The Dangers of Mountaineering


Gustave Doré, The first ascent of the Matterhorn, 1865 (detail)

by Leslie Stephen

The kind enthusiasts who have condescended to refresh their memory of glacier and precipice by reading the preceding pages, will perhaps be disposed to think little of the dangers which they describe. Another class of readers — if I have any other readers — will perhaps be equally disposed to exaggerate the risk. To both of them I think it will be only proper to address a few remarks on a topic which, as I deeply regret to observe, gains a fresh interest every year. Nobody can deny that there are serious dangers in Alpine climbing; few reasonable people will deny that the loss of life has been so great, especially in recent times, as to give great weight to the prejudices which have been raised against mountaineering in general. Granting that the pleasure is intense, that the pursuit is most health-giving to those who indulge in moderation, and that anybody who has once really tasted its charms will be slow to abandon the mountains, it is also true that Alpine travellers are under a heavy responsibility.

Every year brings fresh victims to the mountains, and the accidents are often of a most lamentable kind. There is a melancholy contrast between the state of exuberant spirits in which such expeditions are generally under taken and the terrible catastrophe which sometimes crowns them. Sudden and violent death has a special horror when it surprises young men full of vigour, in the midst of a joyous amusement, and probably overtakes at the same time two or three honest peasants with wives and families dependent upon them. It would be wicked to speak carelessly of such calamities; and some fair answer is undoubtedly due to the question, How do you justify the rashness which exposes yourself and your guides to imminent risk in the thoughtless pursuit of pleasure?

The answer most commonly given by Alpine travellers is to the effect that all pursuits are dangerous; that rowing, swimming, hunting, and shooting, have their risks as well as mountaineering, and that nobody thinks of abandoning them on that account. The answer would be conclusive if it could be shown that the loss of life in such sports is as great as in mountaineering. But I am compelled, though with much regret, to deny that this is the case. I cannot give statistics; but I am convinced that any Alpine traveller who will recall the fatal accidents of the last few years, and compare them with the number of persons who climb the High Alps, will agree with me. Many more men are given to hunting than to climbing, and yet many more are killed on the Alps than in the hunting-field. But hunting is an amusement which reaches the greatest permissible standard of danger for quiet fathers of families. Therefore, by an easy syllogism, it follows that Alpine climbing is too dangerous for quiet fathers of families. It may not be more dangerous than steeple-chasing; but who would recommend a middle aged gentleman, with a wife and children, to ride a steeple-chase? Driven from this position, Alpine travellers reply that, with due precautions, their pursuit is not excessively dangerous; and here I agree with them fully. No accident has ever yet occurred of which it was not perfectly easy to trace the cause to some assignable piece of rashness. Of various confirmatory statements which might be made, I will select this. The English Alpine Club has about 300 members, including many of the most daring climbers. Three accidents, so far as I know, have happened to its members. Two of these occurred in 1869, when a gentleman was lost under circumstances that have never been fully explained, but which indicate great inexperience on his own part and carelessness on the part of his guides. The other was due to a neglect, on a dangerous place, of the essential precaution of the rope. The remaining accident was that on the Matterhorn, and was due, I need hardly say, to the inexperience of one of the party, and perhaps to an insufficient force of guides. It may, then, be confidently said that none of the practised mountaineers of the Club have ever met with a serious accident, though they have climbed nearly every peak, and crossed every pass in the Alps, many of them for the first time and under conditions of unusual difficulty, except on the last two occasions above noticed, in both of which the most notorious conditions of safety were neglected.

Gustave Doré, Disaster strikes just after the first ascent of the Matterhorn, 1865

It does not, however, quite follow that mountaineering is justifiable, even if it is sufficiently safe under recognised precautions. Casuists may urge that if by doing what is safe for you, you induce other people to do it for whom it is not safe, you are not free from responsibility. The early travellers, indeed, cannot be condemned for consequences which they could not foresee, and against which they did their best to protest. Unpractised amateurs have rushed in where chamois hunters feared to tread — and with the natural consequences. But the present generation are only excusable if they use their influence as far as possible to prevent any misapplication of the precedents they have set. The Alpine Club has done its best, by all methods open to it, to protest against the rashness which has brought discredit on its favourite pursuit. I fully recognise the obligation myself, and will therefore endeavour to clear up, as far as I can, what still seems to be very imperfectly understood — namely, the true line which, in the Alps, divides prudence from inexcusable rashness.

I begin by laying down two aphorisms, which will, I believe, be approved by all mountaineers.

I. There is no mountain in the Alps which may not be climbed by a party of practised mountaineers with good guides, in fine weather and under favourable conditions of the snow, with perfect safety.

II. There is no mountain in the Alps which may not become excessively dangerous if the climbers are inexperienced, the guides incompetent, the weather bad, and the snow unfavourable.

To this I will add the corollary that the common question, Which is the most difficult mountain in the Alps ? is meaningless, and proves how erroneous are the ordinary opinions on the subject. There are circum stances under which the Rigi is far more dangerous than the Matterhorn under others. Any mountain may pass from the top to the bottom of the scale of danger, according to the variation of the circumstances I have mentioned, in a day or sometimes in an hour. The fact is enough to show that the ordinary classification of danger is quite inapplicable, and would condemn some safe expeditions whilst justifying others in the highest degree dangerous.

A curious change has taken place, as we all know, in the feelings with which mountains are generally regarded. Some sixteen years ago, a first-rate guide described the Hochste Spitze of Monte Rosa as hopelessly inaccessible. Every peak that had not actually been ascended retained a mysterious prestige, which it did not completely lose until after the second ascent; for the first climbers invariably said, and with perfect sincerity, that it was the hardest expedition they had ever made. Since the first summer I spent in the Alps, more than one excellent mountain of my acquaintance has passed through the successive stages denoted by the terms ‘inaccessible,’ ‘the most difficult point in the Alps,’ ‘a good hard climb, but nothing out of the way,’ ‘a perfectly straightforward bit of work ;’ and, finally, ‘an easy day for a lady.’ I have almost been induced to believe at times that there is no real difference between mountains, except that which results from our imaginations, the new mountain being; always more imposing than that with which we have become familiar. The dangers which once guarded their cliffs from the profane vulgar have disappeared like ghosts from a haunted house, and some people had lately begun to fancy that the dangers had no more real existence than the ghosts. The same gradual depreciation of the danger takes place in each man’s experience. The first sight of a mountain strikes him with something like awe. The mysterious fields of snow, and the apparently overhanging cliffs, produce a bewildering effect upon the imagination. I well remember looking up at the line of precipices from the Jungfrau to the Eiger, and fancying them to be one sheer vertical wall of rock. They have since been climbed in some five different places, and are nowhere really very steep. When we discover that we have been imposed upon, we too hastily assume that, because these very big threatenings have turned out to be mere words, there can be no meaning in the less obtrusive warnings; which is far from good reasoning. After a time, however, our opinions go through another reaction, and we discover the perils of mountaineering to be very real, though no longer so imposing. And indeed I believe that, as a matter of fact, the cautiousness of a traveller in certain positions will be developed in exact proportion to his experience. He will find that he was more mistaken originally as to the precise character than as to the existence of the dangers. Above all, he will discover that it is impossible to classify mountains according to their degrees of danger without adding a reference to the circumstances of the day.

Hence follows the excessive difficulty of infusing young mountaineers with a proper sense of responsibility. A tyro, we will suppose, makes the ascent of the Finsteraarhorn. He passes along the edge of the tremendous cliffs, which have been glowingly described in so many Alpine books; if he has a pretty good head, he does not even feel giddy; and he becomes conscious that with a little care there is no danger in such performances. Coming home he crosses a level snowfield, and perhaps as he looks back he may see a white puff of snow descending like ‘a downward smoke’ from the flanks of the mountain. He is perfectly unconscious that in crossing that level plain, with its hidden crevasses, he may have been within a hair’s breadth of sudden death, and that the apparently harmless vapour which perhaps crossed his route would have swept him off the face of the rocks and hurled him to instant destruction if he had been a few minutes later. He comes home, and declares that there are no dangers in the Alps worth a moment’s notice. To take a slightly different instance : I was sitting not very long ago at a table d’hote in a well-known Swiss inn. A gentleman near me was declaiming with great force against the wickedness of the Alpine Club in tempting persons to encounter unwarrantable degrees of danger. We all listened respectfully, and I refrained from argument, remembering a certain proverb of Solomon’s. Yet we knew that the orator had himself been in-    curring a really fearful risk. He had been attempting the ascent of a lofty and very dangerous peak, and had been out for four days of bad weather. His fingers and toes were at that moment frostbitten, and one of the very best of Alpine guides confirmed me in the opinion, that had the weather been a little more severe, or had he proceeded a little further before halting, nothing could have saved his life. He fancied that he was perfectly justified, because he had three good guides. Undoubtedly the precaution was a sound one; and if the guides could have been trusted to do their duty in refusing to advance when the weather was really bad, it would have been sufficient. But if you force the three best men in the Alps to take you up a really difficult climb in seriously bad weather, the risk may still be tremendous. The fact was that the traveller had utterly failed to realize the true meaning of bad weather in the Alps, though the state of his fingers must have given him some hints for the future. On a slope of steep and rotten rocks, for example, when the cracks to which you may anchor yourself are obscured by powdery snow, and filled with ice, when the wind is lowering your vital powers and every limb is numbed and feeble, there is not merely a danger of falling — against which good guides will probably secure you, even in such a case — but a very serious danger of frostbites, and a possibility — as the fearful accident on Mont Blanc proved only a few weeks later — of being actually frozen to death. No man is justified in an amusement which may very probably be taken at the cost of his own fingers and toes, and still more probably of a similar injury to his guides, to say nothing of more serious results.

This gentleman, therefore, had learnt one mechanical rule, namely, the importance of taking good guides, and had fancied himself to possess a talisman which would bring him safely through any dangers. I mention his case, because it illustrates the impossibility of laying down any simple code of rules which will provide for security in all cases. Nothing, in fact, is sufficient except skill, activity, experience, and presence of mind; such as are exemplified so admirably by the best guides, but which may be possessed in a certain degree by travellers. Let me take, for example, a rule very commonly given, and of which I highly approve; that, namely, which prescribes a constant use of the rope.

Mr. Ball says, in his admirable Guide, that ‘against this danger’ (that of slipping on an ice-slope) ‘the rope is usually an effectual preservative;’ and he doubts whether ‘there be any slopes that have yet been surmounted, where two men, well used to the business, could not hold up a third who might slip, especially if the third be not wanting in steadiness and presence of mind.’ I will take the case of a slope where none of the party are in a position to use all their strength — an extreme case, it is true, but one which may occur in cutting up a long ice-slope, with no intervening islands of rock. These slopes are not quite so common as Alpine travellers sometimes imply; but the last piece of ice on the Monte Rosa ridge, or the final slope of the Wetterhorn, when not covered with snow, may be examples. Suppose three men to be standing on the steps of such an ice staircase, where their power of resistance will depend principally, sometimes entirely, upon their ability to balance themselves on the slippery ledges of ice. Against an outward pressure they would be as powerless as a flagstaff with no stay ropes; for if the slope is in that state which the guides call ‘glanzendes Eis,’ it is very difficult to get much hold with an axe, and it is scarcely possible to get a hold which would support more than a man’s own weight, if he once lost his footing. Suppose, then, that one man loses his footing. It is a severe strain upon a man to support a weight equal to his own by a rope round his waist — even if it is merely placed there quietly, and he is standing on firm ground. If he is standing upon sheer ice, and is unable to shift his feet into the best attitude for resistance, the effort will be very great; and if one man were supporting another in this way, I think it would amount to a gymnastic feat of no small difficulty were he to move from his place either way along the icy staircase. Indeed, without some supplementary means of assistance, I think that escape from such a position would be next to impossible. But let us now suppose that such a weight is not placed gently about a man’s waist, but comes upon it with the momentum due to the fall of three or four feet. A writer in one of the papers lately gave an ingenious plan for dropping on to your knees, in such a case, to receive the shock in the most effective manner; and I believe that nearly any man would be jerked upon his knees whether he wished it or not, by a weight equal to his own falling from a height of some feet, especially if the shock were unexpected. But dropping on to your knees on an ice staircase means simply dropping off the steps; to be safe, you must not merely resist the shock, but keep your perfect balance on your feet; and I believe that no one who has felt the momentum of such a weight in such a place, would feel much confidence of resisting it, even though he were a powerful man. 1 have been wrenched out of comparatively good holding ground, and seen an active guide wrenched from his hold by such an accident, as a tenpenny nail would be extracted by a steam-hammer. Now, in ascending an ice-slope, a slip of one of the party will probably involve such consequences, especially if the staircase crosses the slope obliquely. If the first or last of the party slips, he must of necessity swing round like a pendu-lum; and if the rope were ten feet long, would come with a very severe tug upon his neighbour. If the staircase be cut straight up the slope, the danger is not so great, and the man who is following can give much more effectual assistance. But I must express my belief that in all cases a sheer fall of any one of the party, on such a slope as I have mentioned, would be exceedingly dangerous. In the case of a genuine ice-slope, I confess that I do not believe that if one of three men was suspended entirely from the others any of the three would have much chance of escape. In the still more dangerous case of a slope masked by treacherous snow inclined to avalanches, neither the rope nor anything else can be of  much service, because there is absolutely no point of sound support.

Edward Whymper, The Blanket-Bag, c. 1871 (from Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-69)

I must, however, point out, that notwithstanding these considerations, the rope may be of essential use in several ways. In the first place, it tends in all cases to remove what Mr. Ball calls the imaginary danger, which in this case is also a very real danger. A man feels that security which the sight of a railing between ourselves and a precipice always gives us, even when we know the protection to be intrinsically worthless. When, too, the rope is kept perfectly taut, the first disposition to slip may be checked. Moreover, a slope of hard, blue, unmitigated ice is really exceptional. The surface is generally more or less snow- covered, which gives better anchorage for the axes, and breaks the rapidity of a fall; and there is very frequently an intermixture of rocks giving good hold for some of the party. In all such cases much may be done by a little judgment, in taking advantage of the different points of support. It is, however, to be invariably remembered, that the whole chance of preventing an accident may often depend upon arresting it at the very first instant. A powerful man may support three or four other men, as we daily see illustrated by practical experiments in the streets; but it is a very different thing to have such a weight thrown upon you suddenly, especially when your own footing is uncertain; probably none of my readers could bear the momentum of a man of his own size dropping suddenly on to him from the ceiling of the room in which he happens to be, without being knocked off his legs. The fall, which may be easily checked at the instant, may become serious in the first quarter of a second, and almost hopeless in the next quarter. Everything depends upon the arrangements being such that no slip can take place without spontaneously producing a counterbalancing pressure. By keeping the rope taut this object may generally be secured, and thus, in the great majority of cases, the danger be reduced to a minimum.

What is the moral from this ? In my opinion, the first moral is that the rope should be invariably worn on all difficult ice or rock slopes where a fall is possible. Its use in certain cases is obvious in diminishing, or sometimes entirely removing, the danger of an expedition; but in cases where its

principal effect is merely to extend the danger of the weakest to the strongest member of a party, I consider it of equal importance to enforce the rule. It is essential that there should exist a perfect ‘solidarity’ between all who join in an expedition. It is the best safeguard against over-rashness to know that if one man loses his life everybody else is likely to lose it. Although I am not in favour of exacting too much from guides, I should certainly exact from them that their chance of danger should never be separate from mine; with, however, the thorough understanding that whilst demanding this devotion, I make a certain reciprocal concession. Guides have sometimes objected to rope a party together (I confess never to have met such a case), on the ground that the destruction of one would involve the destruction of all. In such cases it appears to me plain that the rule should be interpreted to mean, not that the rope should be worn, but that the expedition should be abandoned. I do not see that anyone has a right to persevere, whether in pursuit of science or pleasure, in cases where the destruction of one of the party is a contingency sufficiently probable to be thus taken into account. If a guide refuses to be roped to a gentleman, because the gentleman is likely to pull him over a precipice, I think it plain that neither the gentleman or the guide can be justified in proceeding. On the other hand a willingness to be roped affords to a certain extent a guarantee that the guide does not believe in the danger. I would therefore consider that the rule should be observed, not merely for its direct effect as a preservative against actual dangers, but for its indirect action in discouraging more dangerous expeditions.

This discussion thus raises what is very often the most important question of all, that of the relations of travellers to guides. The great security of novices depends upon their choice of guides; and even the most experienced travellers must confess that their safety has very frequently been entrusted to the skill and activity of the Balmats and Laueners and their successors. It has been argued, by a recent writer in a very pleasant little book, that as the mountains are exhausted, the only remaining excitement will depend upon future travellers learning to dispense with guides. There is no more glory to be won by making new ascents, but there is a great deal of pleasure to be found in repeating the old ascents without assistance. I partly concur in this theory; but at the same time I must say that, in my opinion, if ever it becomes fashionable for English travellers to attack the High Alps without guides and without due experience, the era of bad accidents will begin. I quite agree that it is impossible to extract the full amount of pleasure from mountaineering until you are able to dispense with leading-strings, and learn to feel yourself at home in the wildest parts of the Alps. It has unluckily become common of late for men to come out for their first summer, to put themselves in tow of an experienced guide, and to trust implicitly to his eyes and limbs. We used to laugh — and very rightly — at the miserable beings who had themselves dragged up Mont Blanc by four guides and four porters, for their only glacier trip. Men who come out now are generally in better training, but they are sometimes content to be as strangely ignorant of their art. Merely following a guide’s footsteps does not always qualify a man as a mountaineer, any more than sitting inside a coach entitles him to drive a four-in-hand. I should strongly recommend anyone to make himself an expert by humbler expeditions, undertaken without guides, in places where there is little danger, if only to appreciate the skill exhibited by his guides at critical moments. For it appears to me that that appreciation is not by any means universal. I have heard a man complain of a guide who had led him with remarkable skill through a labyrinth of difficulty, simply because he had no notion what the difficulties were. He talked as much at random as a Frenchman criticising a cricketer. As, however, opinions differ on this point, I will say a few words as to the difference between guides and travellers. I often hear a guide say, ‘Herr So und So ist ganz so gut wie ein Fiihrer ;’ on hearing which I can only smile at the courtliness which may be found under rough exteriors. According to my experience, no traveller that I have ever seen would be worthy to be ranked as even a second-rate guide. The difference between professionals and amateurs, generally pretty well marked, is wider in this than in almost any sport, and for the simple reason that there is a greater difference in experience. The guide has been practising during his whole life, the amateur during a few vacations, of which the first was probably after the time at which athletic sports are best learnt. The points of superiority are, I think, chiefly these:

First, as a mere gymnast upon the mountains, in the power of crawling up couloirs like a fly— in the capacity for balancing himself upon ridges of slippery ice, and generally in overcoming mauvais pas of all descriptions— the guide is incontestably superior. I can only speak of men whom I have seen; but I have no hesitation in saying that no amateur of my acquaintance is, in this respect, even second or third to a really good guide. It is not that the guide is stronger or more active, but that he knows exactly how and where to apply his strength.

Secondly, every mountaineer has certain acquired instincts, which are invaluable, and only to be gained by experience. To a man who has been a chamois hunter from his youth, and lived on the mountains from his birth, the snows and rocks and clouds speak by signs which we are unable to read. Thus a guide’s judgment as to the state of the snow and the danger of avalanches is generally infallible. Again, although even a guide very often pronounces a place impracticable, which has subsequently been ascended, he can almost always pick out at a glance the most practicable line of assault. I have been often amused at the wild speculations of myself and my fellow-travellers, when approaching a difficulty, as to the mode which our guide would select for attacking it; I have frequently found that he took a way which none of us had anticipated, but which, when I have subsequently examined the place, I have almost always found to be the right way. Another faculty, often very useful, acquired by experience, is the power of retracing without a moment’s hesitation a path once taken. It is frequently very puzzling for an amateur to recognise the wilderness of rocks he has passed in the morning, when approaching them at night from the opposite side. A guide can almost always find it, as if he was tracking it by a bloodhound’s sense of smell.

Thirdly, a guide has learnt by his special practice the art of being constantly useful. He looks after his travellers instinctively and incessantly. The importance of this in difficult places follows from what I have already noticed. At moments when fractions of seconds are everything, this instinctive action is in valuable. Our fellow-traveller has perhaps allowed his attention to flag for a moment at the instant when the danger occurs; he has then to reflect on the best means of meeting it, and a delay, perhaps only a momentary delay, happens just when moments are of primary importance. The difference is like that between a drilled soldier who is propelled like an automaton by the word of command, and a recruit who has first to think what ‘Quick, march,’ means, and then to settle with which foot to step off.

An amateur has, I am aware, certain counterbalancing advantages, but they are very far from bringing him to a level with a guide. They are principally those which follow from superior education. He is, for example, capable of understanding a map — a gift which is distinctly rare amongst guides. He is, or should be, less liable to a hasty change of plans; he is more likely to persevere under discouraging circumstances; and he is not so easily imposed upon by certain delusions, e.g. by a particular view of a mountain slope in such a position that perspective tends to aggravate its steepness. These advantages, however, are of much greater value in regard to the general management of the tour than upon any particular expedition. The amateur should be a commander-in- chief or a secretary of war, but he should be very cautious of directing personally in any action.

Gustave Doré, The first ascent of the Matterhorn, 1865

I will now venture to draw a few conclusions, by way of practical application of my remarks. The great increase of accidents has been due to a change which is by no means without parallel in other pursuits, but which here is specially disastrous. Moreover it is not only productive of accidents, but it has very much lowered the general enjoyment of the mountains. To put it shortly, it is that the modern race of mankind is in too great a hurry; it refuses to serve an apprenticeship to anything; it believes that by a little happy audacity and the expenditure of enough money, it can leap over all preparatory stages. Mountaineering — like so many other things — has become a fashion with many who don’t really care about it; and the mountains have taken a terrible revenge upon these insincere worshippers, whose homage had something in it of insult. I have no right to find fault with anybody who wishes to do the Alps in a single season; there is much to be said, if it were worth saying, for the true American plan of travelling from John o’ Groat’s House to the cataracts of the Nile in three months, taking a bird’s-eye view of all that lies between. Perhaps if you have only three months in which to see the world, that is the way of deriving the greatest amount of excitement from the process. To people, however, who come to the Alps in this fashion, all I have to say is this: Take the best guide at Chamouni or Grindelwald, and deliver yourself up to him hand and foot. Tell him shortly to take every possible precaution, submit implicitly to his directions, and let him take as many assistants as he pleases. Never press him to proceed; and, in short, obey him as a Russian soldier would obey the Czar, without even asking for reasons. He will enable you to visit the top of Mont Blanc in perfect safety, especially if the weather is fine and your legs are tolerably strong. Even if they are weak, he can have you carried up. And you will have the consolation that if you are killed, people in general will not be much grieved, as they will say, with some plausibility, that it serves you right.

But to the man who feels stirring within him a genuine love of the mountains, who is struck and overwhelmed by their charms like Romeo at the sight of Juliet, and who hopes to have a pleasure for life, a delightful recreation for spare hours, and a rich store of memories for busy days, I should speak differently. I should say to such a man, Take your time about it. Fix yourself for the period of your noviciate at one of the great Alpine centres of interest. Thoroughly explore every hole and corner of the glorious valleys of Zermatt, or Courmayeur, or Grindelwald. Remember that you have to learn the secrets of a difficult craft, and to practise not only your muscles but your eyes and your understanding. Begin with quiet walks in safe places, and do not be ashamed of taking excessive precautions. Any second-rate mountain, the Faulhorn or the Mettelhorn, will give you ample practice in the first rudiments of the art. By carefully planned walks without guides, you will learn to judge for your self upon many matters, which you would otherwise pass without notice. You will find, especially, that you are developing new faculties. You learn how best to economise your strength, and how most effectually to tackle any little difficulty that occurs. You learn still more to interpret the real meaning of the sights before you. The mountains, for example, will grow daily in apparent size. The little white or purple patches which said nothing to you at first will become full of poetical meaning; they will expand into vast snow-fields, towering precipices, cliffs of ice, and long sweeps of lofty pasturage. Take occasionally a good guide and follow him carefully, forming your own opinions, but giving way implicitly to his experience. You will speedily begin to have more appreciation of his skill, and to understand what are the real conditions of good mountaineering. By feeling each step as you go, you will rapidly become free of the mountain mystery. You will understand what are the limits of your powers, and gain that instinctive know ledge of what is and what is not dangerous, which is the only real safeguard. At your very best, you will recognise your inferiority to men trained to the art from their boyhood, and will therefore pay proper respect to their advice in every difficult position. It is an instructive plan to act occasionally as quasi- guide to men less experienced than yourself. It enables you to recognise the supreme misery of being responsible for a man who is at once careless and clumsy; whose fear of falling into a crevasse is entirely removed by the thought that he may throw the blame upon you; who is frightened by imaginary dangers, and insensible and careless in real ones. Anybody who has learnt that lesson — though it is one to take in moderation — will sympathize with a guide who in some respects is to him what he is to a novice. A man should before very long be capable of following a guide without ever asking for assistance; and till he is thoroughly capable of doing so on all ordinary occasions he should not venture into dangerous places. The safety of almost any party may be compromised by the presence of one inexperienced and clumsy traveller; and it is therefore the first condition of a pleasant expedition that every man, guide or traveller, should be thoroughly up to his own share of the work, and thoroughly confident in all his companions. Expeditions taken by men who have gone through some such course of training are free from any appreciable danger, and are in the highest degree delightful. By studying with some care the conditions of safety, a man learns at the same time to appreciate the beauties of the Alps, which only reveal themselves to loving observation, and gains a new faculty of enjoyment. He will certainly not admire those false brethren who put on a show of zeal when they are merely complying with a fashion, but will of course be very sorry when they break their necks.

About the Author

Leslie Stephen was a writer and mountaineer. He was the father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

Comments are closed.