Climbs and Ski Runs. By F. S. Smythe, with a foreword by G. Winthrop Young. Pp. xx+07. Illustrated. Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh. 1929. Price 21s.
Mr. Smythe is well known to mountaineers from his two great climbs on the Brenva face of Mont Blanc in 1927 and 1928. That there are also coupled to this well marked mountaineering ability, a keen perception of esthetic values and a power of descriptive narration, is amply shown in this most excellent book. We would hesitate to endorse the publisher’s claim that “Nothing so good in this way has appeared since Edward Whymper’s time”, for, off-hand several books could be mentioned that are fully its equal, not the least of which is Mr. Young’s charming book “On High Hills.” Mr. G. W. Young, by the way, contributes a short foreword which may well cause us to ponder the future of mountaineering, but serves to set us in an excellent frame of mind for the rest of the book.
The style is lucid and easy and, best of all, no matter what the climb, there is an appreciation of externals: the view, an oncoming storm, or a sunset. It is such things that bring us back to the mountains year after year, and cause us to undergo the hardships and the difficulties which seem so great at the time and so trivial afterwards. The book is a series of incidents and experiences, rather than an autobiography of a mountaineer, though his development through the stages recognized by all of us, is clearly apparent. Each incident is chosen for its diversity and to bring out a certain side of that very changeable and ephemeral substance known as mountain mood. Every climber will thrill with appreciation as he recognizes an experience similar to his own on another peak, and the non-climber will feel the shivers run up and down his spine to the tune of “O what fools these climbers be, but how I like to read about them.”
Each chapter is a separate sketch in itself and so worthy of its place in the book that it is difficult to signalize any special one. The experience on the Schreckhorn in an electric storm, is one that no one who has been on a mountain in such conditions, envies him. The ascent of the east ridge of the Aiguille du Plan is a tremendous climb which might well be made the climax of the book, were it not overshadowed by the really epoch-making ascents of the Brenva face of Mont Blanc. Winter mountaineering, with its adjunct the ski, is well treated and that from the standpoint of the mountaineer. There are several chapters to tempt the reader on this subject, but none of more wide-spread interest and importance than that on “Avalanches.”
The book closes with the “Philosophy of a Mountaineer” which fortunately does not attempt to answer that moot and very old question, but rather states a case and leaves us to ponder anew that immemorial puzzle, though we may, as Mr. Young suggests, in the future no longer find “mountain-climbing … an escape into adventure from our increasing uniformity and monotony”. We recommend that every climber read this very charming work and we believe that having read it, he will want to possess a copy of his own for future enjoyment.
K. A. H.