on 31 March 2006
Since I am interested both in mountaineering and in things Victorian, this book was perfect for me. Whymper wrote with a typically British understatement and wry amusement. It is a style of writing that you either love or hate: I love it. He was not only a pioneer of mountaineering - doing amazing things with the pitifully poor clothing and equipment of the day (he was happy to bivouac on a mountain with only a "blanket bag") - but also very involved in geology and, especially, the study of glaciers. It was typically Victorian to involve oneself in several fields of study at the same time. He also has interesting things to say about the inhabitants of the alpine regions, including the consequences of the in-breeding that was apparently common in some areas. This book is a delightful relic of very different times.
on 18 September 2009
Originally Published in 1871. Whymper details his Alps climbs in the 1860s with many first ascents including Mont Pelvoux in 1861, Barre des Écrins in 1864, Mont Dolent and Aiguille d'Argentière in 1864, and Grand Cornier, Pointe Whymper on the Grandes Jorasses, and Aiguille Verte in 1865. But Whymper will always be remembered for the first ascent of the Matterhorn on July 14, 1865.
The Matterhorn was considered to be mountaineering's biggest challenge at the time, and Whymper met with failure again and again. Finally on his eighth attempt he finally succeeded, becoming the first man to reach the summit on July 14, 1865.
On the descent, tragedy struck when four members of the party slipped and were killed, and only the breaking of the rope saved Whymper and the two remaining guides from the same fate. A controversy ensued as to whether the rope had actually been cut, but a formal investigation could not find any proof.
The accident haunted Whymper: "Every night, do you understand, I see my comrades of the Matterhorn slipping on their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, in perfect order at equal distances - Croz the guide, first, then Hadow, then Hudson, and lastly Douglas. Yes, I shall always see them."
I thoroughly enjoyed the parts of the book dedicated to climbing and was struck by Whymper's adventurous spirit, and his dedication and perseverance. The book does drag on a bit in a few parts with chapters on the technical details about glaciers and railway tracks. The 130 illustrations, many woodcut by Whymper himself, bring the story to life, and are almost as good as photographs.
on 21 July 2010
This is a fabulous book, written first hand by a mountaineering legend, nay - forefather, and a must for every mountaineer's book shelf. Somewhat dated in its writing style (as can be expected from the late 19th c.), it is nevertheless an engaging read which deserves the plaudits it often receives.
It's let down only by the omission of maps which would be very useful, as the description of many routes is difficult to follow if you don't know intimately the mountain in question. The topography of the Matterhorn, for instance, and the relationship between it and the Tete du Lion, Col du Lion, etc, is written about in detail, but unless you've been there for yourself it will make little sense.
Overall though an absolute classic, and one which should be in every climbing collection.