It is good to be reminded of this mega-classic of Alpine literature.
Two quibbles. One, I think you are a bit harsh in omitting any mention of Whymper's great classic 'Scrambles Amongst the Alps' - arguably the greatest piece of all mountain literature. Two, I'm rather surprised you don't tell us more about the Mummery Crack, which I've been told by those who've done it is possibly as hard as 5B, and so would have been E1 done with no protection, as Mummery did it in 1887, or whenever it was.
Actually, a third quibble too. The omission of Stephen's 'Playground of Europe'. This is an unquestionably finer piece of literature, in terms of literary style, yet the books are not really comparable, because Stephen's work is rooted in the traditional values of the Golden Age of Victorian mountaineering, whereas Mummery's represents something entirely new in its bold modernity, far ahead of its time. And Mummery's final paragraph remains one of the great classics of mountain literature:
'Happily for us, the great brown slabs bending over into immeasurable space, the lines and curves of the wind-moulded cornices, the delicate undulations of fissured snow, are old and trusted friends, ever luring us to fun and laughter and enabling us to bid a study defiance to all the ills that time and life oppose.'
Like you I was surprised that Whymper's book wasn't mentioned. I also wonder if there aren't classics of the same period in other languages although all the French Alpine classics that spring to mind are much later (Rebuffat, Terray etc). Is there anything in German or Italian ?
I don't think there are any remotely equivalent books from French, Italian or German mountaineers in the nineteenth century – largely because they (amazingly) took little interest in Alpine mountaineering until the beginning of the twentieth century. The Duke of Abruzzi (an extraordinary, larger than life character), who made the first ascent of the Zmutt Ridge of the Matterhorn with Mummery, and later - in 1909 - led an expedition (the first?) to attempt K2, never wrote any kind of book on his mountaineering exploits, as far as I know.
> I'm rather surprised you don't tell us more about the Mummery Crack, which I've been told by those who've done it is possibly as hard as 5B, and so would have been E1 done with no protection, as Mummery did it in 1887, or whenever it was.
I would rate the Mummery Crack as 4c, even with no protection, as you're safely wedged in there. I've never climbed 5b in my life, and it wasn't a problem in stickies, (but I had failed in big boots previously). I would rate the Venetz Crack on the summit block as much, much harder, more exposed and unprotectable until the overhang at the top, - I don't think Mummery ever led that.
And I think Mummery's book is much better than 'Scrambles', Mummery was a visionary and inspired me 40 years ago to explore and enjoy the Alps, not for ticks but for the 'Pleasures'.
Guido Lammer was active in this period, but his Jungborn – Bergfahrten und Höhengedanken eines einsamen Pfadsuchers was published in the 20th century.
I may have been confusing it with what I was told about the Venetz Crack, I suppose.
Superb article! Inspired to get hold of more of this.
... and others. Thanks for the thoughtful and interesting set of comments. It's a bit of a personal series, and I don't myself find Whymper's book nearly so attractive as Mummery. Maybe I'll reread Whymper with closer attention. As for the Mummery Crack, I haven't climbed it! If I had, I'm sure I'd have devoted several hundred sweaty and impressed words to it – except that if I were that sort of climber I might also have done the Teufelsgrat on the Täschhorn, which seems to me even more astonishing.