents around Zermatt, 
replete with a fine fund of historical information, all presented, in 
the flap-pocket-book form, for a single half-crown the Zermatt 
V.M. 15 211 

Pocket-Book, that ancestor of all the dozens of little volumes in 
whose pages one may today find the faces of the Alps cross- 
hatched with routes, sub-routes, and demi-semi sub-routes. Even 
at 2s. 6d., sales lagged. Four years after publication, more than 
100 copies still remained in the hands of the publishers, although 
when these had finally gone the second-hand price of the book 
rose swiftly. 

When the price of it rose to a pound, and I had acquired a great 
deal of information, I decided to print a new edition [Conway 
later wrote]. That was issued in two parts, an East half and a West. 
As I explained in the preface, that was done to make it necessary for 
any climber to buy both parts. Moreover, as they had been willing 
to pay a pound for a second-hand first edition, I decided that they 
should pay me the same price for a much better and fuller book, 
and they did. 

The comment, typical as it is of the worldly-wise facade which 
Conway habitually erected, does him less than justice. His 
letters to Coolidge, hundred upon hundred of them, their writing 
sandwiched between work as a prospective M.P., studies as a 
rising art connoisseur, and a whole wealth of public and private 
duties ("This is my 40th letter today", he says in the pre-type- 
writer days. "I am nearly killed with piled-up details"), reflect 
far more accurately the reasons for his continuing interest in the 
guide. "The easy approaches of ecstatic enthusiasm were passed", 
he explains. "The region of serious investigation and study had 
now to be traversed." The continuing enquiry into Alpine 
history was part of the traverse. Publication of the results was, if 
nothing else, part of a scholar's duty. 

The Zermatt Pocket-Book, however, was only a beginning. 
When preparing for its reissue, Conway had proposed to the 
Alpine Club that they should allow him to publish it "as the 
first part of an A.C. Guide to the High Alps". The Club, 
probably with an eye on the republication of "Ball", rejected 
the scheme. Conway mulled over the idea with Coolidge and 
between them they built up the skeleton of the series on which 
they subsequently worked for years and which was published 


as the Conway and Coolidge's Climbers' Guides. Only a publisher 
was lacking. 

T. Fisher Unwin, after suitable preparation by Conway, was 
agreeable but cautious, as well as worried by the possible length, 
unreadability, and general unmanageability of what might be 
prepared in the way of copy. Coolidge's reputation had gone 
before him. 

Conway, anxious that the first contact between Unwin and 
Coolidge should take place with as little argument as possible, 
warned and advised his collaborator, in a letter marked "very 
particularly and extremely and altogether especially private", of 
the line that could best be taken. 

Let TFU down lightly [he advised]. Don't threaten him, but 
just send him your MS and he'll take it all right, especially if you 
send him the short Lepontine Vol. first. Say you have borrowed 
a few pages from that to add to the other as soon as he has put his 
money into a volume or two we hold him. Don't forewarn Kim, of 
prospective troubles, and in case of a longer volume than usual, 
let him have the first part of the MS first and let that be in type 
before he sees the last part or knows how long it will be. It's only 
a question of management; if things get stiff at any time I will 
ask TFU to lunch at the Savile, for election to which he is a 

As a gentle exercise in the art of twisting the arm, it was a 
beautiful example, typical of the operation, extending over many 
years, which was to give the Alpine world the volumes of the 
Conway-Coolidge guides. 

The story of the guides is in some ways a minor saga of 
pedantic but academically justified argument on Coolidge's part, 
of sweet reasonableness on Conway's. It was Conway who 
finally had Coolidge's "honorarium" of five pounds per volume 
doubled. It was Conway, "the buffer in the matter" as he 
describes himself, who smoothed out the ferocious argument 
that arose when Unwin proposed that one of Coolidge's unwieldy, 
over-annotated volumes should be split into two. Coolidge, 
breathing blood and fire, was all for claiming that such a move 
would break the publishing agreement and lay the way open for 


legal action. Conway acted as mediator, pointed out that Unwin 
could not do the economically impossible, and finally persuaded 
Coolidge to agree. Few men, incidentally, can have so little 
justified Coolidge's idea of a grasping publisher as did Unwin. 
"I doubt if the publication of these volumes will ever repay me", 
he wrote of another publishing proposal for mountain books, 
"and yet I love the mountains so well that I am much interested 
in them." 

An astonishing amount of time, thought, and undiluted brain- 
sweat was lavished on the Conway-Coolidge guides. The hun- 
dreds of letters dealing with each volume that passed between the 
two men during the period of genesis form an indication of just 
how much work was involved. 

By the early nineties, however, Conway had already begun to 
realise that while the mountains might satisfy all manner of 
demands, the Alps themselves suggested something better in the 
greater ranges beyond Europe. Short travels in Egypt, Syria, 
Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey had awakened what even in later 
life he called the romance of the East. 

I found it wonderful [he says] to be in the midst of a people not 
ashamed to acknowledge God by publicly praying wherever they 
happened to be at the hour of prayer, and performing their devotions 
in those monumental attitudes wherewith Islam has endowed the 

Back in Britain, he was restless and dissatisfied, uneasy with a 
desire that not all the excitement of his expanding public life 
could fully satisfy. The outcome was his first great tour of 
exploration, a journey that was to take him and his companions 
higher than man had ever been before, deep into the heart of 
the Karakoram, among the greatest glaciers of the world. 

The plan had been roughly formed in 1890 and had matured 
during the following year. Freshfield and Mummery, it was at 
first intended, were to accompany Conway. Freshfield was 
forced by circumstances to withdraw, while Conway and 
Mummery realised, after a friendly pilot-run in the Graians, that 
their ideas of mountain-climbing were so different as to preclude 


any likelihood of ideal co-operation on a major enterprise. It was 
a sensible decision and later events proved that a similar trial 
between Conway and Oscar Eckenstein, who had been asked 
to join the party and who was to have come in a semi-professional 
capacity might have proved equally useful. As it was, difficulties 
arose with Eckenstein, that queer friend of Aleister Crowley; 
and, as Conway says in his sole reference to Eckenstein in the 
lengthy record of the expedition which he subsequently wrote, 
"he did not come with me beyond Nagar", a point at which the 
expedition had not truly begun. 

With him, on this journey to the Karakoram, Conway brought 
A. D. MacCormick, the artist of the expedition, and Lt. Bruce, 
one of the first men to believe that Everest could be climbed, 
and as General Bruce the leader of the first full-scale expedition 
to Everest in 1922. As guide, Conway had Matthias Zurbruggen 
of Macugnaga of whom he later wrote: 

He was by nature ambitious of attainment. He desired to acquire 
every sort of knowledge and every sort of skill that he could come 
by. Ultimately, he could speak English, French, German, Italian, 
a litde Spanish and (when in India), a smattering of Hindustani. He 
was also a competent blacksmith, a good carpenter, a useful all 
round man with his hands, and a most accomplished craftsman with 
axe and rope on the mountain-side. ... He was everlastingly picking 
up information of one kind and another. I never knew a man with 
a more hospitable mind, nor one better gifted by nature with the 
potentialities of scholarship. 

In his own more rough-hewn way he must have been uncommonly 
like Conway himself. 

The Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Society, and the 
British Association, all contributed to the costs of the expedition 
which as Conway ruefully admitted later were considerably 
greater than had been expected. "Experience", he commented 
on his return, "had to be purchased. Mine is at the service of any 
future traveller who chooses to apply for it." 

The experience was considerable, for the expedition, in which 
Conway was not only leader and organiser, but leading climber, 
leading surveyor, and half a hundred other things, succeeded in 


carrying out the first major reconnaissance of a great Asian 
glacier. "What Freshfield did for the Caucasus, Conway did for 
the Himalaya", it has been said. "He was the man who brought 
the Himalaya to Europe." 

He surveyed the Hispar and Baltoro Glaciers. He unravelled 
the intimate topography of a great knot of high mountains that 
had not before been seen by Europeans. He reached the summit 
of the 23,ooo-ft. Pioneer Peak, then the greatest height attained 
by man. He won a knighthood for the work. He came back to 
Britain perhaps more profoundly dissatisfied than ever, so near 
had he been to finding what he sought. 

Romance almost became a reality Pie writes of his experiences 
in the great Biafo Valley]. The gods were very near at hand. We 
touched as it were the skirts of their garments. Yet even at the 
culminating moments of these strenuous dream-days there still 
lingered the sense of incompleteness, of something lacking. The 
secret was almost disclosed, but never quite, the veil never entirely 

Back in Britain he took up the threads dropped by the successful 
young man of independent means. He remained unsatisfied. 
The restlessness grew throughout the months, and in 1894 he 
embarked on a minor dream which had occupied many of his 
thoughts throughout the long years of Alpine research with 
Coolidge his traverse of the "Alps from End to End'*. 

Conway had been, for many years, a violent and sometimes 
unpopular protagonist of the ex-centrist theory of Alpinism. He 
did not believe that a man should settle down comfortably in an 
Alpine hotel and then climb all the peaks within range. Climbing 
was something different and more spiritually adventurous than 
this for Conway. Every day had to mount up to a new prospect 
for the morrow. Every day had to see not only an accomplish- 
ment, but a new, opening-out vista whose prospect had lain 
unrcvealed until the last possible moment. It was an almost 
revolutionary idea, and certainly a good one in an age when the 
Alps were, in the recurrent phrase, "played out". 

In pursuing it, Conway had more than once tried to press on to 


a reluctant Alpine Club his idea of a small select band, a club 
within a club, an idea which he had once propounded to Coolidge. 

I am going to read the Xmas paper to A.C. [he said}. I don't 
know about what, but I shall bring in my "Alpine Wanderers' 
Section of the A.C." proposal. To this end, I want the Alps divided 
into groups, and no man should be allowed to join the A. Wanderers 
who had not climbed at least one mountain and crossed one pass in 
at least one-quarter of the groups, and no one sd. be a life-member 
who had not dittoed in at least f others to cease to be members 
after three non-wandering seasons. A peak to be at least 3,ooom, 
a pass 2,5oom unless special reasons for admitting a lower one. 

No life-member to be able to qualify with less than 6 years of 
wandering. The division into groups is not for scientific purposes 
but intended to spread a man's travels. The area of each group 
should be traversed from end to end, a mere run into the edge of a 
group and out again must not count. 

Conway had divided the Alps into nearly thirty groups, and 
through virtually all of them he passed during the journey he 
began in the summer of 1894, and during which he was to climb 
twenty-one peaks and thirty-nine passes with Zurbruggen, two 
of the Ghurkas who had been with him in the Himalayas, and a 
young climber called Edward Fitzgerald who accompanied the 
party sporadically with his two guides. 

Conway had had great ideas for Fitzgerald. 

I have long thought [he wrote to Coolidge in 1893] that it would 
be a good thing to get a young member of the Club into training 
as an Alpine literature expert. I think I have found the man- 
Edward Fitzgerald. He is aged 22, newly married, a keen collector 
and reader of Alpine books, has done several years climbing, is a 
man of means and leisure, and wants to do something. ... I mean 
to make him a kind of sub-editor of the "Alpine Journal" [he was 
then in charge of the Journal], to receive and answer letters, etc. 
I shall make him go and call on you at Oxford when you come 
home and you will then be able to instill into him scholarly notions, 
and see what you think of him. He is a very retiring, solitary person, 
and might grow into a good editor if properly trained from the 


The suggestion was typical of Conway's good nature, of his 
feeling for Alpine history, and of the careful way in which he 
organised all his affairs. For Fitzgerald, it was a great opportunity. 
He dropped it with both hands. 

Conway's journey took him from the Col di Tenda at the 
western end of the Alps to Monte Viso, Mont Blanc, the Nord- 
end of Monte Rosa, the Jungfrau, the first ascent and passage 
of what Conway gallantly named the Piz Ghurka and the 
Gurkha Pass, and into Austria and the Gross Glockner and the 

He returned to Britain, partially satisfied at least, unsuccessfully 
contested Bath, and might well have been expected to settle down 
in enjoyment of his reputation. He had been knighted as a result 
of his Himalayan journey ; he had a growing reputation as an art 
connoisseur; he was the author of four books which had brought 
him, if no great financial reward, at least an enviable renown. 

He was nearly forty. It might, his friends must have felt, have 
been a wise thing to consolidate, to let the unknown rest in its 
obscurity. Conway was not that sort of man. 

I have never sought to be wise [he wrote later], but always to 
plunge into the unknown, to get away from the dull round of 
everyday and go forth as student or adventurer into subjects or 
regions where it seems to me at the moment that the unattained 
might be attainable, the unexperienced might be felt. 

It was in this mood that he received a short contribution for 
the Alpine Journal dealing with Spitzbergen. For most people 
there was little lustre or romance or opportunity about the place. 
For Conway, the unexpected article pointed the way. Perhaps 
Spitzbergen might provide a different set of sensations, a different 
collection of landscapes. Perhaps it might even be a country 
where, in close contact with land, sea, and water, he might find 
the answer to those problems which he was still seeking. He 
continued to think of Spitzbergen. Then the vague ideas were 
suddenly crystallised. 

Early one morning [he says] I was riding along the bank of the 
Serpentine in Hyde Park. It was misty and the water had been 



45 Lord Conway of Allington 

frozen over. The sheet of ice was broken up and the sun was 
penetrating the mist and glittering on the ice. The tender evanescent 
beauty of the scene took sudden possession of me. Thus, perhaps, 
on a grander scale, might arctic visions fashion themselves. At that 
moment the fates decided for me the two expeditions carried out in 
1896 and 1897. 

On the first of these, Conway made the pioneer crossing of 
Spitsbergen; on the second he made the first ascent of a number 
of peaks; on both he added immeasurably to the knowledge of 
a virtually unknown and unmapped country one-third the size 
of the whole British Isles. He did more than add to knowledge, 
however. Conway had the facility for recording and interpreting 
his knowledge so that it was readily understandable to the non- 
technical mind; he had a unique facility for taking descriptive 
writing to the nearest possible fringe of the purple patch; and he 
had an enthusiasm for all that he did that bubbled over into his 
writing. In one important way, he differed from most of the 
other climbers of his period; he evinced no wish to convert. He 
was not, like most of them, trying to exhort his readers up into 
the mountains. Reading Conway one has the impression of a 
man entranced with all that he saw and translating the vision, 
almost by accident, into such a form that all other men might 
understand it. 

There is his description of an evening when the final crossing 
of Spitzbergen was still in the balance. 

Climbing the hill above camp the moment it was pitched, I rose 
above the ice-wall which proved to be the side of the snout of a 
great glacier [he says]. When at last I could look over it and beyond 
lo! the eastern sea with Edge Island rising out of it and the ice- 
pack stretching away to a remote and clear horizon. I yelled down 
to my friends in camp, then climbed higher and higher and saw to 
even greater distances. Aghard Bay just beyond the glacier was 
sparkling in sunlight and dotted over with speckles and streaks of 
ice. The water was blue; blue, too, were the hills of Edge Island, and 
presently purple; the remotest of them ablaze with yellow light. 
Up and up I went, leaning against a gale till all the nearer hills 
were disclosed, domes of snow from which the big glacier 

V.M. 16 221 

descended. The limb of a rainbow was standing upon the ice. 
It was a view not merely worth seeing, but well worth having 
come to see. 

As a specimen of prose it is typical of Conway, the master, it 
seems, of almost everything to which he turned his hand. That 
he did turn his hand to innumerable subjects is shown by the 
record after his return from Spitzbergen, for he had become, it 
was soon shown, an expert on half a dozen aspects of the island 
and its history. 

The following summer he was off again, this time to South 
America, on a long, rambling journey, rather more expensive 
tban usual, one must imagine, during which he made the first 
ascent of Illimani and an ascent of Aconcagua. 

The account of what happened on Aconcagua shows, better 
than most incidents, the type of man that Conway was. Fitz- 
gerald, the young man of whom Conway had had great hopes, 
had himself been on the mountain the previous year while Conway 
was in Spitzbergen using, incidentally, Matthias Zurbruggen, 
Conway's former guide and was generally believed to have 
reached the top. When, therefore, Conway reached the final 
ridge after infinite trouble, labour, and not a little danger, he 

Fitzgerald's book had not been published at the time of my ascent 
[he explained later], I thought, and I believe correctly, that it would 
be harmful for the prestige of that book, just at the point of issue, 
if I were known to have accomplished in a week that was supposed 
to have taken Fitzgerald's party several months. 

It was only later that Conway learned that Fitzgerald, who 
apparently had not taken his training seriously enough, had 
broken down on the upper slopes of the mountain and had 
allowed bis first ascent to be made by his guide. 

From Aconcagua, Conway returned to Valparaiso, then 
travelled south to Tierra del Fuego, wandering almost discon- 
tentedly; maybe "in search of the Divine" as he called his last 

He returned to Britain early in 1899 and two years later took 


his official farewell to mountaineering by ascending the Breithorn 
with his daughter. It was her first climb, as it had been his some 
twenty-nine years earlier. There was a certain formalised, almost 
artificial ending to his association with active mountaineering. 
He was just forty-seven. 

Conway was to fill illustrious positions in the Royal Geographi- 
cal Society; he was to become President of the Alpine Club and 
of the Ligue pour la Conservation de la Suisse pittoresque which 
fought the Matterhorn railway scheme. He was to become an 
important figure, a link with, the mountaineering past, born 
before the formation of the Alpine Club. He outlived Coolidge, 
and Freshfield, and when his death came in 1937 he was the last 
survivor of the heroic age. Yet after the age of forty-seven his 
only climbs were those on a few holiday peaks. 

The explanation is more simple than one might at first imagine. 
For Conway, the mountains had performed their function; they 
had served the purpose for which he believed them to exist. 
Conway had gone to the mountains for the same reason that 
most other Victorian climbers had, to a lesser or greater degree, 
gone to them. He had gone to discover some indication that 
man was something more than the six-foot body that contained 
him, to discover whether or not he formed an essential part of 
an understandable universe. For Conway, seeking more care- 
fully, probing more deeply, than some of the others, the 
experiences of the mountains had proved that there were, after 
all, gods in spite of the scientists. There was still some doubt 
as to who they were, and Conway sought new methods of 

Each book of life that in turn we open we must one day close 
[he explained]. All save the last, which we shall be called from half- 
read. For all of us there are many kinds of joy as yet unexperienced, 
many activities untried, many fields of knowledge unexplored. We 
must not spend too large a fraction of life over one or the next 
will escape us. It is life, after all, that is the greatest field of 

Here, for Conway as for so many of his companions, was the 
V.M. 16* 223 

real glory; that, half conquerors, half pilgrims, they were able to 
stride into the darkness with a confidence found in the Alps, 
hoping that they yet might find some all-embracing belief that 
had eluded both them and the age through which they had 



The numerals in heavy type denote 

Abraham brothers, 204; 36 
Aconcagua, 222 
Adams-ReiUy, 26, 48, 130 
Agassiz, Louis, 44, 45 
Aghard Bay, 221 
Agnostic's Apology, An, 116, 120 
Aiguille d'Argentiere, 130 
Aiguilles d'Arves, 27, 38, 184 

Col des, 129 

Aiguille de Biormassay, 183 
Aiguille de Trelatete, 130 
Aiguille du Moine, 47 
Aiguille Verte, 58, 130, 157 
Aiguilles de la Sausse, Col des, 129 
Ailefroide, 163 
Ainslie, Charles, 73 

Albert, Coolidge's manservant, 168; 28 
Albert, Prince Consort, 53 
Aletsch Glacier, 21, 108 
Aletschhorn, 61 
Alfred, Prince, 61 
All the Year Round, 134-137, 203 
AUalin Pass, 69 
Aimer, Christian, 24, 72, 129, 141, 148- 

151, 157, 158, 162, 163, 164, 167 
"Christian, Young", 24, 151, 163, 164, 

168; 14 

"Aimer's Leap", 141-142, 144 
Alpenstocks, 39, 105, 115, 194 
Alphubel, 6 1 
Alpiglen, 162 

Alpine Club, 16, 26, 31, 36, 37, 38, 42, 48, 
50, 67, 70, 78-90, 98, 99, no, 120, 124, 
133, 139, 141-142, 146, 164, 171, 191, 
194, 207, 212, 217, 223 
Committee, 126, 147 
Members, 24, 37, 52, 54, 77, 91, 93, io<5, 
113, 115, 122, 128, 151-152, 168, 197, 
Presidents, 46, 55, 76, 95, 96-97, 121, 

134; 6 
Register, 83 

Alpine Dining Club, 83, 120 
Alpine Guide, 25, 95, 96, 98, 203 
Alpine history, 162-163, 165-166, 167, 

168, 171, 208 

Alpine huts, 16, 54, 62, 63, 94 
Alpine Journal, 23, 38, 40, 66, 75, 95, 98, 
112, 113, 115, 121, 151, 164, 166,203, 

211, 217, 2l8 

Alpine Studies, 171 
Alp Lusgen, 20 

the figure numbers of the illustrations 

Alps in Nature and History, The, 168-171, 


Alps in 1864, The, 155 
Altels, 67, 89, 93, 177 
Ames, E. L., 114 
Ancien Passage, Mont Blanc, 67 
Archaeology, no-iii 
Anderegg, Melchior, 89, 119, 177, 182; 15 
Andes, 126, 137, 139, 140, 202 
Angeville, Henriette d', 174-175 
Ankogel, 218 
Anzasca, Val, 115 
Aosta, 175 
Ararat, Mount, 74 
Archer-Thomson, 195 
Argentiere, Aiguille d', 130 
Armenia, 73 

Arnold, Matthew, 42, 83 
Arolla, 47 

Arthur, Prince (Duke of Connaught), 31 
Artists, 23, 64-65, 122 
Arves, Aiguilles d*, 27, 38, 184 

Col des, 129 

Ascent of Mont Blanc, 24, 30, 53, 188 
Atkinson, Henry, 156, 158 
Atkinson, Thomas, 24, 83-84 
Auldjo, John, 54 
Austria, 58, 218 
"Avalanche, The," 39 
Avalanches, 26, 105, 124, 173 

Baedeker, Herr, 148, 162 

Baillie-Grohman, 154 

Ball, Cima di, 121 

Ball, John, 23, 25, 46, 81, 91, 95~98, 168, 

193, 203, 212; 6 

Balmat, Auguste, 42, 46, 47, 48, 68, 69-70, 
71, 72, 1 06 

Michael, 156 
Balmoral, 188; 32 
Baltoro Glacier, 216 
Barford, J. E. Q., 203 
Barnard, George, 64-65, 156, 206 

Mrs., 175 

Baumgartner, C. A. O., 193 
Bavaria, 119 
Beddgelert, 188 
Bel Alp, 21, 109, 181; II 
Bello, son of Tschingel, 163 
Bennen, Johann Joseph, 107-108, 127 
Ben Nevis, 194 
Bentinck, Lady, 176 


Brarde, La, 43, 129, 184 

Bernese Oberknd, 17, 21, 39, 44* 58, 64, 

71, 114, 115, 126, 155, 164, 175, 183 
Bernina Alps, 58 
Bethesda, 194 
Beverlcy, William, 53 
Biafo Valley, 216 
Bietschhorn, <5l, 164 
Bionnassay, Aiguille de, 183 
Birkbeck, John, 74, in 
Bisson, 115 

Blanc, Mont, 16, 19, 44, 54, 55, 5<5, 57, 
58-59, 64, 67, 69, 73, 75-76, 87, 89, 
106, 114, 115, 119, 151, 155, 156, 158, 
163, 164, 174, 175, 181, 184, 194, 195, 
218; 31 

ascent from St. Gervais, 120 
ascent by A. Smith, 37, 49-50, 5*-53, 107 
climbed by women, 174-175, 181 
first ascent, 195 first guideless ascent, 74, 

75, H5 
map, 26, 48 
tragedy of Dr. Hand's party, 38, 49 

Blond, Mrs. Aubrey le, see Le Blond, 
Mrs. A. 

Blumlisalphom, 89, 162 

Blunt, Wilfrid Scawen, 83 

Bodleian Library, 172 

Bohren, Peter, 72 

Bonney, Thomas George, 20, 23, 27, 42, 
43, 48, 91, 9^-94, 95, 127, 152, 155 

Bosses du Dromadaire, 151 

Bossons, Glacier des, 54 

"Botherhead" (Rev. Wethered), 25-26 

Bourcet, 27, 93 

Bourrit, Marc-Theodore, 156 

Bowring, Frederick, 191 

Breche de la Meije, 129 

Breche de Roland, 43 

Breithorn, 208, 223 

Bremble, John de, 31 

Brenva Ridge, 19, 163, 194 

Bieuil, 109, 125, 127, 130, 164 

Brevoort, Meta, 16, 27, 146-149, 151, 152, 
I55-I58, i<5i, 162-165, 174, 177, 181- 

Brewster, Sir David, 41 

Brianfon, 93 

British Association, 44, 215 

Brockedon, William, 19 

Brown, Yeats, 19 

Browne, G. F., Bishop of Bristol, 133, 134 

Browning, Oscar, 65, 134 

Bruce, Lt. (later General), 215 

Brunner, Fratilein, 162 

Buet, 23 

Burton, Sir Richard, 83 

Butler, A.J., 167 

Byron, 116 

Cader Idris, 90; 43 
Cairngorm Club, 40 
Cairngorms, 188 

Cambridge University, 61, 79, 133 
Campbell, Miss, 19 

Mrs., 19 

Canadian Pacific Railway, 139 
Canadian Rockies, 84, 140; see also Rocky 


Capel Curig, 90, 92, *94 
Carrel, Felicite", 182 
Jean-Antoine, 125, 127, 128, 130, 139 
Jean-Jacques, 127, 128 
Carrington, Charles, 6 1 
Castelnau, Boileau de, 62, 183 
Caucasus, 84, 216 
Cawood, A. H., 75 
Cenis, Mont, 127, 137 
Chalet Montana, 144, 167, 172 
Chamberlain, Joseph, 87 
Chamonix, 37, 41, 46, 47, 49, 5O, 51. 

52, 54, 55, 5<5, 58, 69, 70, 71, 7<5, 

114, 126, 130, 140, 161, 174, 175, 


Chamonix Polka, 54 
Charier, Jean, 181; 30 
Chimborazo, 139 

"Chimney", Matterhorn, 127, 128 
Chorley, Lord, 202 
Chronicles of St. Bernard, 35-36 
Cima di Ball, 121 
Cima di Jazzi, 148 
Cirque de Gavarnie, 43 
Clergy, 18, 21-22, 23, 24, 73, 92, 110-121, 


Cliffe, John Henry, 188 
Climbers' Club, 90, 108, 194 
Climbing in Britain, 203-204 
Climbing in the British Isles, 203 
Climbing in the English Lake District, 204 
Cnicht, 188 
Cobbler Club, 186 
Col de la FauciUe, 95 
Col de la Pilatte, 129 
Col deMiagc, in 
Col de Voza, 71 
Col des Aiguilles d'Arves, 129 
Col des Aiguilles de la Sausse, 129 
Col des Hirondelles, 121 
Col di Tenda, 218 
Col du Gant, 19, 38, 106, 119, 148 
Col du Lautaret, 137 
Col du Says, 43 
Col du Sellar, 43 
Cole, Mrs., 115, 175, 176 
Coleman, E. T., 206 
Colgrove, 75 
Collie, Norman, 194 
Connaught, Duke of, 31 


Conway, William Martin, 40, 121, 134, 
140, 147, 154, 155, 167,205, 206-224; 

Conway and Coolidge's Climbers' Guides, 


Coolidge, W. A. B., 24, 25, 26, 27, 43, 48, 
64, 94, 95, 98, 112, 113, 138, 139, 
141-144, 145-173, 174, 181, 182, 185, 
197, 208, 211, 212, 213-214, 217, 223; 
Letter to his mother, 23 

Corvatsch Pass, 183 

Courmayeur, 35, 163 

Couttet, David, 46, 47 

Couttet, Joseph Marie, 39 

Couttet, Sylvain-, 181 

Co well, John, 134 

Cretins, 28, 93 

Crimea, 73 

Crowley, Aleister, 215 

Croz, Michael, 74, 129, 130-132, 134, 

Gust's Gully, 194 

Cwm Glas, 188 

Cyprus, 214 

D'Angeville, Henriette; see Angeville, 

Henriette d j 

Darwinian thesis, 36, 92, 119, 196 
Daudet, Alphonse, 102 
Dauphine* Alps, 20, 27, 43, 44, 47, 58, 61, 

62, 92, 93, 94, 123, 129, 130, 145, 148, 

152, 163, 164, 182, 183, 184 
maps, 93 
Davidson, Sir W. Edward, 166-167, 175- 

176, 185; 19 

Davies, Llewellyn, 61, 113 
De Bremble, John, 31 
De Castelnau, Boileau; see Castlenau, B. de 
Delia Disgrazia, Monte, 120 
Dent, Clifton, 167 
Dent d'H&ens, 128 
Dent du Midi, 89 
Dent Blanche, 58, 163 
Deep Ghyll, 197 
De Saussure; see Saussure, de 
Diablerets, 162-163 
Dickens, Charles, 50, 137 
Dictionary of National Biography, 25 
Doe Crag, 198 

Dogs, 24, 151, I55-I5<5, 157-1^3, 164, 165 
Dolent, Mont, 58, 130 
Dolomites, 43, 58, 77, 95, 164, 175 
Dom, 61, 163 
Douglas, Lord Francis, 74, 109, 125, 130- 


Dragons, 27 

Dress Circle, Napes Needle, 202 
Dromadaire, Bosses du, 151 

Eagle's Nest, The, 48, 68; 8 

Ecuador, 139 

Eckenstein, Oscar, 207, 215 

Ecrins, 43, 129, 141, 163 

Edge Island, 221 

Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 41 

Edinburgh University, 40-41 

Edward VII, formerly Prince of Wales, 30, 

53, 54, 139 

Edwardes, Ernest, 115 
Egypt, 214 
Egyptian Hall, Mont Blanc Exhibition, 53, 


Eiger, 58, 61, too, 105, 137, 151, 162, 173 
Elan Dam, 178 
Ellerton, John, 114 
Elliott, Julius, 113, 193 
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 167 
Engadine, 183, 208 
Ennerdale Face, Great Gable, 201 
Evans, Dr. Joan, iio-m 
Everest, Mount, 215 
Evolena, 47 

Fairbanks, Arthur, 164, 181 
Faraday, Michael, 25, 64 

Mrs., 175 

Farrar, Captain, 75, 132, 134, 142, 146 
Faucille, Col de la, 95 
Favret, Francois, 54 
Fell and Rock Climbing Club, 202 

Journal of the, 198 
Fell-walkers, 188-193, 196 
Financial aspect of mountaineering, 50, 52, 

62, 63, 64, 66, 69, 74, 76 
Finsteraarhorn, 29, 57, 58, 67, 71, 79, 106, 

114, 151 

Fitzgerald, Edward, 217-218, 222 
Floyd, Charles G., 51 
Forbes, James David, 17, 20, 24, 25, 26, 

30, 3<5-37, 40-48, 49, 5<>, 69, 70, 71, 

76, 77, 93, 99, 100-102, 106, 107 
Fortunatus, 16 

Franco-Prussian War, 157, 163 
Franklin, 123 
Freshfield, Douglas, 31, 54, 84, 154, 166, 

167, 214, 216, 223 
Mrs., 175 

Gaiter Club, 186 

"Game of Mont Blanc", 54 

Gardiner, Frederick, 64, 75, 164, 182; 


Garrick Club, 50 

Gavarnie, Cirque de, 43 

G6ant, Cachat le; see Le Ge*ant, C. 

G&nt, Col du, 19, 38, 106, 119, 148 

Gemmi Pass, 25 

General Strike, 172 


Geological Society, 35 

Geologists, 21, 22, 23, 43, 92 

George, Hereford Brooke, 23, 88, 1 12, 

113, 115-119, 151, 157. 158; 12 
Ghurka Pass, 218 
Girdlestone, Rev., 74, 113, 124 
Glaciers, 19, 20, 44, 45-47, 55, 58, 68, 95, 
105, 107, 126, 137, 158, 214, 216, 221 

controversy, 20, 24, 45-47, *6 
Glacier de Bossons, 54 
Gladstone, William, 187 
Glyders, 188 
Goitrous peasants, 27 
Golden Age of mountaineering, 17, 26, 27, 

31, 57, 61, 63* 68, 91, 123 
Grahame, William, 16 
Graian Alps, 58, 214 
Grand Combin, 58 
Grand Cornier, 130 
Grand Paradis, 61 
Grand tour, 41, 101 
Grand Tournalin, 128 
Grande Casse, 61 
Grands Mulcts, 52, 115; 31 
Great Doup, 193 
Great End, 194 
Great Gable, 191, 197, 198, 201 

Ennerdale Face, 201 
Great St. Bernard Pass, 3 1 
Grave, La, 129 
Greenland, 126, 137, 139 
Grenoble, 93 
Gressoney, 178 
Grimsel, 105, 114 
Grimsel Hospice, 44, 46 
Grindelwald, 17, 58, 72, 105, 144, 147, 148, 
158, 161, 167, 168, 171; 16, 28 

as base for Wetterhorn, 17, 59, 69 

guides, 22 
Grindelwald Glacier, 158; 12 

Lower, 105 

Grohman, Baillie-, 154 
Gross Glockner, 218 
Gross-Nesthorn, 115 
Grove, Cranford, 194 
Guggi, 105 

Guide books, 19, 25, 42, 47, 74, 76, 95, 96, 
98, 139, 147, 167, 168, 201-202, 203- 

204, 211, 212-214 

Guide-chef, 28 

Guide to the Central Alps, 98 

Guide to the Eastern Alps, 98 

Guide to the Western Alps, 98, 168 

Guideless mountaineering, 56, 59, 64, 74-75, 

87, H3 

Guides, 16, 20, 21, 28, 39, 42, 43, 46, 47, 
48, 51, 54, 57, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 
69, 70-71, 72, 74, 76, 88-89, 95, 107- 
108, 125, 127-128, 129, 149, 151, 158, 

163, 164, 174, 175, 181, 182, 183, 204, 

215, 217, 222 

Gurnard's Head, 194 

Hadow, Douglas, 74, 125, 130-132, 134 
Hamel, Dr., 39, 49, 67 
Hardman, Ellis, 82 
Hardy, J. F., 79, 113, 119 
Harrison, Frederic, 29-30, 196 
Haskett-Smith, W. P., 195, 196, 197-201, 

202-204; 41 
Hastings, Geoffrey, 195 
Hawkins, Francis Vaughan, 114, 127 
Hawkshaw, John Clarke, 93, 94 
Heidelberg, 102 
H&rens, Dent d', 128 
High Alps without Guides, The, 74 
Highland Mountain Club, 186 
Hill-wanderers, 188 

Himalayas, 20, 167, 181, 207, 216, 217, 218 
HinchlifF, Thomas, 66, 67-68, 76, 77, 81, 

H9, 193 
Hindhead, 109 
Hindu Kush, 20 
Hirondelles, Col des, 121 
Hispar Glacier, 216 
Hooker, Dr., 105 
Hornby, 162 
Hornli, 183 
Hort, Fentonjohn Anthony, 79, 80-81, 82, 

99, 113, 114, 119, 124, 126 
H6tel des Londres, Chamonix, 50, 52 
"Hotel des Neuchatelois", 44, 46 
Hours of Exercise in the Alps, 108 
Hudson, Charles, 61, 64, 73-76, 108, in, 

113, 114, 126, 130-132; 5 
Huts, Alpine, 16, 54, 62, 63, 94 
Huxley, Prof., 105, 194 

Ice axes, 96, 155 

niirnani, 222 

Illustrated London News, 49 

Imboden, Roman, 184 

India, 207 

Inn conditions in Switzerland, 26-27, 66, 


Innsbruck, 41 
Interlaken, 69, 72, 105, 133 
Inverclyde, Lord, 186 
Italian Alpine Club, 133 

Jackson, James, 192-193; 37 

Mrs., 33 

Japanese Alps, 84 
Jardin, 69, 126 
Jazzi, Cima di, 148 
Jerrold, Douglas, 50 
Joad, G., 114-115 
John Rylands Library, Manchester, 171 


Jones, O. G., 195, 201-202, 204; 38 
Josias Simler et les Origines de I* Alpinisms 

jusqu'ou 1600, 168 
Journal of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club 

of Great Britain, 198 
Jungfrau, 19, 29, 44, 57, 58, 71, 89, 105, 

114, 115, 158, 162, 164, 218 
first British ascent, 44 
Jungfraujoch, 120 
Jura, 39 

Karakoram, 20, 214, 215 
Kaufmarm, Ulrica, 72 
Keen, Mount, 42 

Kennedy, Edward Shirley, 16, 64, 73, 74, 
75, 79, 80, 97, 113, 114, 115, 119, 157 
Kippel, 162 
Koecher, Miss, 201 

La B6rarde, 43, 129, 184 

Ladies' Alpine Club, 184 

La Grave, 129 

Lake District, 76, 187, 191, 193, 195, 197, 

198, 201 
Langkofel, 43 
Languard Pass, 92, 183 
Lauener, Ukich, 71, 72 
Lautaret, Col du, 137 
Le Blond, Mrs. Aubrey, 176-177, 184-185 
Le G6ant, Cachat, 41 
Leasowes, The, 79-80, 113 
Leaves from A Journal of Our Life in the 

Highlands, 188 

Leopold I, of the Belgians, 53 
Lepontine Alps, 58 
Leukerbad, 25 

Lewis-Lloyd, Emmeline, 178-181; 29 
Lightfoot, Canon, 113, 114 
Llanberis Pass, 90 

Lloyd, Emmeline Lewis-, 178-181; 29 
Llyn Gwynant, 90 
Lochgoilhead, 186 
Lochnagar, 188; 32 
London University, 69, 94 
Londres, H6tel de, Chamonix, 50, 52 
Longman, William, 76-77, 81-82, 97, 

123, 153, 193 

Longmans, publishers, 76, 156 
Lunn, Sir Arnold, 83 
Lusgen Alp, 109 
Lusgen, Villa, 109 

MacCormick, A. D., 207, 215 
Macdonald, Reginald, 127, 128, 194 
Macugnaga, 215 
Mallet, Mont, 58, 121 
Malvem Beacon, 208 
"Man of Mont Blanc" (A. Smith), 17, 23, 
30, 37, 49-56, 107, 188 

Man in the Moon, The, 49 
Maps, 26, 27, 48, 93 
Marburg, 102 
Marjelensee, 108 
Marmolata, 43 

Mathews, Benjamin St. John Attwood, 79 
Charles Edward, 16, 43, 79, 87-88, 89- 

90, 91, 92, 98, 101, 140, 161, 186 
William, 78-80, 89, 93 
William, Jun., 79 

Matterhom, 17, 21, 25, 26, 38, 45, 47, 58, 
6l 62, 73, 89, 107, 108-109, H3, H4, 
123-124, 125-126, 127, 128, 129, 
130-137, 139, 142, 143, 145, 146, 154. 
161, 182, 193, 195, 197, 223 
climbed from Breuil, 109, 125 
climbed from Zermatt, 17, 26 
first lady's ascent, 164, 182 
guideless ascent, 74-75 
tragedy and first ascent, 25, 48, 62, 74, 
80, 102, 108-109, 112, 113, 123-124, 
130, 137, 138, 140, 153, 187 
Meije, 61, 62, 75, 145, 154, 163, 182-184 

guideless ascent, 75 
Meije, Breche de la, 129 
Mer de Glace, 41, 46, 71, 92, 126, 175; 

9. 17, 18 

Meyer, Maud, 84-85; 34 

Meyers, 29, 58 

Miage, Col de, in 

Midi, Dent du 89 

Milestone Buttress, Tryfaen, 129 

Modern Painters, 24, 30-31, 37, 47, 119 

Moel Hebog, 188 

Moine, Aiguille du, 47 

Morning Pass, 130 

Monch, 58, 89 

Monchjoch, 115 

Mont Blanc; see Bknc, Mont 

"Mont Blanc, Game of", 54 

"Mont Blanc Quadrille", 54 

"Mont Blanc Sideshow", 24, 30, 53, 188 

Mont Cenis; see Cenis, Mont 

Mont Dolent; see Dolent, Mont 

Mont Mallet; see Mallet, Mont 

Mont Pelvoux; see Pelvoux, Mont 

Montanvert, 25, 41, 46, 106, 126 

Monte Delia Disgrazia; see Delia Dis- 

grazia, Monte 
Monte Moro Pass, 69 
Monte Rosa; see Rosa, Monte 
Monte Viso; see Viso, Monte 
Moore, A. W., 43, 83, 120, 129, 130, 154, 

155, 194 

Moro Pass, Monte, 69 
Morshead, Frederick, 56, 64 
Mount Ararat, 74 
Mount Everest, 215 
Mount Keen, 42 


Mountaineering, 194 
Mountaineering clothes, 175, 176-177 

equipment, 62, 63, 96, 99, 115, 129, 152 
Mountaineering in Britain, 61, 87, 89, 


Mountaineering in 1861, 77 
Mountaineering technique, 20, 30, 57, 62, 

63, 132 

Mnmm, A. L., 83, 87 
Mummery, 214-215 
Murray, John, 19, 167, 168 
Mymbyr Lakes, 92 

Nagar, 215 

Nantgwyllt, 178, 181 

Napes Needle, 198-201, 202 

Napes Ridges, 198 

Napoleon, 126 

National Education League, 87 

Needle, Napes, 198-201, 202 

"Neuchatelois, Hotel des", 44, 46 

North Wales, 187, 188, 193, 194; 43 44 

see also Wales 
Norway, 47, 84-87, 184, 202 

Old Weisthor, 108 

Outline Sketches in the High Alps of Dau- 

phine 1 , 155 

"Overland Mail, The", 49, 5 
Owen, Harry, 191 
Oxford Alpine Club, 115 
Oxford University, 41, 147, 163 

Packe, Charles, 76, 84, I93> 198 

Paillon, Mary, 184 

Pall Mall Gazette, 201 

Paradis, Maria, 174 

Parker brothers, 75, 127 

Parson's Nose, 188 

"Patriarch of the Pillarites" (J. Jackson), 


Pavey Ark Gully, 197 
Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, 66, 75, 77, 95, 

97-98, 99, 123 
Peasants ofChamouni, The, 49 
Peel, Sir Robert, 52-53 
Pelmo, 95 

Pelvoux, Mont, 92, 94, 123, 127, 141, 163 
Pen-y-Gwryd, 90, 191; 43 
Pennine Alps, 19, 58, 61, 128, 164 
Perthes, Boucher de, no 
Perthshire Mountain Club, 186 
Perthshire Society of Natural History, 186 
Philips, Francis, 5 1 
Philpott, The Rev. T. H., 162 
Photography, 114-115 
Pigeon, Ellen, 175, 185 
Pilatte, Col de la, 129 

Pilkington, Charles and Lawrence, 75, 

167, 194; 13 

Pillar Rock, 113, 192-193, 196, 197, 201 
Pioneer in the High Alps, A, 171 
Pioneer Peak, 216 
Piz Corvatsch, 183 
Piz Ghurka, 218 
Piz Languard, 92, 183 
Plan des ties, 163 
Playground of Europe, The, 121 
Ponsonby, Sir Henry, 187 
Porters, 44, 51, 62, 63, 130 
Prior's Guide, 201-202 
Punch, 49 
Pyrenees, 43, 76, 84, 181, 193, W, 198, 202 

Race for Life, A, 100 

Railways in Switzerland, 26, 223 

Ramsay, 20, 75, 91, 106 

Regrets of a Mountaineer, 64 

Rhone Glacier, 105 

Rhone Valley, 58, 106, 109 

Richardson, Kathleen, 183-184 

Rirlelberg, 47 

Riffelhorn, 95, 176 

Rigi, 102 

Rimpfischhorn, 6r 

Robinson, John Wilson, 196-197; 39 

Roche Melon, 100 

Rocky Mountains, 139, 202; see also 

Canadian Rockies 
Rodier, Joseph, 43 
Roland, Breche de, 43 
Romanche Valley, 27, 58 
"Rope Wall", 129 
Rosa, Monte, 58, 61, 67, 74, 75, 89, 93, 

114, 120, 128, 211, 218 
guideless ascent, 106 
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 116 
Route Napol6on, 129 
Royal Geographical Society, 215, 223 
Royal Institution, 20, 36 
Royal Society, 41, 106, 215 
Rucksack Club, 90 
Ruskin, John, 17, 20, 24, 30-40, 42, 45, 

47, 48, 49, 5<5, 64, 65, 67, 73, 105, 114, 

134, 206; 2 
Ruwenzori Mountains, 84 

Sackville-West, William Edward, 51 

St. Bernard dogs, 30, 54 

St. Bernard Pass, Great, 31 

St. Gervais, 64, 114, 120 

St. Jean de Maurienne, 38 

St. Michael in the Arc Valley, 129 

St. Nicholas Valley, 95 

Sala, 50, 51 

Sallanches, 71 


Saturday Review, 194 

Sausse, Col des Aiguilles de la, 129 

Saussure, de, 19, 31, 36, 40, 41, 52, 156 

Says, Col du, 43 

Scawfell Pinnacle, 197, 198 

Scheidcgg, 162 
Little, 105 

Scheuchzer, 27 

Schreckhorn, 58, 71, 120, 137, 162, 193 

Schwareubach, 177 

Schwartzthor, 95 

Schynigc Platte, 69 

Scientific approach to mountaineering, 17, 
21, 23, 33, 36, 44, 91, 94, 95, 99, 100, 107 

Scientists, 17, 18-23, 36, 40-48, 91-109, in 

Scotland, 194, 195, 202 

Scottish Mountaineering Club, 186 

Scrambles amongst the Alps, 108, 112, 121, 
124, 125, 126, 128, 131, 133, 134, 
137-138, 139, 141, 143, 155 

Scriven, George, 208, 211 

Seatree, George, 39 

Sebastopol, 73 

Sellar, Col du, 43 

Se"miond, 27 

Sesiajoch, 175 

Shipton, Eric, 36 

Siddons, Mrs., 41 

Silberhorn, 162 

Silver Age of mountaineering, 61 

Simler, Josias, i<58 

Simond, Auguste, 72 

Simplon, 45 

Sixt Valley, 48, 68 

Skye, 194 

Slade, Frederick, 19 

Slingsby, Cecil, 84-87, 184, 186, 187, 194, 

195; 35 
Smith, Albert, 17, 23, 30, 37, 49~5 <5 > I0 7 

188; 4 
Smith, W. P. Haskett-, 195, 196, 197-201, 


Smyth brothers, 73, 74, 75, H3 "4 
Smythe, Frank, 36, 138 
Snowdon, 20, 90, 92, 188, 194, 195, 207 
Snowdon Horseshoe, 89 
"Soaped pole" jibe, 32, 37 
Society of Welsh Rabbits, 90, 186-187 
Solly, Godfrey Allan, 194, 195 
Somme Valley, no 
South Africa, 84 
Spain, 202 

Spirit of Travel, The, 76 
Spitzbergen, 218-222 
Spooner, 201, 202 
Stelvio, 25 
Stephen, Leslie, 25, 31, 35, 3$, 38, $4, 88, 

99-100, 112, 113, 115, 116-121, 138, 

167, 193-194; I5 * 6 

Stogdon, John, 64, 181-182 

Story of Mont Blanc, The, 53 

Strahlegg Pass, 148 

Straton, Miss, 16, 178-181; 29, 30 

Studer, Prof., 29, 47 

Sty Head, 39 

Summer Months among tlie Alps, 68, 76, 77 

Superstitions, Alpine, 21, 27-28, 58, 62, 93 

Swiss Alpine Club, 133, 141-142, 172 

Swiss mountaineers, 29, 58, 6 1 

Swiss Travel and Swiss Guide-Books, 167 

Switzerland, 167 

Sylvain-Couttet, Madame, 181 

Syria, 214 

Tartarin on the Alps, 102 
Taugwalder, Peter (old), 130-131 
Peter (young), 131 
brothers, 74, 130, 134 
Tenda, Col di, 218 
The"odule Pass, 19, 69, 94, 125, 148 
Thomson, Archer-, J. M., 195 
Thorington, Monroe, Dr., 161-162 
Tlioughts on Being, 73 
Thun, 25 
Tiarraz, 50 
Tierra del Fuego, 222 
Tilman, H. W., 36 
Time and Chance, no 
Times, The, 102, 133, 134, 137, 167 
Torrenthom, 71, 162 
Travel facilities in Switzerland, 26-27 
Travels amongst the Great Andes. . . , 139 
Travels among the Alps of Savoy, 42, 47, 76 
Trelate'te, Aiguille de, 130 
Trollope, Anthony, 82 
Trou de Toro, 43 
Tryfaen, 129 
Tschingel, 24, 151, I55~I5<5, 157-163, 164, 

165; 26, 27 
Tschingel Pass, 69 
Tuckett, Francis Fox, 23, 43, 91, 94, 98- 

101, 142, 151-1 5 2 ^54, 155, 171, 194 
Turin, 94 
Turkey, 214 
Tyndall, John, 20, 24, 36, 40, 42, 45, 48, 

77, 9i, 99-ioo, 101-109, 125, 127, 

128, 194, 195; 7 IJ 

University students, 61, 66 
Unteraar Glacier, 44, 45, 105 
Unwin, T. Fisher, 213-214 
Uri, 114 

Val Anzasca, 115 
Valgaudemar, 43 
Vallouise, 44 
Valparaiso, 222 
V6non Valley, 43 


Victor-Emmanuel, 178 

Victoria, Queen, 30, 53, 54, 57, 187, 188; 


Viescherjoch, 120 
Villa Lusgen, 109 
Viso, Monte, 43, 94, 218 
Voza, Col de, 71 

"Wales, 194, 195, 202; see also North "Wales 
"Wales, Prince of, afterwards Edward VII, 

30, 53, 54, 139 
Walker, Francis, 19, 182 

Horace, 89, 129, 142, 154, 194 

Lucy, 162, 174, 177-178, 181, 182 
Walton, Elizah, 206 
Wanderings among the High Alps, 61, 68, 

76, 77, H9 

Wastdale Head, 197, 203; 40 
Weisshorn, 45, 58, 89, 107-108, 124, 163 
Weisthor, Old, 108 
"Wengern Alp, 25, 115 
West, William Edward Sackville-, 51 
Westmorland, Kate, 192 

brothers, 192 
Wethered, Rev., 25-26 
Wetterhorn, 17, 58, 89, 105, 151, 164, 172, 

ascent by Wills, 48, 55, 61, 68, 69, 71-72, 

Where There's a Will There's a Way, 75, 

Whymper, Edward, 17, 20, 24, 25, 27, 38, 

43, 61, 62, 73, 80, 88, 92, 108, 111-112, 

113, 121, 122-144, 153-154, 163; 20, 


Matterhorn tragedy, 25, 48, 74, 112, 

123-124, 130-137 
tent, 129 

Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, 128-129 
Wilde, Oscar, 68 
Willink, H. G., 206 
Wills, Sir Alfred, 17, 48, 55, 61, 64, 68-73, 

76, 77, 88, 106, in, 119; 3, 8 
Mrs., 175 

Women mountaineers, 19, 61, 84-85, 162, 

Year-book of the Swiss Alpine Club, 141 
Yorkshire Ramblers' Club, 90, 187 
Young, Geoffrey Winthrop, 36, 75, 90, 

Zermatt, 47, 58, 69, 74, 94, 95, 109, "4. 
123, 126, 129, 133, 134, 138, 140, 144, 
146, 161, 162, 164, 176, 184, 193, 211; 

Zermatt Pocket Book, 211-212 

Zinal Rothhorn, 176 

Zug, 102 

Zurbruggen, Matthias, 215, 217, 222 

Zurich, 102, 119 

c z