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Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the years 1860-69 Paperback – 1 Oct 2002
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Scrambles Amongst the Alps describes nine years Whymper spent climbing in the Alps, from 1860 to 1869, a time when mountain climbing was just starting to become an international sport getting international headlines. Whymper was a prodigious climber; he once gained 100,000 feet of altitude in the mountains in something like 30 days, attacking peaks with an energy and determination that remain remarkable to this day. But the big kahuna was the Matterhorn, and the book spends much of its time on Whymper's seven failed attempts at it, and on the eighth, in which he summited, and four men died. The book makes an excellent guide on this account to the history of early climbing and climbing techniques.
About the Author
Edward Whymper (1840-1911) was an English mountaineer and explorer with dozens of first ascents under his belt, the most famous being that of the Matterhorn. Also an author and illustrator, he wrote several books on his profession, including Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator and the classic Scrambles Amongst the Alps. Anthony Brandt attended Princeton and Columbia before becoming a freelance writer for Esquire, American Heritage, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, GQ, Men's Journal, National Geographic Adventure, and many other magazines. He was the essays editor of the Pushcart Prize for 18 years and has served as a nonfiction judge for the National Book Awards. Brandt is the editor of the Adventure Classics series for National Geographic Books, including the first edition of The Journals of Lewis and Clark.
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We are planning to visit the Matterhorn in Sept'17 so this is excellent preparatory reading, although the Victorian writing style of why use one paragraph when two are better might not suit everyone. Only complaint is that the fold out map is not included in this edition as the frontispiece map is too small to easily follow the descriptions.
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.
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.
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