Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Coming up: Albert Mummery- A first ascent on the Matterhorn

"The night proved intensely cold. The clouds had prevented any sunshine reaching the plateau, and the small pools of water and patches of snow, even when we first reached it, were still hard frozen from the previous night's frost. These icy rocks below and a keen north wind above seemed to freeze us to the very marrow, and we shivered with the pain of cold under our scanty rugs. We were all glad when it was time to be moving, and at the first hint of dawn (4-15 a.m.) we began to scramble up the rocks and along the ridge leading towards the snow arete. At 5.20 &m. we reached its foot, and an a sheltered ledge found the debris of Penhall's camp. Here we halted for breakfast and deposited the blankets which, thinking it just possible we might have to spend another night on the moun­tain, we had brought with us to this point. After half an hour's halt we put on the rope and began to ascend the snow ridge. Reaching the rocky teeth, which, when seen from Zermatt, stand out conspicuously against the sky, we scrambled over the rickety piles of frost-riven rock. Beyond the third tooth we were pulled up by a deep cleft. Burgener and Petrus, soon scrambled down the face of the rocks to our right and succeeded in getting into it. Further direct progress was, how­ever, impossible, as the ridge rose perpendicularly above them and a great rib supporting it bulged out in front and precluded all chance of traversing."

This Friday, Victorian gentleman climber Albert Mummery's account of an impressive first ascent on the iconic Matterhorn.

London Tannery owner Fred Mummery is the man most often credited with inventing modern alpinism, possibly as a result of physical deformity which meant he could not carry heavy loads – he simply had to go fast and light. He was also intensely myopic – an attribute which probably accounted for his legendary hopelessness at route finding. This seems to have caused him to blunder into ground-breaking technical situations from which he then had to climb his way out. ‘Mummery was not good in knowing what was the best way up a mountain’, fellow Alpine Club member Norman Collie declared in no uncertain terms. Despite this disadvantage, Mummery was one of the first to break with the tradition of guided climbing and pointed the way forward for the sport to develop. Mummery’s magnetic personality attracted about him a talented group of climbers, amongst them the redoubtable female alpinist Lily Bristow, leading to his famous joke that ‘All mountains appear doomed to pass through three stages: An inaccessible peak – The most difficult ascent in the Alps – An easy day for a lady.’ This was merely an ironic tribute to the ability of the amazing Bristow who led many of the pitches of their climbs and who probably had more climbing experience than any other woman up to that point. Unfortunately her partnership with Mummery was cut short after 1893, possibly after the intervention of Mrs Mummery. Mummery was also one of the first pioneers to take alpine skills to the Himalaya, when he attempted Nanga Parbat in 1895. Unfortunately, he disappeared on the slopes along with his Gurkha colleague, probably victim to an avalanche, and no more was heard of him until the 1990s when an expedition found one of his boots with his foot still in it. 

Biographical information courtesy of Colin Wells/Mountain Heritage Trust